15: Fanaticism & the Future


The World Trade Center
New York, August 2001

Religious Fanaticism & Modern Life
1900s - present

  • Religious Fanaticism
  • Modern Terror Tactics
  • The Shrinking Trend of “Organized Religion”
  • The Western World without God
  • Spiritual, but not Religious
  • Tomorrow’s Religion

I. On Fanaticism

Key Terms

  • Religious Fanaticism
  • Terrorist
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Modern Religious Terrorism
  • A. Religious Fanaticism in Brief
    • We’re living in the most peaceful period of history
      • with one exception: increasing religious fanaticism
    • Religion seems to be constructed as tool for social cohesion
      • Fanaticism occurs when the truth-claims of one religious group
        outweigh the right of another group to exist

  • B. The Terrorist Mindset (cf. Psychologist John Horgan)
    • There is no religious ideology that is immune to terrorism
    • Terrorism occurs when environmental factors encourage particular kinds of thinkers
      • Terrorists begin as disenfranchised subjects
        • The subject feels a loss of control over his own life
        • The subject may be an otherwise smart, wealthy, and well-adjusted person
      • The subject begins to identify with the struggle of others like him
      • The shared negative experience of this struggle bonds the in-group together
      • Some will identify an outside-group (ie. a scapegoat) as the source of their shared struggle
        • Among the scapegoaters will be activists — people who act against the out-group
      • The activist will generally first attempt to improve his group’s situation through legal means
        • But when legal action fails to bring desired change, a feeling of helplessness can develop
        • A very small number of disaffected activists will turn to terrorism to further their goals
    • A terrorist is a disaffected activist who breaks the law (typically by injuring others) with the following goals
      • to bring awareness of their groups plight to others
      • to serve as a warning to their perceived aggressors
      • to make their supporters feel empowered
      • to entice young people (typically males) to join their group

  • C. Follow Me: Narcissistic Personality Disorder
    • Statistically, a small subset of men in a disaffected in-group:
      • will possess an extroverted personality
      • (fewer) will hone a high verbal aptitude into a useful skill
      • (a handful) will develop into full-blown pathological narcissism
      • And rarest among these extroverted, high verbal narcissists will be
        the man who has the power and opportunity to become a terrorist or cult leader
    • A terrorist leader’s narcissism leads him to react against the shame of his victimization
      by seeking the attention of others through grandiose gestures and claims
      • He casts himself as superior in holiness, wisdom, or prophetic ability
        • These days, this includes online propaganda campaigns
      • He surrounds himself with people who unfailingly agree with him
        • This makes him seem “all-knowing” to the young and uninitiated
      • His narcissism eventually renders him incapable of empathizing with others
        • This enables him to hold new recruits to impossible standards
        • It eventually seems completely rational to expect a recruits’ life and possessions
    • NPD examples: Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, and Osama bin Laden

II. Modern Terror Tactics

Diving for the USS Essex
15 killed. 44 wounded.

Kach Party
Supported Goldstein’s attack
29 killed. 125 wounded.


Sarin Gas attack
Tokyo, 1995
12 killed. 50 wounded.


Charlie Hebdo attack
Paris, 2015
12 killed. 11 wounded.

  • A. 1944: Buddhist Kamikazi pilot
    • Leader: Motoharu Okamura (岡村 基春)
    • Action: suicide pilots fly into military assets/people
      • Kamikaze was an ultra-nationalist path of Imperial-Way Buddhism
      • First kamikaze attack occurred in August of 1944, in last year of Pacific War
      • ~3,860 kamikaze pilots died, with an unknown number of victims

  • B. 1972: Irish Catholic Car Bomb
    • Leader: Seán Mac Stíofáin
    • Action: terrorists fill a car with explosives and detonate it near their target
      • The Provisional IRA was an ultra-nationalist Irish Catholic paramilitary organization
      • They made the car bomb their strategic and tactical asymmetric weapon of choice
      • ~400 killed, thousands wounded. Hostilities end in Good Friday Agreement.

  • C. 1987: Hindi Suicide Vest
    • Leader: Velupillai Prabhakaran (வேலுப்பிள்ளை பிரபாகரன்)
    • Action: terrorists wear explosive devices, detonating themselves near targets
      • The Tamil Tigers were an ultra-nationalist Hindu paramilitary organization
      • They invented the suicide belt and introduced the woman suicide bomber
      • 961 killed in 82 suicide attacks

  • D. 1994: Jewish Gunman in the West Bank
  • E. 1995: Buddhist-Christian NRM: the Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack
    • Leader: Shoko Asahara (麻原 彰晃)
    • Action: terrorists release deadly sarin gas on subway lines
      • Aum Shinrikyo is a Buddhist & Millenarian Christian terrorist organization
      • They used modern transpo-infrastructure to kill commuting civilians
      • 12 killed and 50 severely wounded in 5 simultaneously coordinated attacks

  • F. 2010: Jihadi Cool


Religion in the 21st century

I. The Shrinking Trend of “Organized Religion”

Major Religions in the U.S. (2015)

