Why are asexuals the most ignored sexual minority?


asexualSomeone on my facebook wall notified me that his week (October 26 – November 1st) is Asexual Awareness Week. And since I wanted to write about that subject for quite a while now, this might be a good opportunity.

What am I talking about? Asexuality as a sexual orientation just means that the person is not sexually attracted to other persons. It’s quite simple if seen as ‘the fourth orientation':
Heterosexuals are sexually attracted to (some people of) the other sex,  homosexuals are attracted to the same sex, and bisexuals to both genders (Some use the word ‘pansexual’ for not making any gender distinction in sexual attraction too) and asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction to anyone. Note that sexual orientation has nothing to do with sex drive, asexuals can have a sex drive physically but it isn’t directed towards other humans. It’s not the same as celibacy either.

When looking at subjects like this one the meaning of words and the definitions that are used are of utmost importance. Note that the word ‘attraction’ which is often very loosely used can mean a lot of different things. Within the asexual community there is a distinction between sexual attraction (which is not experienced by asexuals) and romantic or aesthetic attraction that can be experienced but are for asexuals not linked to sexual attraction. Some asexuals are aromantic, but others are heteroromantic, homoromantic or biromantic.
Another word used in the asexual community is ‘demisexual’ (or grey asexual) for people who only can feel sexual attraction when a relationship of intimacy has already developed.

(I’m not quite sure if that last one is a separate sexual orientation though. And I do think semantics are interesting here: sexual attraction does not mean that one wants sex, should have sex, or can have sex without being devastated. As someone who has been a virgin until my twentysomething years I can say that I, although I’ve always have been heterosexual, needed a lot of time before there was a space in my life in which sex was appropriate and ‘in place’. With my personality and a worse sexual history I might have actually collapsed into pseudo-asexuality…)

But asexuality definitely is a thing: some people don’t experience sexual attraction as their sexual orientation. That’s the theory, but we’re not speaking just about issues here, we’re talking about humans, their life, and a part of their being. And it seems that for some reason, a lot of asexuals are still ‘in the closet’ because for some reason some people do not like asexuality. Not only do some not believe in it, but it seems some people can be very negative towards the idea itself, and towards asexuals. From wikipedia:

A 2012 study published in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations reports there is more prejudice, dehumanization and discrimination toward asexuals than toward other sexual minorities, such as gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Both homosexual and heterosexual people thought of asexuals as not only cold, but also animalistic and unrestrained. The same study also found more bias towards sapiosexuals (people who find intelligence the most sexually attractive feature) than towards homosexuals or bisexuals, and that attitudes towards sapiosexuals was the strongest correlate of attitudes towards asexuals.[55] Asexual activist, author, and blogger Julie Decker has observed that sexual harassment and violence, such as corrective rape, commonly victimizes the asexual community.[5

Now what I do find interesting here is that it seems that some of the people who do advocate for sexual minorities are negative about asexuality. (I’ve seen a lot of letters being added to the English abbreviation LBG, but rarely the A for example, and I’ve almost never heard anyone in my own language mention them when speaking about sexual minorities)

I wonder if it has something to do with the mistaken idea that sex is so so so very important and the most important thing that a lot of people (including advocates for sexual minorities, who often have to fight for their sexual identity) have, which is completely negated by the existence of asexuals.

Humans are not defined by having sex or experiencing sexual attraction. As a Christian I can point here to the fact that two of the most important persons in the New Testament were unmarried, not just the apostle Paul but also Jesus Christ Himself were unmarried. The absence of a sex life or a life partner does not make one less human, so why would anyone at all have problems with an ‘absent sexual orientation’? People who are ‘not into sex’ have a lot of other things they can put their energy into. I don’t see at all what the problem would be.

(Any conservative Christian argument against staying unmarried is bogus anyway, like our examples of Paul and Jesus and all those millions of celibates in the history of Christianity make clear. Some people are called to have families, others can do other things with their life. Yes, everybody is different, get used to it.!)

