ISLAM--THE WORLD'S LARGEST CULT
( written December 2001 )
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Islam is rarely critiqued by journalists because it can be dangerous to do so. Since September 11, 2001, this is less true because people are interested in Islam and are searching for answers. However, it is still risky to write anything that may impugn Islam and especially the founder, Mohammad. This is one reason why I call Islam a cult. It can be dangerous to make certain statements about Islam since Muslims have treated opponents with something less than kindness and love in order to uphold, in their minds, the honor of Allah.
The Purpose for This Essay
The purpose of this essay is to call attention to the influence of a cultic mentality on Islam, and to invite Muslim people to examine their religious positions.
My view is that Islam has ingrained within it powerful cultic elements, and that these elements have contributed to the terrorist crisis we now face. I do not pretend to understand the complex forces--the political, tribal, cultural, economic, racial forces--that contribute to the situation. However, I ask the reader to prayerfully consider my argument.
A Working Definition of a "Cult"
The definition of cult in this essay is primarily non-theological. Traditionally Christians apply the term to Bible based groups that have significantly departed from the mainstream and historical creeds, particularly regarding the deity of Jesus and the meaning of His sacrifice on the cross. Bible based cults typically deny the full deity and humanity of Jesus, His atoning work on the cross, bodily resurrection, and return at the end of the age as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge the living and the dead.
However, Islam is being examined here using a secular definition of cult, that is, the use of mind-bending psychological and sociological techniques to recruit, motivate, and retain converts and members. Contrary to popular understandings, cults may not be religious; they may be political, commercial, or psychological! educational in nature. Cults may be large or small, named or unnamed, known or unknown. They may have a leader or be without a leader. The essential issue is the use of control mechanisms that violate the individuality of participants to freely associate with the group.
Cults are dangerous-they control, manipulate, and use those under their sway. Islam leaders issue declarations, a "fatwa", and may even call for a holy war, the "jihad". These clerical pronouncements place demands upon Muslims, which may violate their will and inner sensibilities. If Islam were not so fractured into sects and splinter movements, the non-Muslim world would face a more serious enemy that it does today. So strange is Islam, that it sanctions the murder of "infidels" and, of course, I am one and so is anyone who is not a Muslim.
Is Islam Cultic?
My answer to the above question is that Islam is cultic. The following is a series of questions and assertions designed to demonstrate this contention.
Why is Islam not a cult when in many Muslim dominated countries it is a capital offense to hand Muslims a Bible, or, to simply explain Christianity to them? Of course, the same holds true for a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Taoist who might attempt to pass along something of his or her faith. Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam's most holy shrines in Mecca and Medina, is a highly restricted society where Christians are not allowed any public expression of their faith.
Why is Islam not a cult when it is virtually impossible for a Muslim to leave the religion even if one is not converting to another religion but merely wishes to become, for example, an atheist or agnostic?
Why is Islam not a cult when Muslim warriors force their religion on people? The history of Islam is full of that kind of proselytization. Yes, I know the Roman Catholic Church has forced "pagans" to adopt Catholicism. However that church has recognized that in so doing it was wrong-headed, anti-biblical, and, indeed, anti-Christian. As a Baptist, I can say that in 500 years of our history we have not engaged in such tactics and neither have any of the traditional Evangelical, Protestant denominations.
A vivid illustration of the cultic nature of Islam is the case of the novelist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie had a death contract issued against his life for what was taken as a slight against Allah in his Satanic Verses. Whereas, novelists, journalists, commentators, filmmakers, and television producers routinely critique Christianity without reprisal. Yes, I know there were the inquisitions, but again, those were carried out by the Roman Church, which is only one segment of the Christian Church. But with Islam, vengeance, reprisals, and even death contracts are systemic and ingrained in the religion.
Many if not most Muslims who live in Western countries are not cultic extremists and will be patriots of whatever country in which they live. But, the commitment to Islam may run far deeper than loyalty to any nation. Muslims will change national or political affiliations if needed, but their commitment to the defense of Islam may be fanatical. Religious faith, especially cultic religious faith, may motivate people into radical behavior.