  • 68m Catholics
  • 34m NONE
  • 16m Southern Baptist
  • 8m Nondenom. Christians
  • 7m Methodists
  • 6m Mormons
  • 5m Jews
  • 3m Muslims
  • 2m Presbyterians
  • 1m Buddhists
  • 1500s | Catholic Europe: public display of universally held beliefs
  • 1600s | Protestant Europe: private display of a nation’s public beliefs
  • 1700s | Colonial America: private display of the publicly–held beliefs of communities
    • A small secular space (e.g. a town hall) is set aside as a secular meeting place
      for people of different faiths. All other aspects of life are considered “religious.”
  • 1800s | most of modern American life has become non–religious
    • Eg. public school, public hospitals, public law enforcement, public sports
    • A small religious space (eg. church) is set aside as a religious meeting place
      for families and communities of similar faiths. All other aspects of life are secular.
  • 1900s | Spirituality is a private, individual pursuit. Church is no longer necessary.
    • Churches tend to be charismatic, individually–focused non-denominational
  • 2000s | Millennials are the most unchurched generation in American history

A Minister debates SBNR

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo. 

Min. Lillian Daniel,
United Church of Christ, 2011

II. The West without God
Belief in God, according to percentage of population:

  • 20% Scandinavia, Czech

  • 35% France, Netherlands

  • 40% Britain, Belgium, Hungary

  • 50% Germany, Switzerland

  • 60% Spain, Austria

  • 75% Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia

  • 90% Turkey, Romania, Portugal

III. SBNR: I’m “Spiritual,” but Not “Religious”

  • You’re friend thinks he invented this idea.
    • He didn’t.
  • Late 1800s | the literary Transcendentalist Movement develops
    • The individual is the spiritual center of the universe
    • Nature is symbolic and is thus a mystery to be admired
    • Individual virtue and happiness depends on knowing oneself
    • Inward focus on “spirit” as opposed to outward ritual
    • Many blend beliefs from multiple religions for individualized approach
  • Americans leaving Organized Religion
    • 30% of Americans in 2014 identify as Spiritual but not Religious
      • This is up from 24% SBNR just four years earlier (2005-2009)
    • 35% of Americans 18-30 are SBNR, compared to 5% of seniors
  • Advocates for SBNR
    • SBNR is the final historic consequence to the modern value of individualism
    • Appeals to families with divergent beliefs and practices (eg. Jewish Mom, Christian Dad)
    • Appeals to a growing discontent over “organized religion”
      • Millennials in particular are known not to be “joiners” of organized groups
  • Critics of SBNR
    • SBNR is emblematic of an overall modern trend of selfishness
    • Church members report being happier, stay married longer, and give more to charity
    • Religious communities care for members at critical stages and at lifecycle events

IV. Tomorrow’s Religion
Sources: NewsweekUSA TodayPew ForumGallup PollPew Forum, PF2Barna GroupHartford Institute

  • American Christianity Now
    • Only 76% of Americans self–identify as Christian (lowest ever)
      • And less than 40% of Americans attend church at all now
    • Religious Literacy: Nonreligious Americans score the highest when quizzed about religion
      • Mormons score the highest when quizzed about the Bible in particular

  • Decline of Mainline Protestantism
    • For the first time in U.S. History, the majority of Americans do not identify as Protestant
    • Only 48% of Americans identify as Protestant
    • 13% of all Mainline Protestants left between 2000-2010
    • If recent trends in decline continue:
      • The United Methodist Church may be gone from the U.S. in 50 years
      • The Presbyterian Church may be gone from the U.S. in 40 years 
      • Southern Baptist membership started to decline in 2007 and has continued to decline faster and faster.
        • If the trend continues, the rate of decline among Baptists will match the Methodist rate by 2018

  • Growth in non–Protestant Christian groups
    • Nondenominational Churches
      • now represent one of the top 5 religious groups in 48 states
      • Third largest religious group nationally (after Catholic & Baptist)
      • 12,200,000 members in 35,500 congregations and growing
    • LDS Church (Mormons)
      • 50% growth from 2000-2010
      • 2010: 6 million Mormons in 13,600 congregations
      • Largest gains of any Christian group in 30 states (2000-2010)
      • Largest growth in Kentucky, Montana, and Virginia

  • Growth of American Islam
    • 2,100 mosques and 2,600,000 American Muslims
      • 166 mosques in Texas
      • 118 mosques in Florida
      • 50 mosques in North Carolina
    • 67% increase since 2000
    • The number of American mosques has increased 74% since 2000
    • 76% of American mosques existing today were established after 1980

  • Religion around the World
    • Global Christianity in 1910
      • 2 out of every 3 Christians live in Europe
      • 9% of Sub–Saharan Africans are Christian
    • Global Christianity in 2010
      • Only 1 out of every 4 Christians live in Europe
      • 63% of Sub–Saharan Africans are Christian
      • Nigeria has more Protestants than Germany
      • China has more church attendees than Europe
    • Australia turns to Indian Religions
      • Only about 8% of Australians attend church services
      • Hinduism and Buddhism show the fastest growth