Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dealing With A Cult Of Death.

Recently I have read an article by a Jewish Rabbi who makes a very good point on the subject of religious fundamentalism. In essence, once a person becomes so fixated on attaining ‘heaven’ they lose contact with reality, and with the essence of almost every religious teaching  - which is to live THIS life to the fullest possible extent, no matter how impoverished or hard it may be. The problem is that if we focus to intently on our vision of ‘heaven’ we very quickly find that it is a justification for every kind of evil act - in pursuit of the ‘greater good’.

This is what drives groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and, I suspect, some elements of groups like Hamas, the Taliban (an ironic title if ever there was - it is said to mean ‘scholars’), Al Qaeda and others. It certainly motivates some Christian groups as well, fortunately, at this time, not to physical violence. The ISIS group, at present, provides us with the most visible evidence of what a group motivated by such a self-righteous ‘vision’ can produce. They justify their actions by arguing that the ‘final days’ and the return of ‘heavenly peace’ promised in the Quran can only be achieved by the recreation of the Caliphate. They further argue that the original Caliphate ‘failed’ because it allowed ‘kufars’ to continue practicing their ‘false’ faiths and live among the faithful.

Their solution is simple - forcibly convert the ‘kufars’ or kill them. Each death in the name of this programme is presumed to earn them brownie points in the heaven to come. Plus, of course, since it is a ‘holy’ war, if you die fighting for this cause you are a ‘holy’ martyr and assured of a place in ‘paradise’.

Interestingly, both Judaism and Christianity (mainstream, not the sectarian versions) have a very ‘physical’ view of the life hereafter and that is shared by Islam. Mainstream Christian teaching since early times has suggested that the ‘second coming’ and the ‘resurrection of the dead’ will be a physical event - with everyone restored to their physical bodies at the age that Jesus was when he died. The Jewish view is similar, and in Islam this is the leading concept as well. The Bible probably has the least to say on exactly what form the ‘life to come’ will take. While it contains many defences to a life after death, it uses a lot of allegorical descriptions to illustrate to the point. The problem comes down to trying to describe something outside of human understanding or experience, in human terms and within parameters the human mind can grasp. It is my understanding that the Quran follows a similar route - many references to ‘paradise’ or a ‘new Eden’ and to ‘the faithful’ populating it - but not a great deal on the details. Most of the teaching followed by extremists in that faith comes from something called the Hadith - a collection of ‘sayings’ attributed to the Prophet. It’s provenance is somewhat open to challenge since it was first written down a long time after the Prophet’s death.

The problem with obsessing about attaining the ‘life hereafter’ is that you stand a good chance of becoming insufferably ‘religious’ and ignoring the real tenets of the faith you supposedly follow. This was Christ’s problem with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, both groups obsessing about ‘The Law’ or ‘The Ritual’ (the Sadducees were the Temple priests) to the point they forgot, or perhaps ignored, the real teachings of their faith, which is, as Augustine of Hippo put it, to ‘Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your being - and then do as you please.’ The truth is that if you really do the first, it is impossible to do anything ‘evil’ in the second part. In essence, this is what Jesus meant when he gave us the ‘Great Commandment’ (which Augustine paraphrased) and the second to love everyone else as we love ourselves. Follow those two commandments - which actually sum up the Ten Commandments very succinctly - and you cannot do what ISIS, Hamas or any other terror group are doing.

So where has it all gone wrong? Why are we seeing these black clad jihadis shooting, bombing and beheading their way across the Middle East? 

In part we have to acknowledge that Islam has historically a pretty dire record of conquest and forced conversion. Many today do not know that North Africa, the Middle East, most of modern Pakistan and the southern areas of what are now independent states of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire, were Christian. They were converted to Islam by force or coercion after being overrun by Arab, and later Seljuk, Ottoman and other Islamic conquerors. The Caliphate was centred on Baghdad and flourished - ostensibly liberally - until it was sacked by the Mongols in 1326 AD. While it is often described as ‘tolerant’ it depends on your viewpoint. Certainly it allowed alcohol and was fairly relaxed about the practice of other faiths - Jewish or Christian. But, what is less well known, is that Jews and Christians were banned from holding government office unless they converted, and that they paid a punitive ‘tax’ to retain their faith. Later this was extended to a requirement to provide the first born son to the Caliph as a ‘servant’. These boys were forced to convert, and in some cases were castrated as well. The Ottoman Empire was still practicing this in the late 19th Century in Bulgaria and the other Balkan states under their control. 

The Mongol invasion shattered the Caliphate, but the new rulers didn’t bring a new religion with them, and were themselves gradually converted to Islam. It is an unacknowledged fact that Islam has been the reason underlying more invasions and conquests than any other religion, and while Christianity has certainly had its moments - especially during the Reformation - it hardly holds a candle to Islam in this regard.

Why the difference? 

