Terror: Religion as excuse or as motive?

Mikael Hertig (c)


In our secularized world, mythology might be mixed in culture without people consider their own system of beliefs religious. It is my impression that Danes are deeply rooted in myths about democracy as something special Danish. Almost all of the positive values in the world they believe as being of Danish origin. Denmark almost won WW2, the Danish Freedom fighters were of great importance.

Most of the Danes consider themselves atheists, but 75 % have decided to stay in the public church. This leads apparently to the impression that being religious is wrong. Religion is the real cause of war. Out of this many come to the conclusion: If all people could get rid of religion, peace would come to our time.


It is rather common in modern right wing political rethoric to see Islam as the real motive behind Terrorism.

In this essay, I will try to discuss if religion as motive or as excuse at several levels.

What is religion?
It is common to define ‘religion’ as the “belief there is a god or gods” [Oxford Advanced Learner]. You might add up to this definition various practicing rituals. And you will be in the middle of the common understanding of what religion is.

Because of the secularization I consider this definition somewhat old-fashioned.  To me, the difference between ‘religion’ and ‘mythology ‘ is narrowing almost to nothing. While all people have mythology of some sort built in their explanations they don’t necessarily have to consider themselves religious in the old fashioned way.  This leads to absurd and irrelevant questions: “Do you really believe God exists in reality?” The modern atheist claims perhaps that the Bible is man made, including revelation.

We need a new definition.

“‘Mythos is a Greek word meaning ‘narrative’ (or ‘story’). Specially it is used about the legend, the Greek as other people have told about ancient times as an explanation to the origin of the world, where the human comes from, where to come after the death and why life shapes as it does.”
Henrik Hertig, “Mythology of the Antique”, Copenhagen 1961. (Translated here by me)

This definition of mythology might be helpful. It leaves us a new questions:

Is transcendency  necessary as element in any religion? Or told in another way:
Should it be necessary to answer to the traditional question setting up belief and knowledge as alternatives?

My answer to this is: No, transcendency is not so crucial. And no: Superstition is not a defining element to establishing religion in a broader sense. Conflicts between scientific knowledge and religious belief my occur. But a religion might be religion without claiming anything conflicting with contemporary knowledge.

I think that if a person grows up in an Islamic country among islamists, he or she will internalize a lot of values and norms. As norms are social phenomena, we have to disinguish between belief (which human ideas the man or the woman has in head)  and behaviour.
This connection between mind and behaviour in a culture constitutes the norms in society in a broader sense.

As myself claiming to be some sort of a Christian I am often confronted with people claiming that I should be believing in God as described by the normal definition.

I don’t consider my way of being Christian peculiar. I think really many Christians are belivers just as me. The presentation is necessary to avoid mistakes in the discussion below.

According to Immanuel Kant, man has to think with some categories a priori  just to sort impression and understanding impressions from senses to reflect and shape both a set of values and a picture of the physical world. To these a priory man made a  priory tools we have time, space, mathematics, logic.  The a priory categories are tools  to reflect and organize and process  impressions in human brain  to be able to understand the world and the social norms the human lives in.  Religion is just like time and series of numbers such an a priory category. It gives no sense to ask if Little Red Riding Hood exists in “reality”. We have to do with a fairy tale. She exists in minds to whom the story is told. When organizing our minds as social beings we use our more or less common religion to maintain our social behaviour.

Now, my new definition of ‘religion’ can be presented:

Religion is a set of  a priori myths connected to a culture it blossoms in.

According to this, the difference between culture and religion is  dissolved. It gives no sense to divide people in religious and non religious. When analyzing connection between specific religious or cultural imaginations and terror, you will have to focus at social background and psychological characteristics – when looking at the indivvidual level.

When looking at Islamic State it may give some sense to evaluate if this originazation first of all is ‘islamic’?
According to definition, DAESH is a radical sunni muslim organization.

   Rational wiki writes as follows:

“A crucial factor in the emergence of DAESH was the chaos, power vacuum, and the subsequent discriminatory Shi’a-dominated government backed by the US and its Coalition in the wake of the second Iraq war. The corrupt government led by Nouri al-Maliki alienated and disenfranchised huge portions of Iraqi Sunni populations, despite US attempts to increase Sunni involvement in the government such as the Sunni Awakening. In an interview with CNN, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, during whose tenure the UK joined the US in the invasion, was asked whether the invasion had been the “principal cause” of the rise of DAESH. Blair candidly replied: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”[8] At the second Democratic Debate of presidential candidates for the 2016 U.S. election, Bernie Sanders declared: “I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely … and led to the rise of al-Qaeda and to ISIS.”[9]


It is obvious that the normal description leads to many other aspects than just religion. DAESH emerged under special political conditions after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Of course this does not exclude that the former sunni generals and elite in Iraq did go for some sort of revenge. After all, when it comes to this, strategical political thinking is much more necessary than just practising some sort of Islam.

It should also be observed that wahhabism is a part of the religious orientation of DAESH. As wahhabism has its roots in Saudi Arabia this might underline the impression that into some part at least IS is economically dependant on Saudi Arabia, the first country outside United States POSAD visited.

Generally spoken, we have had so many examples that some maniacs suddenly recruited and converted to Islamic state. Before they were criminals. Smoking pot and drinking alcohol. Very useful for generals who do certainly not want to commit suicide-

As my knowledge is very narrow and as much of the stuff has been processed by the press before presented to me I just want the public and the political European environment to reflect more deeply on motives, recruitment, radicalisation in psychological context instead of defocusing on religion as the only cause of islamic terror.

By the way, Breivik.






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