So I guess that I just want to give you this for asexuality awareness week: asexual people exist. If you want to read more you can read this website. People around you might be asexuals and be still in the closet because it’s a taboo far beyond other sexual identities for some apparently. (I don’t see why though) They seem to be the most overlooked sexual minority. But they are as human as anyone else.

peace

Bram

 

 

 

 

the fear of the occult because of ‘demons of the gaps’


This is a short post that fits in my ‘occultmergent’ series. (for those who like these kinds of subjects I have an announcement to make here soon. For those who like other stuff more, I need to finish my series on 1 Cor 13, and hope to write about asexuality and faith in times of rising oceans too…)

I saw a very interesting blog-post this morning called Introduction to the Chakras for Christians (and other nervous people), which incidentally connects very well to a discussion I’ve been having in various facebook groups lately, about what I call the ‘demons of the gaps’ approach that leads to a big fear of ‘the occult’.

adam_eve_behamAs an evangelical in my younger years I was taught a lot to fear ‘the occult’ and to stay away from it as much as I could, as if that were some very important  biblical commandment. But no, the word actually isn’t in the bible! (Just as the word ‘Antichrist’ isn’t in the book of revelation…). So where does it come from then? In the end it mostly came down to the idea that everything outside of the scientific laws of nature (paranormal, alternative medicine, homoeopathy, aliens, sixth sense, hypnosis, chakra theory, UFO’s even, new age, magic in fantasy stories…) is feared because it is most likely to be demons for some kind of reason.

And fear of demons is very important for some. Think about the ‘darkness’ books of Frank Perettti…

This approach towards the invisible world can be called ‘demons of the gaps’. I’ve named it that way since it works in almost the same way as a ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning: everything that cannot be explained by current science and laws of nature (that does not clearly come from God) is not natural, so: DEMONS!!! And because of that, run away from it. If it can be scientifically proven it is safe though…

This is sold as ‘solidly biblical’ because it can be illustrated with verses about witchcraft and stuff like that. As if it’s biblical to treat everything that falls outside of of our current understanding of the physical laws of nature. But no, this is not from the bible, the bible has nothing at al to do with lines that are drawn only after the enlightenment, so there is no reason to treat for example chakras as less ‘biblical’ than anything we have come up with in the last 2000 years in Western science.. Atom theory, gen therapy nuclear energy, whatever,… is not more biblical than let’s say chakra theory or the idea of auras. (It’s actually just a variation on the more liberal tendency to just push everything beyond that line away as ‘superstition’)

And let’s not forget that most things inside the scope of modern science can be used in very dark ways! The word ‘pharmakeia’ which is translated with witchcraft in the NT is the root for our word ‘pharmacy’ and does also mean the art of making poisons. Chemistry is as much its heir as alchemy and occultism!

This whole thing has nothing at all to do with the authority of the bible. It’s following the authority of modernist thought and then giving a Christian twist to it, nothing more or less. The bible has nothing at al to do with lines that are drawn only after the enlightenment, so there is no reason to treat chakras for example as less ‘biblical’ than anything we have come up with in the last 2000 years in Western science…

Not that I say there are no demons, and that we need to be careful with the invisible world.  We need to be careful with anything, be it humans, nature, animals, whatever, and the invisible world is harder to understand because it is, ehm, invisible . If lions and weirdos with guns can kill us in the visible world, and eating a random plant can poison us, this is a sign we need to be equally careful with the invisible world.

But the ‘demons of the gaps’ approach is as bad a way to get an understanding of them as the ‘God of the gaps’ approach is a good way to lead us to God…

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…


Today we’re going for a trip to explore some paradigm shifting. We will revisit some of the oldschool ‘emerging church’ topics, but that will only serve to better be able to venture far into grounds where both angels and academics fear to tread (and maybe not without a reason) like the obscure postmodern occult art of chaos magic. Although for the regular readers nothing here should be a big shock…

