Challenging the Dangerous Ideas of Radical Islam

Well the USA has just suffered another radical Islamist inspired atrocity. The appalling loss of life in the Orlando club massacre at the hands of a gunman who swore allegiance to the Islamic State, reminds us again of the terrible danger we face at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Rather than analyse this specific case, the following essay attempts to provide some backgrounding to the phenomenon of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.

It is too early to jump to definitive conclusions regarding the lead-up and the motivation behind this atrocity. However what can’t be denied is the cold-blooded murder of the club patrons, largely gay and lesbian people, was carried out in the name of radical Islam.

Radical Islam is a challenge to our society that we must strenuously resist. As I have argued before, this is basically a war of ideas where our society in its attempts at tolerance and political correctness has avoided confronting the ideas on which the platform of Islamist terror is based. At the conclusion of this essay I will outline the ideas we should not be afraid to challenge.

Theologians have long argued that the dilemma that Mankind faces is that it has to contend with two worlds, viz. both a transcendent world and a mundane one. All the so-called “world religions” – Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – agree on the paramount importance of engaging appropriately with the transcendent if we are to have meaningful and satisfying lives. Most religions rely on a pre-eminent teacher, a Buddha, a Jesus, a Moses or a Muhammad to direct us not only how to engage with the transcendent but also how to chart our course in the mundane realm as well.

Of all the founders of the world religions we know most about Muhammad largely because his history is the most recent (c. 570 – 632 CE). But his traditional history would certainly create doubts in the mind of a modern historian. Being illiterate, much of his teachings was purportedly handed down by word of mouth. When his followers decided to compile his sayings (abadith) almost a century after his death many of the sources were decidedly dubious. As religious historian, Karen Armstrong has written,

The work of Muhammad’s first biographers would probably not satisfy a modern historian. They were men of their time and often included stories of a miraculous and legendary nature that we would interpret differently to day.

(Despite his more recent history, some religious historians have maintained that, “The life of Muhammad, dependant on sources written centuries after he lived, increasingly has come to seem a thing very difficult to define as fact. The consensus among scholars now probably would be that we know less about the historical Muhammad than we do about the historical Jesus.”

I would probably differ from that conclusion. However little we know about Muhammad I think that there is sufficient evidence to acknowledge his existence. I must say I cannot be convinced that Jesus was anything more than a convenient myth!)

Muhammad lived from c. 570 – 632 CE. A little more than a hundred years after the death of the Prophet, Muslim scholars began to assemble the great collections of Muhhamad’s sayings (abadith) and customary practice (sunnah), which would form the basis of Muslim law.

As Karen Armstrong has written:

The Sunnah taught Muslims to imitate the way that Muhammad spoke, ate, loved, washed, and worshipped, so that in the smallest details of their daily existence, they reproduced his life on earth in the hope that they would acquire his internal disposition of total surrender to God.

Thus much of Islam’s teachings relate more to the mundane than the transcendent. Fundamentalist Islam seems determined to perpetuate the mores of a seventh century illiterate Arab in a nomadic tribal tradition.

To understand Muhammad’s influence we need to look at Middle Eastern history. Whilst largely following in the Judaic tradition, the Arabs felt disadvantaged because they did not have a prophet of their own. They yearned for the legitimacy that such a person might bring them.

To appreciate the source of this desire we need to go further back into the traditional mythology of Judaism.

In Genesis we read the story of Abraham and Sarah.

At this time Judaism knew nothing of an afterlife or heaven. The only immortality people seemed to seek lay in their progeny. Although God had promised Abraham that he would father a great nation, Sarah seemed to be barren. In despair, Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham to attempt to father a child. Hagar subsequently bore his child, Ishmael.

Subsequently and seemingly miraculously, Sarah fell pregnant and bore Abraham another son, Isaac. When Isaac was born, Sarah insisted that Abraham compel Hagar to take Ishmael away to ensure that Isaac became Abraham’s heir. Abraham was grieved by this suggestion but he complied with Sarah’s wishes and expelled Hagar and Ishmael from his household. Abraham provided the woman and her son with some scant provisions and sent them off into the wilderness where the two faced almost certain death. But at the eleventh hour, it was said, God intervened and Ishmael’s life was spared. Judaic tradition records that Ishmael went on to be the father of the Arab peoples.

The Arabs were known by the other inhabitants of the Middle East in a somewhat derogatory way as the Ishmaelites or sometimes (after Hagar) the Hagarenes. Their legitimacy was questioned as they had been cast out by the patriarch, Abraham. The move to establish their own prophet, in the person of Muhammad, has often been seen as an attempt to restore that legitimacy.

Isador of Seville, the great polymath and encyclopedist of late antiquity, and a contemporary of Muhammad, summed up a Christian viewpoint of the Arabs:

The Saracens live in the desert. They are also called Ishmaelites, as the book of Genesis teaches, because they are descended from Ishmael (son of Abraham). They are also called Hagarenes because they are descended from Hagar (Abraham’s slave concubine, mother of Ishmael). They also, as we have already said, perversely call themselves Saracens because they mendaciously boast of descent from Sarah (Abraham’s legitimate wife).

