Further to my previous post, So Europe, Paris; America: What Now? there was part of the underlying idea that I set aside for later; i.e., for now.
It’s a conflation of our ethics with their metaphysics. Recall from your general understanding of philosophy, if you have one, that the hierarchy flows from metaphysics (the study of the given; reality), to epistemology (the study of knowledge of reality), to ethics (the study of moral right & wrong), and then finally to politics (the study of man’s social organization). There’s also esthetics (the study of art, which is basically an integrated reflection of the foregoing branches), but let’s just deal with that latter branch by noting how ISIS has been busy destroying ancient cultural artifacts and art. This should count as a clue, because art generally reflects a philosophy that in various ways celebrates the value of life and the many corollary values that humanity pursues towards it being a happy and fulfilled life.
My heightened awareness came about when, in a short comment thread with Billy Beck in the aftermath of the previous evening’s Paris massacre, he drew an important distinction that sent me down rabbit holes of reflection. The idea is that suicide in a military context (e.g., Kamikaze) is a matter for ethical analysis in that context whereas, the actions by ISIS and other sects or organization of Muslims are not applicable to anything resembling our ethics, since their ethics are based upon an entirely different metaphysics (see foregoing paragraph). As I quoted him yesterday:
These animals are acting from flagrantly anti-human metaphysics: even more evil than socialists of all stripes. At least the socialists make a claim to valuing human betterment, even so horrible as they are at it. These vermin are not like that: all their values lie beyond death.
They will not be demoralized by their own deaths, that of their families or anyone else. Death itself, is the value to them.
Their “worldview,” if you will, is so different from ours (literally, as you’ll see: apocalyptic; death, end of days) that the bounds we place upon ourselves are simply inapplicable to them. We pursue life, they pursue the end of the world, indeed believing that they are hastening it via their actions. It’s apples and oranges. Commenter Peter gets it.
I can understand why many people react to something like what has happened and ask the question, why are they doing this, what have we done wrong to them. Many people cannot wrap their head around genuinely bad people existing. They believe surely people can be reasoned with, if we be reasonable with them. They just don’t get that it’s possible for people to have heinous and ridiculous beliefs that will cause them to want to kill you for not holding those beliefs. As a result they grasp for answers to explain it in a way that is logical, that fits the mold of “they’ve only done this to us because we did this to them”.
I think it was about a year ago when I found myself in front of the TV while a nephew was watching an episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead. It was well into the series, I’d heard of it, but have never been a zombie film fan (I did like Brad Pitt’s World War Z) so never paid attention. But I had to admit that what I was seeing was intriguing, so I ended up marathon watching the whole damn series to date via Netflix.
In the early episodes and seasons of the series, there is quite a lot of the same sort of misplaced ethical calculation I’m addressing in this post. That was perhaps best typified by Hershel Greene, the veterinarian who, with his family, had been rounding up walkers, keeping them fed and locked in a barn in anticipation of a cure someday. In many conversations with Rick, he’d say things like, “these are people, Rick!”
And that’s where he was wrong. He was applying his sense of ethics, an ethics applicable to the living, an ethics that sets boundaries for the living and their pursuit of happiness in a social context, to a metaphysics of the dead, The Walking Dead. So, think of ISIS and other violent sectarian actors as The Walking Dead for a spell. See how it fits, if it has a certain ring to it, given the juxtaposition of their apocalyptic metaphysics with our ethics for the living, the lovers of life.
… There’s one more point I need to make, and that is in regard to my politics of anarchism I’m so fond of espousing. In this context, I’ve come to realize that I have to set that aside. Anarchy is a politics corresponding to an ethics for the living. Anarchy, as an ethical-political system, is no more applicable to an apocalypse cult than it is to pre-civilization hunter-gatherers.
Now, let’s move on to my basis for all of this. It turns out that what I have described is a reasonable assessment and is very different from the typical narrative from the left, or libertarian left/right, that tends to blame the West in general, America in particular, and if we just left them alone, all would become hunky dory. No, the value they seek, that they are acting for, is not for us to “leave them alone.” The value they seek, that they are acting for is our utter destruction. There is emphatically not room for both of us, something’s gotta give. I have now become convinced of this and accordingly, I must change the way I regard potential interventions and solutions, even if carried out by an infinitely less oppressive State.
… There was an earth-shattering cover piece in The Atlantic last March, written by Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants – The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
The importance of reading the whole thing is perhaps best summed up in this exchange between Sam Harris and Wood.
Harris: So you’ve spent a fair amount of time in the region as a journalist. And the most recent product of these labors is the current cover story in The Atlantic on the Islamic State. Congratulations on producing such a fine piece. I must say it came as a relief to finally read the plain truth in print, which is a strange thing to say, given how horrible the truth is. But your article meets a need that was just not being fulfilled. Almost no one in the media has been willing to draw a straight line between the religious ideology that members of the Islamic State espouse and their barbaric behavior—which, while absolutely shocking in its details, isn’t remotely surprising, given what they believe. I recommend that our readers immediately read your Atlantic essay as background to this conversation, if they haven’t already.
How has the article been received?
Wood: I’m pleased to see that it has baffled a lot of people. Much of the initial wave of reaction has come from people who desperately wanted it to say one thing or another, and who reacted by assuming that it fell into their predetermined classifications of pieces about politics, Islam, or terrorism. It is gratifying to write a story so resistant to classification that people have to pretend it says things it doesn’t just so that it fits in their mental categories.
While everyone really ought to read both The Atlantic piece and subsequent interview (both are quite lengthy), for the TL;DR crowd and clarity in terms of my foregoing thesis, let me summarize some of the article’s important points.
On the imperative for ISIS to capture and hold territory in order to fully implement Sharia Law.
Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.
On the imperative for ISIS to remain consistent to their ancient doctrines to the letter.