Judaism grew up in a world dominated by religions that glorified death. Some practiced human sacrifice, most practiced animal sacrifice, and some had some rather strange combinations of both. Perhaps the most shocking of all was the sacrifice of male infants by the Phoenicians (and some reports say the Philistines) by tossing the living child into the stylised maw of a furnace, still, according to the Roman histories, practiced in Carthage at the time of the Punic Wars. Many had fertility rites that today would shock even the most open minded ‘liberal’. This is where some of the Levitical strictures against certain practices and activities arise and though these are carried over into the Quran (which draws heavily on the Old Testament, parts of the New and on a huge amount of Gnostic literature now known as the Pseudepigraphica (False Books) - so called because they are not written by the claimed ‘authors’ and are even verifiably not from the period they are supposed to have been written in), their origin is not acknowledged by the adherents of the extremist groups - and sadly, by some of the ‘scholars’ who support them.

Christianity, for the first hundred or so years, remained closely linked to the Synagogue and the Jewish worship and even teaching. It did suffer, to an extent, from a ‘martyr complex’ in some areas, where, if one reads the history of some of the early martyrs, they deliberately sought martyrdom in the belief that Christ would return within their (curtailed) lifetimes. While this re-emerged during the Reformation, and is still marginally visible among the more fundamentalist branches of the Christian family who fixate on the prophecies they read into the Book of Revelations. Once again, the problem is the fixation on gaining ‘the next life’ and frequently a loss of the need to live the present one to the fullest extent.

One possible explanation for Islam’s more entrenched ‘martyr complex’ is that it has no ‘centralising authority’ structures like the ‘church’ hierarchies of Christianity. Thus everyone is able to place their own interpretation on the teachings they have inherited, and many are drawn to the question of bringing about the arrival of the promised ‘paradise’. It is this focus that gives rise to the unhealthy mindset that says no amount of suffering, no limit to the number of casualties, is too high to achieve the desired end. Thus Hamas can have no shortage of volunteers willing to sacrifice their lives in this world, to destroy the ‘enemy’ and attain ‘paradise’ where they can live in a state of bliss while awaiting the final call to rise with the faithful and take over the earth.

In focusing their thoughts on a ‘martyr’s death’ they lose the true message of faith which is, simply, to live, and to live well. Once again, turning to the teaching of Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets, the essence of the faiths they taught, is to live life to its fullest. Their teaching is simple, by following the simple instruction to love God, and to treat everyone you encounter with respect and kindness, you will reap the same treatment from them. Everything in the Bible - both Old and New Testaments is about living, not about dying, and, as I understand it, the same applies to the Quran. By turning that on its head, and focusing on death, those who do, create a ‘death cult’ whose purpose is no longer about love and life, but about power, murder and enslavement.

I would venture to suggest that this is one major reason we cannot hope to see peace in Gaza or the West Bank at any time in the near future. The Jewish state is founded on the ideals of Judaic teaching about ‘life’, while their opponents seek to destroy them, their faith and their state - and are prepared to die themselves to achieve it. Hamas, Fatah and the other factions are all members of what has become a Cult of Death. In their mindset death in achieving their aim will guarantee a place in Paradise. Their ‘holy’ struggle justifies anything and everything, even bringing death and destruction to those they love.

Islam has descended into being a ‘cult of death’ and, as such, sows the seeds of its own ultimate failure. The Huffington Post columnist, Mehdi Hassan, himself a follower of Islam, points out in a recent article (The Hand Choppers Of ISIS Are Deluded), that Islam as a ‘political’ movement has failed at every attempt to create an ‘Islamic State’. Look about you - all the ‘failed states’ causing problems in the world today are ‘Islamic’, and all of them try to impose the Sharia and the thinking of the 7th Century to government - with predictably disastrous results. In every attempt to create such a Utopia, all too rapidly power becomes entrenched in the hands a small and usually corrupt clique. Law and order break down as people find themselves compelled evade certain strictures and corruption spreads as policy is increasingly left in the hands of those who blind themselves to suffering or see only their own very narrow vision of 'heaven'. It is in this cesspit that the radical preachers, the haters and the violent find a ready field to develop and expand their perverted theology. 

It is the failure, among western ‘thinkers’, politicians and campaigners for ‘secularisation’, and their fellow travellers of humanism and atheism, to understand this difference between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that will bring hardship and disaster to us all. Their constant assault on Christianity, and their open bias against Judaism, has created a vacuum, the perfect breeding ground for this radicalised and twisted version of Islam. The demonstrations over the last weekend in the UK, with hate filled slogans being chanted, and placards waved that should, frankly, have resulted in arrests, are a warning. We are not dealing with a movement that promises hope, peace or love - we are dealing with a cult that sees death and destruction as desirable ways to achieve their aims. Peace doesn’t stand a chance against that mindset. 

1 comment:

  1. Slim Jim says: Wise words from the Monk; a very interesting analysis of the problems associated with the 'religion of peace'. Your final paragraph highlights a particular problem that we have created in our own societies. I refer of course to the useful idiots who in their haste to consign Christianity and centuries-old Western values to the dustbin of history, and replace it with their own version of 'Jerusalem' (what exactly does it look like?). They are too busy 'celebrating diversity' and levelling everything downwards, that they appear to have missed the fact that the enemy is well-entrenched within our society.

    They should be careful what they wish for: if they keep on knocking out all the bricks and mortar - the Temple will surely collapse - and we will all perish together. The Second Coming may be sooner than we expect...