There are 35 denominations within Christianity, about five denominations or sects within Judaism, and five within Islam. And that just covers the three Abrahamic traditions and only highlights the major denominations, which says nothing about their offshoots.
If faith in God assumes such a wide variety of expressions then unbelief or the absence of faith should also have a variety of different expressions. Atheism is not monolithic. We do not bother to identify its various components because we do not recognize atheism as an ideology with competing branches. Yet there are at least four branches of atheist ideology and perhaps countless other types that are variations of those four themes.
The first type of atheist ideology replaces God with logic. Logic is a system that adheres to strict principles without contradictions. Therefore, logic is not good or bad because it is determined by its structure, not its content.
This type of atheism is politically a kin to democratic capitalism. Morally, it is the creed of reason. Its most radical manifestation is a system that sees itself as an extension of the laws of nature and therefore does not intervene to mitigate the cruelty of nature.
If you are weak or disadvantaged, you will find yourself at the mercy of those who subscribe to the second type of atheist ideology.
This second type of atheism replaces God with society and advances a system that compensates man for the inherent inequities of nature. This ideology calls for the state to socially engineer society with the objective of creating an even playing field. In other words, equality before the law is exchanged for a state-enforced system of conformity. Politically it is akin to socialism, if established by vote, and communism, if established by force. Morally, it is the creed of self-sacrifice. Its most radical manifestation leads to the kind of equality where everyone is equally miserable. But not nearly as miserable as the third type of secular ideology would have us become, if only it were possible to implement.
The third type of secular ideology replaces God with nature or ecology. It believes in the equality not just of human beings, but of all living creatures. It calls for the subordination of man and his mind to the superior natural kingdom. It is considered superior because it is not exploitative. Politically it is akin to anarchy. Morally it advances a return to primitivism where free love becomes the impetus for free sex. It stands against civilization and industry, which is why this type of atheism has no radical manifestations. It violates its own tenets every time it succumbs to drinking water out of a man made plastic cup instead of its own, cupped hands. This form of atheism is a first world accretion that encapsulates all of our first world pathologies. No one in the third world has any delusions about the reality that running water and electricity are in fact NOT facts of nature but require a great deal of industrial ingenuity and infrastructure. This secular ideology is the most benign and is one we can afford to ridicule until and unless it joins ranks with the last and worst of all secular ideologies.
The Idolatry of Atheism
What could be worse than replacing God with abstract non-entities like logic, humanity or ecology? What could be worse than replacing Him with concrete entities like a godhead? An absence of faith in God is not nearly as dangerous as an active faith in a demagogue. The worst kind of secular ideology replaces God with an omnipotent human ruler who regulates both the physical and spiritual aspects of a man’s existence. A demagogue is someone who appeals to a man’s desires and not his rational faculties. And what is a man’s basic desire? Money? Food? Sex?
It’s none of the above. What men really desire is a world that makes sense. They crave nourishment for minds mutilated by a lifetime of living in a universe, made random by the whims of ruthless dictators. They crave logic. This is not to be confused with the first type of atheism where logic is grounded in reality. This fourth type of atheist seeks a logic grounded in human consciousness. Unlike the third type of atheism, which is an accretion of the first world, this kind is a product of the third world. It is a product of a world where virtually no hope exists and not even the laws of the jungle can be employed to survive because policies can change as quickly as the whims of any passerby who happens to have your fate in his hands. And so this type of atheist seeks predictability in the realm of human interactions to alleviate the chronic state of terror he feels living under such conditions. He does not desire worldly pleasure he desires predictability.
This fourth kind of secular atheist can only rise out of a very specific set of circumstances. First, a society must be decimated to the point of no return, because only under hopeless conditions can a tyrant rise to power. He does so by offering to restore the integrity of his followers and by implementing an ideology grounded in a system with predictable outcomes. Keep in mind that integrity, like logic, is a generic word. It is neither good nor bad. It merely means predictable, as in uncontaminated by contradictions. If something is 100% poisonous it still has more integrity than something that is 99% pure.