Sa new kindo, on to paradigm shifting or a change of how one understand Reality and the rest… Let’s start on more or less safe ground and firmly inside of cliché emerging church territory with some C.S. Lewis quotes lifted from Brian McLaren’s vintage emerging church classic ‘A New Kind of Christian’. (It seems that the EC prophecies of the emergence of a new and better form of Christianity can be filed with a lot of end-times madness and hypercharismatic promises of a ‘great revival, but the ANKOC trilogy remains worth re-reading nevertheless)
It is from Lewis lesser known book ‘the discarded image’ that talks about medieval literature, but the last chapter is about the paradigm-change between the medieval and modern world. And Brian McLaren got it more than right here in that this chapter has a lot of insights that are able to help us understand the modern-postmoden paradigm-shift. I will give you the extended version:

It would therefore be subtly misleading to say ‘ The
medievals thought the universe to be like that, but we
know it to be like this’. Part of what we now know is
that we cannot, in the old sense, ‘ know what the universe is like’ and that no model we can build will be, in that old sense, ‘ like’ it.
Again, such a statement would suggest that the old
Model gave way simply under the pressure of newly discovered phenomena-as a detective’s original theory of the crime might yield to the discovery that his first suspect had an unassailable alibi. And this certainly happened as regards many particular details in the old Model, just as it happens daily to particular hypotheses in a modern laboratory. Exploration refuted the belief that the tropics
are too hot for life ; the first nova refuted the belief that the translunary realm is immutable. But the change of the Model as a whole was not so simple an affair.
There is no question here of the old Model’s being
shattered by the inrush of new phenomena. The truth
would seem to be the reverse ; that when changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old  Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently tum up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.

Lewis is talking here about the historical shift in worldview which madeCSLewis_Pipe the old way of looking at the world impossible. And yet the ‘proof’ of the new worldview had always been there, and had only ‘turned up’ because people looked for them.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing 1 Cor 13 here)  Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have and all we can have. No paradigm or ‘model’ as Lewis says it will ever explain our world completely accurately, and every model has its weak sides and strong sides. Key here is Lewis’ last sentence: “Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.’ Reality is like the elephant in the parable, and we are the blind men who only have one part of the elephant and try to reconstruct a whole ‘theory of the Elephant’ from one bodypart of the animal.

Why do we even assume that the human brain is able to fully understand the universe around us? As a Christian believing in a Creator God that made us in His image I already find it a bit too much. But if I were an atheist such a illusion would for me only be a lingering relic from naive belief in a Creator…

What I would propose when it come to these things is just a humble epistemology. Acknowledge that any paradigm is just ‘seeing in part’ and that there’s a strangeness in the universe that makes it simply unable to just pin it down to one paradigm. Sometimes different models that cannot be reconciled do accurately describe the same thing. (Even in modern science that is true: look at light, which can be described as both a particle or a wave. Both paradigms work and can be used to explain different things, but they are in fact mutually exclusive and at the same time both true!)

Maybe that sounds too postmodern to some, but note here that I do still have a Ground, even when it cannot be Pinned down, or grasped. Truth and Reality do exist, even if they defy complete description and understanding, and even if different understandings of it can be both accurate in a way and completely exclusive of each other.  Real hardcore postmodernists will most likely not have such a ‘Ground’, which is a completely different story altogether

Groundless postmodernism, even more than my moderatie ‘humble epistemology’ is a radical meta-paradigm that makes all other paradigms invalid, and that makes every use of a paradigm pragmatic. Nothing is true, but still we believe things because it helps us in some way. We can’t be Groundless all the time, so we take on a worldview for the moment…

But there’s more we can say about paradigm-shifting. Up until now I’ve been just talking about understanding and describing the universe, as is done for example in science. Which is important, but only the first step. The second step is reacting to the universe, and often also manipulating it in various ways. We are not just spectators in this world, we are living in it, connected to it, and we need to interact with it…

And our paradigm is very important here. The way we view the world around us does change the things we’ll do with it. If we do not believe that there is a land on the other side of the ocean we won’t make a ship to go there. If we don’t believe something can be don’t we won’t try it, etc…

But like I wrote this ‘power of belief’ can go further. Like the song says, there can be miracles, if you believe…

Now what do we get if we combine groundless postmodernism in which no paradigm is true with the power of belief and magic? This is not a rhetorical question, as the answer is an existing occult tradution; Chaos magic (or magick in the Crowleyan spelling) is what you get when you combine Groundless postmodernism with pragmatism and the idea of ‘belief as a tool’. I don’t think you can go further than that into postmodernism than pragmatic paradigm-shifting-at-will as a tool, it does outpostmodernise the most postmodern postmodernist and its implications are far-stretching.

