CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

A Man on a Mission from God:
The Most Dangerous Thing in the World

by Brett L. Mers, United States Air Force Academy
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas,) June 18-20, 2004. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: The information and analysis contained in this paper is the product of my own research and should not be construed to represent any position of the Institute for National Security Studies, United States Air Force Academy, United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government at large.

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true, by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.
Edward Gibbon, Fall of the Roman Empire

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
Jonathon Swift


In this article I will examine the mind-set of the religious extremist, provide a broad outline of the reasoning of such individuals, and then look at two examples of how a religion that purports to exist for the betterment of mankind can be turned into a divine sanction for violence on a horrific scale.

Religion satisfies the ultimate curiosity: As a species, we are incredibly curious. In fact, the barrier to knowledge that has intrigued and involved the mind and imagination of every human being that has ever drawn breath is the ultimate question of all living – death. This drive to know is expressed in cultural and religious traditions around the world.

Religion supplies the ultimate confirmation: I am mortal. I must please my god to earn eternal life. Whatever pleases my god, I will do. My spiritual leader says that doing X will please my god. Therefore, X is what I will do. Such reasoning, while grossly oversimplified, serves to illustrate the mind-set of the religious fundamentalist.

Religion supports the ultimate community: Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”[1] And cynicism notwithstanding, he seemed to capture the essence of the matter. For all religions, whatever their creed, doctrine, and definition of it, try to seek peace and unity for humanity. But is for this very reason that religion has such a hold and provides such motivation for human action. The ideal is sublime and imparts such value that attaining it is worth anything that one can imagine. Unfortunately however, theory and practice are often as far from each other in a religious context as in any other and often the reality is all to far from the ideal.

I. Religious Terrorism: Definition and Analysis:

The word religion comes from the Latin religio, a supernatural restraint and from the French religare, to restrain or tie back.[2] Within all the cultural, theological, and historical variations of religion, the concept of the restraint to human impulse is inherent to all. Sin and sacrifice, however it is defined and acted out, are part and parcel of the human religious experience. A need for absolution seems to be a foundational factor of our nature.

A. Uncertainty = Fear:

Another characteristic of human nature seems to be that we consider the unknown with a certain amount of apprehension. Perhaps this arises from the fact that the universe is a place of extremes with the conditions necessary for human life as we know it limited to a thin covering of “biosphere” on the third rock from the sun.

More specifically, "everything outside" occupies the same categorical space as chaos and disorder itself – often given the theriomorphized form of a terrible reptile… The ancient Egyptians regarded the Hyksos, "barbarians," as equivalent to Apophis, the serpent who nightly devoured the sun, according to Egyptian mythology; the early Indo-Europeans equated the destruction of enemies in battle to the slaying of Vrtra (the precosmogonic "dragon of chaos") by Indra (the world-creating hero); and the archaic Iranians (Zoroastrians) equated the mythic struggle of King Faridun (a culture-creating hero, analogous to Romulus or Remus, the mythic founders of Rome) against a foreign usurper – the dragon Azdahak – with the cosmogonic fight of the hero Thraetona against Azi Dahaka, the primordial serpent of chaos. The enemies of the Old Testament Hebrews suffer the same fate: they are regarded as equivalent to Rahab, or Leviathan, the serpent Yahweh overcame in his battle to establish the world (22)["Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself." (Ezekiel 29:3).[3]

This self-preservation instinct is so strong that it often becomes the default for behavior. Even in rats, which identify each other by scent, the reaction to a sibling or family rat that has been washed and de-scented by a researcher is to destroy the unknown intruder.[4]

This tendency to react rather than analyze is unfortunately not limited to the time-sensitive requirements of physical self-preservation. It affects other areas of societal interaction as well and is partially explained with an understanding of the limbic system.

The limbic system is a group of brain structures that lay atop the spinal column underneath the cerebral cortex. It is associated with the autonomic (self-regulating) functions of the body, with memory, and with certain emotions, such as anger, fear, happiness, and sexual stimulation. The limbic system of the brain includes such structures as the amygdala, the cingulate gyrus, and the hippocampus. It is associated with survival instincts and basic emotions such as fear, rage, and aggression.

Interestingly enough, studies have found that meditation tends to strengthen the frontal cortex, seat of rational/logical thought and lessen the intensity of limbic system reaction. This results in better anger management, more self-control, and more creativity.[5]

B. Context Determines Meaning:

Information is said to be that knowledge which is carried in the data and the limbic system provides us the emotional context that gives meaning to our personal experience. But data points without context are meaningless. The New Testament records that Judas “went and hanged himself” (Matt 27:5). Jesus said “Go thou and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37). Without relation to a larger context, just about any data point can be made to seemingly support just about any conclusion. This concept of context is defined as “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect.”[6] It has a great deal to do with the perspective one brings to religious matters and how one relates those matters to the larger personal and societal issues.

Persons who are consumed and obsessed with anything are often termed fanatics. While this is the same root and idea as expressed in the word “fan” and often applied to sports enthusiasts, it is generally understood as dealing with more serious and weighty matters. Maxwell Taylor in, The Fanatics – A Behavioral Approach to Political Violence, notes several characteristics that seem common to fanatics regardless of subject matter or culture.


