The problem facing us in the age of religious terrorism is how to determine when a religion has abandoned a reasonable theology and descended instead into the studied stupidity of literalist extremism. These perversities of faith are not real religions but religious pretenders. They are junk religions, and the great religions of both Islam and Christianity have each spun off superb examples of extraordinarily stupid junk religions.
The two part test for a junk religion is: 1. If a religion is antagonist to theology, it is junk religion. 2. If the only fruit a religion bears is adherence to itself, it is junk religion.
In the Middle Ages Islam was home of some of the most sophisticated theologians in the history of human civilization. Avicenna and Averroes represented the pinnacle of rational theology which was ultimately transformed into the rational mysticism of Mulla Sadra in the 17th century. These brilliant Islamist theologians epitomized the work of all theologians by using reason, logos, to understand and analyze the god, theos, of one’s faith. And for Christians and Muslims alike that god is The God of Abraham. But eventually the intellectual sophistication, the logos, of many Islamic religious sects was superseded by anti-intellectual literalism that inevitably led to the extraordinarily rigid and perverse religious stupidities that now under gird those contemporary Islamic extremisms that encourage suicide in the pursuit of unimaginable sexual rewards in a dubious after life.
In a word, the “god” of literalist extremists, be they Christians or Muslims, is not God, but at best a perverse idolatry that praises fanciful mythologized characterizations of the Mystery that is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. The literalist anti-theological “Ayatollah-zation” of Islam is best illustrated by the fatwa issued against Muslims, such as Salman Rushdie, who refuse to embrace the anti-theological, fundamentally stupid, Islamic literalisms of far too many contemporary Muslims.
This same criticism can be made of fanatical American Christian literalists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell or, even more bizarrely, the horridly acquisitive Michael Murdoch. The only reason these sorts literalists have not been able to overtly kill people who oppose their literalism is that America, by design, is antithetical to theocracy. Yes, the absolute American value of tolerance, as described in the last segment, is what keeps American Christian literalists from exuding their inflammatory, anti-theological, stupidity — their own napalm of a Christ — unknown to any theologically astute Christian, across America and the world. So, as perverse as American fundamentalist Christians may be, unlike Muslim fanatics of the Middle East, American fundamentalists are stopped at our national boundaries in all ways but as missionaries of their pseudo-Christian idolatry.
American fundamentalist Christians, of course, are generally proud of their opposition to theology, often claiming that faith renders theology obsolete. Merely Google “theology” for evidence of this. The anti-theological mindlessness of American Christian fundamentalists, however, is precisely the stance of those lunatic Muslims who blow themselves to pieces in the name of an “Allah” utterly unrecognizable by the brilliant Islamic theologians who once preceded them.
With regard to the second part of the test, theological Islam is the source of the notion of Natural Law that supports contemporary Christianity. Islamic theologians were the first to recognize the power of Aristotle, and thus first set what we glibly call “science” in motion. The Islamists invented the notion of zero, perhaps the single most important requirement for our understanding of the idea of the infinite which gave us the foundation for mathematical calculus as well as the understanding of the infinite truth of number as an aspect of God. But even more important, it is not at all an exaggeration to say Christianity itself only survived the Middle Ages due to the infusion it received from Islamic theologians. So the fruits born of theologically intelligent Christianity and Islam are tremendous, but the fruits born of American Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists have been but bitter intolerance, hell for the thoughtful and death for anti-literalist Satans. Eat not of that tree.