In the eyes of Christians the Arabs tended to be marginalized as enemies of the human race by their tainted descent, or as we would say today, by their ethnicity. Besides this, in the viewpoint of Christians, they had the unappealing habits of nomads and therefore were deemed to be not of the civilized world. And to add to this God had declared (as recorded in the bible) that the Arabs would be outsiders forever.

The canonical account of early Islam has Muhammad receiving the supposedly divine revelations embodied in the Koran from 610. By this time the Arabs were known by their neighbours as “dangerous people, unsavoury people, but useful so long as kept at arm’s length.” Despite this, during their early history, they were more tolerant than their Christian counterparts. Even after the “revelations” to Muhammad, they were solicitous towards the “people of the Book” (ie Jews and Christians). There is evidence also that initially they held women in reasonable status, in contrast with their Christian contemporaries. Spurred on by the initial successes under Muhammad of military expansionism by the eleventh century Islam had expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula to conquer North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and large parts of Asia Minor. We shall come back to this later.

Muhammad had undoubtedly stimulated a new religion with expansionary ambitions. In this respect, Islam was far more activist than its predecessors, Judaism and Christianity. In this ambition Islam was initially hugely successful but after some 800 years the Christians had driven the Muslims back to their heartlands. What’s more the Christian communities in Europe and elsewhere were becoming more prosperous whilst most in the Muslim communities were languishing. In recent times Islamic fundamentalists have prospered because they have used the argument that the Islamic decline was solely due to the deviation from the original teachings of Muhammad and if only Muslims could revert to the Islamic practices of Muhammad’s time then surely Islam could regain its early glory.

Some theologians believe that Islam is intransigent to change because it is entirely informed by only the Koran. The holy text of Christianity, the bible, on the other hand, comprises many books and often with contradictory views. As a result Christian scholars are more used to balancing alternative views, whereas this would be an anathema to Muslim scholars. Muhammad also (conveniently for him, but inconvenient for the development of Islam) made it difficult for believers to challenge his output because he declared himself the last of all the prophets so Islamic sages in following generations would never have the authority that he had.

But Muhammad, himself prospered because of his reactionary stance to change in Mecca.

It has been said that Mecca was a desolate place, a bleak windswept town set in desert sands and surrounded by barren mountains.

Kenan Malik writes:

It was deep inside the Arabian Peninsula, a land of tribes surrounded by a world of civilisations. To the north was the Fertile Crescent, gateway to two great empires divided by the River Euphrates. On one side of the Euphrates stood Byzantium, the eastern half of the Roman Empire, the half that most engaged with the Greek tradition. On the other side of the river was the land of the Sasanians, whose domain, which extended over what is now Iran and Iraq, had emerged out of the old Persian Empire. To the south on either side of the Red Sea, lay Ethiopia, an ancient Christian kingdom, and Yemen, a land of fertile mountain valleys, and a point of transit for long-distance trade. Further to the east lay the great civilisations of India and China. Beyond Byzantium, to the west, was the other half of the Roman Empire, which eventually became the centre of Christendom.

So it is obvious that the city that was central to the birth of Islam was, at that time, a rather inconsequential place on the world stage.

In the time of Muhammad a transition was taking place. Mecca was becoming a trading centre. The authorities, in their wisdom, were insisting that the traders paid taxes on their transactions. This in turn generated substantial wealth which enabled the city to grow and promote trade.

Muhammad had been brought up in the traditional Bedouin tribal society and he was opposed to the commercial trends that sought to transform the traditional society. He was a champion of tribal values and detested the more liberal views of the traders who sought to make Mecca a more cosmopolitan society. He was, in most ways, a conservative, which was part of the reason for his rejection by the growing body of progressives at Mecca.

Probably the main claim to fame for Mecca was that it housed the Ka’ba. The Ka’ba was a small, squat, roofless building where the populace placed the idols that represented their gods for worshipping.

The origins of the Ka’ba lay deep in Arab history. However it became far more prominent with the ascent to power of the Quraysh tribe in the fourth century CE. The Quaraysh leader, Quasi Ibn Kilab knitted together the local warring clans through a combination of force and diplomacy, recognising that the shrine would yield him both commercial and political power. He refurbished the shrine and installed in it the idols of all the neighbouring tribes thus strengthening its role as the dominant place of worship in the region. People from without the Arabian Peninsula came to the Ka’ba to worship. The surrounding land was proclaimed as sacred ground and fighting was forbidden.

Quasai was shrewd enough to convert the religious significance of the shrine into commercial opportunities. Trade began to flourish, as did Mecca, largely because Quasai taxed all the trade that took place around this religious sanctuary.

When Muhammad came along and preached that there was only one God and that was Allah, the merchants understood that if this view prevailed and the 300 or so idols placed in the sanctuary of the Ka’ba lost their significance, the attraction of Ka’ba to the myriad tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and the consequent trading opportunities would be greatly curtailed.

So here, right at the birth of Islam there was already a tension between religion and commerce, progressive forces and conservatism.

As no doubt you all know, Muhammad subsequently fled to Yathrib, subsequently renamed as Medina, where he was warmly embraced by a more traditional society, devoted to the tribalism of the Bedouins.

