19 April 2011
Seems like a plausible thesis: That religious identity and the fervor which it has undertaken in parts of the world is a reaction to a perceived threat to identity and individual meaning. It is a lot more comfortable to "find" meaning by having someone else tell you what it is I suppose, and much easier to make sense of the behavior of "others" when you belong to a firmly set group holding strict ideas. I think this method is lazier and often leads to a lot of sloppy thinking (plus inherently leads to tribalism), but then again, most people do not do a whole lot of existential questioning of their lives and societies either.
The biggest element to all of this is the resilience, of a sort, of universalist set of values against this allergic reaction to cultural shifts that some have adopted. I'm not totally sure I buy his thesis that it's an effective response. I'd have to probably see how he lays out the case for that. But it is essentially what non-religious fundamentalist people often do, adopt an overarching view of say "tolerance" or a respect for free people's choices within some reasonable constraints and move on rather than busy themselves worrying about what everyone else is doing. The crucial part is that such a set of ideals worries less about what others are doing, but it still has to grapple with the individual's demands for status games somewhere in there. I'm not sure that his explanation is satisfactory for how to thread that needle. Nor does it seem to me that if this is already a commonly held liberal worldview, so to speak, that it would have any sensible impact upon the traditionalist worldviews that are attempting to insulate themselves against this modern global environment. I don't see a whole lot of crossover happening here already.
I'm also not convinced that the problem is worse or amplified in a social media standpoint. I think the problem always existed in humanity and that there are just more people in the ballgame than ever before competing for those same social accolades of status. The ballgame is different than just "valedictorian at your high school" or something like that from the previous generations, sure. I don't see how that intensifies the problem. It would seem like that means there are more winners (and more losers), but that there are more opportunities as well to get back into the "game".
The most convincing thread of his thought is the explanation for things like suicide bombing (along with other acts of isolationist violence engaged in by fundamentalists, like murdering doctors for example). A desire for immortality that is so powerful it leads us to completely devalue life itself? ....And to wonder that I called that whole afterlife concept the most pernicious aspect of religious dogma and theology.