Contrary to the popular perception, Islamic civilization was not always a fanatical, intolerant backwater. During the ninth through eleventh centuries, the Muslim nations carved out a culture in the desert that rivaled European Christendom at its height. (Those of you who know me are probably aware that I consider the High Middle Ages in Europe to be the cultural pinnacle of world history). It was Muslim scientists and scholars who introduced algebra and Greek philosophy back into Europe, Muslim philosophers like Avicenna who encouraged St. Thomas Aquinas to develop and refine his understanding of God.
Where Islam began to go wrong, according to Robert R. Reilly in his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, was in its embrace of a series of radical doctrines that were repudiated by serious theologians and philosophers but took root at the ground level and never let go. While acknowledging that the origins of any system are very complex, Reilly pins down the two ideas that he believes bear the brunt of the blame for destroying this once-great civilization:
1) The idea that the Koran existed in its current form from eternity past. In effect, this meant everything that happened in the Koran had been predetermined from the beginning of time. Since the time of Muhammad, scholars had debated whether there is more than one will in the universe, but as this doctrine gained public approval Islam became a religion of one will—God’s. God was responsible for everything that happened.
2) The idea that every idea worth knowing came straight from heaven. God had revealed the truth about Himself through special revelation. In other words, there was no room for debate about the morality of an action. Things were good because God had said they were. They were bad because He had said so. It was presumed that if God had not spoken on a subject, it wasn’t worth knowing about. “God is not disclosed in a People or a Savior or in earthly analogies . . . but in an impersonal text literally delivered, literally to be read, literally to be obeyed.”
Ever since I wrote my post a few weeks ago about Nazism and the major warning signs of Satanic deception, I’ve been thinking a lot about Satan’s perennial ambition to deceive the world’s people, and I’ve developed this easy, five-step solution for a charismatic leader. As I said in the prologue to my novel, the enemy is subtler and cannier than his opponents generally realize. This is what he has to do if he wants to win the people’s affection:
1) Completely invert the meaning of the cross. The cross is God’s ultimate expression of identification with human beings. Nowhere in history is love more fully realized than in Jesus, refusing to take up arms against the imperial forces, laying down His own life to participate fully in humanity’s suffering.
Yet in demonic religion—as, for example, in Nazism and radical Islam—token allegiance is still paid to the idea of the cross, but its meaning is completely subverted. Systems of theology are created to “protect” the people from the idea that God can suffer—from the idea that God loves them. The cross becomes less about the love of Jesus than it does the wrath of God. Over time, the cross becomes a symbol of ultimate violence.
2) Distort the character of Jesus. The Lord said to His disciples at the end of His life, “Those who have seen Me have seen the Father.” From the time of His resurrection, it was believed that He had embodied the nature of God like no one before Him. He had come to show us what God is like, and apparently what God is like is someone who embraces all people as brothers, who is not ashamed to consort with lepers, women, and drunkards, who overthrew the mightiest empire in world history through His sacrificial death.
Yet demonic religion—again, like Nazism and radical Islam—sees these attributes as weakness. Jesus should have displayed His power and overthrown His enemies. The fact that He didn’t, the fact that He was bled like a lamb being slaughtered is deeply offensive to the Nietzschean ideal that Might makes Right. What we need above all is for God to be a super-hero, to display His strength in the annihilation of all who resist Him. Thus, in demonic religion, less and less attention is paid to the Gospels; instead, God is seen as the genocidal warlord of the Old Testament histories. “Jesus” is still worshiped, but not as a servant, not as a bringer of peace.
3) Cultivate intense hatred for the “out” group. The New Testament apostles unanimously recognized that in Jesus a new thing was taking place in human history, that the kingdom of God had been opened for all groups of people. There was no longer Jew or Gentile, man or woman, master or slave (Gal. 3:28). When Paul spoke before the Greeks in Acts 17, he acknowledged their worship of the true God, called them all brothers, and said that He is not far from any one of us.
This inclusiveness is offensive to demonic religion, which bases its appeal on the idea of an elite group with exclusive access to divine knowledge and power. (The Nazis promoted the idea of an “Aryan race” that would take the place of God’s chosen people, the Jews). But of course, the more special the people in the group, the more hated the people outside it. Charismatic leaders need to raise the specter of constant persecution in order to rally their followers. Fear and paranoia are the forces that sustain the movement. Gradually, this idea that the outsiders want nothing more than to destroy those on the inside is accepted without question. Over time, this may manifest itself (as it has done in fundamentalist Islam) in an intense hatred of the world, its cultures, its art, its science, its religions, its whole way of life.
