I can seem very down on religion at times, and indeed I do have very serious criticisms of organized religions, their teachings and their apparent effects. However, I feel a lot of understanding for people’s attachment to their religions, and their need for it. I know that religion has historically been the repository of values both admirable and appalling, and of identities bound up with people’s shared sense of being human (an association I think is inevitably problematic). Religion is virtually the design on the nursery wall of humanity, but unfortunately it too often keeps us as children. It’s true that there are problems with religion, but also true that the problems are not just with religion, but with all kinds of human society, at least as far as I can see. We work with imperfect materials, and we make progress like hallucinating builders, trying to discern reality from fantasy, benefit from harm, in the consequences of our creations, as everything constantly morphs, albeit sometimes slowly enough for us to hope for a subsisting progress.
I believe in the individual, and I am a Satanist myself, but I know that people are driven by pain and fear, and I know exactly what that does, and what the offer of shelter does. It’s the same process used in brainwashing, and what happens (however happily, you can hope) in every family on the planet. Human beings are malleable, vulnerable creatures. It can’t be my concern if the world is going to change; I have to be concerned with my world practically. But if there is a
possibility of the world changing, and being less subject to fear of the individual, demonized source of all our talents and creativity, then understanding the people caught in religion is I think relevant. It’s honestly not that difficult, when you look into the eyes of common human pain. It doesn’t matter what I am, I am always going to feel closer to them than to some elitist plonker, because I know what it feels like.
We did see a quite astonishing documentary on TV about British jihadis, which was actually very emotional. There were quite a few people interviewed, some who had been really active in establishing the beginnings of the British jihadi movement back in the 80s and 90s. These were people who recanted their former extreme beliefs, and in some cases regretted the path they had taken with a kind of remorse that I don’t really have a sufficient word for. In almost all cases these youngsters (as they were at the time) had been driven by pain and deep problems, and had found shelter and solace and meaning, acceptance and a place, in a confluence of religion, distorted mentorship and the bad opportunity of foreign political conflicts. I don’t think the religious blue print was guiltless (to say the least), but it wasn’t so long ago that large swathes of young westerners believed that progressive change would only come ultimately through violent revolution or the use of force, and anything less was a bourgeoise naivety. But they were hippies and punks and students, and most of them weren’t actually going to do something. I remember that time. These muslim kids just had worse luck.
I think the situation has become somewhat different now, and I doubt that it all bears a resemblance to the people interviewed in the documentary. The horrors get worse and the recruiting has got crazy and chilling. The results are appalling. But I know people who grew up in the 70s and 80s with horrible racism directed at them and their children. Of course they will freakin’ well withdraw and stick together. I feel safer living in an area with a large Bangladeshi population (no “freak” or “queer” abuse from them, ever), so what the hell must they feel like? And then we have supposed left-leaning liberals who think they are being “progressive” by bowing down to religion and ethnicity. These are people that the mainstream society (at different levels) have applied both a carrot and a stick strategy towards, saying both “you’re hated” and “you’re welcome”, but only as something other, defined by traditional forms. I think there is a big place for secularism in our society, and we should not be giving religion of any sort political or legal power or privilege. But if you can break the spell, you are left with the people who needed the spell, just to live somehow. You will still have to look into the eyes of that need.
People don’t do deathly things because they want to die. They do them because it seems like life to them, compared to what they are getting away from*. That’s why they are a small minority within a minority. Religion is a factor, obviously a crucial factor, but it really isn’t the root cause of this. It honestly goes deeper.
Every psychopathology is attempting to articulate a resolution. If we want to solve that, someone needs to listen. Not accommodate the illness, not collude with the problem, but find out what is actually coming out of the throat of a situation. Because if you can’t understand hurt, you can’t understand anything about human beings.
* I know this isn’t always so, people can be psychopaths and sociopaths, but those are more isolated instances