Terrorism and the Pursuit of God
To set out on a suicide mission, to willingly kill thousands of civilians seems unfathomable for many Americans in the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Why would anyone do something like that? The answer from many sources has been: religion. More specifically, many people are blaming the Islamic religion, the religion that the hijackers are suspected to adhere to, claiming that Islam reveres its martyrs and sanctions war. But the answer is much more complicated than this, and a look at religion and technology can help get a clearer picture of Islam and the events of September 11.
Karen Armstrong, in her book The Battle for God, claims that nearly all religions have a sect of “fundamentalists,” or what some have called “extremists,” who feel it their duty to rebel against the recent global cultural shift toward secular humanist precepts. Christian fundamentalists have blown up abortion clinics in America; Muslim fundamentalists have committed acts of terrorism.
It wasn’t always like this. In the premodern era, according to Armstrong, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam alike looked to past events to find inspiration for contemporary living. The Muslims specifically clung to the “constants” of past mythology and mysticism, and a hope for an “ideal” society structured around Muslim law--law that is remarkably similar to that of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Modern American society is anything but the premodern Muslim ideal--and technology is largely to blame. Armstrong says that the rapid technological improvements in Western culture have made ours a society that longs for provable fact and discredits the value of myth on which premodern religion was built. The infiltration of technology has made our culture one that looks to the future for inspiration, and no longer to the past. Premodern religion is not compatible with modern thought, values, and experience.
In many ways, religion has changed with the changing culture as a means of survival. For example, premodern Christians celebrated the...