Yes, pragmatic paradigm-shiftng-at-will! While Lewis and McLaren wrote about paradigm shift as something that happens with a society when the world cannot be viewed in the same way any longer, and the emerging church generally saw it as something happening once in a lifetime (or a few times). Chaos magic starts from the idea that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. (Which is derived from Aleister Crowleys ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and can end up not far from Voldemorts ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it’…)
So it does not matter whether or not a paradigm is true, if you need it you ‘climb into it’ and exercise enough belief to accomplish your purposes. Andrieh Vitimus describes it like this:

“The most telling thing about a chaos magician is their ability to change their beliefs and paradigms at will. This is a complete change of perspective on the world that they live in to be able to see their reality from a different point of view. If you think about it, this would mean one day a chaos magician might be a Christian, while the next week they would be a Buddhist. These two philosophies are radically different in their orientation towards the world and an adoption of either worldview would have implications towards the person’s daily actions and attitudes. Chaos magic will demand that the practitioners be able to meaningfully switch between any beliefs about themselves, others, and religious beliefs. To the chaos magician, beliefs are choices. Belief is the tool that empowers the magic.”

(And yes, chaos magic can be pretty dark stuff. Invoking made-up dark gods like Thanateros (god of death achaosnd sex) or fictional ones like Chtulhu seems to be popular for example among chaotes. But that’s outside of the scope of my post about paradigms now, and the same principles could work without this dark side and without invoking any deity at all.)

I’ve written before about ‘belief as a tool’ and magic, and I do believe in this power. But on the other hand I also believe it has its limit. Even chaos magicians pragmatically try a lot of paradigms and discard those that don’t work… Pragmatism tries what works, and in that process a lot of things are thrown away that don’t work. Not every paradigm is equal, even in Groundless postmodernism or chaos magic.

There is something scandalous in the pragmatic combination of ‘belief as a tool’ and paradigm-shifting in a Groundless postmodernism. Is it an echo of a snake whispering ‘you shall be like gods’ and the temptation of a Power that isn’t safe for a mere mortal to wield?

There is another limit. One cannot put the sun in a bag and make slices of cheese from the moon with mere positive affirmations and choosing the right paradigm. Even if we would have a lot of power to create our own universe we are not solipsists. There are other powers in the Universe that might be stronger than us. There are solid things in Reality that won’t liquify or even go out of our way no matter how hard we believe they will. The power of belief is strong, but even if it can change our percerption of reality, and in some cases affect Reality sometimes, it is not able to change the real inner structure of reality. And sometimes our perception of is only an illusion.

Let’s go back to where we started, to C.S. Lewis. In the chronologically first book of Narnia, ‘the magician’s nephew’ we do find a arrogant ‘magician’ named uncle Andrew, who’s by accident present at the Creation of the world of Narnia. The poor soul does have a lot of modern sensibilities though (a lot of colonial and capitalist ambitions that would turn Narnia in a hell and made him richer if could accomplish them…) and the idea of talking animals does not work for him. After a while he isn’t even able to hear them talking even if he would want to. He just hears growling and hissing and barking of a bunch of wild beasts, while they are actually are discussing what they would do with the guy…

Yet the animals are still talking…

Dwarfstable

Another example of this comes from the last of the Narnia book, the last battle, where a bunch of dwarves have been put in a stable by the enemy, but are not able to see that the door worked as a portal to the Land of Aslan. The lion Aslan wants them to open their eyes, but all they want to see and can see is still a stable. They keep on mumbling that “the dwarves are for the dwarves” and that no-one will be able to take them in, stuck in an illusion they can’t get out that is only kept in place by the power of their belief.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have.

