Monday, June 2, 2008


Every religion boils down to a bunch of don'ts. You know it's true, cuz the dos are just a reframing. Be good is the same as don't be bad. And so on. Yes, there are subtle differences, but subtlety is for theologians. We're concerned about how to live our lives, and the clear limits set by don'ts are so much easier than the ambiguous urgings of a less restrictive formulation. Thus it's no surprise that only two of the Ten Commandments are dos: honor the sabbath, honor your parents. All the rest, don'ts.

Other religions aren't so obvious about it. But the Five Pillars of Islam are just as limiting: reciting the creed, keeping the fast, giving alms, making the pilgrimage, saying the prayers -- you'd better do them. You'd better not miss them. Same with Buddhism: The Eightfold Path -- those things you must do, perfectly, to achieve enlightenment -- perfection is more about what you aren't than what you are.

Even atheistic secular humanism ... uh, Secular Humanism -- recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a religion, is a practically endless list of don'ts, as it is now practiced in its peecee orthodoxy. Don't make anyone feel bad. The most impossible of all religious aspirations. No Beatrice waits beyond that mountain. It is unscalable.

So let's not hear any nonsense about one religion being more restrictive than another. Whether it's the added-on cultural stuff, like no dancing, or wearing the burkha, or the authentic teachings handed down from on high ... the very word religion, Augustine informs us, derives from the Latin ligare, meaning to bind. The whole point of religion per se is to restrict, to tame the natural man, to curb the baser instincts. Understand I am not speaking of salvation, not of that intimate relationship with the Living God. Who am I to speak of such things?

Which brings me once more to Islam.

Did you read? In early May, in Radwaniya, near Baghdad, a US soldier used the Koran for target practice. The desecrated text was found last week by Iraqi police. Imagine the consternation. US Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond went before Iraqi leaders and said, quote: "In the most humble manner, I look in your eyes today and I say, Please forgive me and my soldiers." Iraqi VP Tareq al-Hashemi said that no apology could be sufficient, and stated that the soldier, anonymous, must face, quote, "the most severe punishment."

The most severe punishment. I can think of some pretty severe punishments. But the severe punishment most likely meant must be death. Instead, the US Army said the soldier had been disciplined and relocated out of Iraq.

There are detailed religious writings in Islam about how to wipe your behind. I kid you not. So it can't be very surprising that such a thing as shooting up the Koran should be proscribed. Islam, you see, preserves the idea of holiness. This in itself is no bad thing. God does it all the time in the Bible. It's not that they're wrong, the Moslems. It's that by being the way they are, there can be no compromise, and no true, free interaction between our two civilizations. They are alien.

We wouldn't have gotten along with Joshua son of Nun, either. But then again, we don't have to. We are separated from that theocracy by three and a half thousand years. The theocracy that would be Islam is coeval to us, and when, pray, has a theocracy ever been capable of compromise? Liberal democracy we got; liberal theocracy ... those two words have never before appeared together in precisely that construction.

Islam is a religion of course, and as such we need not concern ourselves with it. It is in Islam's guise as ideology, and as political platform, and as an imperialistic scheme, that we must react to it. Likewise, Nazism, as a religion -- with its origin myths and its millennialism and its messiah and its chosen ones -- held but limited interest. It's just all those other things it was about. We need not concern ourselves with private beliefs, with private practices. We need not worry about anyone else's soul or salvation. If we do, it should be out of compassion and benevolence, not from fanaticism, hatred, an urge to oppress, an urge to perfect others when we have not perfected ourselves. Religion, for all its don'ts, should be, first, about humility.

There are many incompatibilities. They need not lead to divorce. But there is an incompatibility that amounts to inhumanity. This is best illustrated by the words of the lamentable, and late, Ayatollah R. Khomeini, who famously proclaimed, "There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam."

That is, by definition, the enemy. Of humanity. There is a place for grimness. But it should be working towards something pleasant. And I don't mean the subservience of women and the restoration of Prohibition. These things might very well be pleasant for you. I am far more high-minded than that. There must be something of gentleness and patience, even in our convictions. My being right need not be an intolerant condemnation of your being wrong. The truth to which we bind ourselves is not limited to the paper of a book, and our verities do not bleed to death even if they are shot. We are faced with an enemy who does not understand this.

I would make the distinction between the Ayatollah's hateful islamist dogmatism, and a more mainstream, if less courageous, actual Islam. But as long as the 1.2 billion moslems -- whatever larger fraction of that number is not islamist -- do not stand up and oppose the Nazification of their faith, the distinction that I would impose is artificial. Hitler's Germany had non-Nazis in it. But it was Hitler's Germany.

Moslems would start back on the road to respectability by observing a distinction between words on paper, and true holiness. Holiness is a separateness from the world. Hatred is what the world is all about. Somebody wipes their bottom with the pages of a Koran? How small Allah must be, even to notice. And what sort of god is Allah, who needs terrorists to protect his name.

Here's the real difference, between the East and the West, between Islam and Christendom. They remember, or think they do, a Koran in the toilet. We remember God himself, tortured to death on a tree. They, from their offense, are incited to greater violence. We, by our offense, are urged to compassion and grace.

It is not I who said it. There is no joy in Islam. Whereas we are told to rejoice, always. I see it as incompatible.



nanc said...

jack h - have you forgotten what today is?

Jack H said...

Um ... National Herpes Day? Why, why would *I* know that? Heh heh. As for International Terrorist Commemoration Day, I observe that celebration with its concomitant festivities in September. In a moment I'll hunt up some links.

Jack H said...


My name is Dylan. said...

This is the most sensible blog post I've ever read. Very. Well. Done!

Jack H said...

Well thank you kindly.