Excessive and all consuming focus on the issue of concern to the fanatic, to the exclusion of almost, or perhaps even all, other things. The “issue” becomes #1 priority.

Personalized View of the World:

Concern with his own ideological construction of the world to all other alternatives. Egocentrism.


Untouched by other people’s concerns and normal social pressures.

Loss of Critical Judgment:

Personal judgment reflects lack of optimization.

Inconsistency and Tolerance of Logical Incompatibility:

The normal logical consistency expected in a belief system may not be present and usually is not noticed by the fanatic.


In a religious context – self-righteousness.


The world is black or white, good or evil.

Resistance to Change:

Any deviation is seen to exhibit a lack of commitment to “the cause”.

Disdain / Dismissal:

For anyone or anything that gets in the way of pursuing “the cause”.

Contextual Facilitation:

As much as possible, all social contact and news exposure is subordinated to sustain the fanatic’s pre-occupations.[7] 

In a fair number of cases, the characteristics of fanaticism can develop into a mind-set that can be characterized as an addiction. Father Leo Booth, in When God Becomes a Drug, noted several attributes such as non-critical acceptance of facts or information, uncompromising judgmental attitudes, and black/white simplistic thinking.

Magical thinking also permits religious addicts to accept abuse and abuse others. Dr. Xavier notes that religious addicts have a distorted conscience and sense of guilt. Just having a sexual thought or impulse might send the into a frenzy of self-hate and fear of damnation, but, he says, ‘these same people often have no prick of conscience in being hateful to people with a different belief system.’[8]

Possessing a narrow religious focus can lead people into some interesting activities, including self-mutilation. One of the better-known instances of this phenomenon is the Flagellants. During the Black Plague, in 13th century Italy, there arose a school of thought that the plague was due to the sin of the people and therefore the logical way of ridding society of the plague was to atone for the sin that caused it. The chosen method for this atonement was self-flagellation. Groups of these people would roam from town to town in the plague-stricken areas, gather in the town-square and ritualistically whip themselves. This was accomplished with a scourge, a wooden stick with three or four leather pieces attached to one end with a sharp iron spike about an inch in length adorning the end of each leather whip.[9]

The ritual occurred at least once a day for three days in a row before the flagellants would move on to the next village, hoping to convert a few more individuals. The flagellants' "cure" failed to ease the minds of many people. In many instances, cases of the Plague rose in towns through which the flagellants had passed (Biel, 1989). Because the actions taken by the flagellants became too radical, in 1349, Pope Clement VI declared them to be heretical, and efforts were made to suppress the spread of their message.[10]

Perhaps due to their normal physical condition being weaker than that of a man, women, especially, have been victims of consistent religiously motivated violence throughout history. Many cultures have practiced the ritual known India as “suttee” where the widow is burned to death on the funeral pyre of her husband.

The practice of killing a favorite wife on her husband's grave has been found in many parts of the world; it was followed by such peoples as the Thracians, the Scythians, the ancient Egyptians, the Scandinavians, the Chinese, and peoples of Oceania and Africa. Suttee was probably taken over by Hinduism from a more ancient source. Its stated purpose was to expiate the sins of both husband and wife and to ensure the couple's reunion beyond the grave, but it was encouraged by the low regard in which widows were held.[11]

The common thread in all of these characteristics is a “narrowing” of the context in which analysis is done. For example, imagine yourself as an eighteen-year-old Palestinian male. You were born in a refugee camp and have lived most of your life in danger and poverty. You have no real prospects of stability and being able to find a job that will pay you enough to get married and support a family. You are offered the chance to strike a blow against the infidels, be immediately transported to paradise and receive your 70 virgins, and your family gets a few thousand in cash to help pay the bills. Why wouldn’t you strap a bomb to your chest?

In a legal context, the concept of which we are speaking would be “mitigating or aggravating circumstance.” The facts of the case are X which leads to conclusion Y. But if the context is broadened and other facts are considered to be germane, they may lead to X+ or X- depending on the material content. But either way, the conclusion is adjusted.

Does the logic of religion necessarily require violence? No, depending on the context and the interpretation (hermeneutics) of the data. So then, why does religion so often seem to breed violence? In large part, it is due to breadth of facts that are considered relevant (or not) to the question, i.e., the context.

Unfortunately, humans, when taken as whole, have never been gold medal winners in regard to considering the larger context, even when it comes to religion. Terror and violence motivated ostensibly by a desire regain the paradise lost, has had a long and illustrious history. Three of these groups, better-known to history, are the Zealots, the Assassins, and the Thuggee, terms that are still in use today to denote people and actions of dubious moral value.

