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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

There is no God, but

"There is no god but Allah." By this pronouncement, Islam forbids idolatry.

Yet, like Christianity, Hinduism, and other religions, Islam often practices and even promotes idolatry. Extreme fundamentalists or true believers worship human beliefs, human artifacts, and human leaders. They take many of their values, their words, their teachings, their rituals, out of context. They often even treat their priests, prophets, and rulers as though they are in full possession of Truth.

Idolatry is the act of worshipping symbols, that is, making gods of human artifacts. Idolatry treats objects as though they were absolute. Absolute means to stand alone, on its own, without need for anything outside itself, without condition, unrelated to space or time, separate from social or cultural influence. Absolutism is more than a philosophic illusion. It is a ethical and political decision.

Iconoclasm is the other side of idolatry. Iconoclasm also treats human symbols or artifacts as absolute--that is, absolute evils that must be wiped out. Extremist fanatics consider unbelieving humans or nations as evil incarnations to be massacred to please their gods. They also consider that the symbols of other religions and their incompatible beliefs and artifacts are idols that must be eradicated.

Whether they cry "Allah" or "Christ," "ISIS" or "USA," idolators are iconoclasts and iconoclasts are idolators. They make the claim of ultimacy for their religion or nation. The deluded couple who just massacred government workers in San Bernardino were Islamic idolators and iconoclasts just as the terrorists of ISIS are. But those US politicians, who stir up the hate of the fearful ignorant and call for war against Muslims, are American and/or Christian idolators and iconoclasts. They exhibit the apex of hypocrisy: the practice of idolatry in the name of faith in a transcendent God.

When the Taliban deface the sacred images of Buddha and the warriors of ISIS destroy Christian and Jewish mementos or ravage sites venerated by Shiites, they practice idolatry in their iconoclasm and break the main law of Islam. As do the KKK and other white supremacist groups when they set fire to black churches or attack muslim mosques. The jihad or crusade of the terrorist is to impose their absolutes on the world.

In authentic faith, there is nothing absolute; all things have existence and meaning in their relations to each other in a relational universe. No absolute good, no absolute evil. Nevertheless I believe in a supreme evil--the evil of idolatry/iconoclasm. It is the human choice to deny our contingency and the contingency of everything we create or articulate including our stories, our religions, our science, and our institutions. It is also the human choice to deny the sufferings of others and sharing in those sufferings.

And here is where I discover the supreme good. The opposite of idolatry and iconoclasm. It is companionship in the struggle to transcend our illusions of absolute beliefs. The solidarity of jihad for faith and justice. The joy of being in relation with others and experiencing their suffering. Compassion.

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