And after all we should watch out for illusions and lies…

What do you people think?

A prayer in C to an absent God (Lilly Wood and the Prick)


There’s a song that’s been playing on the radio a lot here in Belgium, and that is actually a big hit in this part of Europe at the moment. It has an irritating electronic beat and a looped guitar-riff that would be okay if it wouldn’t be repeated endlessly to go on on beyond forever. It also has the capacity to stay in your head until the seas will cover land and man will be no more.

Since the lyrics had something weird (like repeating something about not forgiving someone) and since I was just curious what the bleep this song was that I heard everywhere I went to google for an answer. I found out that the song in question was called ‘prayer in C’ (Robin Schulz remix) and made by some French folkband called Lilly Wood and the Prick. (not that you hear that much folk in the remix…)Lilly_wood_the_prick_and_robin_schulz-prayer_in_c_(robin_schulz_remix)_s
So I looked up the lyrics, and it turns out to be indeed some kind of prayer, but one to an absent, or maybe even non-existent God that lets evil happen. In the first verse the addressed one is blamed by the singer for ‘never saying a word nor sending a letter’ and will not be forgiven for that. The rest of the song gets more apocalyptic about life ending (both individual lives as human life and all life on Earth), and the addressed one will not be forgiven, not by the singer and not by starving children whose houses are destroyed. And when men and later even life will be over, it will not even be able to forgive itself.

I’d say that this is quite a bitter prayer, not? There’s a lot of anger directed to some god of sorts, for not letting anything know, for not saving this world, for the coming demise of humanity and life on Earth… It seems like the addressed one is either absent or disinterested as some deistic deity that put the world together and then took off its hands, or even completely non-existent.

I always found it strange how some people talk to a (to them) nonexistent God and get very angry with it sometimes. As if they would have wanted some kind of God to exist, that isn’t there.

(Another song in that category would be XTC’s ‘dear God’, which is both musically and conceptually more sophisticated, but misses the bitter apocalyptic dimension of this otherwise happy dance tune…)

Prayer in C (Lilly Wood and the Prick)
Written by Benjamin Cotto & Nili Hadida

Ya, you never said a word
You didn’t send me no letter
Don’t think I could forgive you

See our world is slowly dying
I’m not wasting no more time
Don’t think I could believe you

Ya, our hands will get more wrinkled
And our hair will be grey
Don’t think I could forgive you

And see the children are starving
And their houses were destroyed
Don’t think they could forgive you

Hey, when seas will cover lands
And when men will be no more
Don’t think you can forgive you

Ya, when there’ll just be silence
And when life will be over
Don’t think you will forgive you

(If you hear this older live version of the original folksong you’ll hear that the first word actually does sound more like ‘God’ than like the vague ‘ya’. Also keep in mind that the people who made this song probably do have French and not English as their first language.)

What do you people hear in this song?

Knowledge about God or knowledge of God? (Sadhu Sundar Singh)


I will post thiSundars quote from the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh without much comment. I speaks for itself.

It surely makes one think about ‘it’s a relationship, not a religion’… (if we have a very narrow modern definition of ‘religion that is) Our goal as Christians is not just to have knowledge about God, or like the apostle says, ’You believe that God is one, and that’s good, but the demons do that too, and they tremble’… Unlike what some fundamentalists (and maybe gnostics if I interpret their name rightly) seem to believe, right head knowledge alone has never saved anyone… Acting upon it might actually be interesting…

(Assuming that the ‘head knowledge’ is always right, which isn’t always the case either, neither among fundies nor among liberal modernists…)

I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.

When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.

I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Isn’t it ironic how easily we look at the finger pointing to the moon and even forget the moon?