Understanding ISIL in light of atheism
The ISIL phenomenon, like every other homicidal ideology in our recent and ancient history, does not promise its followers the heaven of an afterlife. It promises a heaven on earth; a perfect utopian society built on the corpses of the imperfect. A perfect nation is a homogenous nation. Perfection demands uniformity and uniformity can only exist if 100% of its citizens are evil. A good society is built on diversity and is not 100% anything.
The objective of utopian ideologues is to control society by forcing it to operate like an organism with no will, no thought, no pain, no joy, no emotion and no desire to defect. If a part of that organism does not fit in because it is the wrong color or ethnicity or some other arbitrary inherited attribute including religion (which can be a tribal identity), or if it attempts to escape, it will be killed in a manner more dehumanizing than the manner in which it was being ordered to live. It’s all very evil, but it follows a predictable formula that one can master. Giving up your mind and your capacity to feel is no price to pay if you have spent your entire life being punished for thinking, and the only emotion available to you is terror and sorrow.
The prophets of profit
Have you ever been to a quack doctor who sells you snake oil with the disclaimer that your symptoms will actually become worse before they get better, and then insists that this is a good sign? And if that’s not enough, he advises you to apply more balm or to consume more poison until it either kills you or you wake up and realize that this doctor is merely trying to profit at your expense. The sicker you get, the more of his “magic potion” you will require. He will advise you to “hang in there” because your body is detoxifying itself from the un-diagnosable problem you have approached him to diagnose. Yet he proceeds to treat a problem he cannot name because the name of the problem is him.
This “doctor”, like every opportunist, is a man who disguises himself with degrees or robes or beards in order to grant himself legitimacy. He will make allegations that are so false and so ridiculous that you cannot help but wonder if there might not be some truth to them. Sometimes the absurdity of a falsehood acts as its own protection. It’s a technique designed to make you question your capacity to question. It’s a mind game that demagogues and cult leaders like to play on the unsuspecting and vulnerable masses. And the more you invest into their scheme, the greater the urgency to invest even more, with the rationale that you might be one dollar away from winning the jackpot, or one pill away from a cure, or one bomb, bullet, or murder away from achieving that perfect society. Logic is the name of this game. It’s a twisted logic, but it is logic nonetheless. To give up on it would be to admit that you lost all your money in vain, or that you are dying of a disease now aggravated by false treatment, or that you killed a man or ten men or a thousand men in total futility.
It’s understandable, although not forgivable, why men in hopeless places give up and give in and must anesthetize themselves with magical thinking to escape both reality and God’s wrath. But what attracts men in free societies from joining ranks with the mad minions of movements like ISIL? This type of atheism not only attracts those who have given up on God, but it also tends to attract the third type of atheist, the tree hugging ecocentrics. We have all read the headlines of men descending from all corners of the world to pledge their allegiance to the charlatans of ISIL. I am not being sarcastic when I say that it is the animal loving anarchists of the first world who will come to their defense. If putting an end to civilization is your ultimate creed, if you believe that utopia is achievable by a return to a more primitive stone age, then Al Baghdadi is your man. If you did not use your intelligence to become productive, then now is the time to employ your intellect to defend the counterproductive. Every movement has its intellectual defenders. ISIL is no exception.
Save the whale but kill mankind is the slogan of a generation who needs to believe that a life of privilege has somehow wronged them. They feel too sophisticated to believe in God, because they have never had a need for Him. They are a generation who believe they have a right to feel special without doing anything special. The fourth type of secularism provides this third type with an opportunity to finally do something significant; because nothing says “special” like fighting for the freedom to be enslaved.
Make no mistake, this form of secularism is the most insidious and brutal ideology because it can only exist in its extreme form. There is no moderate form of human worship. The best one can hope for is that the godhead is benevolent. But this is not possible because, as we all know, absolute power will corrupt absolutely. Therefore the only godhead that can rule under such conditions is someone who answers to a higher power than himself; in other words, a prophet. This is essentially where the shirk or idolatry of this brand of atheism makes its debut. The idea of following a man who claims that he has a right to override the most fundamental religious edicts of Islam in the name of Islam is a form of idolatry or shirk. Any movement that deifies a concrete entity or abstract non-entity is a form of idolatry and is a renunciation of the Islamic faith. So how do we protect against the pernicious and extremist forces of secular ideologies? We do so with a spiritual ideology, of course.
