Never Make a God of Your Religion, or Free Your Madrasahs and Your Asses Will Follow
Among the ten commandments is the injunction that "you shall not make for yourself a graven image." Why would that be? And what relevance could it possibly have for contemporary people? We don't worship rocks or pictures (perhaps rock stars and moving pictures).
The purpose of this commandment is to check the human tendency to worship idols, the ubiquitous tendency to "bow down and serve" manmade gods, whether secular or religious. Idolatry occurs whenever one holds a value higher than God. Thus it is actually possible to turn one’s religion into a false god, and to value it above all else. Certainly in the Muslim Middle East, it would appear that the worship of God has been completely replaced by the worship of Islam.
For a person who is not operating in Piaget’s fourth stage of cognitive development, formal operations, it is almost impossible not to be an idol worshiper in some form or fashion. Only a person capable of abstract thought can understand that all religious talk is a symbolic representation of something that entirely transcends religious talk--that religion is not about religion, but about something radically beyond religion.
Thus, the injunction against worshipping graven images is an ingenious biblical device for saying, Thou shall not get stuck on stupid. That is, don’t get hung up in pre-operational or concrete operational thought. Rather, God can only be properly thought about and encountered in the more abstract regions of formal operations thought and beyond.
When we talk about the "third world," we are presumably talking about economic development, but there are also first, second, and third worlds of cognitive development. In fact, most of the Islamic world retains a retrograde cognitive style that features transparently infantile mechanisms such as paranoia, grandiosity, denial, and splitting. To the extent that they are literate--and even in a country as “advanced” as Egypt, some fifty percent of the women are illiterate--religious narratives are simply superimposed over a magical and mythological mode of thought. Thus, although they have a “written” religion in the form of the Koran, it is really treated more as an idol, fetish object, or graven image, as defined above.
For example, not only is no Muslim free to interpret the Koran in a symbolic or non-literal manner, but pathetic souls who spend their lives literally memorizing the Koran are revered as people of great spiritual achievement. They may not even understand what they have memorized--in that regard, they are more like idiot savants than anything we would recognize as a saintly person of spiritual discernment. Imagine revering someone who had wasted his life memorizing the Bible cover to cover, but never seeing into its wisdom.
Of course, the Koran is a wildly disconnected jumble of incoherent and contradictory sayings, dreams, visions, threats, and warnings. To a large extent, one may similarly regard the Bible as lacking innate coherence. The big difference is that Biblical exegesis has always involved trying to see through the contradictions to a higher unity, whereas this higher mode of cognition would be expressly forbidden in Islam.
It is almost as if Islam mandates that its followers remain mired in a lower level of cognitive development, where they cannot think abstractly and apprehend the hidden unity underlying the diversity of the world: thou shall get stuck on stupid. As is to be expected, in reacting so infatoddlerously to some silly cartoon images, they have taken an injunction against graven images and turned it into one.
Naturally, this developmentally earlier form of cognition also poses a great impediment to the emergence of scientific thought, since science always proceeds by reducing an outward multiplicity to a higher unity. But long ago, the Muslim world decided that if science discovered something that confirmed the Koran, then it was irrelevant, while if it discovered something that contradicted it, it was blasphemous. As such, they can only imitate science, but not think scientifically.
Concrete operations thought does not look for an overall unity in the universe--it doesn’t construct a logical analysis that makes all aspects of reality fit into a coherent system. Instead, it merely collects facts and tells stories. Facts that contradict the story are either omitted or else somehow fitted into the mythological framework. It is a fact, for example, that Muslim culture could not have discovered Einstein’s “Jewish physics” in a thousand years of trying. But the mad mullahs of Iran have no difficulty in being parasites on science and integrating atomic energy into the myth of inevitable Muslim superiority and entitlement.
The lower orders of cognition are inherently narcissistic and egocentric, in that the individual has difficulty decentering himself and adopting the point of view of another. Thus, in the Muslim countries reacting most violently to the cartoons of infamy, Christians and Jews have no rights at all, and are routinely depicted in the most degrading way. Throughout the Muslim world, their print and broadcast media feature the most lurid and grotesque anti-Semitic images the world has seen since nazi Germany. And yet, they are violently outraged by some comparatively benign images published in a country that isn’t even Muslim. What could be more childishly narcissistic and egocentric?
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of the universalizing tendencies of formal operations thought is that it can lead directly to the modern cognitive pathologies of cultural and moral relativism. That is, the person in formal operations can see that there are always multiple perspectives, so why should one perspective be privileged over another? Islam, Christianity, wicca, what’s the difference?
The difference, of course, is that only someone in formal operations thought has the luxury of this kind of liberal tolerance that is unknown--and unknowable--in the cultures that he is elevating to the moral and intellectual status of his own. If there is one thing that is not tolerated in the Muslim world, it is tolerance. As such, the modern “tolerant” liberal equates intolerance with just another form of tolerance.
This is how the most sophisticated thinkers and wackademics of the West conspire with the totalitarian con-op thinkers of Islam, producing a new cognitive offshoot that hamstrings us in properly dealing with our sworn enemies: totolerantarianism, or the enforced tolerance of the intolerant. This politically and academically correct stance is the sine qua non of a graven image, for it involves bowing down before a manmade ideology that equates the lower and the higher.
Thus, there is a hidden unity between the postmodern left and the premodern Islamists: it is a tacit conspiracy between those who make a god of their religion and those who make a god of their irreligion, between the intolerable and the intolerant.