Telos is a Greek word that means “end,” as in the goal or finish. Telos is a fundamental element of practically everything. Think about what you do. There is a good chance that everything you put your energy toward: your art, your business, your studies, your… has a goal toward which you direct intent. Organizations exist with a typically explicit though sometime implicit Telos as well. Religion is the very best example of organizations that have multiple Telos–at different levels.
This little essay is an exposition of how Telos drives religions. It may also be seen as a vehicle for me to call out and question the abundant craziness existing under the flag of Islam. It would be a shame for anyone to view it and me this way because, to be perfectly clear, all Religions tend toward sociopathic war footing from time to time–except maybe Buddism. It’s just the nature of the beast. Still, one has to wonder what combination of theology, Religious life-cycle state, sociology, and economic realities lends itself to the sinister genocidal themes and thrusts of so many jihadis at this time.
Here I insert the obligatory acknowledgement that I do not for a minute believe that all Muslims–or even the generality of Muslims–are disturbed or homocidal. But I have to wonder why Islam seems to claim so many of that type of demagogue? Does it provide convenient cover? Does it provide succor? Is it accidental? Is it, in fact, only a statistical anomaly (i.e., it’s not happening any more within that cluster than any other; we’re just noticing it for some reason)?In any case, back to Telos.
Religions have Telos in their stories. The stories that form the theology of any given religion are imbued with direction and objective that the religion stands behind. As a (wayward) Christian, I can assure you that the Telos of the Old and New Testaments is Divine Providence. The whole point of the books is to arrive at God’s will. But that is merely the theological Telos; the current and end beneath the theology. It binds the religion as a belief system.
But religion is also Religion: the very human organization that delivers the theos to the masses. Religion has a Telos as well, and it is not always the same–nay it is almost never the same–as the Telos of the religion. The organization has different intents than its stories purport.
Let’s get something out of the way here: Religions go through a life-cycle and they are all acquisitive. A religion/Religion always starts out as an idea of some individual who is at the time outcast, unusual, definitely profane, and probably nuts. This has to be so by virtue of the fact that unless the indivdual was breaking from the prevailing religion, a new religion is not going to be created. Thus profane in term of the status quo. Unusual because (s)he is not doing what everyone else is doing viz. religion and that often happens because (s)he has been outcast (ostracised) from the group in some way or another. People who are nuts regularly end up in this situation.
This individual’s idea takes hold with some acolytes that take the idea and run with it. At this stage the nascent religion is a cult. Cults that do not die in their youth, become mainstream religions to greater or lesser degree. Consider Christianity. It was a Nazerine cult that blossomed following several events not the least of which was a crucifixion, ascention, and the deathbed conversion of the Emperor Constantine about 240 years later. The last event was the prime trigger to turn Christianity into the mainstream religion. Sects branched off the main trunk of this idea over time including Orthodoxy v. Catholicism, Protestantism, and a host of various fundamentalist formulations.
Religions can effectively die too, as have so many in the past. You don’t find many that follow the polytheims of Ancient Greek or Rome. I have met a Zoroastrian recently, but it’s hard to find Toltecs practicing their religions and so forth. But Religions moreso than religions want to live. And to live, their lifeblood is followers. So Religions are acquisitive.
Ideally people are won over by the inherent perfection of the theology. More typically they are swayed by an evangelist of some sort and peer pressure to join. Then, of course, every religion has at one time or another used more than moral suasion to recruit: forced conversion under pain of death, extorted conversion under pain of death, elimination of the heathen… under pain of death. All of these tactics are used under the auspices and in concert with some, occasionally perverse reading of the religion’s stories.
The read of the stories has to be perverted because rare is the religion that is not both aggressive and gentle. These religions are guides to social structure and how to live; often, as I’ve heard, expansions and elaborations on the Golden Rule. So turn any religion into a basis of war or pretext for mass murder is obviously perverse. By no stretch of the imagination can I come up with a scenario that squares, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” with “Kill the infidel.”
This brings me around to Islam and, more especially, its various perversions most recently in the form of Islamic State. But this co-opting of the religion for the purpose of demagoguery is neither new nor, it’s safe to say, unusual. So it begs the question: why? Christianity, another of the three major world religions, is not that much older, by which I mean to say, it’s not as though Islam is going to a phase or growing pains.
Yet there is something in Islam that seems to lend itself to being perverted in a particular fashion. A warlike, world-dominating fashion. Although I’ve read an English translation of Al Qu’aran (because you can’t really read It except in Arabic), I don’t really recall the prophetic calls to action that spur on the 20th and 21st-century Saladins.
So I get quickly led to the perversion of the religion in the service of… power. This is not a big leap because the perversion of religion for power is as common as ants. The Borgias made a family dynasty of it. Or, consider The Church of England.
Is that really all there is to it? The PLO, Taliban, Hamas, Islamic State, you name it: it’s all about power. But that power aspiration doesn’t end like the Ayatollahs’ conquest of Iran, within national borders. These others are far more ambitious. (I didn’t invoke the Caliph Saladin’s name for no reason, you know.) And they have the tools to make good on their desires. Or, if not then at the very least to cause plenty of disruption and grief for everyone else.
The sooner we ALL realize that these nutbars are not religious; they don’t care a whit about their religion except to the extent that it can advance their aims by rallying the dull-witted to their cause, the sooner we’ll change our tack on dealing with the problem. They are not legitimate, their aims are illegitimate, their Telos is death; and this must be shone upon by the cold light of day.