ISIS is a pathologically brutal organization trying to make the world a better place. Who can disagree with making the world a better place? You may not agree with their definition of “a better place,” but can you really say their hearts are evil? A restored Caliphate is an ancient Muslim dream, and these hardworking, dedicated psychopaths stand a good chance of making their dream come true.
Achieving a Better Christian World
Other religions have their own dreams or goals. Christianity, as a general principle, posits that one must accept Jesus in order to be saved, or go to heaven. But how do Christians expect to achieve this better world when they say things like this:
This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
This declaration might come as a surprise to victims of the Inquisition or Crusades, or to the many indigenous people converted at sword point to Christianity. When Pope Benedict apologized for the cruelty, he nonetheless upheld the view that the conversions were beneficial to the converted. Although he frowned on organized efforts to bring Jews to Catholicism, he still claimed “…that Jews “still stand within the faithful covenant of God,” and that “they will in the end be together with us in Christ.” If you believe something is vital and true, shouldn’t you have the cojones to stand up for it, rather than waiting for your god to make it to happen?
Judaism proclaims both the active and passive models:
One conception, a visionary anticipation of Divine upheaval, projects an abrupt apocalypse, bringing instant glory to Israel’s faithful and destruction upon her enemies. The existing political;-military-religious order is radically transformed. Extraordinary transmutations of nature accompany the termination and supersession of the historical process.
The other conception posits a compelling human drama, in which the national energies of the people are harnessed, on their own initiative, to a resourceful redemptive process, pursuing the restoration of Jewish sovereignty and a collective return to Jewish spirituality; a dynamic activation of historic forces toward an evolving realization of the national goal.
According to the first approach the messianic era, the better world, will arrive through a suspension of history. It will take divine intervention, rather than human effort. Man must therefore devote his energy towards appeasing the fickle, but just deity, convincing God that the piety of his co-religionists merit redemption. ISIS believes in individual piety, but it doesn’t like the idea of sitting around, waiting for god to make things happen. They’re helping him out.
Get Off Your Rear Ends
So too, it’s time for Jews and Christians to get off their rear ends and make things happen. First thing, keep ISIS, Hamas, and their ilk from murdering your co-religionists. The IDF is doing a good job of this in Israel, but world efforts to protect endangered Christian communities in Africa, the Middle East and Fertile Crescent have been tepid, at best. Increased attention to God by Christians and Jews is good. The ancient Rabbis ascribed the fall of the first Temple in Jerusalem to idol worship, which is not good. But it’s not as simple as it seems. The medieval commentator Maimonides explained that the first Temple fell because the people relied on Canaanite astrology. Since the course of events were determined by the stars, there was no need to be militarily prepared for the Babylonian onslaught. Fatalism based on astrology leads to passivity. Fatalism based on religious piety also leads to passivity.
Isis is Right
That’s why ISIS is right: they’re pious (in their own perverted sense), but they’re actively pursuing their better world. Judaism has to follow their example. Maimonides asserted that the messianic era will emerge as the result of people pursuing justice and virtue. Messianism shouldn’t be treated as a gift we’re awaiting, but rather as an opportunity to be pursued.
Not through coercion, but through the application of the principles of Torah study, such as kindness and justice. The latter imply the reduction of human suffering, whether through advanced technology, social or individual altruism. It would imply new dimensions of aesthetic creativity and human expression.
The Jewish messianic era is premised on Jewish sovereignty. To deny the religious significance of the Modern State of Israel is outright heresy. To explain Israel’s survival in the midst of hundreds of millions of foes without reference to God’s will is stupidity. To deny the holiness of serving in the Israel Defense Forces is self-serving rationalization. The many Muslims, Christians and secular Jews who pick up a gun to defend Israel have reached a higher state than those who refuse life outside their yeshivas. The great sage Rabbi Akiva (1st c. CE) declared Bar Kochba as the messiah, based not on his religiosity, but on his physical strength and military prowess.
Yes, Judaism must pursue its better world as doggedly as ISIS and Hamas pursue theirs. Not through forced conversion, physical strength, beheadings, rape and mass murder, but through science and art, technology and innovation. Through respect for the individual, consideration for the poor and disadvantaged. Through an army that is at once powerful and sensitive.
Jewish spirituality is properly expressed through its application in the material world. And it’s in the material world that the “better world” of the messianic era must be pursued. Both Jews and Christians must be more tenacious than ISIS in pursuing their values.