We’ve all been watching the conflict in Syria and Iraq involving a group called ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, the Islamic State. They are a group of literalist fundamentalist Muslims. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, literally literalist, as in every exact word in the Koran interpreted as if we were living in the 8th century. They emerged out of the centuries old Sunni-Shia conflict combined with Saudi financing and the anarchic power vacuum created by Western intervention. Iraq went from being governed by an oppressive Sunni minority to a vengeful Shia majority, while the Alawite Shia government in Syria got weakened by a Sunni rebellion. Chaos plus revenge plus opportunity plus absolutist religious schism equals bad craziness.
My guess is that eventually even the backers of ISIS will realize that the movement has outlived its usefulness. A slowly growing consensus among Arab states is emerging, that they need to engage in some collective action. And ISIS will find, as we did, that conquering Iraq and governing it are two different things.
In the meantime, a lot of pixels have been dedicated to the debate over the religious justifications of ISIS, the inherent violence in Islam (or not), and who determines the proper interpretation of a religion.
I’d like to point out that it is a damned good thing that we don’t have any literal Christian literalists in the U.S. Sure, we have people who claim to be biblical literalists, but they ignore great swathes of Deuteronomy and Leviticus that would get them punted into a secure psychiatric facility. Give those two books a read sometime and imagine some suburban megachurch-goers burning entrails on the front steps of their drive-in cathedral or sprinkling blood (seven times with the right forefinger, facing east) on the altar. It would add an edge to those “gospel of prosperity” sermons, but would probably get them a psychiatric evaluation as well. Read “The Year of Living Biblically” for a funny take on trying to be a literal literalist.
The table manners of the Old Testament are one thing, but then there’s the smiting. From just a cursory reading a literal-literalist would find it necessary to kill:
Teachers of a foreign religion
I mean, Moses had his people stone a guy to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Picking up sticks? It doesn’t bode well for millions of convenience store clerks, restaurant employees, and factory shift workers.
For the moment I’d like to focus on the last one, adultery. The lowest numbers I can find in national polls are a 14% infidelity rate for married women and 22% for married men. Given about 120 million married people in the U.S. that works out to 10.8 million adulterers. Talk about an epic slaughter. It got me thinking about the logistics.
Let’s say it takes about 100 fist sized rocks to properly stone one of these sinners to death. I might be understating the case, but it’s a round number. That’s about 1.5 cubic feet of stone, so to do the whole job properly would take about 600,000 cubic yards of stone. That’s 60,000 10-yard dump trucks. Owners of heavy equipment and gravel pits would be way into Christian literalism. You might say, “People could just pick up stones off the ground,” but try to find 100 fist sized stones in one place in Manhattan or L.A. Or the sandy regions of Georgia, for that matter. I suppose people could wash the stones off and reuse them, but 1) ew, and 2) it would really slow down the process.
It would be labor intensive as well. 10.8 million stonings would overwork even the most ardent Christians. If you are a literal-literalist Christian, be prepared to spend your evenings with your pitching elbow in a bucket of ice. Stock up on Ibuprofen. You’ll end up with bone spurs, eroded cartilage and probably a torn rotator cuff. I could see “Stoner’s Elbow” becoming a thing. But hey, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, right?
Of course, if a group of Christians went literally literalist on us I can imagine a coalition of blasphemers, adulterers, Sabbath-workers and other-religionists (including non-literalists) organizing to oppose them. “Everybody Must Get Stoned” is kind of funny when Dylan sings it, but not when actual rocks start to fly.
It would be like present day Syria and Iraq. Except Christian. This is one of the few instances when I am perfectly happy about hypocrisy.