It was from Medina that Muhammad consolidated his power and finally went on to lead the Arab conquest.

It is difficult not to admire the achievements of Muhammad. He united disparate Arab tribes into a great nation. He stimulated an Arabic Empire that for a time extended from the Himalayas to the Pyrenees. The great affront that Islam now confronts us with is largely as a result of an ambition to recreate the Islamic world of a thousand years ago. Apart from the oil rich states in the Middle East, Muslim states have not prospered. They are largely third world countries that have not been able to benefit from the achievements of modernity. They are stuck in the mire of their Islamic tradition, trying forlornly to bring back the triumph of their ancient history.

Another layer of history has also to be understood if we are to make sense of Islam’s influence on modern society. Islam has its own schisms. When Muhammad died he had not anointed a successor. The struggle to advance his successor actually resulted in two competing traditions, the Sunni and Shia Muslims. Unfortunately the enmity between these two groups has been more devastating than the enmity between the Muslims and the infidels. This conflict has resulted in many more casualties than the conflict between Islam and Christianity for example.

As I have previously written, another dangerous idea propagated by Islam is the concept of Paradise. The notion that there was a heavenly destination that humans could aspire to enter after death seems to have come to Judaism/Christianity quite late in the piece – as recent as circa 200BC. The religious journalist and author, Lisa Miller, points out that paradise has its roots in the word pairidaeza which in the language of the Persian priesthood meant “walled garden”.

It is easy to see why the Jews and early Christians, eking out a subsistence existence in an arid, barren landscape would imagine paradise as a bountiful garden in a fertile well-watered location! And of course in many ways these early notions of heaven were a yearning to return to the “Garden of Eden” where men and women could again walk with God in a fertile, verdant place. (I do not know if the Inuits have a concept of heaven but if they do I’ll bet it’s warm!)

Students of history would be aware that the Jews in Babylon were conquered by the Persians led by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC. Many of the Persians were Zoroastrians. The Zoroastrians had a concept of a Heaven whose inhabitants were non-aging, immortal and forever prospering. It seems then that this Zoroastrian concept was gradually assimilated into the beliefs of the Jews. (As we saw earlier the word paradise is drawn from Persian roots.)

Consequently, Christianity also adopted the concept. But in no religious tradition is the idea of Heaven as a paradise garden more important than in Islam. Islam was established in the seventh century in one of the hottest, driest, most inhospitable areas in the world. No wonder then that the Koran, Islam’s holy book, promises that after death the faithful will go to a garden. And the garden described is a wondrous one with fruits that won’t spoil in the heat, with rivers not only of water but also of honey, wine and milk.

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are really pretty vague about what we should expect in heaven, but the Koran is not! It indicates, as Miller interprets:

…..that sensual pleasures of every sort will be granted in Paradise, not least among them the attention of the houris – dark-eyed, full-breasted spirit women, who live confined to pavilions undefiled before them by humans or Jinn.

Unsurprisingly in the context of the development of Islam this is a very misogynist vision of Paradise. No mention seems to be made of the sensual pleasures that women might derive from entrance to Paradise!

Gaining access to Paradise is the overwhelming ambition of the followers of Islam. The most dangerous idea of Islam is that our physical existence in this life has no significance compared with the eternal reward of the afterlife in Paradise. Human life therefore is of little consequence except as an opportunity to earn our way to Paradise. And unfortunately, fundamentalist Islam has championed the notion that martyrdom in the cause of the Prophet gives automatic access to Paradise. This is a formidable weapon for the religious zealots. There is no need to fear death if it occurs as a result of advancing the cause of Islam. This is a most dangerous idea!

Muhammad lived from c. 570 – 632 CE. A little more than a hundred years after the death of the Prophet, Muslim scholars began to assemble the great collections of Muhamad’s sayings (abadith) and customary practice (sunnah), which would form the basis of Muslim law.

As we saw earlier, the Sunnah taught Muslims to imitate the way that Muhammad spoke, ate, loved, washed, and worshipped, so that in the smallest details of their daily existence, they reproduced his life on earth in the hope that they would acquire his internal disposition of total surrender to God (which indeed is the literal meaning of Islam). Thus Islam seems determined to perpetuate the mores of a seventh century illiterate Arab.

So let’s cut to the chase. Islam is based on the Koran which Muslims maintain is the inalterable and final word of God. The Koran is replete with contradictions. It is a document fashioned by fallible men, relying on hearsay and dubious references about the Prophet’s life. It relates largely to a minor geographical area and the lives of insular tribesmen in the seventh century.

Coming to the present age it is useful to contemplate how there has been such a resurgence of Islam and its influence on world affairs.

In their book Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics World-wide, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, using multivariate analysis, demonstrate that a few basic development indicators such as per capita GNP, rates of HIV/AIDS, access to improved water sources and the number of doctors per hundred thousand people, predict with remarkable precision how frequently the people of a given society worship or pray.

When we analyse these findings we find, not surprisingly, that religion is most popular in vulnerable societies, but on the other hand those societies where, on a day to day basis, survival seems largely secure, religion plays a lesser role.