C. The Zealots:

The Zealots existed as a group for about 75 years, from A.D. 0 – A.D. 75. Doctrinally, they were close to the group known as the Pharisees in the New Testament. But unlike the Pharisees, the Zealots consistently turned to violence to achieve their objectives. They believed that any foreign rule in Judea, the Promised Land, was contrary to God’s design and desire. Consequently, they tended to have political differences with Rome, and in that part of the world, in the 1st century A.D., the Romans were not the best people with whom to disagree. Since, a mutually beneficial dialogue was not the generally accepted way of settling political arguments. The Zealots are sometimes referred to as Sicarri, which is the Greek word for dagger. This was in light of the fact that the dagger easily concealed and very effective at dispatching one’s target, was a favored tool of the Zealots.[12]

At least one of Christ’s disciples was a Zealot (Simon - Luke 6:15) and the Romans apparently considered Christ in a similar frame as the Zealots because crucifixion was often used as a punishment for political crimes.

But the most memorable event in Zealot history was the collective suicide at Masada, an event that still inspires enough interest and patriotism that a special unit of the Israeli paratroopers are often commissioned there.[13]

The Zealots began an open revolt against the Romans in 66 A.D., the Romans finally returned in force and Tiberius recaptured Jerusalem in 70A.D. They eventually recaptured all of the military outposts in the country except Masada.

When the Romans learned that nearly 1,000 Zealots were ensconced on the top of Masada, troops were dispatched to deal with them. “In the spring, the governor of Judaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, ordered the legion X Fretensis to build camps around the fortress.”[14] Trouble was the cliffs of Masada were un-assaultable, the paths up easily defendable, and the water and food supply fairly plentiful. But the Romans did not rise to become a world power by ignoring a challenge. The soldiers settled into camp and after a time began constructing a ramp of earth and stone toward the summit of Masada.

It took approximately a year for the ramp to be completed, all the while; the Zealots on top were monitoring the progress. When the ramp was finally complete, the Romans burned the wooden gates guarding the summit and prepared to assault the Zealot camp the next morning.

On the morning of Nisan 15, 73 A.D., the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Flavius Silva and his troops adorned their armor, strapped on their swords, and eagerly marched to the crest of Masada. Anticipating the release of pent-up frustrations, they charged through the burned-out wall and braced for the rush of leather and steel that was sure to come.[15]

Realizing the end was unavoidable, the Zealots selected ten men to kill everyone else and then they drew lots to see which of them would kill the others, with the last man killing himself. The next morning, only corpses were there to greet the attacking Romans.[16] 

D. The Assassins:

Spanning the period between the ancient and modern eras, the Assassins were an Islamic group that developed political assassination to a fine art during the European Medieval Period. The term assassin comes from the Arab hashshashin (hashish eaters); or from the proper name Hassan.

Originally an order founded in Persia and Syria during the 11th century by Hassan ben Sabbah, it was an offshoot of the Ismaelites of the Shiite division of Islam. They taught the esoteric doctrines of Islam, encouraged mathematics and philosophy, and are said to have used hashish as a means of obtaining celestial visions. They held that creation began with the intellectual world, moved to the soul and then the rest of creation. The human soul, imprisoned in the body to carry out the teacher's orders, rejoins the universal soul at death. The usual accounts state that they sanctioned the employment of secret assassination against all enemies.[17]


One of the West’s better-known travelers, Marco Polo, also gave reports of the sect.


The Assassins, or Ismaelites, were an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that embraced a mystical branch of teachings. Their influence had been considerable in the 10th Century, as the Fatimid rulers of Egypt had been Ismaelites. With the decline of the Fatimids, the Ismaelites were forced underground. It was under Hasan-I-Sabbah, the first Old Man of the Mountain, in the late 11th Century that the Ismaelites established fortified enclaves in the mountains of northern Iraq and became more militant.

Assassination became a primary tactic, mostly to punish Muslim leaders who were not deemed devout enough in their Islam or who were political opponents… As Marco Polo describes, they were finally destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century, although pockets of Assassins survived in Syria.[18] 

E. The Thuggee:

The Thuggee were a sect in India that worshipped Kali by means of ritualistic murder. They preyed upon the travelers of India for several centuries. The Thuggee were infamous for their ability to ingratiate themselves their intended victims. Groups of Thuggee would join travelers to provide “mutual protection” as they journeyed the rural roadways.

 From the Sanskrit root sthag (Pali, thak), to cover, to conceal, the Thugs were a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins, who in gangs of whom 10 to 200 traveled in various guises through India, wormed themselves into the confidence of wayfarers of the wealthier class, and, when a favorable opportunity occurred, strangled them by throwing a handkerchief or noose round their necks, and then plundered and buried them. All this was done according to certain ancient and rigidly prescribed forms and after the performance of special religious rites, in which the consecration of the pickaxe and the sacrifice of sugar formed a prominent part…Though they themselves trace their origin to seven Mohammedan tribes, Hindus appear to have been associated with them at an early period; at any rate, their religious creed and practices as stanch worshippers of Kali (Devi, Durga), the Hindu goddess of destruction, had certainly no flavor of Islam in them. Assassination for gain was with them a religious duty, and was considered a holy and honorable profession.[19]

While technology has changed much regarding life in recent times, human nature remains the same and religiously motivated violence comprises a major portion of the internal and external security threat currently challenging the U.S.

