Streetwise Professor

July 19, 2016

Paths to Redemption and the Differential Susceptibility of Religions to Terrorism

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:57 pm

Many human conflicts and struggles are universal, but they manifest themselves very differently in different cultures. One universal struggle is between religion and morals and carnal desire. Religions and cultures differ in how sins can be redeemed, and this strongly shapes how this conflict is resolved.

In evangelical Christianity, one manifestation of this struggle is extreme hypocrisy. As La Rochefoucault said, “hypocrisy is the tribute [or homage] that vice pays to virtue.” Public acknowledgement of sin, pledges of a devotion to Christ as the redeemer of sins, and efforts to bring other sinners to Christ are all paths to redemption. The greatest sinners, and those upon whom sins weigh most heavily (in large part because they have internalized the religion’s moral code), are often the most profuse in their public acknowledgements, most intense in their pledges, and most driven in their evangelizing efforts. This is what produces types epitomized in fiction by Elmer Gantry, and in real life by the likes of Jimmy Swaggert. Bible thumpers in public, drunkards and perverts in private.

For many Muslims, martyrdom in jihad against infidels is a path to redemption of sin. Many strongly believe that dying while killing in the name of Allah is a get out of hell free card.

This comes to mind after reading a story about the mass murderer in Nice, who was apparently violent, a drug abuser, a man with an “out of control sexual life” (including bisexuality–with septuagenarians!), and a violator of Muslim dietary strictures. His sordid and dissolute and unobservant life is being seized upon to claim that since he “did not practice the Muslim religion,” Islam is absolved of any role in his heinous acts, and could not have been his motivation.

To the contrary. The fact that Muslims believe that martyrdom in waging jihad against infidels is a path to redemption means that a widely-held set of Islamic beliefs contributes directly to the murderous acts of  men like Mohamed Bouhlel. It is precisely those whose sins are so great who are most in need of redemption, and who are most likely to turn to suicide terrorism as a means of obtaining it. That’s a path offered to them by their culture and religion.

Such tortured individuals are the most susceptible to the proselytizing efforts of ISIS and its ilk. These are the people who are most vulnerable to online radicalization. These are the people who are the perfect prey for radical recruiters who can readily exploit the intense cognitive dissonance of the extreme sinner who wants to be a good Muslim.

I therefore hypothesize that suicide terrorists and recruits to terrorist groups will be disproportionately “bad Muslims”: criminals, heavy drug users, and sexual deviants (where deviance is defined by Muslim mores). An unsystematic recollection of some notable cases (e.g., the 911 hijackers) provides support to this hypothesis, but it deserves more systematic testing. (There is conflicting information on whether Orlando shooter Omar Mateen is consistent with they hypothesis.)*

Violent, drug abusing, sexual deviants are less of a concern when they are utterly amoral, and uninterested in redemption in the confines of any religion: they harm mainly themselves, a small circle of people around them, and sometimes an unfortunate stranger. They become dangerous when such people believe in a religion that offers redemption through violent action. Then large numbers of random strangers are at risk. Eighty-three corpses in Nice are only the most recent example of that.

Religions differ in the ways that they allow adherents to resolve the conflict between belief and sinfulness, and the way that Islam allowed Mohamed Bouhlel to resolve his conflict poses a grave risk to the societies in which men like him live. Europe generally, and France in particular, are at great risk because they have large populations of young, unattached, and alienated Muslim men with high rates of criminality, drug abuse, and other anti-social behaviors. Combined with ubiquitous online proselytization and a network of (often very ascetic) recruiters (including recruiters in prison), this is a combustible mix. This population isn’t going anywhere, and in fact is growing due to Europe’s immigration choices, economic malaise, and demonstrated incompetence at integrating immigrants. Islam isn’t going anywhere either, and shows no signs of leaving behind martyrdom as a path to redemption. To the contrary, Wahhabism and other fundamentalist strains of Islam are ascendent, due in no small part to massive Saudi spending to spread them.

Connect these dots, and you draw a very disturbing picture. Neither of the two things that combine to create terrorism are readily amenable to change, and if anything appear to be growing in virulence. That portends ill for the future, not just in France, but world-wide.

* There can be another causal mechanism that would create such a correlation. A game theoretic explanation of strictures against suicide in Catholicism where sins can be absolved by confession is that absent eternal damnation for suicide, one could commit mortal sins to one’s heart’s content, confess, commit suicide immediately afterward, and go to heaven. Thus, damnation for suicide is necessary to make afterlife punishments for other sins a credible deterrent when confession absolves sins. If martyrdom while committing a terrorist act absolves one for other sins, the punishments for these other sins are less credible, and they are more likely to be committed, and martyrdom through violence is also more likely.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. That isn’t really an accurate description for Catholicism. The Sacrament of Penance is not some kind of legal trick where if you say the right words God can’t help but let you off scot-free since you out maneuvered Him. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.”

    Comment by ThomasL — July 19, 2016 @ 9:12 pm

  2. ThomasL:

    Not the Professor’s point. It is not what God will do logically, but what the sinner will THINK He will do, that will determine the ultimate choices of the individual toiling on this Mortal Coil. Very rationally put.

    Nicely put, professor.

    Right when Vlad has him pigeon-holed, SWP accelerates along a new tangent.

    VP VVP

    Comment by Vlad — July 19, 2016 @ 9:45 pm

  3. Professor, did you read about the Turkish commander of the Incirlik airbase? Allegedly, in the aftermath of the coup, he asked the US for asylum and the Obama administration refused. Now he’s likely to face torture and the death penalty. I’ve been listening to the speeches at the Republican convention, and not a word was said about this.