So the thesis proposed here is that, all things being equal, the experience of growing up in less secure societies will predispose us more to taking on religious practices. Those born into more secure societies are far less likely to assume religious practices.

Most of the Islamic countries have low standards of living which, as we saw above, predispose them to religious belief and often fundamentalist beliefs. However, social media and other communication technologies, are now pervasive enough even for the inhabitants of such countries to know that those in the developed Western countries live materially far better lives. This is the cause of a sense of injustice in traditional Islamic societies. This growing realisation has seeded the movement to restore Islam to its former glory, which the fundamentalist adherents believe entails reverting to the Islamic practices exemplified by Muhammad.

(Although some of the propagators of radical Islamic terror have been born and raised in Western countries, they are normally only one generation removed and they often frequent enclaves in Western societies where fundamentalism is preserved.)

So here are the delusionary ideas that provide the fundamentalist platform for the unconscionable terrorist activities of the radical Islamists:

  • Muhammad was the messenger of God (Allah).
  • The Koran is therefore the inviolable word of God.
  • Islam has lost its rightful place in the world because its adherents have veered away from the fundamentalist orthodoxy promulgated by Muhammad.
  • Consequently if the Caliphate can be restored and impose Sharia Law on its citizens, Islam can again dominate the world.
  • Fundamentalist Islamic warriors need not fear death because if they martyr themselves to the cause of Islam they will be guaranteed access to Paradise.
  • The fundamentalist doctrines of misogyny and homophobia are requirements of Allah and not merely a reflection of the social mores of illiterate seventh century Bedouin tribes.

I suppose, in the end, the belief that Muhammad was the messenger of God rests on an article of faith. What I find interesting is that more credence is given to such claims the more remote they are from us. If someone wandered down from a cave where he had been sequestered and claimed to have been visited by the Archangel Gabriel today, he would immediately be sent for psychiatric assessment. But when it happened centuries ago we seem more inclined to believe that it was a revelation rather than a delusion.

We saw above that the Koran is contradictory in many respects. If the Koran is the inviolable word of God then either God is uncertain about what fundamental precepts his followers need to live holy lives or Muhammad was a flawed translator. It has been pointed out on many occasions how the teaching of Muhammad morphed between his time in Mecca, when he was struggling for acceptance and his time in Medina, when his star was in the ascendency. Surely the “truth” is not determined by such circumstances.

The Koran and the Sunnah devote considerable content in detailing and prescribing the mundane practice of everyday life in an Arab community. It is hard to believe that such issues would be of any great concern to an omnipotent, omniscient God. They seem more designed to perpetuate the social mores of seventh century Bedouin tribal life. I would suspect the issues of misogyny and homophobia might be included in this categorisation.

The fundamentalist Islamic belief that martyrdom in the service of the Prophet results in automatic access to Paradise needs also to be challenged. Again I suppose this is a matter of faith, and it is hard to dispel beliefs that people want to believe. But Islamic historians contest that Jihadism, in the way the fundamentalists portray it, is supported by Islamic doctrine. In most societies murder is outlawed. Yet the Jihadists seem to rely on indiscriminate murder in their concept of furthering the cause of the Prophet.

There are also elements of arbitrary convenience in the claims of the fundamentalists. In recent weeks some Imams have proclaimed that access to Paradise would even be easier for extremists who murdered in the name of the Prophet during the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and celebrated by fasting.

As I have shown, the notion of Paradise is a fantasy lifted from the tradition of the Zoroastrians. Islamists would be unlikely to admit that sitting behind their heartfelt beliefs was the spectre of Zarathustra!

Not to mention the fact that their concept of Paradise is decidedly misogynist! What sort of a God would give access to his heavenly delights to only one half of the human race!

Finally, the notion that re-establishing Islam to better reflect the practices of Muhammad might somehow restore Islamic society to the status of its golden era is obviously delusionary. Such an undertaking will only impede the development of those societies. As for the developed world, the more we allow fundamentalist Islam to dictate or even influence the way we live our lives the more we risk our essential freedoms and our material standard of living as well.

We need to be resolute in challenging these dangerous ideas!

11 Replies to “Challenging the Dangerous Ideas of Radical Islam”

  1. Hi Ted
    Some good simplifications of what many are portraying as an increasingly complex issue. It appears to me that our major political leaders are avoiding public debate on this issue during the current election campaign and consistent with your previous analysis of “free speech” I suspect that it is now politically correct to put your head in the sand on these issues rather than have a sensible public discussion. I have a question for you from left field and that is:- Is there any likelihood that the suggestion from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party to have a Commision of Enquiry into Islam likely to get any momentum and would it achieve anything if it was implemented?

  2. I am not sure what a Commission of Enquiry would achieve, Brad.Moderate Muslims would surely be incensed and claim Muslims were being unfairly singled out.

    Christianity is not founded on any firmer foundations than Islam.But at least fundamentalist Christianity which also believes that homosexuality is a sin isn’t suggesting that gay people be murdered!

    Some fundamentalist Imams are suggesting we should execute gay people and unfortunately we allow them to propagate such nonsense with little restraint. I believe, in line with my article, every time radical Islamists make such abhorrent statements they should be challenged.

