ISIS spread like across northern Iraq like a fire in a cornfield. We know they sacked the major towns of Tikrit, Mosul and others, commandeering the US supplied arsenal provided for that ragtag national army of deserters. They opened bank vaults, unlocked prisons, murdered civilians, and tipped any sense of balance in the tinderbox that is modern day Iraq. They are looking for a new Islamic Caliphate, ruled by Sharia Law. They are explicitly unhappy with the abstract, abstruse and arbitrary borders drawn following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. They decapitated Syrian army troops. They slander USA. They mock democracy. They worship Allah with a faith that borders monomania. They are another example of when religion goes bad.
Religion is a metaphor; it cannot be literal. The burden of proof lies heavily on religion, mostly because it lacks entirely any proof that any assertion in their holy books is truth and not faith. There is no proof for a man in the sky, no one god, nobody who loves you and created you as well as the entire globe and galaxy. “But I have faith in my god.” Don’t! Don’t have faith in the arrogant, egocentric, science lacking, myth creating desert dwellers from centuries ago. Don’t believe in something that separates you from me and us from them. That faith is the same faith that validates and rationalizes ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorists’ jihad, only with a different name.
What will happen when ISIS overtakes Iraq? What good can come of a religious state? What advance to civilization does religion offer? Who, but legitimately insane people (religious fanatics), would want to live in that world? Who wants to live in a country with doctors whose prescriptions include prayers? Who wants to live in a country where justice’s rules are provided from a 7th century text? I can’t be sure, but I bet these terrorist organizations don’t offer scholarships or job placement opportunities. They only offer an intangible, albeit amazing, but deceitful future. They offer faith, and more than just faith in 72 virgins. They offer faith in action, in motion, with a direction, with leaders, with a goal. Lacking education, sport, internet, entertainment, a stable environment, sometimes even running water, or many of the decencies of modern life elsewhere, the young generation raised since 2001 in the war-torn Muslim countries only know one direction—faith. Faith to die, faith to kill, faith in your cause, faith in your dubious leaders, faith in your dubious god, faith that this is a useful expenditure of energy.
Learning how to think for yourself is not a priority of religion. Observing rules and strictly following them is. The first rule of jihad is: kill infidels. The second rule of jihad is: anybody but those who revere the correct version of a desert prophet who died over a thousand years ago is an infidel. Go!
Some medieval warriors killed for their kings. Some tribes killed for their chiefs. Some Asian countries killed for their emperors. Some psychopaths killed for their own pleasure, and others killed for loosened screws in their brain boxes. Killing is natural. Animals kill for territory, sexual rights or food. Perhaps it’s possible, when looked at in a certain point of view, that terrorists do the same: kill for space in the promised territory of “heaven,” access to the promised sexual rights of imaginary “heaven women,” and to get something edible from leaders in their parched, stagnant desert landscape where many crops can no longer grow.
When a person has a home, a wife who isn’t in constant danger of being kidnapped or raped, and access to supermarkets, the urge to indulge in jihad must be greatly reduced. How many of those jihadi have a mortgage? You’re not going to go bouncing off in a bulletproofed truck with a machine gun bolted to the hood when you got rent due on Monday. How many of those jihadi are married? No wife, no matter how tolerant of your religious beliefs, is going to let you go hunting infidels when the toilet isn’t working and the baby is sick. How many jihadi ever went shopping for fresh vegetables or watched a rom-com with a coke and a bucket of popcorn? Watching a bad Jennifer Love Hewitt movie might disappoint, but rarely leads to homicide. The point isn’t that Western values or lifestyles are the solution. People can find their own answers to life. But, when the ONLY solution offered to a child is a gun or death, what can he choose? (Apostasy is rewarded with death in many Muslim countries.)
Faith gives answers without asking questions. The opposite of faith is not negative. We can exist without the blind faith of religious isolation. We can express individual vitality through art. We can assert compassion through charity. We can choose to live for now, our impermanent now, our gentle hourglass of spirit. We can understand that those that go are gone, and that we will one day follow. We don’t remember before our birth, maybe we won’t remember after our death. We understand more about science, anatomy, astronomy and physics in 2014 than 2,014 years ago. Is it plausible to believe that there will still be Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhist’s 2,014 years from now? How will the world have changed? What will the new terrorism look like without religion? For, we are not a wholly benevolent species, not filled with unending kindness, not brimming with positive vibrations. We are flawed, strange, greedy, and maybe our biggest impediment to sustainability—wildly intelligent—and that intelligence created religion, not the other way around.
Some surprisingly inventive fellows long ago wrote a system of laws to keep these ruthless yet clever and intelligent human beasts in line so that we might have a society. They made seductive promises for following rules, and nasty assurances for those unlucky rule-breakers. It served its purpose. Now, society has transformed and grown; leaving religion fading behind the walls of scientific progress and evolutionary change.
Faith is challenged by that revolution. You need faith to believe in superstitions such as Noah, Moses, virgin births, hell and angels when surrounded by such miraculous new understandings of science such as DNA mapping, photosynthesis, cloning, medicine, or telescopes. Faith is responding to its own death in kind. It is furious as it stares at its own increasing futility in the modern world. After all, Faith in religion had created much beauty in the world: houses of worship, music, painting, poetry, and a communal ideal of living peacefully and worshipping ghosts (the correct ghosts!) together. But, we don’t need it anymore. Now, we can erase the fatuousness of having to believe in this god or that god and try to live in harmony together, and simply marvel at the universe as we move through it…together.