X-Message-Number: 19887
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 21:01:09 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Re: Religion and Terrorism

This is in response to Jeff Dee's message #19871, in response to my message 
#19867. Maybe it's worth remarking, at the outset, that the topic "religion 
and terrorism" seems relevant to cryonics, despite its peripheral nature, 
for a number of reasons. We are concerned about terrorism since it could 
threaten the survival of cryonics organizations, their patients, and 
ourselves--as well as the world at large. Religion in turn has interest 
because cryonics is compared to it, and because many people are religious 
and we worry about their reactions as well as whether we can persuade them 
to join us. There is also the issue of whether there should be a "religion" 
specifically for cryonicists and, if so, what tenets or doctrines it should 

Now, on to the main topics.

>...>>John Grigg wrote:
> >>
> >> >...there is a big
> >> > difference between the Methodist denomination and
> >> > the Taliban.
> >>
> >>Is there?
> >>
> >>Both believe that ...
> >
> > Granted, there are similarities, but this does not
> > prove there are not differences.
>John Grigg said, "There is a big difference", and he was referring to 
>their relative tendencies toward terrorist acts. Of course there are other 
>differences, but they are irrelevant to the subject at hand.

Well, clearly there *is* a "big difference"--for whatever reason. I'll 
grant that the door at least is open for "Methodists" who would act 
contrary to the current, gut-level attitudes in this denomination and start 
sponsoring violent acts. So far, thankfully, they haven't materialized. 
Under the pressures and privations found in some parts of the world, they 
could; it isn't ruled out. But to me the Taliban seemed inherently, 
especially prone to terrorism, even if you allow for the trying 
circumstances in which they flourished. This follows given the degree of 
seriousness they appeared to attach to retribution and intolerance toward 
"infidels," and their exacting, we might say, overbearing, even tyrannical 
standards. They were, in large measure, still trying to live in a world of 
the distant past, and to impose their system of rules on others. I don't 
think this is well explained purely by economic or other "secular" 
hardships--I don't see these as the main *cause* of the backward attitudes. 
Hardships are more significant, though, in *preserving* backward attitudes 
where they already exist, and in furthering the influence of their proponents.
> > It seems to me, though, that a movement doesn't have
> > to be "irrational" to inspire horrible acts
>Of course not. But religious movements ARE irrational in a way which 
>directly facilitates horrible acts, and that was my point.

I would say, not all such movements are equal in this respect, and some 
seem all but immune (Jainism, for instance, with its prohibition of killing 
sentient life forms, not just people but other creatures too). The Western 
tradition, though, has the two, very widespread religions, Christianity and 
Islam, which often fit your paradigm all too well, at least in their 
less-enlightened moments and incarnations.

> > As one case in point we can take
> > libertarianism, which is perfectly "rational" in
> > that it makes no claims of the paranormal or
> > supernatural, does not indoctrinate its followers
> > into believing unproven claims, and so on. Yet it is
> > certainly not lacking its lunatic fringe--as in the
> > case of Timothy McVeigh.
>Timothy McVeigh was a lone nut, with a couple pals. Osama Bin Laden is a 
>religious leader, with thousands of followers. Of course there is a 
>lunatic fringe to any movement, but the size (and power) of that fringe 
>MATTERS - as does the influence of the movement's core teachings on the 
>formation of that fringe.

This is a good point; libertarianism was not the best example of what I was 
looking for. A better choice would be communism, which is atheistic and 
"rational" but was also committed, almost on principle, to the use of 
force, did (and still does) number its following in the thousands-plus 
(plus, plus), and has certainly carried out what you'd call terrorism, on a 
massive and persistent scale. I suppose, to argue your case, you could 
consider communism, nonetheless, a "religion." Sometimes it has been called 
a secular religion, and the program of indoctrination that was carried out 
in communist countries (one important difference with libertarianism) has 
parallels in conventional religious extremism. But, let's face it, any 
movement that fosters terrorism will probably have these kinds of elements, 
that is to say, will exhibit a kind of "religious" extremism with beliefs 
in not-well-established claims, whether invoking the supernatural or only a 
secular world-view.

Mike Perry

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