God, religion and fundamentalism: an unholy trinity

There are many arguments for the existence of God – Anselm ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument and the “immediate experience of God” argument. But if you don’t already believe it, these arguments won’t convince you. They are post-hoc constructs to buttress existing beliefs.

The counter-arguments say that religion is a bad but ingrained idea. Religions peddle ugly doctrines that have ugly consequences. These so-called “holy books” demand the execution of “witches”, support slavery, condone the slaughter of infidels and heretics, wage war, condemn homosexuality and denigrate women.

religion promote division and inequality. They have inner groups (“chosen people”) and outer groups.

Between Freud

The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, noted that religion is a collective neurosis shared by the masses to underpin civilization. Religion has its roots in childhood helplessness and the desire for a strong father. Neurosis and religion have universal common roots in human nature and cognition.

Freud believed that there has been a developmental progression throughout history—from animistic and magical explanations, to religious, and then scientific explanations—in the way people perceive and explain the universe.

Each explanation becomes progressively less omnipotent and egocentric. It ends with the scientific view that we are mortal, limited, small in a vast universe, and powerless against the forces of nature.

Enter Fundamentalism

Who falls prey to fundamentalist messages? I developed an algorithm:

Fundamentalism = fear + wishful thinking + social and political forces that create psychological vulnerability, rage, hatred, envy, alienation and marginalization + cognitive shrinkage (eg, indoctrination).

As a result, the disenfranchised, beleaguered, denigrated and rejected, destitute and needy, traumatized and dispossessed, envious, hateful and furious members of society are all at the mercy of the message of fundamentalist religious and politico-religious ideologies.

Belonging to a fundamentalist group reverses these intolerable feelings. The fundamentalist ideology reinforces the self-confidence of the group. Fundamentalism transforms outgroups into ingroups that empower and enrich its members. They are no longer denigrated and alone, but exalted as the privileged and chosen few.

Fundamentalists become warriors with a simple message of salvation found in a naive and literal interpretation of ancient sacred texts. Gone is the despair and uncertainty of life. The path is straight; the objectives are clear. However, to participate, one must renounce oneself – one’s individuality and one’s “spirit” – in order to render blind obedience to the collective ideology.

Acts of fundamentalist terrorism must overcome an almost insurmountable barrier – the prohibition against taking life. Yet these heights have been scaled and crossed many times throughout history.

In addition to underlying motivations such as socio-economic inequalities, ethnic struggles and nationalist movements, committing atrocities requires fundamentalists have undergone “a long process of caricature, degradation and dehumanization” of their targets, in order to drive a wedge between them (in-group) and their intended victims (out-group).

Enemies cease to be human beings. They become infidels.

Religion and suicide bombing

Suicide bombing, like genocide, is characterized by the perceived need for purification. The term “ethnic cleansing” carries this meaning, as does former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s call for a return to the values ​​of the Islamic ancestors, to cleanse humanity of the impure and corrupt values ​​of West.

Those who must be purified are necessarily impure and even evil. The cause – to rid the world of this contamination – is sacred and sanctioned by God.

Suicide attacks are more frequent in occupied countries, where the occupied resist, but succumb to the constant humiliations resulting from their abject submission.

Repeated humiliation breeds helpless rage, frustration and despair that beg to be expressed. For some, it signals a wish to be dead rather than endure further humiliation. Suicide attacks neutralize the military power of the occupier. It’s the ultimate challenge of the oppressor.

The profiles of suicide bombers are disparate. Some are recruited from among the homeless and the poor. Others are recruited by imams, in mosques and on social networks; and among wealthy, well-educated people living abroad. Some are young boys brainwashed in madrasahs, or bereaved widows and sisters of deceased jihadists who wish to vent their rage and grief over their loss in retaliation against a hated enemy.

On deradicalization

Deprogramming a bomb or missile is possible, but can you deprogram a terrorist? Radicalization into fundamentalist violence follows four steps – pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination and action.

Deradicalization, the process of persuading extremists to abandon the use of violence, is not simply a reversal of the process of radicalization. Careful assessment of individuals to identify the unique set of context- and person-specific factors motivating their participation is essential.

Many countries – such as Singapore, Indonesia, the UK and the Netherlands – have implemented de-radicalization programs With more or less success. Indonesia’s prison de-radicalization program has been a failure: out of 600 undertaking the program, only 20 deradicalized.

But the feared military wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Black September Organization, believed that radicalized members only ‘dies out’ when the PLO gave them a:

… a reason to live rather than a reason to die.

The solution? They married them.


You can read more articles from the Roots of Radicalization series here.

Dianna will be on hand for a Q&A between 1-2 p.m. AEST on Friday, July 3. Ask your questions in the comments section below.

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