How insecure and weak is Islam that extremist Muslims attack those who oppose it with threats and violence rather than with reasoned debate. The internal deficiencies of the religion produces defensive, even paranoid, behavior, rendering it resistant to self-evaluation.
Christianity, though, thrives in a pluralistic, free, and democratic society. Christianity does not require the support of a nation state. Islamic control in many countries is absolute, totalitarian, and dictatorial, and when that is so, it is oppressive. In countries ruled by Sharia, the Islamic law, minor infractions may be punished by the loss of a hand, a foot, or life itself. Muslim women have been stoned to death for inadvertently exposing an ankle or forearm in public. The much touted "mercy" of Islam is severe at best.
Differing Views of God's Kingdom
Politics and religion cannot be separated when it comes to Islam. The ideal society for many Muslims is one ruled by Islamic law. Mohammad's "kingdom" is of this world. This is in sharp contrast to Jesus who said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). At the critical moment of Jesus' arrest, for instance, His disciples were ready to fight but Jesus prevented it. (see Luke 22: 47-51) Some adherents to Christianity have at various times attempted to establish a "theocracy", but every effort failed, and always lead to horrible abuse.
Cultists traditionally hope to impose their faith and practices upon others and view outsiders as enemies. The cultist might be a Marxist, a National Socialist (Nazi), a Muslim terrorist, a fanatical Christian, and so on, but in the here and now, they demand that their views dominate. Cultists want the kingdoms of this world to be their kingdoms. And this is true of a significant part of Islam.
It must be pointed out that other groups, political, religious, or commercial in nature, produce extreme followers who commit murder and other crimes for the sake of their group, god, prophet, profit, or "truth". This is the cultic mentality. I am a Christian, Baptist by denomination, and I am vulnerable, as is anyone to developing a cultic mentality. However, cultic, mind-bending processes are not normally part of most religious and political groups, but any group, however healthy it might be at one point, is vulnerable to being hijacked by a powerful leader or leadership and moved into a cultic mode. It is said that the people most vulnerable to cults are those who think they are not vulnerable.
We are reading newspaper reports now about dozens of letters containing powdery substances being sent to abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood agencies. Those responsible for the September 11 tragedies probably did not send these letters. It is suspected that the letters originate with the "Army of God", an extreme pro-life group. Here is the cultic mentality at work: their agenda has so captivated the members that they adopt criminal, terrorist tactics. It is well known that anti-abortionists (I myself do not like abortion but am somewhere between pro-life and pro-choice) have resorted to murder to further their goals. Normal peace loving people who had once sat in some pew in a church were recruited by special interest people, and then through a slow process, were radicalized to the point they would terrorize and murder.
There are also the "Eco-saboteurs" who have taken their love for the planet and the natural world, and their suspicions of the expanding technologies, to cultic extremes. People who would be peaceful protesters, once being radicalized by an extreme group, will engage in arson, theft, and vandalism. They become victims of a cultic mentality.
The Islamic extremists are not the only cultists.
The Goal of Islam
It is no secret that Islam's goal is world rule, and I am not simply giving vent to some right-wing political/religious conspiracy. World dominance is the stated aim of Islam. It sees itself swallowing up the non-Islamic world-and it means to do so with whatever means are available. Though not all Muslims would fully commit to such a grand, and monstrous, undertaking, still it is part of the religion's doctrinal system. Therefore, the world goal contributes to Islam's cultic tendencies.
Christians have a worldwide focus as well, but their hope is to share the Good News of Christ with everyone. Certainly, they are not intent on forcing people to accept Christianity, much less, eliminating those who reject the message.