4) Destroy Critical Thinking. We’ve already seen one example of how this manifested in Islam. Political scientist Erik Voegelin identified what he called “Gnostic” movements throughout history that relied on divine revelation. Voegelin’s major finding can be summed up like this: once you have a person who claims to speak directly with God, who knows God’s will for your life, you have to shut up, because you can’t argue with God. This is called “Gnosis.”
In the scary group that I was a part of, the one that was forcibly broken up by IHOPKC last November, Tyler Deaton claimed the gift of “Gnosis.” When I came to him with a problem, he would sit at the piano letting his hands fly over the keyboard and allow God to show him all the people in my life who had hurt me. Then he would speak out of God’s emotions towards those people, and towards me. I don’t doubt that Tyler was extraordinarily perceptive in some areas, but we allowed his emotional sensitivity to exalt itself as God’s voice. In effect, he set himself up as an oracle, a pseudo-messiah.
And demonic religion loves “Gnosis” because it absolves its followers of the responsibility to think, and once your people have been trained to believe and obey you without question, anything is possible. It also destroys the basis for culture and civilization, because science, art, and the unfettered pursuit of knowledge are no longer tolerated. In a society where revelation comes primarily “from heaven,” through prayer or from prophets, art and education become dangerous weapons of resistance.
5) Call good “evil” and evil “good.” This is the final step in turning a safe movement into a dangerous ideology, only achievable once all the others are in place. A stigma has to be placed on words with positive attributes, words like “peace,” “love,” and “compassion.” At the same time, your followers should increasingly recognize that under certain circumstances bigotry, violence, and even murder are not only permissible, but necessary.
And I guess by now you can probably see where this is going. The five steps I’m describing have not only been employed in evil, “un-American” movements like Nazism and radical Islam, but are also becoming so identified with “Christianity” in America that it seems heresy to suggest that it was ever anything different.
My friend Barry* recently caused a stir when he posted on Facebook: “In the 14th century as the Black Plague devastatingly swept through Europe, Christians took to killing Jews (assuming God sent the plague as punishment for the Jewish sins). If something equally devastating happened today, which group would become the fundamentalist scape goat? Liberals? Homosexuals? Which ‘Frankenstein’ would the angry mob target?”
Barry is a Christian, but he was attacked by his other Christian friends for being bigoted, intolerant, and “anti-Christian.” He was repeatedly told that in the event of a major catastrophe today, conservative Christians would be the immediate scapegoat—this in spite of the fact, as our friend Wendell* pointed out, that no one could point to a single example of a Christian being persecuted in America.
And this is what happens. As Christians, we don’t believe in the radical laying down of our lives. Ours has become a movement that is primarily defined by what it’s against. And what it’s against is everyone. Where the Jesus of the Gospels said, “Whoever is not against us is on our side” (Luke 9:50), we increasingly see ourselves as in a holy war against all the gays, atheists, abortionists, single moms, and “evil humanitarians” doing “unholy social work” (yes, this is a real thing that real Christians actually believe) where the primary imperative is to build our own ark and await the day of vengeance of God almighty.
I’ve been working on going through my journals and collecting some of the transcripts of my conversations with Micah Moore, my old friend who in November turned himself into the police for the alleged murder of my friend Betania*. What I’ve found in going back and reading some of those long-ago discussions is intensely disturbing. From the time I first met him, Micah repeatedly told me that you can’t understand the nature of Jesus unless you’re a Christian. Satan has darkened the minds of unbelievers to the truth of the Gospel. “I know when I was saved,” he said, “my whole perspective changed because I had the mind of Christ. My logic and reasoning got inverted, sort of, and I saw things as they really are.”
Our unbelieving friends argued with him, but without success. Micah went on to say that God is so high above us, so far beyond our depraved understanding of good and evil, that what seems good to us may be evil in His sight, and what we consider evil may be good to Him.
I felt sick when I read these old arguments, because I could suddenly see how it might have happened. Obviously, if Micah really believed that as a Christian his “heavenly wisdom” defied common sense, if he really believed that genocide, rape, torture, murder may be permissible in certain circumstances because God commands it, then it becomes all too easy to imagine how he may have been talked into killing by a man he esteemed as the voice of God.
Later that night, I had a talk with my RCIA director at St. Catherine’s. I was coming to the increasingly troubling realization that the majority of my friends here in Grandview—in fact, most of the people I know—don’t have a problem with the genocides in the Old Testament because they were commanded by God. Neither did Micah.
“I’m pretty sure half the people I know,” I told her, “believe genocide is okay under certain conditions.”
She looked up from stirring her coffee and her face was white. Silence hung between us for a long moment. Finally she said, very slowly and carefully, “These people you’re talking about… do you think they could be talked into committing murder?”
“Absolutely I do,” I replied, without hesitation. “I think one of them already has.”
 Ralph C. Wood, Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God.