    Unfortunately, in an attempt to prove our tolerance and commitment to multiculturalism, we stick our heads in the sand and ignore such affronts to our freedom.

    Surely there is enough strength in our laws that attempt to prevent us from inciting violence to deal with this fundamentalist claptrap.

    Whilst, as you might have observed through my blogs, I am reluctant to try and change people’s religious beliefs, when those beliefs impinge upon our basic freedoms then I think they should always be challenged.

    If you believe in evolution, as I do, you must concede that not only our bodies are evolving but our understanding of the world, and indeed probably our consciousness is evolving also.

    It is illogical for me to believe (as fundamentalists of all religions do) that sages who lived centuries ago could devise more appropriate responses to the the modern world than we could.

    No doubt there are enduring truths that they have had insights about that are certainly worth sharing with us. But much of what is written in Bible and the Koran, for example, seems more about trying to preserve the cultural traditions in their particular time and place which has little relevance to us today.

  3. It seems to me that whether it be fundamentalist Islam, or fundamentalist Christianity, or fundamentalist Hinduism, or, for that matter even fundamentalist atheism; none of these address the essential problem of fundamentalist thinking itself.

    Fundamentalism is essentially the natural expression of the egoic mind’s – the individuated personal body-based mind’s — arrogant belief that one’s special, yet unchosen, set of circumstances (birth, socialisation) provide an adequate basis for judging and separating the perceived world into ‘what is right’ vs ‘what is wrong’. The world seems to be obsessed with pointing the accusing finger of ‘guilt’ (based in the unquestioned belief in the freedom of the human egoic will) outwards towards ‘others’ as a means of sustaining the shaky belief that one’s own illusion of separation and specialness can only be sustained if ‘others’ have ‘got it wrong’. How can I ever sustain the belief in my separation and the ‘rightness’ of my specialness unless I also sustain the belief—through any of the many forms of judgement and attack—that ‘others’ have ‘got it wrong’? And not just ‘got it wrong’ but rather, and more importantly, ‘are inherently wrong’ in a culpably guilty sort of way (not just mistaken) and hence in need of punishment! Mistaken thinking merely needs correction, but guilt demands punishment, and it is this desire to punish, in all its vast variety of forms, that we see driving the insanity of this world, everywhere from the interpersonal level to the conflict between nations, cultures, and ideologies.

    What is almost never addressed by the fundamentalist mind-set is this very question of the trustworthiness of the personal puppet-mind itself, and whether there could actually be another level of Mind (a shared unseen un-self-conscious observing Mind—what Jung loosely regarded as the ‘collective unconscious’) that lies hidden from the conscious mind’s egoic view (for how could an ‘observing Mind’ ever ‘see’ Itself).

    If there is another level of shared Mind, could it be that such a Mind—shared absolutely and equally by all—has a single degree of freedom to continue with Its original space/time choice to experience the illusion of egoic separation or to progress Its inevitable evolutionary return journey (the negative entropy of the collective Psyche) towards an awakened state of Singularity and harmony. Ted once said to me that the best definition of ‘Love’ that had come to his mind was “Love is the dissolution of separation.” I only added, “Love is the dissolution of separation at the level of the Real”—because unless we become intuitively aware of the Reality of a Singular Identity beyond the legion of our vulnerable and fear-driven body-based identities the “dissolution of separation” is nothing more than an egoic ideal. Many of the great ‘mystics’ from Plato onwards seemed to understand that the great divide in thinking was between ‘love’ and ‘fear’ and that all the rest was merely the result of the unchosen circumstances within which each of these incommensurable core motives found their unique but non-special expression. For ‘Love’ to be Real it needs have only one-degree-of-freedom to lift it above robotic meaninglessness.

    It seems to me that the many manifest differences between any of the many varieties of fear-driven fundamentalist mind-sets is only in the particular ‘form’ in which they are expressed. From a purely human-survival point of view it would seem that the various fundamentalist forms of Islamic thinking (the Sufi seem to have the potential of seeing beyond individuated separation to a real understanding of unconditional Love – as beautifully expressed in the writings of such mystics as Rumi and others) is only more ‘dangerous’ to such survival than, say, the fundamentalist form manifested in some of the so-called Christian societies, is that such Islamic forms are rather less subtle in their drive towards the domination of all other forms.

    What is missing in any of the hot debates between the great variety of fundamentalist mind-sets is that of the validity of their common assumption that any individuated body-based personal mind has the autonomous ability to make any valid judgments that seek to make itself ‘special’ and subsequently separate ‘lives’ from ‘Life’.

  4. I should, perhaps, add an addendum to my previous txt in support of the positive value of resisting and opposing mistaken belief systems—in such non-aggressive ways as Ted’s—such as those spread and expressed through fundamentalist Islamic groups like ISIL. If it be the case that ISIL, and the members of all such groups, operate from a mindset that is fear-driven, uninformed and profoundly mistaken in their illusions of specialness and religious certainty, rather than intentionally and inherently ‘wicked’, then the long-term solution can only be effective if its focus in on education and enlightenment around the notion of ‘shared existence’ beyond the temporary expedient of military suppression.