Conversion to Christ is a spiritual process, not the mere reciting of a formula like Muslims do when they incant, "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet." Biblical Christianity is about grace, which is God's gift of faith and forgiveness. The new birth is something that God grants; it is independent of any human action. Therefore, a public or private declaration never made a Christian out of anyone. Christianity is grounded both in the sacrifice for sin by Jesus on the cross, and upon His resurrection. No one, in the strictest sense, can become a Christian based on an action they might perform. Rather conversion is something God brings about. This is illustrated in a term used for conversion in the New Testament, "new birth". (see John 3: 1 - 15) Humans cannot control their physical birth, and the new birth is the same, it cannot be controlled.
A Revisionist Religion
Islam is classed with those religious groups that have "revised" Christianity. Some of these are: The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Unification Church (Moonies). These groups, including Islam, do teach something like this: Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet who is honored, even worshipped to some degree, yet Jesus' teachings are declared to be flawed, outdated, replaced, or superceded by - (insert name of group or prophet).
The Christianity Mohammad knew in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries in the Arabian Peninsula was far different from New Testament Christianity it had radically deteriorated. Mohammad, observing the deficiencies in Christianity and Judaism, rejected what he saw, and ultimately replaced those perverse expressions with his own concepts. This is understandable. The result, however, is not an improvement; rather it is simply another revisionist effort.
It is patronizing, too, for Islam to say it respects Jesus as a prophet but then deny, or alter, both what He said about Himself and what the authors of the New Testament books said about Him. I am thinking of John in chapter 1, verses 1 through 3, and Paul in Colossians, chapter 1, verses 15 through 20 among many others. Of course, the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Moonies do the same. Revisionist cults must downgrade Jesus so that the "new, improved prophet and/or truth" can be accepted as a replacement. If Jesus is God in the flesh, Emmanuel, as the Christian Scripture proclaims, and if Jesus is the Messiah prophesied by the great Hebrew prophets, and if Jesus is the only Lord and Savior who will return to judge the living and the dead, then it is virtually impossible to ignore Him and replace Him. However, the cults must downgrade, diminish, and falsify who Jesus is and what He did.
The Qur'an declares that the Bible, Old and New Testament, is a revelation from God, but then proceeds to reject the clear message of the Bible. Mohammad's strategy is plain enough. If the Bible is accurate about Jesus, there is no need for the Qur'an or Mohammad. So, did Mohammad use flattery, or, did he attempt to patronize Christians when he seems to honor Jesus? Or, was Mohammad deceived, as he himself suspected at first?
Christians who are committed to the Bible and who abide by the historic creeds reject the message that Mohammad is the prophet of God. Christians also reject the Qur'an as a revelation from God. At least this is an honest position without effort to mislead, flatter, confuse, or patronize.
The Christianity Mohammad Rejected
Mohammad rejected a Christianity, as I have already asserted, that was vastly different from the teaching of the New Testament. He rejected a Judaism that had deteriorated from the Old Testament model. What we call Christianity today is a mixed bag to be sure, much of which I reject as well. I doubt Muslims know much about the message of Jesus and His Gospel, they know of it only through what they have been taught by their own religious teachers. How accurate would this information be?
To make it even more complicated, there is a general misunderstanding of what Christianity is. One misconception is that the "West" is Christian and that America is a Christian nation, but all that goes by the name of Christian is not Christian. It is beyond the scope of this essay to document this, certainly. To grasp the essence of the teachings of Jesus, the primary source, the Bible, should be examined.
What About the Crusades?
Muslims often ask: "What about the Crusades?" The intention of this question is to deflect the violence blatantly displayed, worldwide, by Muslims in the name of Allah. The suicide bombers cry, "God is great!" is indeed heard.
Yes, there were the Crusades, and historians debate the complicated entanglements of religion and politics that were involved. And the medieval Roman Catholic Church had a big part in the Crusades to be sure. But this same organization persecuted Jews and Protestants, too. This same medieval church persecuted, and to the death, those who held to the testimony I hold precious. Is it therefore accurate for Muslims to blame all that goes by the name Christian for the Crusades? Isn't it fair and wise to discriminate amongst Christians? After all, most people do not blame all Muslims for the actions of some extremists.
