Ed Yong with something close to my heart.
Together, these four studies – three survey analyses and one experiment – contradict the idea that religious belief and devotion in themselves are the driving force behind the suicide bombing mindset. Nor is this mindset exclusive to Islam, as the third and fourth experiments show. Instead, it seems that the link between religion and suicide attacks is more to do with collective rituals. Ginges’s theory is that these rituals strengthen an individual’s loyalty to a community, but risk hardening their hearts against outsiders. That’s certainly a reasonable interpretation but it’s worth noting that religious services are complicated affairs, which have many sides to them besides group behaviour. People who worship en masse may get very different perspectives on their faiths that those who pray alone don’t, and this study doesn’t really take that into account.
What I’d be interested in seeing — and I suspect it would be borne out — is if the suicidal mindset also exists among those in collectivist secular societies. Communism and fascism had plenty of people willing to kill or die on its behalf. And race has been as powerful a motivator for bloodshed as religion, if not more so. After all, to go the Godwin route, the Third Reich’s persecution of Jews was far more racial than it was religious. Hitler’s writings were far more focused on how the Jews physically repulsed him than on any aspect of the faith.
I have long believed the religion is primarily the excuse for evil behavior, be it wars, genocide, suicide bombing or oppression. Nice to see at least a little bit of support from the sociologists.