II. Foreign Threat:

Terrorism, motivated by a militant version of Islam, currently constitutes one of the most serious threats to the West in general and the United States in particular. The threat, while motivated by what is for many a religion of peace and great nobility, is nonetheless very real.

Islam is classed as one of the three great monotheistic religions along with Judaism and Christianity. The word Islam means submission and it consists of submission to Allah. Islam was revealed to Mohammad, an Arab trader living in Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century. It has produced civilization and usually wars wherever it has gone.

A. The basics of Islam are:

(1) The Shahada, or recitation of the creed, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of God.

(2) Salat, the prayer which is to be performed five times a day. There are strict rules governing the execution of this prayer to include bending to touch the forehead on the floor, reciting phrases from the Koran, and facing towards the Kaba stone in Mecca.

(3) Zakat or alms. This is a charity to help care for the less fortunate of the Ummah or Islamic community.

(4) Sawm or fast. This is the dawn to dusk fast during the month of Ramadan.

(5) Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. This is a once-in-a-lifetime requirement for all Muslims with the health and means to do so.[20]

B. Theology of Islam:

God: There is one true God and His name is Allah. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and transcendent. But He is not personally knowable by humanity.[21]

Angels: The chief angel is Gabriel, who was significant in revealing the Koran to Mohammed. In opposition to the angels are the demons or jinns and the chief jinn is Shaitan (Satan).

Scripture: The Islamic scripture is the Koran, which in Arabic has the connotation of “recite.” It exists as a faithful copy of the tablet in heaven that has existed before time. According to Islamic tradition, the original copies of the Koran given to Mohammed were written on palm leaves, stones, and shoulder-blade bones of camels.[22]

Judgment Day: On the last day of time the dead will be resurrected. Each person will be judged and sent to heaven or hell. Heaven is a place of great sensual pleasure and for men the best part will be the “bur”, the dark-eyed buxom virgins. Each man in heaven will have seventy-virgins. They will never be sick or menstruating, bad-tempered, or jealous. He would be able to de-flower them at will and return to find them virgins again.[23]

Prophets: The Koran lists 28 prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, and Jesus. But Mohammed is the last and greatest of the prophets.[24]

Predestination: Very fatalistic. What Allah has determined will be and no one can change anything that he has determined will be.[25]

During the first few centuries of Islam, it spread to cover most of the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Minor, and crossed the Mediterranean into Spain. The means of its evangelism are of close interest to people in the 21st-century West because the means by which Islam is spread are known to some sects of the faithful as jihad.

C. Jihad:

Jihad is an Arabic word that simply means “struggle”. In an Islamic context, it can have several different meanings that occupy a spectrum of behavior. On one end there is the teaching that jihad is an internal spiritual struggle to grow closer to God. On the other is the concept that jihad is a physical political struggle to overcome the enemies of Allah and establish the ummah over the entire world. For lack of space to investigate the matter fully, suffice it to say that just about any point chosen on the spectrum can be supported via an interpretation of the Koranic verses of one’s choice and a thread of historical theological development. As one Islamic scholar noted, “Peace is the avowed aim of Islam…But the Islamic faith also demands, from time to time, in a holy war defined by specific circumstances, the blood of the faithful in the defence of their faith. This is jihad.”[26]

Perhaps because of the human tendency to treat the unknown as dangerous and perhaps for other reasons as well, jihad has been used as a justification for violent political war since the Quraysh tribe fought Mohammed at Medina. Islam spread through the modern Middle East, North Africa, and into Europe at the point of a scimitar. Given that fundamental Islam discerns no difference between the political and religious spheres of influence, this is understandable. In a panel discussion at Flagler College in Florida, Hossein Seifzadeh noted that while there are differences in Islam vis-à-vis political philosophy, currently, the fundamentalist view is what most concerns the west.

Hostage crises in various parts of the middle East and North Africa, the government of Taliban in Afghanistan, Intifadha in Occupied territories by Israel and September 11 catastrophic event well fit to Huntington's theory of "Clash of Civilization." At the same time, the other two forms of Islamic political philosophy in Sunni tradition of Turkey and Shiite theosophy of Iran defeat the universality of Huntington's explanatory power. One could name all these three different schools of thought as Fundamentalist Islam,  Pacfist Islam and Pluralist Islam. At present, fundamentalist Islam is represented at the mass level in the wahabi tradition mostly. Pacfist Islam is mainly represented at the government level in Turkey. In Iran, a particular version of Pluralist Islam is represented by reformists' political faction.

While pacifist Islam believes in the separation of religious and political institutions altogether, the other two groups believe in the fusion of religious and political institutions.[27]

Nor is fundamentalist Islam a threat with which the West can afford to be complacent. The U.S. State Department notes approximately 60 significant terrorist attacks in which thousands of live have been lost and thousands more injured over the last few decades.[28] Many of which are connected to fundamentalist Muslim groups.

The most infamous terrorist in the world (at least according to the U.S.), Osama Bin Laden, expressed the motivation and objectives of his organization as follows. The goal is to “unite all Muslims and to establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs.”