    If the history of warfare should teach us anything is that it is quite impossible to produce long-term peace through killing off those who would disturb it! Every victory gained through the use of force can only be temporary at best, and a disaster at worst. This is well expressed in the words of the Dali Lama “Through violence, you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.”

    I applaud Ted’s efforts to enlighten and inform rather than attack and demean either the individual or the collective within which they operate. I suspect that the vast majority of those who end up joining aggressive antisocial movements like ISIL have had little or no exposure to alternative views. There are no ‘bad people’ but there are some profoundly ‘bad ideas’ that fear-driven egoic minds—particularly those that find little meaning in their present lives—find strangely and powerfully attractive. The need for meaning is what lifts human life above that of animal life, and if young people cannot find reasonable fulfilment of this inherent need in their day-to-day lives, is it any wonder that some find it in such radical movements as ISIL.

    “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

  5. Well, as usual Phil, it is hard to argue with you. You and I after a lifetime of considering the different worldviews of our fellow human inhabitants of this earth can easily agree that the egoic mind, in trying to assert its specialness, using the only resources it has to propagate its claim, various confections of the ego including religion, nationality, gender, political background or whatever, is the problem.

    But what should our response be?

    You and I know that at a fundamental level, “All is well” and in the scheme of things these human aberrations probably don’t matter much.

    But there is a fundamental part of me that needs to do something! I have confessed in the past that just like William Wordsworth I feel also the “World is Too Much with Us”! It certainly is too much with me!

    I opened the paper today to see a photo of a man carrying the lifeless body of a little girl from the ruins of Aleppo, senselessly killed in the struggle between ISIS and the Syrian State. . And I couldn’t stop my tears.

    You should probably tell me I am foolish, but I can’t just let these things happen without some sort of a response.

    You are wiser than I am and your judgment is probably not clouded by your emotions as mine is, so I ask you what are we to do?

    I cannot fault your logic nor contradict anything you have put to us about the nature of the human condition.

    But Phil, surely there must be something we can palpably do that might reduce the suffering of those caught in this mayhem!

    I think we should at least be courageous enough to challenge the ideas of the fundamentalists. Perhaps that will have little effect.

    But I, for one, feel the necessity of challenging their dangerous ideas.

  6. “But I, for one, feel the necessity of challenging their dangerous ideas.” – I agree entirely!

    You also ask: “But what should our response be?” A very valid question, but even this question contains an assumption that itself needs to be explored a little more closely – even if, in doing so, it introduces a level of discomfort within all of us; including me.

    The term “should” contains the assumption that, at the level of conscious decision-making in the structure of our psyche, we “could” just as easily respond in one way to situations such as this, as we “could” respond in some other way. Our shared ego supports this kind of thinking in all of us, however, would it not be more accurate to say “But how WILL we respond” rather than “how SHOULD we respond”. Let me attempt to explain. And for this let me go back to my favourite philosopher, Einstein Einstein, yes, philosopher, not scientist, for I think many other scientists in the past century stood on his shoulders, just as he stood on the shoulders of earlier scientists in order to gain a view from a higher perspective.

    Why is Einstein rather unique? Because he seemed to be able to contain, without too much difficulty, two seemingly contradictory views regarding the human condition. However, the contradiction can be resolved with addition of another assumption, albeit a rather shocking one.

    On the one hand Einstein could state with conviction, “I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew”, and yet, on the other hand, he is given to state, “Everyone has two choices. We’re either full of love […] or full of fear.” So, on the one hand we have no choice, no free will, and yet on the other hand we have this binary choice. Maybe he was unaware of the contradiction, I am unable to know whether this was so or not. However, this seeming contradiction can be resolved with what I referred to above as a “shocking” assumption, yet which, I will assert, is the only way that both of the above statements can be true at the same time.

    And the ‘shocking’ assumption is that the structure of the human psyche is constituted, not just of one personal ‘mind’, the activity of which we are all capable of perceiving through introspection, and whose activity we have increasingly identified with from around three months of age; but rather of two ‘minds’ the other of which we are quite incapable of detecting through introspection, simply because it is the Mind that is doing the ‘introspecting’ and makes the ‘choice’ regarding a fundamental question of ‘identity’!

    As I mentioned, from about three months of age we gradually become aware of an inner activity that we increasing realise ‘mum’ cannot see. By three years of age we, almost overnight, become quite confident that these inner activities are personal and private and under personal control. How, do we know this? Because children under three years of age are almost incapable of lying, and yet children over three years of age seem to suddenly become masters of the art!

    Once we ‘own’ and identify with this inner mental activity, the illusion that we have an autonomous thinking device capable of being freely and personally responsible for all the ‘shoulds’ or ‘should nots’ becomes the dominant theme of our lives (a notion that is soundly knocked on the head by Einstein’s first statement—but constantly reinforced by our parents and the other agencies of social judgment in our society), and here we have the real beginnings of egoic life (what the ancient mystics called “the fall” – a notion that was profoundly misunderstood and misinterpreted in fundamentalist religious thinking as being something that happened at the beginning of a literal history of the material world!)

