Sacred Terror: How Faith Becomes Lethal

By Daniel E. Price | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Psychological Causes
of Religion-Based Terrorism

A simple and straightforward explanation of religion-based terrorism is that it is related to the nature of the individuals who engage in holy wars. It could be that religion-based terrorists are much more likely to be psychopaths than other individuals or share a common psychological profile. Since religion-based terrorism is deviant behavior, it would make sense that those who kill in the name of religion have deviant personalities. As detailed in the discussion of the political causes of religion-based terrorism in chapter 3, some experts, politicians, and pundits believe that groups such as al Qaeda and Hamas and individuals such as Baruch Goldstein are motivated by pure rage and a desire to kill as many people as people. At the same time, suicide bombers choose, often with joy and eager anticipation, to take their own lives along with those of their victims. Killing for the sake of killing and suicide are suggestive of profound mental illness.

This chapter will discuss possible personal and psychological determinants of religion-based terrorism. First, I will discuss the notion that religion-based terrorists are psychopaths or clinically insane. Then, I will consider whether there is a profile for religion-based terrorists. Then, I will consider the utility of various psychological explanations of terrorism in the explanation of contemporary religion-based violence. Then, I will explore the connection between religion and the techniques that terrorists use to rationalize and justify their violence. Finally, I will discuss how being part of a group influences individual behavior. Group psychology is important because an overwhelming majority of terrorists are members of terrorist organizations rather than lone wolves acting on their own, which suggests that

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