Friday, June 30, 2006
Islam: Henotheistic, not Monotheistic
The ancient Near East & Mesopotamian regions were rife with religions whose theology essentially fused militarism and religion: they were the polytheist religions out of which Israel differentiated, and out of which Jesus further differentiated. They were not eschatologically imperialistic—as Islam is—because their ideology was not structured by the nexus between Empire and Eschaton (see Eric Voegelin’s The Ecumenic Age, fourth volume of his work Order and History, for an extended and definitive treatment of this nexus); but the essence of militarism which characterizes the heart of Islam was there just the same.
Mohammed did not differentiate out of these Mesopotamian religions, as did Israel and later Christianity, but rather apotheosized their principle of theomachy (battles among gods), never fully evolving from henotheism—where one God holds hegemonic power over a pantheon of lesser gods—into monotheism, the theophany par excellence of the West from Abraham to Moses to Jesus, and from the Pre-Socratics to Socrates to Plato to Aristotle: these two oceans—the Judaeo-Christian and the Classical Philosophical—flowing together in medieval Christendom and thence its successor, the modern West.
Islam has been all along, and is still, waging a Mesopotamian henotheistic theomachy against lesser gods—i.e., against the Israelite God, against the Christian God (insofar as they are seen to be distinct enemies), against all the pagan gods of the world (various peoples and tribes which Islam has conquered, and continues to try to conquer), against the Zoroastrian God, against the Hindu pantheon, against the Buddhist “gods”, etc. Hence the crucial war cry of the Mohammedan, the takbir -- "Allahu Akbar!" -- which should be translated not as "God is great!" but rather as "God is greater!" This of course raises the question, “greater than what?” The answer: “greater than all other existing gods and all their followers”, emphasizing the henotheistic import which reflects the worldview of Islam as an ecumenic battlefield of gods and religions, a battlefield Muslims have been commanded by their particular War God and his Messenger to fight and win.
One way, therefore, to look at Islamic Jihad is that it is a war of one particular God (through his human agents) for pantheonic cosmic supremacy, waged on the battlefield of Earth in History against all other gods who are not “non-existent”—as they become under the differentiation of monotheism—but only inferior, to Allah.
The goal of a henotheistic theomachy in Islam—unlike in all other henotheisms of history—is eschatological: the end of history: utter victory for Allah and eternal annihilation of the other gods. This is what is new about Islam. The previous polytheistic and henotheistic religions of the Mesopotamian and wider Near Eastern regions had constant battles among the gods in their mythologies, but no End of History: history was eternally cyclic, not eschatologically linear. In Mohammed, there occurred the fusion of this Mesopotamian mythology with a superficially appropriated Judaeo-Christian monotheism: both of these theologoumena were available to Mohammed; and while the former was more organically a part of his psychology and heritage as an Arab Bedouin, the latter was seen by him, as a kind of envious outsider at the fringes of this new movement that had already risen as high as a Roman Emperor some three hundred years before Mohammed, as some kind of powerful amulet to be stolen and used, though the Qur’an and Hadiths demonstrate a remarkably imperfect and incoherent grasp of the logic and substance behind the power of this relatively new amulet in the Ecumene.
This final victory of the privileged tribal god over all other gods has been the goal of Islam from the very beginning, with Mohammed, and it remains an essential goal sacralized in the Qur’an as divine mandates which must be taken literally by good Muslims and can never be neutralized or eliminated without a severe and radical reformation of Islamic theology—a reformation that is looking less, not more, likely with every passing day (and one which never really stood a chance in its history).
The divine mandate to conquer the world for Islamic supremacy remains firmly in place in the essential and central ideology of Islam, and its zealous entelechy will not be assuaged and realized, according to Islamic eschatology, until the apocalyptic end of history. The Mesopotamian War God, Allah, will not rest until His goal of utter supremacy is realized, and that will only happen when all the other gods are dead—and that will only happen when all the human agents of those gods have been killed and sent to the eternal tortures of Hell.
As I have argued many times before on this blog, the reasonable fear we have of the danger of Muslims following their Islamic blueprint is not that they will succeed in their psychotically and fanatically grandiose desideratum—it is rather in the misery and mayhem which innumerable numbers among them will be able to wreak in our societies through merely trying, but failing, to succeed.