Did Religion Motivate the Boston Bombers?

Here is my latest article for the Washington Post. It analyzes the push that it was religion which motivated the Boston bombers…

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Michael

    “We can’t say that religion itself motivated the murder and maiming because there are far more religious people who do not commit terrorist outrages. Conversely, there are many non-religious people who have been guilty of genocide, terror, tyranny and torture. Religion, therefore, is not the cause.”

    I’m glad you’ve stated that because that means we can both agree on this. We can’t say that non belief in religion itself motivates murder and maiming because there are far more non-religious people who do not commit terrorist outrages. Conversely, there are many religious people who have been guilty of genocide, terror, tyranny and torture. Non belief in religion, therefore, is not the cause.

    I feel we’ve made progress.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I assume you read the whole article and also agree with me that what motivates terror and genocide is ideologies that begin with self righteous absolutism and end in violence.

    • Michael

      I agree. Ideologies that claim absolute truth and can accept no error in their beliefs and practices almost always end in violence. As an example, compare the violent results of absolute communist regimes as opposed to more flexible socialist Scandinavian countries.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Catholics may be blamed for insisting on ‘absolute truth’ and there have been Catholics who have been guilty of what I call “self righteous absolutism” which has led to violence. However, the true claim to absolute truth within Catholicism is more subtle and nuanced than this. We do claim that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that some of the truths of the Catholic faith are infallible expressions of the absolute truth.

        However, these claims are not exclusive in the way I outlined in the article. We do not automatically claim that everyone else is absolutely wrong because we are absolutely right. Instead we see that in other religions and ideologies there exists a partial expression of truth or truths that are right as far as they go, but which have been distorted or truncated. The proper Catholic response, therefore to other religions and ideologies is to seek what is beautiful, good and true about them and affirm it.

        • michael

          If I remember my Catechism, The absolute truth of God’s revelation is within the Catholic Church, all others have some partial aspect of it in various measures.

          The self righteous part of it is making the claim the one is ideology is never wrong. It’s the problem with communism, libertarianism, and most religions who sense of superiority of beliefs or actions (self righteousness) would ever admit an error in their particular “ism”.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Allow me to amplify your understanding of the Catholic understanding of absolute truth. We believe that the truth revealed by God is the absolute truth as far as it goes, but we also admit that the statements of truth revealed within the Catholic religion are limited by the language and concepts of the human mind as well as the limitations of the circumstances and cultural understandings in which they are revealed. Furthermore, we also admit that while certain absolute truths are revealed within the Catholic religion they are partial. There is always more truth to be ascertained, and there are always deeper dimensions of the revealed truth to be explicated and understood. Finally, we also admit that there are many things we do not yet understand or hold the truth for. Much remains ambitious, unresolved and open ended.

          • Michael

            And in all of that the Catholic Church has never and will never admit to an error in dogma or doctrine. Yes there are the limitations of language,cultural interpretations, abilities of the human mind and even the extent that God has revealed himself to his creation, but where from the Catholic perspective other Christian denominations have made errors, other religions have misinterpreted the revelation, not once has the Catholic Church erred in teaching of the truth.

            You decry atheist communist regimes from their self righteous absolutism and rightly so but although their source of their ideology and the contents of their truth differ radically from the Catholic Church, they do share the Church’s absolutism in doctrine. In the Church’s case it has led to violence in the past, but fortunately no serious person thinks it would now.

            But to make progress and to show faith in its charism, a bit of humility in admitting error, both in the past, currently and in the future goes a long way in eliminating the absolutism.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            The number of dogmas for which the church claims absolute truth and adherence of the faithful is very limited.

            When it comes to sinfulness of Catholics, mistakes in teachings that were not considered infallible in the first place, and violence in the enforcement of religion in the past Catholic authorities have admitted them and regretted them.

            Have any communist authorities ever expressed regret or public apologies for the millions tortured or killed? Have we any reason to think that the atrocities of atheist regimes would not be repeated, or indeed that they are not continuing at this time in Communist China, Vietnam and North Korea?

          • Michael

            You have an entire catechism in which Catholics, especially priests are expected to give assent. Can you name teaching of the Church now that is not absolute truth and open to speculation? If you can it’s at a the level of a personal devotion, like Lourdes, the Shroud, Fatima, etc.

            As for the communists it’s the totalitarian aspect of their regimes that is the problem. The same think occurred in 20th century fascist regimes and current theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia. It’s the total commitment to an absolute that brokers no dissent that is the downfall of all totalitarian ideologies.

  • Lynda

    We don’t know who the actual bombers were and may never know. There has been no independent evidence that the Tsarnaev brothers were responsible, and everything suggests otherwise. The state agencies who set up the drill, etc. were clearly going to pin it on another person/persons until the 3rd day when they decided to go with them. All the evidence points to the event being managed by CIA/FBI as per many previous documented false flag events. The lack of questioning by the MSM, the ignoring of the evidence, and the obedience to directions from Government agencies is awful. This is dictatorship.

    • Michael

      Well fortunately one bomber survived so there will be a court case. Unless he pleads guilty evidence will have to be presented in open court and a jury can make a decision. I’m sure the conspiracy crowd will link this bombing to all sorts of other events and people (has anyone suggested Hillary Clinton was behind it yet) but one hopes reasonable heads will prevail.

