Several factors probably help us understand why a desperate individual might choose to be a suicide bomber and blow themselves up to murder others – a history of exploitation by Western powers, Israel’s existence, government oppression, poverty, lack of education, and alienation.
But what some fanatical preachers tell young people about their destiny is also a factor. Each jihadist suicide bomber believes God gives huge rewards lasting to eternity in return for what is seen as a rightful act of self-sacrifice.
What is wrong with this view? Why do most of us sense that it is so tragically mistaken? What spiritual teaching can throw light on this delusion?
The suicide bomber expects to be rewarded by God
A common idea of God is one of love, compassion and mercy. How could such a God actually want to reward anyone for blowing up innocent bystanders with all the carnage this produces and the suffering for loved ones? Surely, the message of love is if you don’t like someone, you try to tolerate rather than harm them?
In any case isn’t it rather a selfish thing to act for a reward? Spiritually developed people tend to do things that are good for the sake of others rather than from self-interest.
The suicide bomber expects God to forgive his or her sins
The belief is that, as a martyr, one will not be punished for any wrongdoing one happens to have done throughout one’s life and forgiven as if nothing had happened.
It seems a bit rich for the suicide bomber, who acknowledges sin, to nevertheless plan to do an enormous act of evil and expect to have his or her slate magically wiped clean without feeling any contrition. Isn’t it realised that not feeling sorry for one’s misdeeds and continuing to behave unethically creates a barrier between oneself and the sense of feeling forgiveness? As if the ideas of right and wrong are just a set of rules to be ignored or blindly obeyed.
I would suggest to enjoy a deeply happy life you need to face up to your conduct, and not only acknowledge bad mistakes but seek to rectify them. I believe when we act ethically – that is when we consider the need of others and not just of ourselves, when we do helpful things rather than only acting out of self-interest, and when we try to tolerate our enemies rather than attack them – then we can feel a delightful state of peace and contentment.
‘What we intend for others, we create for ourselves.’ (Roger Walsh, spiritual writer)
The suicide bomber expects to be ‘crowned with glory’
Jahad is about ruling the world, compelling non-Muslims to embrace Islam, or to force them to accept second class status. The suicide bomber wants to be ‘crowned with glory’. He apparently loves the notion of being like an army general returning home after his conquests. In the next life he or she wants praise, admiration, social distinction and all the expensive trappings of status. But spiritual writers usually say that true happiness instead comes from a humble spirit. This is a humility that acknowledges that all that is good and true comes from something beyond ourselves – a higher spiritual source who alone deserves tribute.
‘For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory‘ (Lord’s prayer)
The suicide bomber expects to be spared the ‘horror of the Day of Judgment’
The books of Emanuel Swedenborg give an alternative view to this. He claims to have had continuous consciousness of an afterlife of spirit. So he reports that when one dies, one retains self-awareness despite no longer sensing the material world. In other words, each of us is not a person because of our body but because of our spirit. According to this view, it is the spirit of a person that thinks and feels and continues to do so after death.
Swedenborg goes on to say that in the after-life, we become conscious of a ‘spiritual world’ which seems similar to the physical one. Then we retain our outward interests. Later our inner values come to the fore which previously may have been hidden. Only then does our true character begin to emerge. It is at this point, he says, that we want to separate from those who do not share our concerns. Instead we associate with inwardly similar people.
In other words this is what religion has referred to as judgement. In the light of what is true about oneself, one judges with whom one feels more at home. One will in effect make a self-judgment of one’s inner self – whether selfish or unselfish, kind or cruel, good or bad. Such an evaluation may turn out extremely uncomfortable for those who have been deluded about themselves. It is true that God spares no-one from this experience because in this way those of like character can associate together and separate from those who do not share their basic attitude.
The suicide bomber expects to have a place reserved in paradise.
A man having sex with lots of ‘beautiful virgins’ seems the opposite of the spiritual ideal. Would worldly pursuits as a main focus not all become boring? If so, this would surely be the case whether the preoccupation was with sex, food, partying, or sport.
If heaven exists then surely the main thing is a spiritual life rather than a hedonistic one. Bodily pleasures may not be bad in themselves and have their rightful place. However, the teaching of the gospels is that the essence of heavenly life is doing what is right by others.
“Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.” (Gospel of Luke)
How different this is from the notion of an afterlife focused on bodily pleasure!
The suicide bomber expects places in paradise also reserved for relatives
Doesn’t our future destiny depend on the kind of person we each inwardly choose to become? If so, then it is surely not possible for some power to transfer this destiny to others. We wouldn’t expect our future after death to depend on the actions of one individual in this life.
Conclusion about the suicide bomber
How do you think about those who have caused so much suffering, if they have themselves been victims of brainwashing?
“It is easier to see a suicide bomber as a 21st-century Manchurian Candidate – a soulless, robotic shell of a person programmed to wreak destruction – than it is to picture a flesh-and-blood human being doing the damage” (Stephen Holden film critic)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands
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