Friday, July 11, 2008
Medieval Christianity and Modern Islam: Erasmus, Luther, and Islam's need for the same
Reform the pagan Arab cult and drag it into the real world.
Islam needs a reformation. The structures of Islam in which church and state are one, and the individual consumed into a community of submission acolytes, are rotted. Building a political-social movement on 7th century pagan deity worship and carrying that through for 1400 years is a mark of conservative insanity. War with Islam at every level is inevitable unless the Muslims follow what Erasmus at the intellectual level and Luther at the physical-social level accomplished – separating dogma, corruption and power from real faith.
Erasmus was a 21rst century thinker living in the early 16th. He was a 'Christian Humanist' or a man who believed in personal faith, not the imposition of large unaccountable structures and doctrine upon the average person. Erasmus was the intellectual giant of his age, often called the sage of Europe during his lifetime and a man who would feel quite comfortable living in the modern world. His criticisms of the Roman Church called for a moral revolution and an individualised approach to faith, spirituality and mental health.
Luther living at the same time as Erasmus, took a different approach. For Luther the Roman Church was corrupted beyond dialogue. There was not much point in wasting time trying to discuss mild, and mediocre change with entrenched bureaucrats and holy figures, mired in theft, corruption, greed and bacchanalian existence. The entire existing church needed to be eradicated and this could only be done by force and the armies of nation states and princes. Luther was a militant revolutionary. Erasmus an intellectual pacifist.
Erasmus' book 'In Praise of Folly' which criticised the Roman Church for excesses, useless theological debating, corruption, arrogance and general irrelevancy, was a European best seller, selling perhaps 300.000 copies in his lifetime. Every modern thinker in Europe during the 16th century was an Erasmian, so powerful was 'In Praise of Folly' and other works by the Dutchman. Erasmus' ideas showed the power of technology, the wide reach of the new printing presses, and the desire from laymen to become literate, to read, to understand and to improve. It was to the average person that Erasmus addressed. Erasmus regarded the church and a clerical elite as an immoral waste of time, money and an imposition of unaccountable power.
Erasmus wanted the Bible and all Christian services to be in the local language of the layman. Out with Latin and in with the common tongue. He also wanted Christianity boiled down to its essentials – the tenets of Christ that one can find in the Book of Matthew or the letter to Romans by Paul. Erasmus had no interest in church hierarchies, complicated rituals, ridiculous debates about theological details; or the keeping of the mass illiterate and afraid. He demanded an end to church imposed feudalism, and a release of individuality in spiritual and non-spiritual matters alike. He was an individualist and a believer in real faith – not dogma.
Luther like Erasmus wanted widespread reform but unlike Erasmus he believed in pre-destination. The most faith-ful and the most ardent Christians would be saved and the manifestation of being faithful was to do good works; pray and lead a religious life. This is what the scriptures according to Luther plainly said. Unlike Erasmus, Luther was not that concerned with moral reform. In the early 16th century nation-states were becoming more powerful and needed to control religion in order to control their systems of taxation [much money was sent directly to Rome], national consciousness, and impose national unity. The Roman Church was an interloper to national ambition. Luther understood this and knew that war was inevitable in order to destroy the existing social order and Roman control over society. In this he was much more realistic than Erasmus.
Luther's ideal of armed changed won. Erasmus' moral reformist agenda would have to wait until the 19th century. Lutheranism, Calvinism, and immoderate Protesting movements, splintered Europe into basically a 100 years of 'religious' warfare. The most hideous massacre of innocents in European history between the time of Charlemagne and the First World War, occurred of course from 1618-1648 during the so-called thirty year war. Yet European civil discord and conflict started soon after Erasmus died in the middle of the 16th century. The wars were more expressions of national ambition; the lust for territory, plunder and wealth, than just merely explosions of religious violence between the followers of Luther and the Roman Church.
In any event the twin reforms of Luther and Erasmus were a central and a very bloody episode in European reformation and modernisation. Without the moral faith and belief in individuality expressed by Erasmus and without the certitude and anger of Luther, Europe might never have come to dominate the world, in the manner in which it did. The European mind and body needed freedom from dogmatic illiteracy and unaccountable corruption. Luther and Erasmus were revolutionaries as important as any other in history.
Fast forward to Islam in the 21rst century. Islam has never produced an Erasmus or Luther. Islamic doctrine has not changed since the 12th century when the Koran and Hadiths were 'approved' as final. No serious Muslim thinker – including those like Avicenna or Averroes – have ever refuted the basic universalism of Islam; its predestination to rule the world; the need for jihad; or the fact that the political-warrior Mohammed was God's vessel on earth. Modern Muslim 'thinkers' like Maududi, Qutb or Khomeni of course espouse the opposite. Islam is a total solution not open to debate, not open to change and not open to reform. The most violent disagreements in Islam are arguments about bloodlines of the elite [Shia vs. Sunni]; or about power and wealth distribution. There is no Erasmian ideal of individualised faith; nor of the Lutheran concept of accountability.
At its core Islam has little in common with either European history or culture. It is simply ridiculous that anyone would say 'well Islam and Christianity are both the same thing anyways'. That is crass ignorance. Christian ideals have nothing in common with Islamic orthodoxy. There is no book of Matthew in the Koran. There is no call to individual freedom, responsibility, or personal choice in the Koran. It is about subservience to the Meccan moon deity ali-ilah, not about faith as mental therapy and as a part of personal development.
Islam is in many ways the anti-thesis of civilisational morals and conduct. Whether an individual Muslim is a good or bad person, is as in the case of a Christian, a matter of individual action and beliefs. At the meta level however, it is clear that Islam views the world in a profoundly un-Erasmian way, and is not disposed to a Lutheran-styled set of practical and physical reforms. It appears that for Islam the end objective of world domination is the most crucial element of its dogma. Modern Islam is a more dangerous and violent illustration of what ailed and diseased the medieval Catholic church. Without reform war is inevitable.