Islamic State, “The Book of Mormon,” and the Quest for Meaning in a Secular Age

The message of the musical The Book of Mormon, writes Ross Douthat, is a very conventional one: religious people would be happier if they shed their beliefs in hellfire and other superstitions, and focused exclusively on the key moral messages of their creeds. But there will always be those left dissatisfied with the resulting secular humanism. It is to a subset of such people that ideologies like Islamic State (IS) appeal:

The deep reality . . . (a reality not unlike the one that’s playing itself out on certain college campuses right now) is that many human beings, especially perhaps young human beings, still crave a transcendent purpose, even in a society that tells them they don’t really need one to live a comfortable, fulfilling life. And more than that, many people experience both a kind of liberation and a kind of joy in submission to these purposes, even—as is the case with IS—when that submission involves accepting forms of violence and cruelty that rightly shock the conscience of the world. . . .

[I]f the West’s official alternative to IS is the full Belgium (basically good food + bureaucracy + euthanasia), if Western society seems like it’s closed most of the paths that human beings have traditionally followed to find transcendence, if Western culture loses the ability even to imagine the joy that comes with full commitment, and not just the remissive joy of sloughing commitments off—well, then we’re going to be supplying at least some recruits to groups like IS for a very long to come.

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More about: ISIS, Mormonism, Musical theater, Religion & Holidays, Secularism

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times