Alas, I know more about quantum physics than I know about religion and seeing as I failed 'O'-level Physics that gives you some idea of the depth of my ignorance. Fortunately, I subscribe to The Spectator - do you and if not why not? - and the lovely and brainy Mary Wakefield is available to educate me. In this week's edition she points to a crucial difference between Christianity and Islam of which I was unaware but I agree with her that it marks a huge divide between the two. It is the idea of original sin. The Christian version of the story of Adam and Eve has it that they, like all human beings, were imbued with sin from the off and therefore it is our duty as Christians to spend the rest of our lives struggling to control the sin that is within us and to try and live virtuously.
Apparently, Mohammed saw it differently - why am I not surprised? According to Islam, Adam made a mistake but was forgiven by Allah and raised to His right hand. And there you have the crucial difference. In Christianity we are all flawed but in Islam they are all perfect. Thus, Christians (at their best) can understand failings and forgive; in Islam no such pity or understanding is permitted. As Ms. Wakefield puts it:
Original sin puts us all in the same boat. It means that no one gets too big for their boots, because we all know we’re riddled with besetting sins. It means that we should care for the weak not just because we’re told to, but because there but for the grace of God goes everyone.
The Muslim idea of man as perfect or perfectible is, by contrast, a real bore. Instead of tending towards peace, or the great ‘oneness’ that Islam aims for, it ends up being divisive. If man can be perfect, there’s no excuses for those who have hit the buffers. Worse, it means, inevitably, that some will cast themselves as sinless and set up as judges of the rest. In Islam, because man is perfect, there are those without sin who can cast the first stone, and no one will dare tell them otherwise. You’d need original sin for that.
In other words, and I never thought I would ever write them, Christianity has, at its centre, hard-nosed realism! Islam, on the other hand, is away with the fairies, or at least, in some Hollywood-inspired fantasy land of perfect heroes in which anyone who fails to match the stereotype, er, defined usually by the bloke with the sword, ends up minus a head!
Fortunately, there are still some voices of reason being raised inside the Muslim world. My 'hero', and the man I want as prime minister of England, attempts to inject reality into the current madness that has infected the Muslim world:
In January, President Al Sisi of Egypt called for a ‘religious revolution’ in Islam. He said: ‘Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible… I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.’
Good luck with that one, Al Sisi, old chap and I do hope that the deaf, dumb, blind idiot in the White House can actually discern the difference between a potential ally and an enemy and provide you with every assistance in your struggle - but I'm not holding my breath.
Equally serious is the survey by Pew Research Centre quoted by Ms. Wakefield which suggests that by 2050 the number of Muslims world-wide will outnumber Christians. So this was not the time to read elsewhere in 'The Speccie' that the Roman Catholic Church under the, er, 'charismatic' leadership of that 'Argie' is on the brink of schism. (Why is that I am so suspicious of 'charisma' in political and religious leaders?) According to Mr. Luke Coppen the catalyst for this disaster is the current round of Papal synods which is bringing to a head huge disagreements between the 'modernisers' and the 'traditionalists' within the Church hierarchy. As so often in these sorts of disputes, the wide philosophical differences end up centred on a somewhat minor point, that is, whether remarried catholic couples should be permitted to take communion. Apparently, the venomous rift is wide and getting wider. I have spent most of my life 'snarking' at the Catholic Church but as we move further into a global confrontation with militant Islam, they may yet become our bulwark.
'Here endeth the first lesson, let us pray . . . '