The method by which this will be accomplished is by force. “Bin Laden has stated that the only way to establish the Caliphate is by force. Al Qa’ida’s goal, therefore, is to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments, which Bin Laden views as ‘corrupt,’ to drive Western influence from those countries, and eventually abolish state boundaries.”[29]

D. Modern Islamic Extremism:

The catastrophic upheavals in 20th century unleashed many forces that have yet to run their course, or possibly even reach their zenith. Not the least of which was far-reaching terrorist violence, in the name of Islam. The political and military disintegration of the Ottoman Empire loosed various Islamic sects and groups that all battled for a different vision of the Ummah (Islamic Community) and events that occurred after World War-II further motivated many of these groups into internecine and sectarian violence.

One of the figures most responsible for the modern violent visions of Islam was Sayyid Abul-Ala Mawdudi. He was an Indian Muslim and a journalist with only a basic theological understanding or training. Yet he was one of the most radical figures of the Islamic 20th century. He was highly influenced by Wahabism and considered the entire ummah to be characterized by unbelief and superstition, much like pre-Islamic and polytheistic Arabia.[30] Mawdudi’s first book, Jihad in Islam, was published in 1927. It was and remains a clear and direct understanding of jihad and its historic roots, and historic roots it does have.

The Ideology of Jihad, Dhimmitude and Human Rights, made reference to what the long and historically accurate roots of Mawdudi’s perspective of jihad. It was noted that the History of al-Tabari (Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk), (The History of al-Tabari (Ta'rikh al rusul wa'l-muluk), ed. by Ehsan Yar-Shater, vol. 12, transl. and ann. by Yohanan Friedman, State University of New York Press, 1992) described the conquest of Iraq by the Arab-Muslim armies. Umar b. al-Khattab spoke to the commander of the troops he sent to al-Basrah (636 C.E.). His comments are as chilling as they are relevant in explaining the motivation behind the current jihad.

Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, (This is to say, accept their conversion as genuine and refrain from fighting them) but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Qur'an 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted.[31]

Also noted in the lecture was the Islamic jurist, Adu’l-Hasan al Mawardi, al Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, as written in his book, The Laws of Islamic Governance, was the historic conditions and requirements for jihad. Islam and jihad have divided the world into dar al-harb and dar al-islam (the House of War and the House of Submission). First, Mawardi addresses the types of enemies of dar al-harb.

1.     Those whom the call of Islam has reached, but they have refused it and have taken up arms.

‘The amir of the army has the option of fighting them in one of two ways, that is in accordance with what he judges to be in the best interests of the Muslims and most harmful to the mushkin (infidels, polytheists): the first, to harry them from their houses and to inflict damage on them day and night, by fighting and burning, or else to declare war and combat them in ranks.’

2. Those whom the invitation to Islam has not reached. If they still refuse to accept Islam after it has been explained to them, ‘war is waged against them and they are treated as those whom the call has reached.’

He further explained three different situations justifying jihad.

1.     The enemies accept to convert to Islam, in this case they and their land become part of dar al-Islam.

2.     The enemies are vanquished but they refuse to convert, in which case their women and children are taken prisoner, and their wealth is taken as booty and those who are not made captive are put to death. As for the captives, the amir has the choice of taking the most beneficial action of four possibilities: the first, to put them to death by cutting their necks; the second to enslave them and apply the laws of slavery regarding their sale or manumission; the third, to ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners; and fourth, to show favor to those who deny [the Truth] then strike [their] necks’ (Mawardi 76, quotation and brackets in text).

3.   ‘The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation.’[32]

This is not to say that they are not millions of peaceful, creative and wonderful human beings in the world who are Islamic. Islam has produced wonderful works of art and creativity that have enriched the lives of many. But it has also provided justification that has been used for savage and brutal attacks since it’s founding. To ignore the theoretical rationale used by the current Islamic extremists is to ignore one of the foundational guidelines for successfully surviving conflict, and that is simply to understand the mind of your opponent. While we (the U.S. and the West) do not view it this way, be assured, the Islamic terrorists are fighting a jihad.

Fighting in the cause of God motivates the ultimate sacrifice. It promises the ultimate reward and places the individual above others in devotion to God. From the “Banzai” of the Shinto warrior of the Japanese Imperial Army in World War-II to the “Alu Ahkbar” of the Islamic suicide bomber, there is nothing more dangerous than a man on a mission from God.

III. Domestic Threat:

Unfortunately, Islam is not the only religious tradition to have inspired violent acts in the name of God. The Person of Christ, peaceful and loving individual that He was, has been appropriated to justify the pious slaughter of millions. Even today, there are groups that see the mandates of Holy Scripture requiring them to engage in political/physical violence to achieve their spiritual goals. Unfortunately, while not justified by most logical and historical hermeneutics, this viewpoint does find itself with long historical roots.

Medieval Christianity did not view the world in a foundationally different construct than Islam inasmuch as they did not recognize a division between the political and religious spheres of influence or responsibility of society. The king sat in line of authority, under the Pope, who sat as the Vicar of Christ on earth. But the political entity known as “Christendom” did not find its source in the Man for whom it was named.

