It is this reverence for the individual that led both traditions to reform themselves over the centuries, eliminating anachronistic practices while maintaining fidelity to their faith. It is an ongoing process, obviously, but it is a process to which both religions are fully committed – and have been for more than a thousand years.
Islam in this regard is an outlier. In the 1400-odd years of Islam, there has never been a “reformation.” The religion forbids it. It is no accident that the oft-touted contributions of Islam to the world mostly came before Islam demanded dominance in all things.
After the Mongol sacking of Baghdad, Islam reacted by retrenching inwardly. Science was no longer science, it was only Islamic science. Economics became Islamic economics, as rules proliferated for everything in order to demonstrate adherence to the faith and resistance to the infidel.
Truthfully, Islam was better off in practice in the 10th Century than it is today. It is clear that Islam, like cigarettes, stunts your growth.
Now, adherence to tradition is not a bad thing on its own. In fact, tradition is the repository of the world’s “institutional knowledge,” enabling successive generations to build on the work of their predecessors.
Sometimes, though, new information is discovered and it becomes necessary to revisit those traditions to re-evaluate their utility for present and future generations. The idea of self-government is one such example.
Tradition held that some people had the right to rule other people, and this tradition was accepted and enforced for millennia until the radical experiment of individual sovereignty, which found its greatest expression in our own United States.
So it is with religious tradition as well. Christianity is built upon Judaism — indeed it wouldn’t exist without it — but it isn’t opposed to Judaism for those who wish to practice it. Many centuries ago, the enmity between Jews and Christians began fading with the passing of each successive generation until today it exists only as an aberration to be ridiculed and denounced whenever it appears.
This illustrates the internal narrative of the Western psyche. Our minds operate in a manner consistent with liberty because our minds have been developed in the presence of liberty, both political and religious.
We are capable of reform, because we are always seeking the better mousetrap. We look at life as a challenge, not just to survive it, but to improve it. To leave it better than we found it.
A mind shaped by Islam generally finds such attitudes to be anathema. Islam is in continual conflict because Islam is possessed of an impossible idea – to preserve all of creation as it existed in 632 A.D., the year Mohammed died.
Given the changes that have wracked the earth since that date, is it any wonder Islam is “out of sorts”? Ask yourself, how difficult would it be to conduct your daily business if you had to reconcile your actions with the cultural norms of the early Middle-Ages?
In Christianity, the Church has held ecumenical councils, realigning Church doctrine with new information and greater understanding of both the natural world and the people who inhabit it. These councils also addressed heresies that had sprung up in the Church, definitively establishing what is canonical and what is apocryphal.
In Catholicism, the Council known as Vatican II was the most recent “re-founding” of the Church. Pope Paul VI described the need for the Council in this way –
“…the problems of the 1960s stemmed from the Church holding to the best values which had come to maturity over the previous two centuries, despite the fact that these values were born outside the Church, yet they could find their place – after being purified and corrected – in the Church’s view on the world.”The Pope was referring to the Enlightenment philosophies of science and reason. In the previous two centuries, Man had slowly crawled out from the cave of mysticism to stand blinking in the sunlight of a world he previously had only seen through the stained-glass windows of the Church.
Reason would emerge as a complement to Scripture – and vice-versa – while the understanding of oneself and one’s role in the world evolved into an individual pursuit, rather than a purely collective one directed by religious tradition.
Faith made peace with reason and a careful balance was struck between secularism and religion, between the sovereignty of God over all, and the sovereignty of Man over himself. A difficult balance to be sure, but one that is essential to the survival of both Church and individual liberty.
There is no such mechanism for a similar introspection in Islam, and the resultant calcification of the religion has rendered it incapable of peaceful coexistence in the modern world.
Pope John XXII called this process of re-evaluation aggiornamento – the adjustment of religion according to the facts of the world in which it lives. This is not to be confused with secularizing the Gospel or the elevation of humanism above God as many opponents of Vatican II charged, but rather represented recognition that immutable truths can arrive from sources beyond the Church, and that God doesn’t restrict the delivery of His wisdom only to men in robes and sashes.
Throughout, Islam has held a fierce resistance to all things non-Islamic. Around the time of the Western Enlightenment, Muslims’ brutal practices had rendered them largely unwelcome anywhere in Europe (certainly not in any significant numbers), and their incessant raiding necessitated their subjugation by the more developed and cosmopolitan powers of the earth.
Islam now appears to have reached a point in history where it has been behind for so long adherents can’t bring themselves to admit it. Sort of like the guy who trips over his own feet, then tries to pass it off by saying, “I meant to do that.”
Islam needs a Vatican II. Actually, Islam needs a Council of Nicea (the 4th Century meeting in what is now modern-day Turkey) that codified Christian doctrine. Islam has never convened anything like a Council of Nicea. Indeed, Muslims have never really admitted to having a problem, which we all know is the first step in finding a solution.
Whether the Islamists themselves or their mewling apologists among the liberal intelligentsia care to admit it, Islam must reform, or be subjugated yet again.
Instead of apologizing for Islam, it is time for our leaders to demand of Islam that which we ourselves have already done – aggiornamento – the adjustment of our religion according to the facts of the world in which it lives.
Dr. Mark Christian MD was born and raised a devout Sunni Muslim, with strong ties to the Egyptian military and The Muslim Brotherhood, but later ditched Islam and followed Jesus Christ. He is the Co-founder of the Global Faith Institute.
Joe Herring is a writer and analyst who frequently advises policy makers at all levels of government. He is the Press/Public Relations Director for Global Faith Institute and the host of Abraham’s Tent radio show.