Re: religious singularity?

From: Greg Burch (
Date: Sun Sep 30 2001 - 08:24:11 MDT

From: "Anders Sandberg" <>
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 3:12 PM

> As for religious singularities, I think the invention of monotheism was
> one of them. That was a great invention, since it sharpened the memetics
> of religion quite a bit. Before, you had to convince others that your
> favorite god was really great and that they had to worship him *too*.
> Now you could instead convince them that there was only *your* god, and
> all other gods were wrong - a bit harder at first, but once a person is
> converted he is firmly converted and less likely to defect. Add the
> socioeconomics of monotheism, and you have a recipe for singularity.

Brilliant insight, Anders! This is precisely congruent with thoughts I've
been having the last few days as I read Esposito's "Islam: The Straight
Path," acknowledged by many to be a very good primer on the history and
content of Islamic culture. One of the distinguishing characteristics of
Islam is its radical monotheism. This is seen in the prohibition on any kind
of "associationism", i.e. the heresy of "associating" *anything* with Allah.
The prohibition on associationism expresses itself in the shunning of images
of god or the Prophet, which extreme fundamentalists extend to any kind of
visual image of *any* person (thus the Taliban's law against any kind of
photograph or the use of any kind of video device by "the faithful".)

One of the basic reasons for Islamic antipathy to Christianity is the
latter's doctrine of the Trinity, which Muslim's denounce as heretical
fracturing of the fundamental unity of Allah. Interestingly, the radical
monotheism of Islam has given rise to the pantheism that naturally follows
from a rigorously unitary notion of god -- in Sufism. Unfortunately, this
has then also been coupled with the radically totalitarian vision of
shariah, so that the all-pervasive notion of Sufistic pantheism then doubles
back on itself to return to the kind of obsessive social universalism we see
in all facets of Islam. As my study of Islamic thought and history deepens
and widens, I keep looking for signs of the kind of moderating influence
that the 18th century deists had on Christianity, but to no avail. The
history of Sufism is a good example of why.

This last fact of the history of the evolution of Islamic culture is one
that has driven the despair I am coming to feel about the possibility that
we can hope to see a milder form of Islam develop any time soon. The
problem is the totalitarian conception of shariah (protected by the doctrine
of "bida" or *the sin of innovation*, much more than the violent roots of

At any rate, I think that effort to try to develop memetic engineering tools
for moderating Islam is well spent, even though the task seems to be *much*
more difficult than a similar enterprise applied to Christianity. Mohammed
was one sly fellow, building a much more robust memetic immune system into
the basic concepts of Islam. It's a much simpler and more robust over-all
construct than Christianity.

Greg Burch
Vice-President, Extropy Institute

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:40:59 MDT