One of the mysteries of religion is what causes some people to become what today is commonly referred to as "radicalized"?
Well, to begin, we often teach our children not to jump off cliffs just because everyone else is doing it, so we create in their heads a proper skepticism about the wisdom of the crowd. And we should continue doing that. But we also must acknowledge that it opens up the possibility that individuals may wind up rejecting conventional or traditional wisdom in all ways and, instead, going down an individual path that may lead to trouble. So we need to teach not just rejection of the thinking of the masses but discernment, too.
The question of radicalization has achieved greater prominence in this age of terrorism -- and especially in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers (pictured here) -- one now dead, one accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers.
This piece in the Jewish online magazine The Tablet tries to unpack a bit of the radicalization process that seems to have affected the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It's worth a read, but I would caution you that so far we don't have a particularly good picture of how the brothers might have moved toward violence. And we may not have such solid evidence for some time.
Still, it's worth the time to ponder how one moves from a position in the mainstream of social and religious thinking to the edges and beyond. I certainly can recall times in my younger days when such things as the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (who was my senator at the time) caused me at least to entertain the idea that perhaps a violent response would not be inappropriate. But that was just me thinking inside my head and I never came close to adopting such a position.
I've said before and still believe that how one reads scripture and how one approaches religious questions generally can have an effect on whether one becomes a radical. You won't find many abortion clinic bombers among people who understand that all religiouis language, including the Bible, is metaphorical (in part because all language is necessarily metaphorical). And yet there are many, many biblical literalists who never get close to committing violence.
So the process of radicalization is one that deserves more and closer study of followers of all religions, not just misguided Muslims like the Tsarnaev brothers.
By the way, a reporter for Newsweek decided to investigate the concept of "self-radicalization" through the Internet by going online in stealth mode for a week. To read what he discovered, click here.
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POPE SCORES ONE, SWINGS AND MISSES ONE
Two conflicting notes about the new pope: Francis just urged protection from abuse for all children, but in that plea failed to mention the church's obvious failures in this regard. He should have. When it turned out that not everyone who wanted to see the pope ride around in his popemobile greeting people Pope Francis left the Vatican and drove down a Rome boulevard to greet people. He should have -- and he did.