    But what of Einstein’s second statement, “Everyone has two choices. We’re either full of love […] or full of fear.” Here is where I introduce my ‘shocking’ idea. This co-called ‘choice’ is not a decision made by the egoic personal mind, as if I can make the choice whenever I ‘decide’ to do so, but rather a fundamental paradigm shift with respect to my essential identity; an ‘identity’ that was always there before ‘It’ became attached to a personal ‘introspected’ body-based mind that is both as vulnerable and rejectable, as the body to which it was attached.

    In a sense that is otherwise difficult to explain – because it really is beyond intellectual explanation – this ‘choice’ is made by the introspecting Mind and not by the introspected mind that, as Einstein, and many others such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Sir Francis Crick, and William Provine, have correctly identified as ‘robotic’ or ‘puppet like’ in nature. Of these names, however, it seems to me that only Einstein, in another of his marvellously intuitive leaps, has pointed us to another level of Mind that operates outside of, and above, the mechanistic mind, and yet, has its effects on the purpose to which the personal mind ‘will’ (not ‘should’) be put to use.

    Now, my other ‘shocking idea’ – a corollary to the first – is that this ‘other Mind’ is a shared Mind (Our true and unchangeable pre-introspective shared Identity) that is continually choosing, within the collective arena of consciousness we call space/time, between ‘fear’ (the inevitable consequence of the ‘fall’ into individuated identity at the beginning of every occasion It/We undertake this ‘prodigal journey’ through temporal mortality) and ‘love’ (the resurrected remembrance – awareness — of Our timeless/spaceless pre-fall state of unseparated Life). Ted, this is how I understand your definition of ‘love’ as “the dissolution of separation” – at the level of the Real; which, I must add will ultimately result, to the degree to which it is ‘chosen’, in the dissolution of conflict at the level of the play on the world stage.

    I go back to my starting point of ‘will respond’ rather than ‘should respond’. Since I met you all those decades ago, I have never had the slightest doubt that it was ‘love’ – unconditional ‘love’ that determined (yes, determined) how you responded within the unchosen circumstances of your material life. You can do no other; am I right? Not, because you are ‘good’ but simply because you ‘see’, and hence it is not a question of ‘what should you/we do’ but how do you/we ‘see’. If that makes any sense.

    In discussion with my son recently, about how best to raise his two little boys (who can be rather difficult at times, as most parents will understand) I made the comment, “It is not so much a matter of what you ‘do’ to them, but rather a matter of what you ‘are’ to them.” In other words, what do they think matters to you – what they do, or who they are? I don’t mean ‘who they are’ as little boys, but who they ‘really are’? When they view themselves in the mirror of their parent’s eyes, do they ‘see’ separation (fear) or an inseparable Identity (Love)? Why is this important? Because the meaning of what you ‘do’ to them will always be interpreted within the context of what you ‘are’ to them. Separation engenders ‘guilt’ and ‘guilt’ prevents real learning. It simply shifts the ‘fear driven’ behaviour into other ‘safer’ directions—safer for the individual that is, but not of the collective. Love (unconditional love, not possessive love) does not condemn – hence it strikes at the very core, the very roots, of the ‘tree of evil’.

    So, in terms of a solution, there is a hierarchy. At the unseen but ‘seeing’ foundation of this inverted pyramid we have a single ‘choice’ – just as indicated by Einstein – and this choice will determine the ‘moral direction’ of all the rest of the levels in the structure of the psyche. Morality is not a human decision; it is the reflection of a spiritual (not religious!) choice at hidden core of our connected shared Being that relates to our ‘choice’ of identity. The visible play that we see unfolding on the world stage (just as Shakespeare wonderfully indicated in, As You Like It, Macbeth, and The Tempest) is the collective outcome of this great ‘conflict’ in the shared collective Mind. If this Mind ‘is’ Love, why would it put on such a ‘play’? Because, Love, without any ‘choice’ is nothing, but Love needs only one ‘safe’ choice to raise it above meaningless robotic nothing. And when I say ‘safe’ choice, such a statement would be ridiculous if Real Life were limited to that which occurred between the cradle and the grave! The ancient mystics understood the concept of ‘death’ as that whicih was entered into in the womb (when the memory of One’s eternal identity was lost within materiality—and this is why the ancient term for flesh ‘soma’ and tomb ‘sema’ had the same root meaning) and ‘life’ was regained with the ‘death’ of the illusory attachment to body-based ‘life’—even whilst one’s material feet were still firmly planted on the ground. Unfortunately, fundamentalist religion reversed the ancient meaning of ‘life and death’ to mean ‘life begins as a body in the womb’ and ‘ends with the death of this body’ – what a travesty! But there is far more to that story. Death is the opposite of birth – Life has no Real opposite, Its ‘shadow’ side is just that – a ‘shadow’ – but even a shadow can have a purpose to that which makes it appear to have Reality. This is what the allegory of Plato’s Cave was all about.

