To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Dawkins is perhaps right to suggest that a warped religious idea of martyrdom and the afterlife was at work here. And he's surely right that religion at its worst can be toxic and superstitious — which is something healthy religion must ever be vigilant about much as science is vigilant about pseudoscience.
Witness Jerry Fallwell's initial explanation of the disaster.
But on balance, is religion good or bad for us? Medicine, twisted, can kill people. But we'd want further evidence before deciding that medicine is bad. Why not resolve the issue empirically? Setting aside research on religion's correlations with health, happiness, and communal solidarity, what are its effects on good vs.
Does religion's promised afterlife and its associated purpose and accountability more often call forth good deeds or bad? Does religiosity tend to be associated with increased or decreased criminality? With increased or decreased compassion, volunteerism, and generosity? Skip to main content. All Rights Reserved.
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David G. The social psychology of terrorism. The social psychology of terrorism What compels people to commit simultaneous mass murder and suicide? Return to Table of Contents. The usual definition of terrorism is something like "the use or threat of violence, by small groups against non-combatants of large groups, for avowed political goals.
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Terrorism is the warfare of the weak, the recourse of those desperate for a cause that cannot win by conventional means. But it is worth noting that state terrorism against a state's own citizens--as practiced by Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol-Pot, and many smaller-league tyrants--has killed millions of non-combatants, whereas the anti-state terrorism we usually focus on has killed thousands.
The distinction between combatants and non-combatants--between people in uniform and people not in uniform--has been eroding since the French Revolution. The Revolution brought a new kind of army, a "nation in arms" that vanquished the best professional armies of Europe.
Since then, the Western way of war has triumphed, and only a nation in arms has been able to beat a nation in arms. The implication of this shift is that the nation behind an army is a legitimate target of war. The U. These cities had relatively few in uniform; most of the dead were old people, women, and children.
When the U. As terrorism from above is not always called terrorism, so terrorism from below is not always called terrorism. At least for some Americans, the Contras were not terrorists and the Irish Republican Army are not terrorists. It seems unlikely that the U. Terrorism as Individual Pathology A common suggestion is that there must be something wrong with terrorists.
Terrorists must be crazy, or suicidal, or psychopaths without moral feelings or feelings for others. Thirty years ago this suggestion was taken very seriously, but thirty years of research has found psychopathology and personality disorder no more likely among terrorists than among non-terrorists from the same background. Interviews with current and former terrorists find few with any disorder found in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Comparisons of terrorists with non-terrorists brought up in the same neighborhoods find psychopathogy rates similar and low in both groups.
Another way to think about this issue is to imagine yourself a terrorist, living an underground existence cut off from all but the few who share your goals. Your life depends on the others in your group. Would you want someone in your group suffering from some kind of psychopathology?
Someone who cannot be depended on, someone out of touch with reality? Of course there are occasional lone bombers or lone gunmen who kill for political causes, and such individuals may indeed suffer from some form of psychopathology. But terrorists in groups, especially groups that can organize attacks that are successful, are likely to be within the normal range of personality. Indeed terrorism would be a trivial problem if only those with some kind of psychopathology could be terrorists.
Rather we have to face the fact that normal people can be terrorists, that we are ourselves capable of terrorist acts under some circumstances. This fact is already implied in recognizing that military and police forces are eminently capable of killing non-combatants in terrorism from above. Few suggest that the broad range of military and police involved in such killing must all be abnormal. This is the edge of a slippery slope that can lead to killing non-combatants. Building Peace Recovery.
The Psychology of Terrorism Clark R. Terrorism as Normal Psychology No one wakes up one morning and decides that today is the day to become a terrorist. The trajectory by which normal people become capable of doing terrible things is usually gradual, perhaps imperceptible to the individual.
Leanne Erdberg on the Psychology Behind Terrorism
This is among other things a moral trajectory, such as Horowitz has described in "The Deadly Ethnic Riot. They kill for cause and comrades, that is, with a combination of ideology and intense small-group dynamics. The cause that is worth killing for and even dying for is personal, a view of the world that makes sense of life and death and links the individual to some form of immortality. Every normal person believes in something more important than life. We have to, because, unlike other animals, we know that we are going to die.
The Social Psychology of Terrorism | Crowds and Identities: John Drury's Research Group
We need something that makes sense of our life and our death, something that makes our death different from the death of a squirrel lying by the side of the road that we drive to work. The closer and more immediate death is, the more we need the group values that give meaning to life and death.
These values include the values of family, religion, ethnicity, and nationality-the values of our culture. Dozens of experiments have shown that thinking about our own death leads us to embrace more strongly the values of our culture "terror management theory". There is no special association between religion and violence. Animal rights and saving the environment can be causes that justify terrorism. For much of the twentieth century, atheistic communism was such a cause.
The group values represented in the cause are focused to a personal intensity in the small group of like-minded people who perpetrate terrorist violence. Most individuals belong to many groups--family, co-workers, neighborhood, religion, country--and each of these groups has some influence on the beliefs and behavior of the individual.
These groups tend to have different values and the competition of values reduces the power of any one group over its members. But members of an underground terrorist group have put this group first in their lives, dropping or reducing every other connection.
The power of this one group is now enormous, and extends to every kind of personal and moral judgment. This is the power that can make violence against the enemy not just acceptable but necessary. Every army aims to do what the terrorist group does: to link a larger group cause with the small group dynamics that can deliver individuals to sacrifice.
Every army cuts trainees off from their previous lives so that the combat unit can become their family, their fellow-soldiers become their brothers, and their fear of letting down their comrades greater than their fear of dying. Many non-violent groups also gain power by separating individuals from groups that might offer competing values. Groups using this tactic include religious cults, drug treatment centers, and residential schools and colleges. In brief, the psychology behind terrorist violence is normal psychology, abnormal only in the intensity of the group dynamics that link cause with comrades.
Terrorist Strategy Psychologists recognize two kinds of aggression, emotional and instrumental. Emotional aggression is associated with anger and does not calculate long-term consequences.