Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Opinion

Column: Religion's wicked neighbor

Barack Obama is clearly wrong when he refuses to use the word "Islam" in reference to Islamist terrorism. The people who commit these acts are inflamed by a version of an Islamist ideology. They claim an Islamist identity. They swear fealty to organizations like ISIS that govern themselves according to certain interpretations of the Koran.

As Peter Bergen writes in his book The United States of Jihad, "Assertions that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam are as nonsensical as claims that the Crusades had nothing to do with Christian beliefs about the sanctity of Jerusalem."

On the other hand, Donald Trump is abhorrently wrong in implying that these attacks are central to Islam. His attempt to ban Muslim immigration is an act of bigotry (applying the sins of the few to the whole group), which is sure to incite more terrorism. His implication that we are in a clash of civilizations is an insult to those Muslims who have risked and lost their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban.

The problem is that these two wrongs are feeding off each other. Obama is using language to engineer a reaction rather than to tell the truth, which is the definition of propaganda. Most world leaders talk about Islamist terror, but Obama apparently thinks that if he uses the phrase "Islamic radicalism" the rest of us will be too dim to be able to distinguish between the terrorists and the millions of good-hearted Muslims who want only to live in fellowship and peace.

Worst of all, his decision to dance around an unpleasant reality is part of the enveloping cloud of political correctness that drives people to Donald Trump. Millions of Americans feel they can't say what they think, or even entertain views outside the boundaries laid down by elites, and so are drawn to the guy who rails against taboos and says what he believes.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11 we still haven't arrived at a true understanding of our enemy. How much is religion involved in jihadism, or psychology or politics?

And the core of our confusion is that we are unclear about what a religion is, and how it might relate to violence sometimes carried out in its name.

For clarity on that question, it helps to start with William James' classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience. In that book, James distinguishes between various religious experiences and "religion's wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion's wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law."

In other words, there is the spirit of religion and, frequently accompanying it, its wicked neighbors, the spirit of political and intellectual dominion.

It seems blindingly obvious to say, but the spirit of religion begins with a sense that God exists. God is the primary reality, and out of that flows a set of values and experiences: prayer, praise, charity, contrition, grace and the desire to grow closer toward holiness. Sincere faith begins with humility in relation to the Almighty and a sense of being strengthened by his infinite love.

In some sense the phrase "Islamic radicalism" is wrong because terrorism is not a radical extension of this kind of faith. People don't start out with this kind of faith and then turn into terrorists because they became more faithful.

The spirit of dominion, on the other hand, does not start with an awareness of God. It starts with a sense of injury and a desire to heal injury through revenge and domination.

For the terrorist, a sense of humiliation is the primary reality. Terrorism emerges from a psychic state, not a spiritual one. This turns into a grievance, the belief that some external enemy is the cause of this injury, rather than some internal weakness.

This then leads to what forensic psychologist Reid Meloy calls "vicarious identification" — the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimization is connected to the larger victimization of my group.

It's only at this point in the pathway that religion enters the picture, or rather an absolutist, all-explaining political ideology that is the weed that grows up next to religion. Bin Ladinism explains all of history and gives the injured a course of action that will make them feel grandiose and heroic. It is the human impulse for dominance and revenge that borrows righteous garb.

For the religious person it's about God. For the terrorist, it's about himself. When Omar Mateen was in the midst of his rampage, he was posting on Facebook and calling a TV station. His audience was us, not the Divine.

Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was martyring himself in the name of holiness. He was actually a sad loser obliterating himself for the sake of revenge.

© 2016 New York Times

Comments
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18