Muhammad a prophet of all times
What is a spiritual ideology? If you want to understand the difference between a spiritual ideology and a secular one, look towards the first man to set up a civil government based purely on ideology: Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). What makes an ideology spiritual as opposed to purely political is that the practical implications of political philosophy in Islam must first and foremost subordinate themselves to Islam’s religious teachings. In other words, the ends do not, cannot and will never justify the means. As I have argued before, more men have died at the altar of secular ideologies than religious ones, precisely because religious ideology is not capable of becoming extreme. Once religion breaks its fundamental tenet, it steps outside of itself.
The genius of Prophet Muhammad is that he established a constitutionally based polity while surrounded by the fourth and worst kind of idolatry at a time when no one knew of any other way of life. He did so without violating the religious imperatives of justice towards his enemies. He obliterated tribalism and united people on the basis of a system of principles and ideals without any regard for blood, race, tribe or religion. He led the first Muslim ummah or nation out of the dark ages and into the light of constitutional governance, granting his people religious freedom and the rule of law. He was the first to denounce aristocratic privilege and hierarchy in favor of a system of meritocracy. He led without compulsion, never insisting on ideological conformity.
The only other nation that was formed purely on ideology was the United States. If history is any indicator, we can safely assume that both experiments led to unprecedented growth and prosperity. We do not discount the phenomenal success of the United States by highlighting the many crimes that punctuated its history. We do not point out the forced relocation of American Indians or the Trail of Tears, where at least two thousand men women and children died in transit. We do not harp on the fact that slavery was a legalized institution for over a century in the short two hundred and forty year history of the United States. We do not discount the success of the French revolution in dethroning the horrors of theocracies and absolute monarchies and replacing them with republics and democracies just because it triggered the beheadings of seventeen thousand men, women and children. I feel I must repeat: seventeen thousand beheadings in the name of democracy in just one year.
We are capable of appreciating the ideological superiority of a system of justice even though its history has been written in blood. So the obscenity of singling out Islam and saying that in its 1400 year history, it had rulings regarding slavery, not an institution of slavery rather rulings issued towards its eventual eradication seems silly relative to what our very recent human history has to say on the subject.
If you want to know how to destroy ISIL or any other fascist movement in one short lesson, that lesson can be learned from Prophet Muhammad’s life. He succeeded in transforming a culture of tribalism to one of pluralism and justice for all. If my claims seem a bit ironic or outrageous to you, then let me assure you that nothing is more outrageous than the claim that ISIL or any other fascist group has anything to do with Islam. What I find to be truly outrageous is that when criminal fascists make claims about Islam, they get front page coverage to showcase their insanity. But when decent civilized educated Muslims make claims about Islam no one cares to listen.
Just in case someone is listening, here goes: Islam is a religious ideology that never required religious compliance. Islam is a political philosophy grounded in logic and natural law, but with one exception: it does not subscribe to a democratic system where majority rules. Politically it is akin to constitutional republicanism where certain things are non-negotiable and cannot be overruled by vote, and where certain safeguards are put into place to guard against the detrimental effect of logic, unmitigated by human compassion. Morally it is the creed of reason with passion instead of without. Shariah is the implementation of natural law within a particular social context. Islamic jurisprudence is not designed to create a utopian society, but rather a constantly evolving one. Unfortunately, it takes the termination of millions of lives every few decades before we are stripped of our denial of the terrorizing effects of utopian ideologies. There is no such thing as a utopia on earth. Perfection is not only impossible; it is undesirable. Islam’s most radical manifestation would be a pluralistic society where prosperity depended less on uniformity of practice and more on the uniformity of principles. But please don’t take my word for it.
"This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslim’s houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey his prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."
Inas Younis is a US based freelance journalist and commentator. Her opinion pieces, book reviews, and personal essays have been published on various websites and magazines. And her work was featured in the anthology, 'Living Islam Out Loud'. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org