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Revelations: Religion and terrorism, 'All fired up'

Nov. 4, 2010 at 6:04 a.m.
Updated Nov. 5, 2010 at 6:05 a.m.


BY JENNIFER PREYSSThere's something about chatting with a professor of religious studies that gets me fired up - in a good way. My intellectual juices begin to flow, and its as if I've returned to Georgia State University, and I'm anxiously swirling my arm in the air like a 6-year-old waiting for the professor to call on me.

I controlled my inner 6-year-old during a recent interview with a University of Houston - Victoria professor, who allowed me to talk to him about religious-inspired violence for an article I'm writing.

Professor has an extensive background in anthropology, religion and criminal justice, and in the past, even performed field research while serving undercover as a white supremacist.

Needless to say, I was more than impressed with his relatively unique line of work - seeking out and developing theories on religious folks turned terrorists.

More than a study of Islamic terrorism, although that certainly is included in his research, Professor examines all genres of religions, where a few of its followers seem to organize and behave more like gangs than pious worshipers of God. Rather, they bomb buildings and abortion clinics in the name of Jesus; they fly planes into the World Trade Towers in the name of Allah; and they release deadly gases in Japanese train stations in the name of some strange syncretistic version of Buddhism, Hinduism and apocalyptic Christianity.

Yet, Professor will argue that these few groups of people in every religion, that somehow pervert the original texts of peace and love and turn the words into holy wars, are fundamentally convinced their violence is an act of worship.

When he told me that, I had to stop and settle my mind.

"An act of worship? An act of worship? An act of worship," I thought. I couldn't stop the words from from entering my mind.

I can tell you as follower of Christ, that anyone blowing up abortion clinics and other buildings, holding obnoxious "You're going to hell" signs at someone's funeral, or engaging in any other anti-human act of hate is not at all performing an act of worship. They are not walking in accordance with the message of Christianity, and I would argue also, they are not walking in accordance with the message of any other religion they may identify with. Muslims with zero affiliation with fanatical Muslims (like the ones featured most nights on the news) are likely tired of explaining that the individuals bombing schools, people, and themselves, do not represent the nature of true Islam.

So, as my philosophical juices were flowing, I started wondering why those people are allowed to identify with that faith at all? I'd rather academic and religious leaders give them another name altogether and universally oust them from the umbrella of the religion in which they identify. In my opinion, they should be noted, then studied, as a dangerous cult, and identified in their cult name.

This also got me thinking about nominal Christianity, and why our religious identifiers are so important.

There are academics who spend their lives studying why and how people, even people who do not practice a faith, assign themselves a religious affiliation.

I've heard so many times in conversation where people say, "I'm a Methodist, or a I'm spiritual, or I'm a Catholic or I'm Baptist," but what - philosophically speaking - does that mean if it's only a religious identifier? I remember many years ago meeting a girl at college who told me she was a Methodist, "but that's about as far as it goes," she said.

I've never forgotten her comment because it continues to puzzle me. Did she believe in Jesus? Did she believe in the Bible? Did she believe in church? Did she believe at all? What does being a Methodist, or any Christian name, mean?

Her comment means, in a nutshell, that religious identities cannot be conveniently compartmentalized in one giant pool of this or that.

Religion is not a this or that thing for most people who try to live their faith, and not simply identify with it. I think too, this is part of the problem of where people start developing issues with religion, not just Christianity.

And maybe you won't agree, but I think this is a necessary observation when analyzing religious violence because its corresponding data doesn't always make sense of, or explain away an act of evil. And at it's core, it isn't the religious affiliation that performs these awful acts, it is the evil that lives inside the people who perform them. They are not beyond the limits of forgiveness, but most certainly they have ventured beyond the original meaning of the religion that supposedly causes them to perform these abhorrent acts of worship.

But that's just one gal's opinion, what I do I know anyway? See, I told you those religious professors get me all fired up.

Jennifer Preyss is the Advocate's faith reporter. Contact her at 361-580-6535 or jpreyss@vicad.com.

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