Shalom

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (IV)


reLOVEutionAfter my explorations in the realms of magic, (false) scepticism and the defence of the middle ages it might be time to go back to writing about the Christian faith, and so I continue my meditations on 1 Corinthian 13. In this post I continue with the second part of the chapter, in its entirety. We could pause at every single line too (and you can do that on your own if you want), but I’m just going to let this part speak:

Let’s read this, and try to understand what Paul means here:

Love is patient,
love is kind,
it is not envious.
Love does not brag,
it is not puffed up.
It is not rude,
it is not self-serving,
it is not easily angered
or resentful.
It is not glad about injustice,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Take time to read every line slowly and to let it sink in…

But what does it mean? We don’t see this kind of love in our lives. Sure, it means that we must strive to love this way (helped by the Holy Spirit), even if this kind of love will not be perfect in our lifetime. It is meant to grow into perfection, since the only way to be in ‘heaven’ in eternity is to actually be able to ‘love our neigbor as ourselves and God with all of our mind, soul and strength’.

So there’s more to it than a description of ‘ideal love’ that only exist in some kind of Platonic ‘world of ideas’ of which we only see a dim shadow here and now.  There is also more than our human love in the most ideal circumstance.

Darin Hufford in his book the misunderstood God says that those are the characteristics of God, since 1 John says that God is love. This view might be challenging to some, but it is not too big a stretch to make: Why would the Love of God be less than what the apostle writes here about love? It would be utter nonsense to assume that God, who is said to be Love, would ask us to love more than He does himself.

So the love God has must go beyond the ‘love your enemies, bless those who hate you’ of the sermon on the mount.

So let’s read the verses again, and now focus on these characteristics being the characteristics of Gods love for us. For me, you and everybody… What does this mean? What are the consequences?

Radical, isn’t it?

PS: Please don’t start discussions here about Gods love and Gods judgement as if those were 2 different things. If God loves His Creation and His Children, God will probably need to get very angry when the things He loves get destroyed… And things need to be set right. Sin is a very destructive power that needs to be dealt with… But all judgement is rooted in love. If anyone does harm to your children and creation you would get quite angry too..

No, the ‘Islamic State’ isn’t medieval.. (it’s even worse: it’s modern!)


Someone on facebook linkkromzwaarded to an article from the Guardian about the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (formerly known as ISIS, and still called that in the article), the Islam-based terror organisation that reigns over parts of Iraq and Syria and has committed atrocities against humanity. If found it very interesting in making some connections that are easily missed, giving some historical background on modern Jihadism and deconstructing some of lazy assumptions that are often parroted in the media.

The Islamic State is one of the things dominating the news nowadays, even though they seemed to come ‘out of nothing’. They are a threat to our modern way of thinking and living, and tend to be quite absolutist  in their enforcement of what they consider an ‘Islamic state’ to be, in such a way that those who are not considered part of their particular type of Islam do better run away as fast as they can when the IS comes near…
And that category does not just include Christians (the Orthodox Churches of Mesopotamia are (were) among the oldest Christian communities on the planet), Yezidi and ‘heretic’ Shiites and more mystically inclined Islamic followers of Sufism but also anyone who doesn’t agree with them, even if they are as much of a Sunni Muslim as they are.

Some people like to call the things the IS does not only barbaric but also ‘medieval’. Which totally ignores that the worst things that are generally seen as ‘medieval’ are actually from the renaissance (like the European religion wars, the extreme witch hunts, …) But since most of us do are not very historically-minded and believe the englightenment-myths that the medievals believed in a flat Earth (almost everything believed in the Ptolemaic round-earth geocentric model) or that medievals had no place for reason. (Anyone who has read the scholastics will know that a lot of medieval thinkers were closer to excess rationalism than to shunning reason.)

