Type to search

Spirituality vs. Religious Extremism, Part II

Spirituality vs. Religious Extremism, Part II

In my previous article I alluded to my book When God Becomes a Drug (1998) in which I placed religious extremism in the context of fanatical, addictive behavior. It was dangerous then, and with the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS, it is far more dangerous now.


In the book I said, 


Religious addiction is built on absolute, unquestioning, uncritical acceptance of a set of teachings. On this foundation abuses are committed in the name of God. The key ingredients are fear, shame, power, and control. No matter what the religion or belief system, fear and shame are manipulated by those wanting power and control (Booth, 1998).


This is certainly true when we consider and analyze ISIS. It is a terrorist group that openly calls for violence, in the name of Islam, and seeks to justify its claims with sacred texts. This is theological terrorism; theological genocide. The victims include Muslims who do not agree with them, adulterers, homosexuals, and those who have rejected Islam.


What is happening today cannot be compared with the Christian crusades that happened in the 13th century. The leaders of ISIS wish to take law and order back to the 7th century! Consider the insanity of this proclamation. It is religious abuse and religious fanaticism (addiction) at its most extreme.


So what can be done?


I do not believe this ideology can be defeated on the battlefields of the Middle East. Only precise and interpretive theological education, alongside the battle of ideas, will defeat ISIS. A massive Islamic intervention is needed that challenges this toxic and destructive behavior and confronts the denial of the more moderate Muslims, who seem to be acting as if, over time, this religious fanaticism will simply disappear. 


In my earlier article I wrote about how Christianity, especially during the time of the crusades, had to experience a Reformation followed by an age of Enlightenment in order to move away from religious texts and teachings that promoted persecution, violence, and death. As President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast, “Remember that during the crusades and the inquisition people did terrible deeds in the name of Christ” (“Remarks by,” 2015).  


Well, that was then. Such teachings and behaviors are no longer tolerated. This same theological cleansing is now needed in Islam. 


What Needs to Happen?


Firstly, the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world need to be involved in the battle of ideas to move the young and uneducated followers of ISIS away from toxic texts that only feed hate and persecution. The enlightened Mullahs who say publicly that they repudiate the insane and corrupt teachings of ISIS need to clearly explain why such teachings are anathema to Islam. If ISIS is allowed to teach and preach with only Western criticism, then we will be brushed aside as the protestations of “mere infidels.” This public repudiation needs to be done quickly, with a worldwide concerted effort—TV, newspapers, and informative videos.


Secondly, it is not enough to say that the Islamic religion has been “hijacked” by Muslim extremists. It’s not true that Islam has only peaceful, tolerant texts and teachings from the prophet Mohammed. As with Judaism and Christianity, which also has violent and death threatening texts, a theological evolvement took place and such teachings are no longer emphasized or are placed in their historical context. Not everything that is written is true or acceptable. Islamic scholars need to clearly interpret, and in some cases repudiate, texts that encourage violence and persecution.


Muslims need to understand that the prophet Mohammed himself went through a process of change; from persecuting nonbelievers in his early mission in Mecca to political violence and death to the infidels in Medina. The teachings of the Shahada that states “I witness that there is no God except Allah and that Muhammad is a messenger of Allah” is dangerous if not interpreted. It cannot be as simple as “Submit or die!”


Lastly, as with the education of the public concerning alcoholism and other obsessive thinking, a similar process needs to take place with understanding religious extremism. Whenever religion seeks to limit or paralyze us, or is used to victimize and oppress others, then it is both dangerous and unhealthy. It’s an aspect of addictive thinking and the “substance” being used is the concept of God. 




We who write for and read Counselor magazine are familiar with compulsive and obsessive thinking that can often lead to violence and an excessive ego at the expense of others. But we have never allowed ourselves to become the prisoners of these problems; we always seek a healing solution. The “high” created by religious extremism appeals to the weak and uneducated—those who see themselves on the fringes of society with no hope for the future. This extremism thrives on victimhood. Fortunately this state of mind is not new to any of us and, as we have demonstrated with other addictions, we have the treatment, the solution, and the process for healing.


Let’s get the word out.





Booth, L. (1998). When God becomes a drug: Understanding religious addiction and religious abuse. London: SCP Ltd. 
“Remarks by the president at the national prayer breakfast.” (2015). Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast