Holy Terror! Spiritual Guides and Violence

Holy Terror! Spiritual Guides and Violence January 12, 2015

The CNN headline was jarring to anyone in spiritual leadership: “The Paris terrorists were connected to an al-Qaeda spiritual mentor.” As if it could be possible for any spiritual guide from any religion to advise his or her students to commit violence.

Of course anyone can claim to be a spiritual mentor. Just like anyone can claim the title of spiritual director or spiritual companion. There are lots of narcissistic people in the world who would love to have the power to tell you and others like you what to do. The acts of terrorism that occurred last week in Paris have nothing to do with a healthy spirituality. Nor are they an indictment of any one religion, particularly Islam. What those mentors were teaching was violence not spirituality.

Most of us seeking spiritual guidance will never cross paths with spiritual mentors quite as heavy-handed as al-Qaeda’s. But the fact that the terrorists’ teacher was called “spiritual mentor” means it’s time to set the record straight on what healthy spiritual guidance looks like.

Let’s start with what it is not.

  • Healthy spiritual guidance does not ever condone, suggest or inspire violence. It will not even support violent language much less acts of violence or terror.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance does not insist on its own way. It is not dogmatic or pushy.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance is not a “power over” relationship.

If you find yourself with any spiritual leader who acts in the above manner, get away from him or her immediately.

What is healthy guidance? These points from Pastoral Counseling teacher Howard Clinebell’s writings on healthy religion sum it up best. (For more on this check out http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=419&C=254)

  • Healthy spiritual guidance builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance fosters a sense of trust and relatedness to the universe.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance stimulates inner freedom and reduces dependency.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance helps a person move from a sense of guilt to forgiveness.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance promotes a person’s enjoyment of life.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance handles the vital energies of sex and aggression in constructive ways.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance encourages the acceptance of reality and intellectual honesty in the face of doubts.
  • Healthy spiritual guidance emphasizes love rather than fear.

These are excellent tests to determine if a person calling himself a spiritual leader is worth spending time with. The spiritual mentor to the Paris terrorists didn’t even pass the first test.

For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, please check out my website.


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