The Pharisees comprised a religious sect in Israel during the time of Christ. They prided themselves in their ability to keep minute points of ceremonial law and considered themselves extra righteous for doing so. This mindset put them at odds with Christ and His simple teachings of love and kindness and they were always trying to catch Christ in a logical error to “expose” and discredit Him. One day on the street, in front of the people, the Pharisees attempted to have Christ either declare Himself lawless (by denying the validity of Roman law and exposing Himself as a revolutionary) or support Rome (and thereby incurring the wrath and displeasure of the people).

Thinking themselves quite erudite, the Pharisees approached Christ and asked Him if they should pay taxes to Rome. Christ asked one of them to show Him a coin. When it was produced, Christ asked them whose inscription was on the coin. They replied that it was Caesar’s. Christ’s answer, forgotten by Christianity for over a thousand years, provided the solution to the seeming intractability of the religion and politics. He said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s (Matt. 22:20-22). That which is Caesar’s is political power, the ability to coerce or force people to engage in a given action. Therefore, the moral right to force people into a given course of action and away from another belongs to government. Spirituality, however, is a matter for choice and persuasion.

He further expanded this concept when He was on trial before Pilate, shortly before His crucifixion. When questioned by Pilate as to whether or not He was a king (and therefore a political threat to Rome). Christ answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my disciples would be out fighting” (John 18:36). As history well records, Christ was crucified and His followers dispersed. But in the span of a couple of centuries or so, the Christian faith had spread to almost the whole Roman Empire where the followers of Christ were hounded and persecuted, many to their deaths, for their faith.

Then in 312 A.D., Emperor Constantine saw a vision at the Milvian Bridge that said in the coming battle he would triumph in the sign of the cross. He did in fact win the battle and credited that victory to the God of the Christians. In 313 A.D., Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which made Christianity a religio licita, a licensed cult. Constantine seemingly took his conversion seriously and attempted to involve Christians and Christianity in all aspects of the society and government. He took it as his personal duty to maintain (and decide) orthodoxy and oppose heresy wherever he found it. One of the events that ultimately set precedent for him to make these theological judgments was known as the Donatist Controversy.

The Donatist Controversy concerned the validity of Caecilian’s election as bishop in North Africa. Donatus, a Carthaginian deacon, protested Caecilian's ordination because he was a known traditore. A traditore obtained a libellus or handed over Scripture during persecution and Constantine became involved to make the required decision.

At a hearing in Rome and another in Arles in 314, the Donatists lost the issue. But the Donatists refused to accept the authority of either council or Constantine. Constantine’s response was:

I am going to make plain to them what kind of worship is to be offered to God... What higher duty have I as emperor than to destroy error and repress rash indiscretions, and so cause all to offer to Almighty God true religion, honest concord and true worship.[33]

By 325 AD, twelve short years after the issue of the Edict of Milan, Constantine himself presided at the First Church Council in Nicea (modern day Iznik in Turkey) where the Arian controversy (regarding the Divinity of Christ) was judged.

There in 325 AD Nicea, 300 bishops, many priests, and an abundance of lay people gathered, and Constantine himself presided over. The outcome was the adoption by the Church of a new creed, the Nicene Creed, which reaffirmed the belief in the Trinity, emphasizing that the Son was always, is, and will be God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.[34]

In a nutshell, that’s how a sect that had been hounded, tortured, and persecuted in the Roman world for 300 years became the official religion of the state and God and Caesar came to sit on the same throne in Rome. This was to be the central concept of polity as it evolved through the fall of Rome, the rise of the barbarian states and ultimately the formation of what come to be known to us as modern Europe. But it was not always to be this way.

In the 14th century, after the Black Plague decimated Europe and loosened the intellectual and societal stranglehold that the Church held, the Protestant Reformation began. However, rather than lessen religious violence, it increased it dramatically as the Church tried desperately to stem the tide of heresy that was threatening their temporal and spiritual empire.

But eventually the weight of the reformers grew strong enough to survive, but only at the cost of millions of lives as the Protestant Reformation battled the Catholic Counter Reformation in towns and fields throughout Europe. Martin Luther's 95 theses, nailed to a church door, set off a firestorm of violence and blood.[35]

After the centuries of violence and slaughter between the Catholics and Protestants, to include the 30 Year’s War of the 17th, Europe was effectively exhausted. The Thirty Year’s War was a culmination of centuries of violence and slaughter between Catholics and Protestants. Many historians conservatively estimate that it took Germany a century to recover from the effects of the Thirty Years’ War.[36]

Finally, the sensible, common sense, and long-in-coming decision was made to begin to allow a division between the temporal and spiritual spheres of responsibility. Building on past agreements and ending the Thirty Year’s War, the Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, provided (among other things) considerable laxity in matters of religion, with the Protestants being admitted in the machinery of government to protect their interests and the Calvinists being recognized.[37] Such began the development of the Western world, as we know it.

However, even today, in Christianity, there are schools of thought that the spiritual and temporal authorities are not to be separated, that to do so is an abomination and an insult to God. They are they faithful few that will fight to the end to right the wrong, prevent the judgment of God from being poured out on a wicked people and put God back on the same throne as Caesar.

