There’s a wincing liberal myth about religion: all religions are equally good, and we should praise equally since all religions keep believers off crack. It's a wilful misstatement, a childish closing of the eyes, a sissy-minded piece of neocrap. If you put all religions in a pan and boiled them down, a sticky substance would remain common to all religions: a good narrative. All religions set up an elaborate promise of inner peace, and all religions tell a rip-roaring tale. But there the similarities end.
Christianity isn’t an equal opportunities religion, it favours the meek. You’re much more likely to get a post as a believer if you have that indescribable meekness (for a definition of meek, ask Jesus). But it’s narrative contains a fundamental paradox. The hero dies. The hero is tortured on a cross with rusty nails. Nietzsche pointed out the paradox of an all powerful God finding himself with rusty nails in his bodily parts. But therein lies our promise of redemption, Jesus suffered so we shouldn’t have to. It’s a wonderfully liberating narrative, but especially if you’re meek.
Islam isn’t a fully above-board religion, it favours the zealotic. The narrative is not one of suffering, but of virility. As a religion, Islam has become a gentlemans’ club. The fees are zeal, and women are not allowed. The story is one of power, spiritual power. It is an entirely different story.
Not all religious narratives lead to the same cosy liberal place, and it is only modern squeamishness which prevents us from looking at Islam as a particular kind of story or narrative. I’m not denying the purifying power that religion can wield on the ‘soul’. I’m merely asking for religion to be seen as nothing more than a powerful narrative. If I believed solely in the power of carrot juice, that all humans should drink it all day, and I campaigned for carrot juice to be put in water pipes – I would be engaging in a ridiculous waste of time. At most I would produce a diet, not a religion. There’s no personal tale behind it, there’s no powerful narrative to grip the reader.
Most of the fundamental rotting detritus of religion is the man-made machinery which surrounds it. Men love nothing more than tidy oppositions. Nothing unites more than a common enemy. So in Christianity, there is ‘good’ and ‘evil’. But there is also ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’. If we got rid of these dirty second-order concepts, would we have to reinvent them again? Is there something secretly silky about masturbation being a ‘sin’? In Islam, the dangerous second-order concept is that of the “ummah” or brotherhood of united Muslims who accept no laws but Islamic laws. The belief in an Allah-ordained caliphate threatens to tear up the map as we know it.
But there’s a log in the Western eye. The Christian crusaders of the Medieval times set about their business with a fervour that was zeal congealed. The more that people denied the existence of a Christian God, the more errant their souls were, and the more satisfying the conversion. It’s easy to see the world as heathen and enlightened, it’s easy on the eye, the eye likes opposites. So the violent riddance of all the ‘opposers’ is a thread common to Islam and Christianity.
There is another striking echo between the two leadings world religions: a belief in a terrifying end of days. In Christianity, “But mark this, there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women…”. All of which could be perfectly applied to modern day America, except for the allegation that George Bush likes weak-willed women for which I have absolutely no proof. Redemption of course would come through God.
Hark the parallel in Islam. Mahmoud Ahmadinejjad, self-styled nuclear guru and saviour of Iran, is a member of a powerful sect of Islam which believes in the “lost imam”. Such an imam will return to the world as the next prophet but only at the dawn of the apocalypse. First there must be chaos, supporating wounds, before Allah promises our saviour.
So it appears we’re all waiting for another Christ or another imam. In essence, we’re waiting for the redux, the follow-up, the next episode. Anyone for an idea for a new story should get writing the script, but remember to dip your pen in suffering and redemption. Special ink available at WH Smiths.
Christianity and Islam: the belief in the end of days.