Women in Islam
Another cultic aspect of Islam is the treatment of women who live in countries dominated by Islam. It is shocking! It is deviant! It is evil! This treatment of women should not be dismissed by appealing to cultural differences. Murder, mutilation, physical abuse, among other things, cannot be condoned.
Why is this frightful treatment of women accepted in many Islamic countries? Why is there such an exaggerated fear and mistrust of women?
Islamic spokesmen say that women are merely being protected. But the women generally despise their treatment and status, and are seemingly powerless to bring about change.
The so-called "honor killings" amongst Muslim people is particularly horrific. The Muslim culture gives tacit approval to a father or brother to kill a female family member who is said to have dishonored the family based on even the mildest rumor of free behavior or by being the victim of a rape. The father or brother who commits the "honor killing" receives a token prison sentence if the murder is reported and an arrest is made.
The plight of young men and women in Islamic countries is sad indeed. Their isolation from each other twists normal social and sexual relationships. Wealthy and usually, older men, can have four wives and as many concubines as they can afford, while younger, poorer men, are denied and deprived. This deplorable situation stems directly from the nature and traditions of Islam itself.
Women are denied education in countries ruled by strict Islamic law. Why? Is it to keep women in their place? Why must women cover themselves so that not even an ankle can be seen in public? These are twisted gender mores.
Moderate Muslims counter that these practices are only enforced by extremists. The extremists counter that they are only interpreting Islam in the purest manner possible. Who is correct? If it is only a matter of interpretation, then Islam's authority system is under suspicion. At minimum then, Islam is vulnerable to cultic implementation.
Cults employ mind-bending techniques to induce followers to be obedient - this has long been understood. Is the promise of free love in an Islamic paradise simply a motivating tool used by extremist leaders to entice young warriors to do their bidding? What about the mind-boggling promise of 70 (some authorities say the number is 72) virgins available for the pleasures of the martyred Islamic warrior? Shall we ask on what authority does this obscene doctrine depend? Dare we question the validity of such a sexist, horrific precept? Talk about cultic - this is as extreme an example as might be found in the strangest of groups.
Certainly for love starved, poor, young men, whose future is clouded at best, the promise of unlimited fleshly pleasure in the hereafter might be an inducement to die for the sake of Allah. Is this a true doctrine? Moderate interpreters say no, the sexually oriented promises are unfounded. Yet, the perverse promise is constantly proclaimed, so much so that many mind-bent warriors have killed thousands and died in the process in order to acquire their virgins.
Fruit of Islam
Islamic political control has prevented social progress and economic development. For example, who owns a car made in an Islamic country? How about a television set, a computer, an alarm clock, an airplane, or a boat. The list could be quite lengthy. Where do wealthy Muslims send their young people to be educated? - Western countries, for the most part. Why are many Islamic countries among the poorest in the world even while their oil reserves are huge? One answer is the cultic nature of Islam. In Islamic countries, middle class wealth would mean an ever-increasing importation of Western ways, and this is feared and thus condemned by Muslim clerics. Democracy is feared by many Muslim religious leaders, too, for with democracy comes an opening up to competing religious viewpoints, which is much feared. Cults generally aim at controlling the flow of information to their followers, often demonizing opposing messages and messengers.
Certainly, Muslims have contributed to the world's storehouse of achievements, but if we look at the Islamic nations today we see they are something less than wonderful. You will not read about lines of people on the borders of Muslim nations waiting to get in. Islam is sometimes described as the "beautiful religion", but where can this beauty be seen? What Islamic country practices Islam in such a way that someone might be motivated to move there? It is one thing for Muslim leaders to say that the September 11 terrorists were extremists. It is another to demonstrate peaceful moderation and tolerance.
Please understand I am not saying that Muslim people are not as capable, intelligent, and worthy as any other people. But their religious system is toxic, cultic, and repressive. Muslims are born into a religious heritage they did not choose and can not walk away from. They are molded by their environment to be dedicated Muslims; there is essentially no choice available for them - they are stuck.