  • Woody

    Wow, where are you going with this? Really lost me on this one, Father!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      What is the problem?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It seems that many people caricature strong belief in one’s faith as something automatically bad and certain to eventually lead to a fanaticism that kills. However, strong “fanatical” faith can bring out the best and most “pacifiic” in people. St. Francis of Assisi was a “fanatical” pacifist. . Catholic “fanatical”saints founded hospitals and schools and cared for lepers and the poor. Built cathedrals and started universities.
    Unfortunately there seems to be a violent streak in Islam that turns a number of their strongest believers to violence and turns people away from strongly embracing any faith while blaming all religion in general for evil in the world. But we ignore the differences between religions at our peril.
    We know how Jesus’s teaching that we must love our enemies and then giving his life for others on the cross has had on many Christians to do likewise. Isn’t it likely that Mohammed’s personal order to kill 700 Jews for not joining his new religion has had a deep effect on the course of Islamic history and led to some of today’s horrors????

    • Noor

      It’s an extraordinary claim. There are many examples of Christian violence throughout history. Waging holy wars, massacring Jews and killing heretics are not peaceful actions.

      • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

        Because of the example and teachings of Christ violence clearly goes against his teachings and above all Christ’s example. ( Most of the Crusades , in spite of the lies told about them, were belated defense responses to the overruning of the Christian Middle East by Islamic fire and sword and at the pleading of Christians being overrun.) On the other hand many modern Moslems are only living up to the example of Mohammed and the way he personally treated tribes who did not want to join his religion.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I’m not sure what the difference is between an ideology and a religion. If Christianity is the Truth, then Islam is not and therefore an ideology. That’s one issue. Put that aside. Another more important issue is that not all religions profess peace and love. We Christians tend to imagine other religions as having similar core values with only the mythic part of the religion being the difference. Well that’s clearly not the case. The Aztec religion was totally based on violence and human killing. Islam is not the Azrec religion (let me be clear on that) but it isn’t necessarily built on the values of peace and pacificism. It strikes me that there is an element of violence associated with Islam. I am certainly not an expert, but William Kilpatrick, who I would say is an expert, has an excellent article where he fleshes that out. Here:
    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2218/Of_Bishops_and_Bombers.aspx#.UX6ScCvF1Vo

    • michael

      If you ask various adherents to various religions they will clearly tell you which ones are religions and which ones are ideologies.

  • Peter Brown

    I think your argument might have been stronger with more specific details, Father, particularly with respect to history. Apparently some folks, particularly in the comments at the _Post_, are having a hard time remembering Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Plutarco Elias Calles, and other mass murderers whose atrocities were based on principles that were (among other things) explicitly anti-religious.

    Peace,
    –Peter

  • Joanne

    “Allow me to amplify your understanding of the Catholic understanding of absolute truth. We believe that the truth revealed by God is the absolute truth as far as it goes, but we also admit that the statements of truth revealed within the Catholic religion are limited by the language and concepts of the human mind as well as the limitations of the circumstances and cultural understandings in which they are revealed. Furthermore, we also admit that while certain absolute truths are revealed within the Catholic religion they are partial. There is always more truth to be ascertained, and there are always deeper dimensions of the revealed truth to be explicated and understood. Finally, we also admit that there are many things we do not yet understand or hold the truth for. Much remains ambitious, unresolved and open ended.”

    Fabulous…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.grigorian.90 John Grigorian

    The atheists beat up Fr pretty good, but that’s to be expected in Wash Post. I’d like to read Father’s response to some of these comments.

    • DoctorDJ

      He deserved every last word. A very weak effort, Dwight.
      Only belief in an overseer-god can lead man to practice such inhumanity.

      • Mark Hunter

        No, it’s totalitarian ideologies that do this. If people are willing to embrace an ideology 100%, where the ideology is always right and cannot be wrong either by divine fiat in the case of religion or absolutism in the case of communism or libertarian ism then danger arises when people push it to it’s logical end.

        When you believe you have an absolute good, you will defend it at all costs.

  • http://4freedoms.com/profile/Kinana Kinana Nadir

    I was disappointed in your WaPo article because you just assert from the start that religion had nothing to do with the bombings in Boston. Because the outcome is not what you like you assume that the religion of Islam, which the bombers themselves
    assert they were obedient to, had nothing to do with it. It seems to me for you to demonstrate your point you would attempt to explain why the teachings of Islam do not in anyway support the recent bombings, and by implication, the ongoing jihad terror throughout the world.
    The fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in such activity does not seem to me an argument that Islam itself is not a factor in acts of terror. There could be other reasonable explanations for their peaceful behaviour.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    “Was it religion that drove the Tsarnaev brothers, suspecting of killing and maiming hundreds of people on a beautiful spring day in Boston?” Dunno- but I’m interested in this question:

    Did their religion dissuade, or encourage, the killers and maimers of hundreds of people on a beautiful spring day in Boston?

  • JoFro

    Would Father please read up on Islam and Muhammad! Raymond Ibrahim’s books are always a good start.


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