Theological Terrorism

Who's to blame for ISIS? The political left holds President George W. Bush responsible because of the American invasion of Iraq. The right faults President Obama for pulling American troops out of Iraq. Both left and right agree that ISIS is so appalling and indescribably cruel it even gives terrorism a bad name. I'm a leftist and blame Bush more than Obama, though I also have problems with Obama's purported strategy.

Why does ISIS succeed in recruiting so many dedicated members for its cause? There are many reasons, including one that I call Theological Terrorism.

ISIS bases its apocalyptic ideology on Muhammad's prophesies of a final battle against Western infidels, which will end the world in victory for an established caliphate. "A Caliphate in Accordance with the Prophetic Method" is the slogan on the coins ISIS has minted, on badges its soldiers wear, and on a billboard marking the beginning of ISIS territory. The majority of Muslims in the Middle East believe we are living in the end times, and they want to be on the right side when the Day of Judgment comes. While there are relatively few Muslims who support ISIS, there are many Islamic terrorists (yes, I'm a liberal who uses that phrase) willing to fight and die to establish an Islamic caliphate to hasten the end times.

Many Muslims got the preposterous idea that the world will end soon from interpretations of their holy book, the Quran. But it's not just Muslims who hold that belief. Portions of the Quran are "inspired" by the Christian Bible, many of whose adherents also anticipate an imminent end of the world. Astoundingly, 41% of all U.S. adults, 54% of Protestants, and 77% of Evangelicals believe the world is now living in the biblical end times!

Portions of the Christian Bible are inspired by the Hebrew Bible, some of whose adherents are also waiting for a Messiah to usher in the end of the world. The Talmud (commentary on the Hebrew Bible) states that there is a predestined time when the Messiah will come, but he might come sooner. This "end of time" will be before the Hebrew year 6000 (it's now 5776). So the end might be today, but it will certainly happen within 224 years. Unfortunately, I won't be alive to hear how yet another false end time prediction is explained away.

In the Christian Bible, Matthew 24: 6-8 describes when we will be approaching the end times. There will be wars and rumors of wars, nation will rise against nation, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. Sounds familiar. No wonder people for millennia have falsely predicted the end times. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, predicted that the rapture will be coming soon because of President Barack Obama's policies on Iran's nuclear program and marriage equality.

Over the years, many religious leaders have specified end-of-the-world dates, and subsequently lost their faithful flock. Some such movements have evolved, including the Millerites led by Baptist preacher William Miller. He proclaimed that Jesus would return to earth by March 24, 1844, and many of his followers gave away all their possessions in preparation for the blessed event. March 25, 1844 is known as the Great Disappointment, but some Millerites reinterpreted the events of the Great Disappointment and formed a new religion in 1845. These Seventh-day Adventists also expect an imminent (but undated) return of Jesus, preceded by a "time of trouble." Current presidential candidate Ben Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist.

The most significant false prophecy in the Christian Bible appears in both Matt 24:34 and Luke 21:32: "All will be fulfilled and Jesus will return before this generation passes away." Still waiting!

End of days scenarios for both ISIS and Christianity have frightening similarities in their holy books, including violent wars and the return of Jesus to fight the antichrist (though different antichrists). Such similarities might help explain why ISIS has had some success in converting young people from Christianity to Islam. They've been taught similar horror stories.

I sometimes think there are more Christians than Jews because Christianity promises a better afterlife. So watch out for Islam, which promises a paradise with sensual young women and unlimited wine. That sounds like an earthly paradise and a lot more fun than an afterlife of sycophantic praises and hallelujahs.

The Bible and Quran both contain ridiculous passages and reasonable passages. People can quote portions of their holy books to justify loving their neighbor or killing their (infidel) neighbor. Both books give justifications for theological terrorism, including genocide, holy wars, slavery, misogyny, and death for crimes like blasphemy, homosexuality, and worshipping the wrong god or even the right god in the wrong way.

That ISIS might have been inspired by biblical passages in no way justifies its horrendous actions. If someone says he follows a holy book, I want to know which passages and how he interprets them. ISIS seems to follow the worst passages of the Quran and interpret them in the worst possible way. My hope is for the world to move away from such theocratic terrorism and toward loving our neighbors as ourselves. We don't need any holy books to justify loving our neighbor.