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Misunderstanding religion

February 22, 2015

Both Obama and many on the right wing make the same mistake with regard to Islam, and perhaps with regard to all religions: they want to view each religion as having some innate character. So Obama claims that ISIS is not Islamic, when it very clearly is, as Graeme Wood’s much discussed report makes clear. Many on the right move from the fact that ISIS is Islamic to the notion that it characterizes what is truly Islamic. Both Obama’s attempt to cleave ISIS from Islam and the right’s attempt to view ISIS as the apotheosis of Islam assume that there is some true Islam that ISIS either fits or fails to fit.

In fact, religions are continually reinvented by their adherents. Modern Christianity is not the same as the Christianity of the middle ages, nor the same as early Christianity. Brand new theologies and practices and interpretations of things past have been invented. Institutions have changed. And variation across culture changes how religion itself is viewed and practiced. The same is true with Judaism and Islam and every religion that has much history. Many modern believers may not recognize that. Especially fundamentalist ones who wrongly think they are restoring something old even as they create something new. ISIS falls in that category. Religious believers are never so blinded by myth as in their own understanding of what is involved in their practice and creation of religion. Razib Khan has a good post on that.

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