The Islamic Anaconda

A reader challenges a definition in my essay:

Your ragument would be better if you noted the differences between religious fundamentalists and inerrantists. Note that those who call themselves "fundamentalists" in the United States aren't really fundamental at all. They are inerrantists who attempt to ply convenient portions of holy writ to select current issues of the day - "hot button issues," so to speak. These days everyone can fumble through their King James' for the few alleged passages condemning homosexuality, while turning a blind eye to the enormous chunks of text bespeaking economic justice. Hypocritical? Sometimes. Fundamental? No.

On the other hand, Christian fundamentalists, inerrant or no, seek a sheltering return to an earlier, more primitive "basic" period in Christian history that never existed. It couldn't have. Nothing was ever basic. Take a look at the various Christian groups flowering in the immediate post-apostolic era, especially in the Upper Nile region, and you quickly see that in the Christian folds, no one ever agreed much about anything. (Maybe we have recaptured an initial essence of early Christianity! Maybe we never left it at all!)

In the 19th century, religious reconstructionist Alexander Campbell tried to found a single Christian movement under the guise of "No creed but Christ:"  "Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent."  Not only was he unable to say a helluva lot, his movement to found a single Christian organization resulted in three more Christian denominations by 1908  (Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, Churches of Christ).

These historic snippets would tend to strengthen claims that a solution to downward spirals toward religious wars would be a recovering, and a recognition, of religious diversity and the acknowledgment of more gray areas than religious certainty might allow.

When reading your article a few times to see if I could imagine an Islamic analog to Christian fundamentalists versus Christian inerrantists, I hit a pothole. Islam regards its holy text, the Koran, inerrant, and not only divinely inspired, each printed copy, or reproduced copy, to be highly sacred in regard.  Islam appears to be unlike Christian inerrantism in that Christian inerrantists turn a microscope toward a few passages addressing issues of social insecurity, but has no difficulty living with and dealing with the rest of modernity.

Islam has from the beginning been a rejection of modernity. At its beginning, Islam was at its most base a rejection of corrupt Christian society which left a spiritual vacuum in the outer reaches of the Sees of Alexandria and Jerusalem. Modernity has always been the apple that the Islamic anaconda just couldn't swallow. The tension doesn't result from the select, convenient misapplication of Koranic lections to various issues, hot buttons, phobias, social codas, whatever you will.  The tension results from the collision of the Islamic world with an entire world it never could, or will, envision, or safely pigeonhole.

Points well taken. Inevitably, a book will have to simplify and conflate a little in fewer than 300 pages. In Philly tonight, debating Peter Beinart, I found myself asking if, given the new technologies of destruction available, Islam will ever have enough time to reform itself before a catastrophe of some sort. History suggests that there is not enough time - and so the collision of Islam with modernity is looming in ever more destructive forms.