A Question of Will

October 10, 2014

ISISWhat’s with ISIS?

ISIS it the latest demon to come down the pike: irrational, brutal and bloodthirsty, faux-pious, faux-devout; but it’s really nothing more than another instance of what we do to each other —another historical example of what we are, in part, about. There’s nothing new about these men in black except perhaps the modernity of their technological clout.

ISIS (which calls itself the Islamic State) is, in barbaric terms, similar to earlier religious entities. It’s not an expression of an unfathomable god but of the very plain and ordinary human will to dominance and power. God is just a rationale. But God often is just a rationale for the sort of fear-inducing brutality which (today) is ISIS, Death’s latest instrument, which now taints Islam.

Given the late video evidence it’s probable that God says things like this to ISIS:

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

But in that case god (not Allah, but Yahweh) was not commanding ISIS, but was instead pumping up the Old Testament Israelite king, Saul. It may have been another time, but the divine MO was exactly the same: a convenient god, in service for the political ends at hand.  And Saul, being a shrewd and devout guy, did not shrink from God’s command. He

“…attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.” —Samuel 15.  

Saul may even have beheaded a few; but there was no social media then as we have now so we’ll never know. But if there had been it’s likely Saul would have used it to scare the loin-cloths off potential adversaries.

Nicholas Kristof , in the New York Time recently, suggested the current opinions of many about Islam do not take into account either the lives of non-violent Muslims nor the history of violence which has also been practiced by claimants of other religions.

Kristof notes that Christianity has encompassed the likes of “…the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own.” And Kristof went on to mention the Congo warlord who styled himself a Pentecostal pastor…” suggesting that all who claim to be sheltered by the umbrella of God are actually themselves the ones who rain death and fashion the lightning bolts they hurl at innocents.

And the beat goes religiously on: on one hand take the Hindu, Gandhi; on the other the fanatic Hindu who assassinated him. And while today’s Dalai Lama is venerated as a humanitarian, the fifth Dalai Lama ordered children to be slaughtered “like eggs smashed against rocks.”

In fact much of what has been passed off as religion has nothing to do with God, neither then nor now. What brings us to the brink of condemnation of all Muslims today is the historical proximity of a hoard of psychopaths who claim the inspiration of Allah. They threaten us here and now, but the so-called god-worshipping psychopaths of the past were no less threatening in their ruthlessness to those who lived in their time. Jews before the Inquisition or “infidels” under the knife of ISIS were and are caught in political cogs, not spiritual ones, because religion really is more about politics than it is about God.

In his The Evolution of God, Robert Wright discusses how in 2300 BC Mesopotamia “The melding of religious beliefs or concepts…(was) a common way to forge cultural unity in the wake of conquest, and often…what gets melded is the gods themselves.” What Wright is talking about are the effects of politics on religions; or more accurately how religions are expressions of political power. And Wright goes on to show how this was true not only in Mesopotamia, but in Israel, and later in Roman dominated Palestine and (I would argue) right up to the present moment.

Wright tracks the many gods of the Middle East and how with every invasion and conquest the gods of victors and vanquished grew more or less powerful. He tracks this political progression of gods from polytheism through monolatry to monotheism until, finally, Yahweh, one of the gods of Israel has defeated all other gods to become the one God. But in the meantime during those centuries of political upheaval and change everyone claimed their god as their protector and made sure their deeds, constructive or destructive, were sanctioned by their god. God is always the perfect, unarguable excuse because my god is always flawless, as the poem suggests:

…….All Gods may contradict themselves
…….without flaw, say men
…….(who always give their God
…….the benefit of a doubt
…….in any argument)

The political forces that make ISIS possible are not new. They have to do with the condition in which people live, their hopes, disappointments, the oppression they suffer, the inequities, their humiliations, grievances, angers, hates, you name it. Roll all of that into the politics of religion along with the global issues we ignore and fail to address and you have a festering planet with a certain future of chronic outbreaks of this or that ISIS no matter how many bombs, drones and troops at your disposal.

Hope is not a question of religion it’s a question of enlightened will.

by Jim Culleny
10/10/14

Related: Bill Maher