Legalism vs. morality; laws vs. ethics

Raymond Ibrahim takes up the question of why so many  jihadists, for all of their alleged Islamic piety, often are so sexually immoral, to the point of going to strip clubs before their suicide bombing runs.  After a fascinating tour of this phenomenon in Islamic history and the rationalizations of such behavior in Islamic theology, Mr. Ibrahim notes a fundamental difference in the way Muslims and Christians approach morality:

Deceit, rationalizations, and a paradise that forgives the would-be martyr’s every sin — indeed, that satiates his hedonistic urges with 72 voluptuous women (which may only be raisins) — all help demonstrate how Muslims can be observant and simultaneously frequent strip clubs.

Yet there is one final explanation that requires an epistemic shift to appreciate fully: in Islam, legalism trumps morality, resulting in what Westerners may deem irreconcilable behavior among Muslims, that is, “hypocrisy.” As Daniel Pipes observed some three decades ago in his In the Path of God:

[There is] a basic contrast between the Christian and Islamic religions: the stress on ethics versus the stress on laws. Controls on sexual activity directly reflect this difference. The West restricts sex primarily by imbuing men and women with standards of morality. … Muslims, in contrast, depend on “external precautionary safeguards” [e.g., segregation, veiling] to restrain the sexes. … Rather than instill internalized ethical principles, Islam establishes physical boundaries to keep the sexes apart.

In this context, the problem is not Muslims frequenting strip clubs, but misplaced Western projections that assume religious piety is always synonymous with personal morality — a notion especially alien to legalistic Islamists whose entire epistemology begins and ends with the literal words of seventh-century Muhammad and his Koran.

And it is this slavishness that best explains Islamist behavior. For the same blind devotion to the literal mandates of Islam which encourages Islamists to lead lives of deceit also explains why Islamists are callous to human suffering, why they are desensitized to notions of human dignity and the cries of their raped victims, and, yes, why they cheerily forfeit their lives in exchange for a fleshy paradise. In all cases, Muhammad and his Allah said so — and that’s all that matters.

via Pajamas Media » How the Islamist Mindset Rationalizes — and Promotes — ‘Sex Sins’.

I have, however, noted this same dichotomy of legalism vs. morality, laws vs. ethics, in some Christians. Of course, Christianity in its essence is about none of these but about forgiveness for transgressing them. That is, it is about the Gospel of Christ on the Cross who atoned for our iniquities. I wonder, though, if confusion about whether the Law has to do with external controls vs. inner motivations may also relate to confusions about the Gospel. (for example, the problem of anti-nomianism?)