We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohamed Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.
There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.
The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam. […]
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
On how very serious they are, to essentially turn back the clock to the 7th Century.
…But the split between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State has been long in the making, and begins to explain, at least in part, the outsize bloodlust of the latter.
Zawahiri’s companion in isolation is a Jordanian cleric named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, 55, who has a fair claim to being al-Qaeda’s intellectual architect and the most important jihadist unknown to the average American newspaper reader. On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. Both are closely identified with the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry. […]
Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.
Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.
Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.
On how they are the real thing.
But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. […]
According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”
On immigration, which I find very interesting.
Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die.
Peter R. Neumann, a professor at King’s College London, told me that online voices have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that newcomers know what to believe. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the jihadist community, by allowing conservative Muslim women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to Syria. Through its appeals to both genders, the Islamic State hopes to build a complete society.
On the palpable excitement of having their own primitive “society.”
The last caliphate was the Ottoman empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century and then experienced a long decline, until the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, euthanized it in 1924. But Cerantonio, like many supporters of the Islamic State, doesn’t acknowledge that caliphate as legitimate, because it didn’t fully enforce Islamic law, which requires stonings and slavery and amputations, and because its caliphs were not descended from the tribe of the Prophet, the Quraysh.
Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.”
On how salvation requires by scripture the establishment of a caliphate (a territorial, religious State).
The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a(allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life.
On how Muslims wherever they may be, are obliged to recognize their leader and emigrate to his territory.
Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws.
On how Islam is socialist.
Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.
III. The Apocalypse
On the value they pursue and their belief that their actions constitute the quickening.
… The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character. It is in this casting that the Islamic State is most boldly distinctive from its predecessors, and clearest in the religious nature of its mission.
In broad strokes, al-Qaeda acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Muslim lands. The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.
During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world.
On their own version of the Christian Armageddon, which, living under Western political institutions, all are free to dismiss. Ridicule, even.
For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.
“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.
IV. The Fight
On how their own faith-based, cock-suredness is the underlying means of their marginalization and self-defeat.
The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand.
In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.
Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict. […]
One comparison to the Islamic State is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations. “This is not permitted,” Abu Baraa said. “To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God’s.” This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, he argued, and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means—for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate—is shirk.
It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. […]
The United States and its allies have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group’s ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn’t yet committed mass atrocities. Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group’s ambition was to “restore the Islamic caliphate,” and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, “There are but a few days left.” Baghdadi had already styled himself “commander of the faithful,” a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement “ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate.” […]
Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions.
The section goes on to outline several avenues of intervention. Since I’ll have no say in the matter, I only wish to speak to the ethics, which I’ll do in my conclusion. For my money, ISIS itself has already readily drawn the roadmap to its own destruction (not that variants may not pop up later). They are so bound by their own fanatical devotion that just a modicum of understanding ought to light a path for intervention that’s effective.
On the validity of ISIS’ interpretation of the scriptures upon which they act.
It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.
Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.
The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Musa Cerantonio and the Salafis I met in London are unstumpable: no question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.
Not every strict Muslim fundamentalist seeks destruction of the West in the here & now. Like Christian fundamentalists, they leave final, apocalyptic judgment in God’s hands.
There is, however, another strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to the Islamic State—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions. This strand has proved appealing to many Muslims cursed or blessed with a psychological longing to see every jot and tittle of the holy texts implemented as they were in the earliest days of Islam. Islamic State supporters know how to react to Muslims who ignore parts of the Koran: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Muslims read the Koran as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.
The section goes on to outline some elements and examples of that, but it’s beyond the scope of my specific theme, here. His final paragraph:
That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.
In terms of my own conclusions, I’m reminded of my own Christian fundamentalist upbringing from the age of 10, in the Baptist variation. As I was reading portions of this article, it reminded me of my own exposure in church, particularly this, I’ll re-quote:
…They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam. […]
According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.”
Indeed. In a fundamentalist Baptist sect in America, it gets like that. It becomes a language unto itself, where the faithful, in the normal course of conversation, make chronological-historical references like, “when we got saved,” and they don’t mean from a burning building. They speak of The Second Coming all the time, along with its concomitant Rapture of the “saved”—those who have professed exclusive faith in the sacrifice of Jesus for their sins and not any good or wholesome or heroic works they have done (they are as “filthy rags” in the eyes of God).
As ridiculous as all of that was, I never ever heard a single call to harm anyone. Ever. I know there are a fringe few who have killed abortion doctors. It’s not, and never was any kind of movement supported by the fundamentalists I grew up with who do, indeed, consider abortion to be murder of innocent “babies.” But that’s God’s job in their eyes and they are ever faithful that there will be eventual and final judgment at the hand of God himself.
This is their true salvation, in my view. Their doctrines are malleable enough that they can be fundamentally adherent to them, and still embrace a system of ethics that can commune even with those of atheists, like me, most of the time and when it’s most important to be able to do so. Add a socio-political system that contemplates those ethics, and everyone is free to dismiss them, even ridicule them, and we have what we refer to as civilization.
It’s what we nonchalantly call civilization, but I hope you get a glimpse into what a precious value it is. Whether you’re interested in the war ISIS wants to bring to your front door or not, it is interested in you.
And it’s not interested in your ethics. It has its own. Your ethics are derived from a metaphysics of The Living. Theirs are derived from a metaphysics of The Walking Dead, and there is no reconcilliation.
… There are those who would advocate giving the entire or some of the Middle East the “Porcelain Treatment.” But don’t you see? That’s just a reverse. It’s applying their ethics to our metaphysics. Nope, our metaphysics of life and love for it, demand that we embrace our derivative ethics and we just have to do it the hard way.
Civilization would be no fun at all if it wasn’t always the ethical hard way, every day.