But there actually is not much that can be called medieval (in an Arabic or European sense) about the IS. They are much more (post)modern with a lot of modern Western influence, and the IS  actually could never do what they do without the modern mass media for example. Without the internet and our  sharing of videos they couldn’t have had the effect on the rest of the world that they do now. For anyone who knows even a little bit about history it’s very clear that the IS is not really going back in time to reclaim something very old, (they wish though)  but something new and unique that can only exist in this day and age…

We also should watch out about being too categoric the link between IS and Islam. Yes, IS claims to be Islamic, but so do a lot of the people killed by them. Saying that the IS or any violent group is ‘the real Islam’ and that Islam is nonsense and dismisses all those Muslims who do not agree with IS at all as bad Muslims. (It only affirms the validity of IS anyway…)
On the other hand, saying that IS has nothing at all to do with Islam is also nonsense. They do claim to represent Islam and at least base themselves on a faulty image of Islam. even if they would be excluded as heretics by all other muslims, then it’s still nonsense to say they have ‘nothing to do with Islam’.
The Jehovah witnesses might not be considered as inside of Christianity, but to say that they have nothing to do with Christianity is just nonsense…

But there is another source for the IS, and modern Jihadism as a whole, that we might not like to see. Note the second word in the name ‘Islamic State’. The idea of the absolutist modern nation-state is as central to the IS as Islam is.  The earlier mentioned  article from the Guardian that inspired this post has the very interesting title “Isis jihadis aren’t medieval – they are shaped by modern western philosophy” and as sub-title “We should look to revolutionary France if we want to understand the source of Islamic State’s ideology and violence.”

For those with a short memory, the French revolution is not that long ago, and brought us the guillotine for those who disagreed, and brought on the modern absolute state which differed enormous from the way politics were done before that time.  Those were violent and barbaric times, in the name of progress, science, the enlightenment, and all that yadda-yadda… (Yes, the guillotine was seen as progress too, a new and modern way to execute people with superior technology…. Beheading might be barbaric, but it’s in no way incompatible with modernity!)

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture.

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.

Maududi’s Islamic state is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts. He takes a belief shared between Islam and other religious traditions, namely that God alone is the ultimate judge of a person, and transforms this – reframing God’s possession of judgment into possession of, and ultimately monopoly of, “sovereignty”. Maududi also draws upon understandings of the natural world governed by laws that are expressions of the power of God – ideas at the heart of the 17th-century scientific revolution. He combines these in a vision of the sovereignty of God, then goes on to define this sovereignty in political terms, affirming that “God alone is the sovereign” (The Islamic Way of Life). The state and the divine thus fuse together, so that as God becomes political, and politics becomes sacred.

Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.

The absolute power of the state (here mixed-up with the sovereignity of God) is indeed completely foreign to the medievals, who had different spheres of authority that were often competing. The middle ages in Europe did have a constant battle for power against the Pope and the kings and emperors, because they both wanted power, and every lower feudal lord did have their own sovereignty in their little part of the world. Nothing like the absolute modern state or the even scarier theocratic version of IS was conceivable to them.

Which is the reason that the French revolution tried to erase all religion, because it could not tolerate another source of authority apart from the State like the Pope. Or even God.. The proclamation that ‘Jesus is Lord’ if understood properly is problematic in the modern absolutism, but since most people spiritualise that it’s not such an issue right now. The communist regimes of the 20th centuries did the same thing and tried to ban all religions, sometimes with a lot of violence.

When we mix this modern absolutism of the State with an Islamic theocracy, we get something like the IS:

In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why today French government agencies are still prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.

This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam”. Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.

Don’t look to the Qur’an to understand this – look to the French revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today: it is the source of what it means to be a refugee.

It’s probably because we don’t understand the middle ages very much (how can we, every Hollywood movie about that time is filled with contemporary modern though projected back upon the past) that we associate this stuff with the middle ages. But it’s much closer to us, closer than we like.

Also note that the use of violence by the IS is not medieval, but very modern, postmodern even, since it is used as a means of worldwide propaganda through the postmodern means of the internet.

I will close here with the conclusion of the Guardian article, which is very important. The IS wants to be seen as a continuation of older forms of Islam, but we should not validate those claims. Their ‘caliphate’ (as well as that of Boko Haram in Africa) is no return to the caliphate of the earlier days of Islam, it’s something completely new that they try to validate by using that name.

Central to Isis’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage – witness al-Baghdadi’s dress. Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence. In no way can it be understood as a return to the origins of Islam. This is a core thesis of its supporters, one that should not be given any credence at all.