Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Primal Instincts in the Guise of Religious Struggle

Those of us who know something about Islam, know about the distinction between “Greater Jihad” and “Lesser Jihad.”  The former refers to the individual Muslim’s struggle to submit to God, Allah, in spite of his wicked, selfish impulse to disobey.  Lesser Jihad, according to most Muslim expositors, has to do with the Muslim’s obligation to protect the faith against infidels.  I don’t want to get into the relevant Qur’anic passages, the debates about Islamist fundamentalism, and all the rest of it.  Moreover, I’m not addressing this issue with any scholarly precision but more as a reflection off the cuff.  I’ve written on this topic before.  I see myself as a wary friend of Islam, not a foe.  In fact, while my own religious faith has taken a dive in the past few years, I still empathize with earnest believers throughout the world.  Those of you who might be inclined to castigate Islam as a violent ideology and equate the religion with “jihadism” should be mindful of your myopic perspective.  If you see a worldview, or in this case a world religion, in largely black and white terms—a manifestation of evil, ignorance, or stupidity—then it’s likely you don’t really understand the worldview.  Like I wrote last week, if there are millions of people who espouse a view contrary to your own, don’t have the egocentric audacity to dismiss it out of hand!

Yet I have been rethinking my view of not only so-called Greater Jihad but also the similar Christian struggle with sin, as expressed throughout the New Testament.  To quote Jesus’s famous words in Gethsemane: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  The challenge for the Christian pilgrim is to bridle one’s sinfulness, a naughty impulse bequeathed to us from Adam.  I’m increasingly inclined to think that these spiritual struggles are really sublimated forms of our hardwiring for violence, rather than inner conflicts of conscience pure and simple.  In Romans 7, Paul expresses frustration over this incessant battle: “I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”  If I’m right, this “spiritual” struggle  between the id and superego is just a way of making the male's aggressive and violent behavior more palatable to the dictates of civilization.