    Finally, if we can truly accept that the only ‘choice’ we really have in the entire collective structure of the human psyche resides at the very unseen, but all-seeing, core, then we will focus our attention at this point—a focus that will subsequently determine all else that we do upon the world stage. However, this is such a shocking idea to the egoic mind because it means that ‘it’ will be deposed from its feeling of specialness as the only one on the ‘throne’ in the inner ‘kingdom’ of the Mind—so, you can see how such an ‘shocking idea’ will not be popular within any of the fundamentalist mindsets. There may be no eternal ‘meaning’ to be found ‘within’ this mortal journey, but there could well be a meaning ‘for’ taking it—for what would Love be without this possibility, and, then again, what would Love be, if, in taking this ‘prodigal journey’ it involved the genuine loss of anything that is Real! The awakened ‘realisation’ [resurrection] that this collective journey through ‘hell’ [none other is needed!] is perfectly safe to that which is Real Life, makes the journey both peaceful and awe inspiring. Yes, No?

    I will conclude with quotes from the esoteric thinking of William Shakespeare’s above mentioned three plays:

    The world is but a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages.
    . . . .

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.
    . . . .

    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on; and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.

  7. Thank you, old friend for your generous and erudite response. That Tasmanian air must be good for you!

  8. Dear Ted,

    There is no reality to death, but the perception of death can lead to the experience of the fear of it. Death itself cannot be undone because it is not real, but the error in perception can be corrected. There is no emotion or reason in the actual experience of death because such a state does not exist, except amongst the living. Thus the idea of death is always accompanied by consciousness. When attention for some reason or another turns to look at one’s own death it is realised that it is in His presence that death must occur, the power he gives to it becomes apparent, and there is joy in knowing that “You have no power over me”, a Reality is revealed that is at once present and Known and new. Could this be known without presence? Could this be known whilst not staring directly at death? Death, to be feared, is felt as a reality by the body in light of the mind not knowing that death is entirely unreal. Because death cannot be experienced outwardly in a real form, it is known by pains and threats only. These pains are felt locally in the psycho somatic body, witnessed by the mind. The body holds these pains in it, and taking oneself to be the body, surely pain of dying is felt presently rather than upon death itself. Thus the unreal becomes apparently real. Yet the pain being local makes it ready for inspection. Real Life is joy, but even deep sleep is temporarily peaceful, so we can accept being ignorant of the world as peacefulness, but this ignorance seems to only be recognised whilst awake! Hence the choice of being ignorant of the world made even whilst in it! This requires extending Knowledge Light and Love to all perceptions equally, as though all are Aware of peace. Ramana said that the cause of Love is happiness. How to be happy whilst in the world? Knowing that You, the Reality, had mistaken illusion for reality results in Sheer Joy, which is extended as Love. There are many ways to rationalise the belief systems of Islam and Christianity, but the fact that the barren mother came inseparable from the fertile one and both had one father, is the hint that to be born of the body only is to give rise to brothers that seems opposite to oneself.

  9. It may be noted that death is a singular idea, but it is said to be caused by a) inevitably,such as old age, b) accident, c) intent. Can one and the same effect have three different causes?
    Some people talk of the world ending, some talk of their bodily lifetime ending, and some talk of ending their life even whilst living. But there is no end to life because there is no cause to death.
    ISIL are merely attempting to make consistent, rationalise, a set of ideas which in some ways are a unique permutation of specific forms of the general factors of emotion and idealisation whose external representation cannot be made entirely real, but because there are no limits to imagination, the outcome in that case seems to justifiably fill a void, but a void which truly needs not be filled at all!

  10. Again, it is quite simple to ask one’s self “Have I ever actually died? The answer is conclusive in terms of actual experience. On the other hand, because of the consideration that I am this particular person at this place and time, the eternal nature of Your Life is confounded with what is observed, namely, that what goes up must come down. Hence the actual experience of eternal Life is thought to be temporary due to the body and world association. It is also possible to ask: Is the body, world, or thought system, eternal? There is no direct evidence of this, whereas “I am” is direct but liable for confusion with what is not. For example, it is possible to consider that the entire world is only ever experienced in “my” mind. This is true because you cannot separate consciousness from existence, but the world can. As Ramana Maharahi said : ” Each sees death all around him yet still feels himself eternal. Naturally the truth asserts itself.”

  11. It is quite useful, in fact, that Islam has considered that there is only one legitimate prophet. If religion prior to Islam had considered many prophets as being the actual case, then Islam was right to consider that we cannot have a few sons amongst many as being the Son of God. In as much as it was believed that prophets were in part based in the reality of the world, a singular basis is perhaps appealing to be more consistent in search for unity. But so long as any prophet, even a singular one, is thought to be body based, it is the same error, and repeated once or twelve or 144000 times is irrelevant. In terms of “I must do something to save my self”, indeed, this appears to apply to one only, and each one might have the same goal, such that all the prophets whilst based in the body are indeed all the people. No one thinks that they or God can save all the people in place and circumstance. Yet, each one must save His Self. To go beyond all people, beyond the many prophets, and beyond one prophet, is to perhaps see for the first time that to release the conditioning on your brothers is to simultaneously fee one’s own Self, such that they were never separate. But it requires acknowledging that those others as perceived can make the gigantic leap to choosing happiness no matter what appears to be the case, which is very much beginning with one’s own Self. Hence you see that people are not set in their nature, for how else could any one prophet have been born again during a personal lifetime?

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