Dangerous Devotion

On Sunday our local newspaper ran another story on the couple who perpetrated the mass killing in San Bernardino.  The headline echoed many headlines I’ve found online, about how the woman in the attack had become “more devout” in recent years.  It’s a very vague way of talking, and a dangerous one.

Devotion is not a bad thing.  You should be devoted to your spouse.  You might demonstrate devotion to a dying parent.  Parents should be devoted to their children.  Likewise, religious devotion is not a bad thing.  But I suspect that headlines such as these are painting a picture of religious devotion as bad and dangerous.

A distinction needs to be made between devotion and what or who someone is devoted to.  Devotion can be misplaced.  Deep love and respect can be misdirected and therefore misused.  This does not mean that devotion is bad.  It does not mean that religion is bad.  It simply recognizes that we are fallible.  Belief and devotion in and of themselves do not ensure that we have not been misled into wrong ways of thinking and being.  It’s why I get so irritated at the silly, cotton-candy talk about believing in something as though the act of believing is what matters.  I can believe that I can fly, but that is a dangerous belief if I ever put it into action.  If I never put it into action, it isn’t much of a belief.

So the fact that the woman shooter had become more devout is not a problem in and of itself.  What is problematic is what she apparently was becoming more devoted to – an ideology and theology that permits and justifies and even actively demands violence from adherents.

So be cautious as you read these headlines and stories.  The fact that this woman began to take her religion  very seriously is not in and of itself a bad thing.  The bad thing is that the religion she took seriously led her to seriously respond to a call for violence and bloodshed.  Let’s not be stupid and focus on the fact that she began wearing a headscarf.  If she did so, it is likely because she learned that this was part of her religion, part of the text she believed was given by God.  It is this same text that she undoubtedly came to believe was calling her to violence.  It is not her devotion that was wrong, it was placing her devotion in a book that led her to violent actions.

More and more I’ll expect to see religious devotion of any kind treated with growing suspicion and even hostility by the secular press.  We’ve heard stories already about how Christians are being equated in some quarters as equivalent to al-Quaeda (slide 24 – this is allegedly a training presentation for US military personnel).  Don’t mistake devotion for danger until you know who or what someone is devoted to.

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