When I was about twenty years old, I went to a Christian worship concert. "Worship," as it is often referred to in Evangelical circles, is a central component of the faith - both for theological reasons (it holds great value in Christian theology) and also, on varying levels, for practical reasons.
When I was a believer, I was always self conscious about participating in these worship sessions. They felt supremely garish and uncool, and for that reason, I was rarely able to sublimate myself to the moment and allow it to overtake me. In general, most people aren't, except under very specific circumstances.
When I was twenty years old, I went to a concert by David Crowder Band, a Christian worship band, and I lost myself in this song:
I remember swaying at the front of the auditorium, caught in a trance. I felt part of something larger, something bigger than myself, and at the time, it was was one the most meaningful experiences I had ever had.
I knew what I believed to be true. I knew it deep inside of my bones.
I could scarcely explain this experience to one of my secular, progressive friends today without them looking at me like I was insane.
"You had to be there," I would say.
So what does this have to do with cutting people's heads off?
When analysts offer up a legion of socio-political reasons as to why young, disaffected youths travel to the Middle East so they can wage jihad and kill infidels, they often neglect the component of meaning when they proffer up a list of motivations. And meaning is transmuted through a number of different means, chief among them: achieving transcendence in a group-like setting that primes the brain to reach altered states of consciousness, a state of religious ecstasy (and to be fair, Captagon probably helps, too). Going to war with your comrades on behalf of God surely counts among such experiences.
Ask yourself: what is like to be a jihadist? What is it like on the inside?
Westerners find the motivation behind recruitment to be based purely on some element of disenfranchisement or the like - but that's not the entire story. Have you ever seen Star Wars? Would you ask yourself why Luke joined the Rebel Alliance to go fight the evil Galactic Empire? Of course not.
Deep in the throes of killing their enemies, oppressing religious minorities, and executing civilians, I can assure you that these people experience deep, transcendental forms of meaning. For many of them, it is the most important thing they have ever done.
Self transcendence is a powerful drug, and an inherently amoral one, because one man's vision of morality can vary widely from another's.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis