Christian and Islamic extremists drink from the same wellspring of authoritarianism – the desire to impose authority, to force submission to dogma, and to compel obedience. Choice is not an option. As conservative Christianity long ago ruled, choice is heresy.
Don’t ask questions; Just believe, third century critic Celsus was told. This is a dangerous enough equation in religion; in politics the consequences are catastrophic.
You can’t dictate reality; but that reality is what it is whatever we might wish it to be, seems beside the point. Reality – and facts – must be made to adhere to a preset ideological framework.
As though science had never begun to explain the universe they chant, “Our holy book, the [insert sacred text of choice] gives you all the answers you will ever need. Feel free to express any opinion you wish so long as it is among those found in this book.” Indeed, the more science explains, the less people express a need for revealed religions and ultimate truths, the shriller and more desperate their rhetoric becomes.
And secularism is on the rise: from 8% of the U.S. population in 1990 to 15% in 2008. By the late ’70s some 20% of Americans described themselves as nonbelievers.
Nonbelievers don’t obey religious dictates and don’t care about dogma. And the numbers above do not include the growing numbers of adherents attracted to alternative or “non-mainstream” religions. These are the people most comfortable in a modern liberal democracy, which has as its lifeblood the toleration that religious extremists reject.
A pluralistic liberal democracy is the antithesis of black and white thinking, the enemy of either/or propositions, and pushes a new paradigm of compromise and tolerance over the old good versus evil model.
Christian extremists (we can call them dominionists) hate this. Islamists hate this. In them both the old fashioned crusader/jihadist mentality still flourishes. In truth, these extremists fell out of the same tree and they have more in common than they would like to admit.
Some of America’s right-wing politicians, those most fervently attacking Islam today, those most vociferous in their denunciation of Sharia Law, are the most alike in their thinking: submit to God and turn the clock back to the Middle Ages.
This era was for both a Golden Age, an age in which scripture could be legislated into law; when a holy book could be misinterpreted not only as a code of law but as a textbook on political theory.
One group champions Sharia Law, the other Mosaic Law, all the while denying they’re the same thing, and denying that the same god, the God of Abraham, wrote or inspired them both.
Reality as a Shakespearean tragedy; or is it a comedy?
But while fear of Islam is unreasonable, just as is fear of Christianity (unless one wants to fear all revealed religions as threats to liberal democracy), fear of Islamism is not unreasonable, as (in Timothy Ferris’ words) it “resuscitates the totalitarian enthusiasm that nearly wrecked Europe.”
Historian Bernard Lewis sees Christianity and Islam as two forces that have been at loggerheads since the sixth century. He observed in 1954 – at the height of the Cold War – that there are “certain uncomfortable resemblances” between communism and Islamism – both offer “complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth…both groups offer to their members and followers their agreeable sensation of belonging to a community of believers, who are always right, as against an outer world of nonbelievers, who are always wrong.”
Of course, Bernard Lewis was writing before the dawn of Christian dominionism, and his words are equally applicable to America’s Religious Right, which takes its cue (and inspiration) from the apocalyptic, persecution-complex-ridden Christian communities of the second century, fervently hoping – and waiting for – the end times.
Apocalypse now. To hell with waiting until 2012. Let’s get it on! A sordid, terrifying specter of the past.
And if Islamism and communism shared Christianity as an enemy, and Hitler co-opted it, America’s conservative Christians name not only Islam the enemy, but secularism, atheism, feminism, Paganism, liberalism, and most disturbing of all – science.
Yet another alarming thing the Religious Right and Islamism have in common: a hatred and distrust of science.
As if the rest isn’t alarming enough.
Ironically, (and to expand on another of Timothy Ferris’ thoughts) Islamists and the Religious Right both view the west as a “decaying shell” and agree that the only way people can support liberal democracy is if they are deluded and wicked.
And dominionists will shout to be heard above the Islamists in their claims that Western liberals are deluded and wicked.
Islamic scholar Gulam Sarwar says that “Religious and politics are one and the same in Islam.” How any times have we heard Republicans make the same argument for Christianity? We have written about them here quite often. Start keeping a list: look at it every time one of them mutters something about Islamism.
Islamists want to restore the Caliphate, the Great Universal Muslim Empire that Never Was. The Religious Right wants to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire, the Great Universal Christian Empire that Never Was. If they succeed, they can (and probably will) re-enact that favorite historical drama, the Crusades. Both will desire a better outcome for their ideology.
The rest of us will, lamentably, and tragically, be caught in the middle. And this time it will not be spears and swords and arrows that decide the issue, but nuclear weapons.
We came close to a Dominionist Bliss-out in 2003 when President Bush declared a crusade against Iraq and one of his generals announced it was not a nation but Satan who was the enemy.
Bush was one thing. Sarah Palin is another. Meditate for a moment on the image of a Mama Grizzly, witch-hunting pastor at her side, with the nuclear football in her hands. If that image is no more wholesome than that of a Osama bin Laden with a nuclear warhead beneath his robes, then you are properly grasping the gravity of the situation and the threat we face.
Just because you occupy the White House doesn’t mean you can’t be a terrorist.
Both want to make an offering to their god of the Enlightenment’s most sublime attainment: the American Constitution.
Christian Dominionism and Islamism: Drinking from the same source, it is no wonder they want the same thing – and liberal democracy stands squarely in their path.
You do the math. And vote appropriately.