A. Reconstruction Theology:

Reconstruction Theology (RT), sometimes termed Dominion Theology, is one such school of thought. RT teaches that the goal of Christianity is to work to have the laws of the Old Testament enacted and enforced as secular law in the country and set up a sort of theocracy. The society and government envisioned by adherents to RT is quite different than the one in which Americans now live and possibly one that many would not find appealing.

The federal government would play no role in regulating business, public education, or welfare…[S]ome government would be visible at the level of counties…but citizens would be answerable to church authorities on most matters subject to regulation…income taxes would not exceed ten percent - the biblical tithe - and social security would disappear…[P]ublic schools would be abolished in favor of home-schooling arrangements, and families would operate on a strict patriarchal pattern. The only people permitted to vote would be members of 'biblically correct' churches. Most notably, a theonomic order would make homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, propagation of false doctrine, and incorrigible behavior by disobedient children subject to the death penalty, preferably administered by stoning…a reconstructed America would have little room for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or even non-Reconstructionist Christians. 'The Christian', one Reconstructionist author has asserted, 'must realize that pluralism is a myth…[38]

The Reconstructionists, as a general rule, don’t advocate violence. But if you follow the logic of their rhetoric, one must wonder why not. And more than once individuals have followed that very logic to the commission of violence in the name of God. One evangelical leader who showed a marked affinity for the Reconstructionist enterprise was Randall Terry. He started an organization known as Operation Rescue, which conducted 12-week training sessions known as the Institute of Mobilized Prophetic Activated Christian Training (IMPACT). At one IMPACT training session Terry called pro-choice Supreme-Court Justices “enemies of Christ” and compared them to Hitler and Stalin.

One of the participants in the IMPACT and Rescue America movement, Michael Griffin took the message to heart and assassinated Dr. David Gunn outside the clinic where Dr. Gunn performed abortions.[39]

Since political power is based on violence, if God intends for His people to engage in political conquest, then apparently He intends for them to engage in political violence, in His name. In addition to the Reconstructionists, there are some fringe groups that use the Bible as a justification for White Supremacy and many of their groups have no problem with use of violence to achieve the ends. They are known loosely as Identity Christians.

B. Identity Christianity:

Identity Christianity (IC) is a broad term for a number of different groups that ascribe to variations of doctrine on any given point, but they tend to have some basic things in common. They are a few foundational doctrines or minor variations thereon and in some a propensity for violence to achieve stated spiritual goals. An overview of the broad outlines of what may be called “Identity Doctrine” follows.

The IC basic catechism is:

(1)  Those of the white race (Caucasians) are the children of God. The Hebrew word “ad’am” in Genesis, can also mean “ruddy” or able to see the blood in the skin. Thus only white-skinned humans have the “breath of God” breathed into them (Genesis 2:7).

(2)  Original sin, as described in Genesis was not disobedience to God, but rather sexual intercourse between Eve and Satan. The Hebrew word translated as “serpent” can also be translated as deceiver. So Satan seduced Eve and impregnated her. The offspring of this union was Cain, which developed into the people we know as they Jews. The seed of Satan. This is why sometimes these groups are known as Seedline or Seed Christianity. They are the seed of God, the Jews are the seed of Satan and all of history is explained (much like Marx and class struggle) as a struggle between the two different seedlines.

(3)  All other humans are known as “beasts of the field” (Genesis phrase) or “mud-people,” a reference to the plentiful pigment in the skin cells.[40]

The doctrines taught by IC posit no real difference in the political and spiritual realms. They have been utilized by many in the white supremacy arena to explain trends and occurrences that are distasteful to IC adherents and to justify venomous and many times violent responses.

For nearly 50 years, the venomous racist theology of Identity has penetrated through the ranks of Klansmen, neo-Nazis, the Posse Comitatus and racist Skinheads. Now it reaches beyond traditional white supremacists to an expanding network of anti-government extremists. Today the fanatical anti-Semitic sect fuels the so-called Patriot Movement with paranoid theories of government conspiracies and Biblical justification for violence…Under their ideology, only white Christian men are the ‘true sovereign citizens’ of the Republic. Other Americans are merely Fourteenth Amendment ‘state citizens,’ the illegal creation of an illegitimate ‘de facto’ government.[41]

While human beings have never had to look far for a reason to hate, the significant point noted here is the so-called Biblical justification for such hate. IC turns a philosophy and tradition (Christianity) that is supposed to break down the walls and bring unity to humanity and turns it into a divisive force that permanently divides people into classes (economic term) or castes (religious term). The New Testament teaches that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Ultimate spiritual unity, according to the New Testament, is found in the love of Christ. The IC doctrines (and actions of some of its adherents) are sad, demoralizing, and sometimes physically and politically dangerous.

