Since the World Wars, our species has been repeatedly confronted with the horrible visage of our increasingly godlike power. It grins at all of us from behind the emaciated ribs of starved Jews, Cambodians, and Darfurians, with the glare of Hiroshima shimmering across its jagged teeth. Now, what began as a severe crisis of faith in the Europe of the 1920s and 40s has quickly rippled out to encompass every culture and civilization, whether they realize it or not. Confucian and Buddhist peoples have laicized with shocking zeal, not to mention Jews, while Christianity and Hinduism have become hypercapitalist and contradict themselves. Mindbogglingly, all this has happened in the name of progress, virtue, and, most ironically of all, “family values” and cultural self-defense.
Let down as it has been by modernization and globalization, and severely betrayed by its own leadership, few in or out of the Muslim community would dispute that Islam has been particularly hit hard by the ever-expanding spiritual abyss. After all, is not most of the Third World Muslim? And in the few countries where Muslims have been able to prosper somewhat, it has either been in a position of dependency vis-à-vis the West (and now China), such as the bloated rentier states of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia; via dehumanizing authoritarianism, as in Egypt, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia; or in the form of a stuttering ascendancy fraught with ethnic strife, as in the fractious republics of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Indonesia. If it is true that Islam has “bloody borders,” this condition is at least as much a result of the seepage of vitality from Islamic principles, like blood from a slit vein, as it is due to Muslims’ persistent failure to co-exist with kafirs.
I’m no fan of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahab but he did have a crucial insight, namely, that the most important concept of Islam is tawhid توحيد (unity). Could it not be that in a sense Islam may point toward our species’ animal past while Christianity may point toward our post-human future? Existence for our primitive tribal ancestors was experienced as a unitary whole in which sacred and secular were one, the same, and visceral. But for sedentarized homo sapiens, existence is an experience filtered through instrumental consciousness, cookie-cut into categories and concepts. Hence the reason why Islam, the marauding super-tribe, and Christianity, the staid city of man-deities, have been historic rivals.
Could it be that as our species barrels toward a future so inundated with technology that not only the body but the very soul could become genetically alterable, the image of the resurrected Christ—more human than human—begins to seems very prophetic, and Islam, for all its brutality, may actually be calling us to remember where we came from and that we should be careful about lunging so quickly toward the Kingdom of Heaven?