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What Is (Who Are) The Islamic State? (2 of ?)

November 16, 2015

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I’m continuing to think out loud about this because it seems to me that religious fundamentalism is one of the psychopathologies of American democracy, all the way back to the authoritarian Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony (which produced the Conservative second President of the U S, John Adams).

I’m continuing to draw much of my thinking about ISIS and the Islamic State or Caliphate from the article by Wood, who looks to me to be well informed. At one point he mentions that the fundamentalist Islamic religious argument for the destructive behavior of IS is iron tight, impenetrable.

The parallel religious argument with which I am most familiar is standard Christian theology. Many centuries of thinking have elaborated it to the point where it is a closed circle, revolving around a Castle Keep in which it keeps its basic premises, which it regards as absolutes, of assumed Truth. If one accepts the truth of those premises, there is no missing link in the chain of logic of the theology. It becomes an intellectual exercise, with deadly implications.

If, by chance, the assumptions are mistaken, the logic crumbles. But, some of the teachings within the theological story can remain true and important, such as some of the moral teachings in the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. But the test of the truthfulness is pragmatic (pragmatism being another major strain of American thought).

But for the fundamentalist, every passage of the holy text, read literally, determines his (or her, but she is less important, although she has her place) imagination of life, applied judgmentally to every thought and action.

It’s hard to imagine a democracy that way—certainly a liberal democracy such as some of us are trying to imagine and continue to enact in the U S today. It was hard for the American Puritans, including John Adams. For the fundamentalist, if I do not accept the truth of his basic premises, and do not allow myself to be governed by them, as explained by a priest, I’m deeply in trouble, because God’s love will mercifully condemn me to hell; and from the point of view of IS, will sanction my murder.

But that’s not the way I imagine life. For instance, I quoted a basic tenet of my faithful imagination on page one of this episode: “The Way that can be named [e.g. any of the religious fundamentalisms] is not the Everlasting Way.”

That makes it hard to take a text literally, even the one that I just quoted. That, too, can be taken to the absurd; I remember an avowed Existentialist prof (of French lit) in the early ‘60s, who was famous among us grad students for never saying a word in class—or at least on the day when he was explaining Existentialism.

But my text does suggest (as I understand and apply it) a profound skepticism, especially toward my own loud thinking. Any thought of mine might be hamartia (to be playful about the use of sacred language). It might simply be a lot of bull. It can miss the mark, even if slightly; the arrow does not strike the bull in the eye, but gives his skull a glancing blow, and the bull charges, or goes frolicking off into other fields.

But that doesn’t mean that I deserve to die, or to lose my right or opportunity to vote.

(And btw, about that bull, or ox.)

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