IV. Conclusion:

The religious justification always produces within human nature a self-assured and self-evident necessity that is usually beyond the reach of logical and rational discourse to dissuade. Further, it is often beyond the reach of rational deterrent to coerce. If God has told you to do X, what in this life can be done to you that can justify your lack of willingness to follow His will? As Ayn Rand wrote in Philosophy: Who Needs It, in her prescient 1960 essay "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World":

The conflict of reason versus mysticism is the issue of life or death — or freedom or slavery — or progress or stagnant brutality. . . . Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason; reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding is possible.[42]

Whether it is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, or any other religious rationale, ultimately, the question of its meaning and purpose is answered by the individual. Perhaps the propensity for political violence is somehow inherent in the individual and simply waiting for the justifying and motivating rationale of divine sanction to realize its potential. Whatever, the case, as Ayn Rand noted, reason and discourse is, at least, the starting point for understanding and understanding is the starting point for building a more peaceful and just community.

Islam prescribes that zakat (charity for the poor of the ummah) comprises a part of the duties of a good Muslim. The New Testament records that “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). But remember, no matter what the objective, there is nothing more driven than a man on a mission from God.

[1] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/q136563.html

[2] Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, Merriam-Webster Incorpoated, Springfield, Massachusetts, 2001, pg 985

[3] Jordan B. Peterson, Neuropsychology and Mythology of Motivation for Group Aggression, Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, In Kurtz, Ed, Academic Press, San Diego, 2002

[4] Ibid

[5] Peter van Houten, M.D., Engineered for Divinity- The Brain, World Book Medical Encyclopedia, http://www.rush.edu/worldbook/articles/012000a/012000081.html

[6] http://www.infoplease.com/ipd/A0385876.html

[7] Maxwell Taylor, The Fanatics – A Behavioral Approach to Political Violence, Brassey’s 1991, pgs 30-55

[8] Father Leo Booth, When God Becomes a Drug – Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction & Abuse, The Putnam Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, pgs 59 & 64

[9] Starr Bushey, Stephanie Ginder & Katie O'Sullivan, The Church's involvement in the Bubonic Plague, http://www.ecnet.net/users/gemedia3/Plague/Plague.html

[10] Ibid

[11] Columbia Encyclopedia, http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/society/A0847330.html

[12] Encyclopedia of the Orient, http://i-cias.com/e.o/zealots.htm

[13] Mark Silverberg, The Story of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Israel's Solidarity Mission (October 20, 2001 thru October 29, 2001)

[14] Jona Lendering, Wars between the Jews and Romans: Masada (74 CE), 1996-2003, http://www.livius.org/ja-jn/jewish_wars/jwar05.html

[15] Bruce Scott, Roman Madness at MASADA, Israel My Glory, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., http://www.foigm.org/IMG/masada.htm

[16] Encyclopedia of the Orient, http://i-cias.com/e.o/zealots.htm

[17] http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/etgloss/ass-atm.htm

[18] History 1011W: World History to ca. 1500, http://www.cla.umn.edu/courses/hist1011/calendar/explorers/ismaelites.htm

[19] http://89.1911encyclopedia.org/T/TH/THUGS.htm

[20] D.S. Roberts, Islam: A Concise Introduction, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), pg 43

[21] The Koran, Sura 112

[22] Christy Wilson, "The Qur'an" in Eerdman's Handbook to World Religions, (Grand Rapids, MI: William Reedman Publishing Company, 1982) p.315

[23] Denise L. Carboy & John T. Carboy, Ways to the Center, p.333

[24] Roberts, op cit, pg 35

[25] Ibid

[26] M.J. Akbar, The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict Between Islam and Christianity, Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE, (pg xv)

[27] Hossein Seifzadeh, “Globalization and Diverse Political Philosophy in Muslim World”, Discussion Panel 4B: Religion and Politics, Saturday, Political Science Department, Flagler College, St Augustine, Florida, 18 October 2003, 10:45 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.

[28] Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2001: A Brief Chronology, Historical Background, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/5902.htm

[29] Text: U.S. Government Fact Sheet on Osama Bin Laden, http://www.cat2002.org/russian/leaders.html

[30] Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam, The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror, Doubleday, 2002, pg 131

[31] Lecture subject: The Ideology of Jihad, Dhimmitude and Human Rights, The Hoya, Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record Since 1920, Tuesday, November 12, 2002, pg 1

[32] Ibid, pg 3

[33] Church History for the Masses, Church History Pages, CONSTANTINE AND THE CHRISTIAN STATE, http://www.christianchronicler.com/history1/constantine.html

[34] The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia, The Christian Empire: 313-476, http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/ce.stm

[35] Christianity and Violence: Reformation, What you Need to Know About, http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/christian/blfaq_viol_reformation.htm

[36] Ibid

[37] Atkinson, op cit

[38] William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Broadway Books, Dell Publishing Group, New York, NY, 1996, pg 353

[39] Ibid, pg 355

[40] Ovid Need, Jr., Seedline Doctrine, The Biblical Examiner - An Examination of Biblical Precepts Involved in Issues at Hand, October, 1996, http://www.biblicalexaminer.org/w199610.shtml

[41] Dogma of Christian Identity, http://www.geocities.com/onemansmind/hg/Identity1.html

[42] Leonard Peikoff, Religious Terrorism, New York Times, March 1989

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