    Comment by aaa — July 19, 2016 @ 10:05 pm

  4. @aaa-Yes I did. Hope to write about Turkey tomorrow.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2016 @ 10:50 pm

  5. I think you give too much, way too much credit to the internal logic of religion, whether Christian or Islam.

    Thinking people, reflective people spend a long time musing on issues like virtue, vice, redemption and salvation. Scumbag petty criminals most probably do not. Not even for an instant even if they are acquainted with the core texts (which they probably are not). I think a simpler explanation is in order.

    The Nice mass murderer was a scumbag, a petty thief and butch enough to beat up his wife.He knows he’s a scumbag, his acquaintances know it too. He’s right at the bottom of the well as far as status and esteem is concerned. Killing a bunch of people is his chance to pole-vault himself in an instant into the elevated ranks of heroic warriors for Islam. You might not consider him a hero, I might not. But he figured there is at least a sizable minority of individuals – whom he doesn’t know and has never met – who will laud his ‘achievement’ -a ‘community’of radicals who if they had known him would have had only contempt for his debauched life. Not salvation or redemption but status and ‘respect’.

    The closest parallel in modern experience might be to the Black Panther movement which elevated pimping, drug-dealing and extortion to heroic acts of warfare against the “Man”.

    If I am correct, this is the scariest element of the Nice attack. In French parlance mass murder becomes an act of existential despair and desperate self-affirmation against the anomie of petty criminality. Camus would have had a field day. God help us all.

    Comment by Simple Simon — July 20, 2016 @ 3:05 am

  6. Very good theory, sounds plausible.
    What do you mean when you say “europe’s demonstrated incompetence at integrating..”? is it really Europe’s fault?
    Where do you see societies successfully integrating this type of immigrant?
    Those types of immigrants that are successful in the Us are also successful here, eg Persians who came to Austria (of whom I happen to know a few) are highly successful and very well percieved (ironically, they are often more worried about the recent developments than autochonous Austrians)…
    Certainly the US has its own type of integration problems. From an Austrian perspective there is not much difference between France and the US …

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — July 20, 2016 @ 4:05 am

  7. As an evangelical Christian I disagree with some of your analysis. Fundamentally we believe that salvation is found only through accepting Christ as our Savior and recognizing that we are brought into relationship with God through Christ, who redeemed us through his sacrificial death. Public acknowledgment of sin and bringing other sinners to Christ are not paths to redemption. The essence of the Christian’s relationship with God and Christ is love and acceptance. It is through this relationship and the support of other Christians that we are able to defeat our fears and foibles. You might be amazed at the number of rational and discerning folks who are not “bible thumpers in public” but are active followers of Christ!

    In contrast, Islam is a religion of violence. I refer you to the book The Mind of Terror by Taas Saada for further insights into what motivates these terrorists.

    Comment by MEWZ — July 20, 2016 @ 11:36 am

  8. I think you’re on to something, SWP.
    Since the USSR gave psychiatric clinics a bad name France has closed most of its criminal wards. The result is hundreds of disturbed youth rattling around the prison system. Almost literally rattling, as French docs give out pills like M&Ms.
    Low self esteem (well earned!), cynical recruiters and a belief in talking rocks or 72 virgins beaming at you from out space…. You know the rest.

    This surely is a classic Bayes Theorem problem?
    You have the true positives (bad guys, lock ’em up). You have the false positives (innocent guys, it’s against all our principles to lock them up).
    You have a vast population (near 2 million in France) in various stages of sympathy, assimilation, etc.
    In this population you have a lot of false negatives.More than the security services can handle at present.
    But we now have an expanding data base of these false negs who go on to terrorism. We can therefore quantify the signs, as e.g.
    1. recidivist delinquence
    2. which prison
    3. arranged marriage + divorce
    4. drug taking, prescription or not
    5. irregular employment history
    6. subsidised housing
    7 et al
    all the way down to taste in music, sport etc. (Has there ever been a tennis playing terrorist?)
    The list above is not exclusive, of course. There may be 100 aspects which have varying predictive power.

    Comment by bloke in france — July 20, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

  9. SWP & Bloke in France:

    Bloke ‘sees’ Street’s raise, & raises him one further. Vlad ‘checks.’

    Fascinating discussion.

    VP VVP

    Comment by Vlad — July 21, 2016 @ 10:56 am

  10. @Bloke-

    Bayes Theorem is exactly how I look at these things. Yes, I think that a systematic predictive approach–profiling, if you will–is essential.

    It is also necessary to think more deeply than we have so far about the costs of false positives vs. the cost of false negatives.

    Adapting this analytical approach would help cut through all the sloppy (and emotionally driven) thinking about these basic subjects. This requires first and foremost a willingness to confront uncomfortable realities. Your list is a good start.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2016 @ 8:24 pm

  11. @Viennacapitalist. Thanks.

    No country has an unblemished record of integrating immigrants, but historically the US has been vastly more successful than any other country on earth, particularly considering the numbers that have flowed here over the years.

    The US has been less successful in recent years, but in large part that has been due to a rejection of the model of integration that worked for almost two centuries. Rather than emphasizing assimilation, the multiculturalist model heightens division and difference.

    Even so, the integration of Asian (Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese) populations and Indians has been remarkable. Latin Americans have also had considerable success it integrating into American economic and social life, although there are more unintegrated Latinos than Asians, Indians, etc.

    Look, I live in Houston, which has immigrants from all over the world. I teach at a university which is minority majority, and see immigrants and children of immigrants from virtually every culture around the world fitting in just fine.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2016 @ 8:40 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress