The opposite of Islam

July 24, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

There are two kinds of people, right? That’s how many analyses begin.

Here is one that I humbly offer, with little optimism that sufficient numbers of people will have the courage to take it to heart.

What is the opposite of Islam?

Most Americans would say that the answer is “Christianity.” This simple misconception, though, is the beginning of all kinds of mischief. I would submit that the opposite of Islam (and also the opposite of Christianity) is freethinking. In my view, Christianity and Islam both involve the refusal to deeply question one’s own motives, instincts and mental vulnerabilities.

The convoluted doctrines of these religions (and all religions and many political doctrines) serve as social truths only, not literal truths.  In my view, religions serves only as “flags” around which people gather to do what they do, for good or for evil. Individuals following these religions do plenty of both.  Knitted out of ambiguous platitudes, oxymorons and tall tales, such flags need not be literally true to serve well as a situs for social cohesion.  The components of religions need not be literially true to be important

The “opposite” of fundamentalist Islam, then, it’s “solution,” is not Christianity, certainly not fundamentalist Christianity. That is my perspective and my faith. In fact, in the modern world, a rampant version of any type of fundamentalism is the “opposite” of another only in that it tends to function as to provoke an “equal and opposite” reaction: another version of fundamentalism. The more any one of these religions gains adherents and tries to take over, the more another version of fundamentalism grows in strength to resist. It’s not a matter of whether one of these versions of fundamentalism is literally “true,” then.

The literal truth of these religions (e.g., whether a virgin can have a baby) can never be proven to willing and patient objective outsiders. Attempts at such proofs generally proceed from earnest invocations, to in your face earnestness to yelling with clentched holy books to shooting bullets with clentched holy books. Intellectual positions need not ignite fires, not inevitably. Outside of religious thinking, though, it’s common.  Intellectual explorations need not involve antagonism or aggression.  A case in point: How many wars have been started by agnostics?

Hasn’t more deep learning resulted from good questions than from beating people over the heads with oxymorons? Instead of attaking each other with holy books, wouldn’t it be utterly refreshing were allreligious believer to base their actions on humility, skepticism, self-critical thought and unbounded curiosity? Why not deep breaths, intellectual courage and empathy, instead of bullets? These things are the opposites of fundmentalisms of all stripes.

I have been away from home for the past week, without much access to media or the Internet. This has been good for me, I believe. Whenever I do get a glimpse of the news it seems, more than ever, to be less and less useful to think in terms of “us versus them,” and more and more senseless.

I offer this test, then (what is the opposite of Islam) as a litmus test for whether one is too entrenched to see the big picture. When one is too close to all the antagonism or too involved in either of these religions, one simply cannot see the numerous things all versions of fundamentalism hold in common, especially the unwillingness to follow evidence where it leads.

The true opposite of both Islam and Christianity, then, is critical thinking melded with empathy. Those who see this truth today, seem to be a dying breed–dying in the crossfire.

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Category: Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    PBS has been running a fascinating series this month about the history of the British royal family. This week's installment was about the three children of Henry VIII: Edward VI, Mary I ("Bloody Mary") and Elizabeth I, each of whom, respectively, would hold the crown.

    Henry, as we know, created the (Protestant) Anglican church, with himself as its head, because the pope refused to grant Henry a divorce from his first wife, who gave him no children (and Henry desperately wanted children, to keep the crown in his bloodline). Henry then had a series of wives, who ultimately gave him the three aforementioned children. After Henry died, his son Edward, also a Protestant, set about dismantling Catholic churches in England, to solidify his country's split from Rome. Unfortunately for Edward (and for Protestants throughout the country), he died before having any children, so the crown passed to Mary, a fundamentalist Catholic.

    Mary promptly began imposing Catholicism on England, primarily by burning at the stake anyone who refused to accept the pope's authority. Needless to say, this caused many former Protestants to recant their beliefs (whether or not they actually did so in their hearts is, of course, another question). Still, many refused to recant, so Mary murdered a lot of people. Not surprisinglyly, this enraged those who secretly remained Protestant.

    Enter Elizabeth. Like Edward, Mary also died without children, so the crown passed to Elizabeth, a Protestant, who set about undoing the damage Mary had done. However, given the now chaotic condition of religion in England (nearly bordering on civil war), with many people fearing to admit their beliefs for fear of what the next monarch might do, Elizabeth chose a middle ground. She took Protestant doctrine (to preserve the split from Rome) and combined it with Catholic ceremony, effectively creating an entirely new religion that would satisfy moderates on both sides (though, of course, still angering extremists on both sides).

    How does this bit of history relate to Erich's post? It highlights how absurd, arbitrary and politically-motivated the roots of religion can be, showcasing Erich's assertion that the opposite of religion is freethinking. This story also shows the lunacy and chaos of combining church and state, as well as the insanity of Mary's "convert or die" slaughter.

    We see echoes of this lunacy, chaos and insanity in America today: a direct result of George Bush and his evangelical cronies, and their "convert or suffer" carnage. Like Bloody Mary, Bush's effort to mandate his personal religion throughout America has deeply divided the country. Imprisonment, torture, death and chaos are, likewise, hallmarks of the Bush presidency. Though we may admit that Bush is nowhere near as bad as Bloody Mary, we might wonder just how bad Bush might be if he were to obtain the absolute monarchical power that Mary had. Given the destruction, death and chaos Bush has created with the power he does have (the phrase "Biblical proportions" comes to mind), it's a frightening prospect.

    Note, too, the visceral opposition the Bush Adminstration has shown toward any form of freethinking. He has purged his Administration of anyone who questions his policies, no matter how objectively misguided those policies have proven to be. He has used lies, misinformation and false intelligence obtained from torture to advance his misguided policies. He has demanded new censorship laws against the media and the Internet, and sought to prosecute journalists for publishing stories about his illegal activities. He has declared anyone who opposes his misguided policies (policies that have caused the needless deaths of THOUSANDS of American soldiers and TENS OF THOUSANDS of innocent Iraqis) to be "unpatriotic" and "siding with the terrorists." The list goes on and on and on.

    And throughout his insane crusade to rid the world of so-called "terrorists" — a crusade that has killed and mained countless thousands, outraged much of the world, and undoubtedly sowed the seeds of many future terrorist attacks — Bush claims to be a born-again Christian and, presumably, believes he is on a mission from God. Could the stark contrast between religious fanaticism and freethinking possibly be more striking?

  2. R harrison says:

    In jesus’s words you shall know my brothers and sisters by their fruit. So born again bush should be aware that as in the day of moses they do appear to catch fire. The problem is that bush fires spread.

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