My parents cautioned me to avoid to the strictest extent possible for as long as possible these things in this world: doctors, lawyers, and conversations about politics or religion. Advancing years make the avoidance of doctors increasingly more desirable, increasingly less possible. Casual observation and brief reflection effectively demonstrate that in America our lives are enmeshed by lawyers, despite any and all effort to decline formal commerce with them. The profusion of pundits throughout all media is proof that not only is any caution against political conversation more honored in the breach than in the observance but that the consistent disregard of that caution constitutes a materially profitable industry.
That leaves conversations about religion.
Appropriate certainly in Sunday sermons and schools of theology, perhaps also in self-help groups, spiritualist covens, and psychological coffee klatches, such conversations are deemed to have little substantial merit --- apart from the obligatory nod and timid lip service paid to "shared values" --- in the national discussions of a society inviolably committed to the separation of church and state.
That is, until the mounting pressure of events drives thought toward reexamination.
Which brings us to the current situation, to Islamic extremism, to the rise of the Isilian calumnate, to the terror born of an illness in Islam, to a publicly declared and brutally elaborated ideology so opposed to any conceivable understanding of the nature of God as to constitute not a faith but a slander on faith, a blasphemy against both reason and belief.
To characterize the evolving conflict as a "war on extremism" is to ignore the central fact of its religious specificity and by so doing to cripple the national ability to confront it. To consider it from a historical perspective fundamentally as the eruption of an abstract political force onto the world stage is equally debilitating. What we are now observing in its nascent stage is Islamic extremism. It is political Islam, the imposition by force of sharia theocracy. The religious qualifier is genetic of the phenomenon and essential to our understanding of it. To refuse that qualifier admittance to our thought and to our speech is to render thought empty and speech mute.
It is insufficient to deploy in opposition to such a religious consciousness merely the vapid theologism of a "coexist" bumper sticker, regardless of how fundamental the value of tolerance is to one's understanding of existence and to the social structure of one's nation. Let me walk with you and see the face of your God that I may show you the face of Mine. Tolerance may begin there. All may undertake such a pilgrimage. But all on that long ecumenical walk must recognize in what they see something familiar, each to his own soul and all to that shared by all souls, regardless of the angle or acuity of one's particular vision or of the distance from which one looks. And all must reject the absolutely unrecognizable, the absolutely alien. Faced with abject depravity we can't all "just get along."
I acknowledge that our culture makes the requisite conversation difficult. What we call freedom is perhaps the highest of our spiritual values, and it is possible only in the lee space between political and religious authority, precariously suspended between Church and State and entirely accountable to neither. A cabinet level Department of Theology is anathema to us, a Presidential Commission on the Nature of God a logical impossibility, yet the absolute absurdity of such specific concepts cannot quite negate the validity of the intuition that underlies them, that in the current situation, faced as we are with a threat of mutating magnitude firmly grounded in a particular understanding of the divine, a countervailing understanding consistent with the nature of our freedom is essential to our reason, our sanity, and our defense.
Carl Jung wrote "Consciousness is the cradle of the birth of God in man." Read as a compressed expression of the notion of individuation, the unfolding of the soul unto a single, unique self, the thought points to both process and direction. But the God spoken of here is largely a concept without content, unrestricted by gender, doctrine, or dogma, in a sense recognizable only to a single, specific soul. It appears more as an experiential moment, an epiphany perhaps, the culmination of an arduous journey of growth, an individual elaboration that at last separates a given psyche from the undifferentiated roil of a larger antique psyche, the common inheritance of humanity. Looked at in this light even the agnostic and the atheist gain full admittance to the discussion. The current situation can be approached purely psychologically, in a cold scientific frame of mind essentially devoid of theological content: a vicious god is a pathology.
Teilhard de Chardin admits of a similar reading, though here the process is more specifically religious, the movement of consciousness teleological, directed toward the unfolding unto a specific model of personality, indeed toward a specific personality itself. Still, both Jung and Chardin --- and, I suspect, a multitude of other psychological and religious pilgrims of all valid faiths and disciplines --- see the process fundamentally as the navigation, intimately individual yet immanently communal, toward a distant and anonymous light, the endpoint of evolution. But for us as individuals to acknowledge the communality of that navigation we must be convinced that we move toward the same beacon, however intensely or dimly perceived. In the individual case contemplation suffices to chart the arc of the journey; communally only conversation can assure us that we travel in a single direction.
Individually and communally, whether the language is of the soul and religious or of the psyche and scientific, all faiths must confess their sins, all psychologies must confront their illnesses. To contain the sort of heresy we here detect, the cancer of the psyche we here diagnose, requires that we begin by sketching the outlines of health, by admitting to an acceptable understanding of the divine only those attributes of God that propel us, whether speedily or haltingly, toward the same light. The effort cannot be limited to our doctors and our theologians alone; that would constitute not a conversation but an indictment. It must arise as well in the depths of the Muslim soul and be spoken aloud across the entire ummah. Failure means metastasis. And metastasis leads by steady and certain steps not toward evolutionary apotheosis but rather toward apocalyptic calamity.
Let me converse with you and hear the true voice of your God that you may hear the true voice of Mine. All hope of tolerance begins here. It is therefore imperative that we begin. He who has ears to hear let him hear...