al-Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, Sunni, Shiite, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mosque in St. Joseph, Missouri – all seen as representative of Islam. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah Witness, 7th Day Adventist, Presbyterian, Clarksdale Missouri Baptist, Mormon, and United Methodist – all seen as representative of Christianity. These diverse religious organizations claim the mantel of their respective faith – while denying the others as ‘true’ or ‘legitimate’. Doe any of these actually represent Islam or Christianity? Foget about it! – as the Americanized Italians might say. There is no single concept of Islam or Christianity – only Muslims and Christians.
The entire world is watching the restructuring of Islam – in real time. The idea of ‘restructuring’ of any faith to accommodate social norms is a ghastly concept for the pious. In the extreme, as evidenced by the Islamic Prophet himself, “In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’?” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. We use the term ‘restructuring’ based on past history with intra-faith discrimination.
It has been almost 500 years since Martin Luther was excommunicated – the Pope surely thought Luther an infidel. Luther started his own church, much to the chagrin of the Catholics. “Catholic” means universal – the one church of Christ – so right away Luther is discredited. Not to be outdone, other religious zealots of the same time, after witnessing Luther start a church, began launching more “Christian” churches. Calvin successfully shot Presbyterians to credibility.
200 years passed. Government systems were maturing, we might say civilized humanity was maturing. The great liberal experiment began with the writing of the Constitution of the United States of America. The government granted the freedom to pursue whatever faith one desired – with the qualification that government law was dominant.
Fast forward to the 1800’s in North America. People were moving west faster than church leaders could imagine – there were few trained clergy on the plains, but lots of King James Bibles and self taught preachers ready to take charge. The result was the birth of the radicalized fringe faiths systems of Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, and every possible variety of biblical interpretation. Staunch in their beliefs, many of these would not recognize the sacraments performed in other denominations – and the Catholics would not recognize any of these faith systems.
Time passed. Common people learned to read. Schools formed. Education became common place. State sponsored schools mixed the children of different denominations. More Bibles were printed. Communities evolved from single church villages into urban cities where multiple faith systems gained strength. Out of necessity – people from the different faith systems interacted. Religious prejudices were tempered with affiliation apart from church. Those Mormon children seemed like regular folk.
Enter the 21st Century. The variety of Christian denominations has grown. All it takes to start a new church is a resentment, a coffee pot, and a Bible. Does self-righteous piety exist – yes. Is there a single accepted Christianity – nope. Just Christians. How can we tell if someone is really a Christian. There is but one test – if they say they are. Many modern Christians deny that simple truth – demanding to see the fruit of the vine – whatever. The fact is that there is no single definition of Christian that is universally accepted.
Okay – back to Islam. Does the history of Christianity tell us anything? Does humanity’s experience with diverse denominations in a single faith system speak to the future of Islam? The probable answer is yes – and that is exactly what scares all Islamic radicals. There are Christian today that pray for the other misguided Christians of other faulty denominations. But they do not shoot them and blow them up with suicide bombings.
We are living in a time of accelerated everything. The homogenization of Islam has begun. The process will not be pretty.