Disillusionment in Islamic Ranks
Disillusionment with the religion boils under the surface in Islamic societies. After immigrating to Western countries, many Muslims, if possible (and it is not always possible), blend in with their new country and either moderate or abandon Islam altogether. Many Muslims in a Western country will go through the religious motions, but their hearts are not in it.
Today there is a "rallying to the cause" with the War on Terror going on, as many Muslims believe the war is between Christian America and Islam. But given the chance, some Muslims might well seek to be free of the Islamic strictures. Of course, Muslim clerics in the West realize this and do not hesitate to isolate their constituents from non-Muslim influence. Isolation is a typical cultic mechanism-defections are treated most seriously.
"Once a Muslim, always a Muslim" that is how it is in a country dominated by Islam. Although this may be somewhat exaggerated, it is very close to an accurate evaluation. Like the Mafia, once in, it is quite difficult to leave, and one who defects may do so at great price. Most cults, in fact, ostracize defecting people, cutting him or her off from family, friends, and employment.
The Major Difference
Islam is a religion based on performance whereas biblical Christianity is grounded on God's grace. The Islamic deity rewards obedience. Muslim heaven, or paradise, must be earned by carefully keeping rules and regulations. There is no assurance of salvation or confidence that even the faithful Muslim will achieve paradise.
Works, performance based religion may inspire fear and extremism for those who take it seriously. Extreme attempts to win the favor of the deity and religious leaders would not be unexpected, especially when a favorable eternity is at stake. The Qur'an assures martyrs that they will be in paradise, and it is this very promise that seems to have motivated some of those who turned commercial airliners into missiles on September 11, 2001.
Biblical Christianity emphasizes grace, which is the act of God giving, apart from any good work, the gift of forgiveness and salvation. Salvation is by grace, not by works, therefore even extreme devotion, sacrifice, and obedience will not secure God's favor. (see Ephesians 2:8-9) Thus, there is no merit in the killing of those of other faiths. This is viewed as murder. Christians are taught in the Bible to pray for their enemies and to do good to those who would be abusive.
A Christian is assured of salvation by the inner working of the Holy Spirit so he or she is not left in doubt and insecurity. The promise of everlasting life with God in heaven is given to the Christian through the work of God the Son, Jesus Christ, and it cannot be lost since God the Father keeps or preserves the believer by His great power.
Harassment of Muslims is unacceptable, and this essay is not an attempt to bring grief to Muslim people. However, I would like to challenge Muslims to examine their religion, indeed, examine their hearts and minds, and ask themselves these questions: "Why am I a Muslim? Is my commitment to Islam based on a free decision? What is my attitude towards those of other religions, particularly Jews and Christians? Do I honestly think killing Jews and Christians serves Allah? Do I think it is a Muslim's duty to defend Islam by martyrdom or suicide? Should I support religious tolerance for people of other Faiths in Muslim dominated countries like Saudi Arabia? Would I leave Islam, but not my cultural identity, if I could? Are my attitudes cultic in any way? One way out of a cultic mentality is to think, consider, reflect, and examine our motivations and behaviors. No one is above being captured by extremist doctrines and practices. It is wisdom to chart an independent course from those who would control us. It is not easy to do so, it may not be safe to do so, but it is important to do so.
A Challenge to Seekers
Many Muslims are seekers after God, and this is good. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah wrote: "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). Whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, nominal Christian, or nothing at all- the challenge is to seek God because the promise is He will be found. Jesus said something quite similar: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Matthew 6:33). Since we are created in the image of God, made by and for Him, we will never be complete and satisfied until we know Him personally. We are all one people despite the labels we receive in this world, and the Creator God is He who sent His Son, Jesus, that the walls of separation might be broken down.
The challenge is to make up your own mind about Jesus Christ. Learn about Him yourself and not merely accept the opinions and prejudices of others. Find a New Testament, read the story of His life, and see if you find anything amiss with Him, and sin, anything false. Find an Old Testament and read of the prophecies of the Messiah (which is Hebrew for Christ), passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, and see if these passages are not about Jesus. If you seek Him, He will be found.