Friday, March 23, 2012

This is War


War is hell. And hell—or at least heaven—makes war all the more hellish. Mohamed Merah the Islamic terrorist who recently murdered three French soldiers, three Jewish children and their rabbi was a person of faith. After considering surrender, Mr. Merah opted for a fight to death saying, “If it’s me [who dies], who cares? I’ll go to paradise.” And that’s where religion comes in.

Mohamed Merah said he was avenging the deaths of his brothers in Afghanistan, and for that he needed no religious sanction. There are plenty of secular terrorists, just look at the growth in the militia movement in the US. But he saw his killing as a religious act for which God would reward him in heaven. He didn’t fear death, but welcomed it.

Yesterday in my class on Religion and Pop Culture we compared two films: Jesus Camp and Obsession. In both films there are scenes of little kids in deep emotional stress triggered by their adult teachers who led them in war chants and rhythmic dances. “This is war! This is war! This is war!” the leader of Jesus Camp chanted, and while some of my students did their best to say she was talking about “spiritual warfare” and not actually killing people, it was clear to most of us that there was no difference in the impact war fever had on Christian and Muslim little children. How did we get from Jesus’ “suffer the little children” to make little children suffer? Religion.

But not just the brand religions. Think of Hitler Youth during the 1930s and 40s. Think of soccer riots. Think of any situation in which you abdicate your self to the mob, and those who lead it. Once you have identified with the mass, the fate of the person, even your own person, is irrelevant. And that is both what scares me and gives me hope.

It scares me because so much of what passes for religion (broadly defined) is simply the capturing of the individual mind and enlisting it in the service to the group mind. It gives me hope in that it sets out the antidote to religious madness: maintaining your integrity and autonomy as a freethinking individual.

I am not opposed to faith. I am opposed to mindlessness. A religion, philosophy, political position that honors and promotes the freedom of thought and individual autonomy does not produce terrorists. So don’t imagine you have to abandon faith, only ask yourself whether your faith is demanding that you abandon your self.

8 comments:

Charles Kinnaird said...

"So don’t imagine you have to abandon faith, only ask yourself whether your faith is demanding that you abandon your self." I love that final statement - truly the heart of the matter.

No One Special said...

Unfortunately in my experience, those who get involved in those kinds of religions have not gone through the hard work of knowing who they are in the first place. Thus, it is all too easy for them to fall in with these kinds of religious institutions.

Deeply self-aware individuals are not easily swayed by any institution; religious or otherwise.

eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

You wrote:

"Mohamed Merah said he was avenging the deaths of his brothers in Afghanistan, and for that he needed no religious sanction. There are plenty of secular terrorists, just look at the growth in the militia movement in the US."

The moral equivalency you suggest here quite simply isn't kosher as when was the last time someone from the militias actually killed someone?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jordan

andrea perez said...

To Jordan,
Who caused the Oklahoma City bombings? Or for that matter the murders caused for years by the KKK? Or for that matter the "border patrol" volunteer groups who are just waiting for a kill.
It's only a matter of time.
Don't they meet in training camps, wave a lot of guns, drink and talk a lot of trash?
Anywhere "Truth"/"God"/"Principal" is called on to take out another group of people, we have a very big dangerous problem. Anytime they start seeing individuals as "them" we might as well give up and go to sleep.
And to Rabbi Rami,
I've read a lot of your blogs. Been entertained, laughed, enlightened. This one is truly brilliant. Thank you. I couldn't agree more with you. It's "sinful" as in missing the mark, what some people will call religion or faith.

eashtov said...

Shalom Andrea and All,

Andrea wrote/asked:

"Who caused the Oklahoma City bombings? Or for that matter the murders caused for years by the KKK? "

The Oklahoma bombing was on 19 April, 1995, nearly 17 years ago. Murders by the KKK predate that. This is why my question included the words "when was the last time," ie. to demonstrate that terrorism whose source is other than Islamic extremism is hardly happening if at all, at present.

Andrea continued: "Or for that matter the "border patrol" volunteer groups who are just waiting for a kill. It's only a matter of time."

And how do you know this? Do you presume to know these folks' hearts.

Terrorism whose origin is Islamic extremism is what the world is confronting now. To claim any moral equivalency between them and the militias (which is what Rabbi Rami did) just ain't Kosher by any stretch of the imagination.

Make it a good week,

Blessings,
Jordan

Erick Reynolds said...

The Rabbi is speaking to war, terrorism, revenge killings, and the willingness to die for a cause.

War and terrorism are simply acts of power struggles. Terrorism is the label assigned to the tactic used by the lesser opponent in an extremely imbalanced struggle. Faced with inadequate weapons or numbers for full frontal attack, terrorist harassment is the tactic of choice. The good guys use remotely guided smart bombs and drones; the bad guys use IEDs and suicide bombers.

As the Rabbi was pointing out, revenge killings do not require religious zeal. Revenge killings occur for many reasons and by various groups such as militias or drug gangs worldwide.

However, the willingness to die for your cause does require a zealous or “mindless” commitment often evoked ritual chanting, singing, or emotional appeal to fears or beliefs. This, also, does not require a religion, but it requires a religious (dutiful) or emotional override of rational thought. This can be religious brainwash programming, nationalist patriotic group think, or as in the soccer riot example, emotional drunkenness. Even the brilliant WWII Gen. G. Patton rationally spoke when he said “no one wins a war by dying for their (cause); they win it by making the other poor dumb (person) die for theirs.”(paraphrased)

Rabbi Rami said...

Great discussion. Thanks to you all.

Loor said...

Promoted your blog here in Holland. Hat's off.