The Jihadi’s Dilemma
I wonder if in the cool and quiet of the evening, long after the muezzin’s final call to prayer, the jihadi mulls over the actions he either perpetrates or gives assent to in the name of his cold and distant deity? Does he pray as I do? Does he attempt to strip off the veneer of self-righteousness that whitewashes the ego and feeds that most loathsome core of sinful pride? Does he really believe that the acts of immolating an iron cage filled with Yazidi girls or smashing the skulls of children in their mothers’ arms renders him as a shining pearl -- a holy offering to his god? Is the immersion of perceived apostates in a fountain of acid or the crucifixion of Christians in the town square – in full view of their own young children -- proof of some iron semblance of moral superiority? Does he ever get beyond the rote babble to a place where he wonders – far beyond the wary eyes of his dead-eyed brethren: "Am I a good man, or am I a bad man?" "And if I am the latter, then what manner of hellish Master do I serve?"
The Scottish 19th century minister-novelist George MacDonald perhaps anticipated 21st century Islam’s piercing “shriek in the night” with the following observation: “A beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast, the less he knows it.” But while we can well appreciate this poet’s insight into human and animal natures, one must protest that few beasts display the cunning rapacity which man has been ever heir to, especially when his sheer malevolence is so artfully brocaded with the adornment of faux religiosity. And if all man’s apostasies eventually rest upon the zealot’s sword, perhaps it is because those who fail in consummating their carnal City of God invariably seek succor from the furious strongholds of Pandemonium.
While it is impossible to fully unpack the entire character of God’s majesty, we can know a great many things through the revelation He has given us as a character study of sorts. Therefore, we have a good working understanding of the things He is, as well as the things He is not. From the Bible, we fathom that love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness are divine virtues that span the entire panorama of God’s dealings with man. In Christianity, these facets of His nature coalesce at the Cross: in Jesus’ monumental act of atonement that reconciled once and for all the cavernous breach between God and His free yet wayward creation. Flowing from the gospel is a call to repentance and to put down the entanglements of this world – to walk as strangers in a strange land as we are molded in the refinery of this earth into something that will one day display an immense beauty.
As my pastor frequently points out, an idol is a lie about God: a slander concerning His attributes, His ends, and His methods in dealing with the human race. We are carefully admonished against worshipping graven images because ultimately they are merely the work of our own hands; and in honoring our own fallen conception of the Deity, we are in truth worshipping only ourselves. Moreover, there are very real implications in worshipping man, and we can see the fruit of this self-deification in the spectrum that spans between secular humanism and the abstract monotheism of the Koran. In the first, freedom becomes a fetish that inexorably degrades the human soul to a state where dependency and slavery to the passions mark its final descent into animalia; and in the latter, freedom disassociates altogether -- as a telos of cruel inequality and violence assumes the authoritative Mask of God. In the final accounting, both circuitous routes strand us in the same labyrinth.
Having secured a foothold in the earth from its relentless 7th century conquests, Islam was successful beyond its wildest dreams in wielding the sword and imposing its political will. In little over a century after the death of its founder, the caliphs and generals of Arabia secured a large swath of the earth, while Christ’s gospel remained content with securing its transcendent hegemony of the Spirit. And if Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, Mohammad’s hordes would gladly fill the temporal vacuum. Indeed, the teachings of the two could not be more antithetical: one posited the Dying God made flesh while the other a capricious fleshly deity whose sating would require the death of millions. While one sought the cultivation of meek sons and daughters of the Spirit, the other promised his warrior-acolytes the voluptuous Bordello of Heaven: where every earthly appetite and passion was amplified to the nth degree, and the wholesale subduing and extermination of the kafir was deemed a holy sacrament -- a sweet savored sacrifice to an obscure moon deity elevated to the highest reaches of heaven. Islam was never proselytized by a knock on the door and a colorful “Watchtower-esque” tract, but by knocking down the door and the promise of Hellfire: both now and in the eternity to come.
In the heyday of its imperialist adolescence under a host of barbarous human agencies, the bondage that characterized Islam augmented its gospel of pillage and rapine with the cultural capital of the exponentially more advanced Jews and Greeks. When it had fully degraded these civilizations through its theocratic sclerosis and had reached the outer limits of empire, it decayed and encased itself into its own whitewashed tomb of despair: ossified and incapable of reformation and renewal. As the Christianized West strengthened, it rebuffed the repeated Muslim advances, and in part took back what it had lost. It would require the advent of the Machine Age to change the degenerate fortunes of Islam with the West’s discovery of a sea of precious crude oil: Islam’s only true marketable commodity and a game changer in the modern world of power politics and intrigue.
Islam masquerades as a religion of peace among the ignorant, even as it manifests as an entrenched caste of architectonic servitude. At its core, it remains a Bedouin tribal system of complex obligations grafted onto a cascading array of institutional inequalities that have stagnated the flowering of human personality and short-circuited economic innovation. With that being said, its greatest strength lies in its rigidity, which makes it resistant to any hope of reformative critique. Indeed, its ruling virtue lies in instilling an unreflective and unquestioning submission to its claims of divine authority. And since Allah’s favor is as mutable as it is inscrutable, one’s salvation is forever in doubt -- unless the believer’s demise is brought about through the auspices of jihad’s implacable “great commission” -- subduing the earth by any means necessary.
And so, to a great mass of Islam’s billion who cannot read the Koran’s chaotic and contradictory suras, and could not hope to understand them if they did, the Jihadi’s dilemma appears ever more insoluble. Balancing on the razor’s edge between hellfire and the celestial Whorehouse of God, the unwashed and disaffected who are ever told that they are the most blessed of the earth, find that everywhere they look they are among its most wretched. Moreover, the Muslim world’s congenital unaccountability and inability to self-criticize forever places the infidel at a disadvantage -- since if the cause of Islamic desolation lies not with oneself, then it belongs to the conspiratorial other. Confronted with the totality of this crushing burden of woe -- where nothing has been learned and strapping on a bomb belt is easier than gazing into the region’s carnival mirror of horrors, the options become clear: consign oneself to Allah’s vacillating whim or forever fall.
It is in the curious paradox of fundamentalism that the twin monotheistic religions of the planet Earth distance themselves. For the humanity that embraces each, their spiritual and temporal fates mimic their founders’ first principles. The more like Jesus a man is, the better sort of man he becomes, while the emulator of Mohammad’s deeds is heir to the burdens of: pride, savagery, discrimination, injustice, and fatalism -- fundamental Islam’s quintet of anxious alienation. Conversely, men whose spiritual arc travels away from Christ’s virtues find themselves materialistic, hedonistic, self-absorbed, and bound to the cares of a world that is even now passing away.
To its shame, Christianity has at many times emulated the Mohammedan penchant for the sword, and each time the exercise has led to infamy and ruin. Calvin’s Geneva, and a host of wars too uncomfortable to fully name, scald the teachings of our Lord to arid souls who discern only a brutish moral equivalence between a martyr who gives himself up to be burned and a martyr who condemns himself and a nightclub filled with strangers to a crimson hail of ball bearings and body parts. But know this: In that greatest of all ironies, it was God -- clothed in the fleshly tabernacle of a swarthy Galilean -- whose blood not only poured down from a rough-hewn cross, but rained down and covered the manifold ages of the earth in a singular act of incomprehensible love. We are the beneficiaries of that love, whether we like it or not.