The Illusion of Conviction

The Illusion of Conviction July 28, 2016

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Why terrorism is driven more by insecurity than conviction.

History’s Misconception

From the inception of human civilization, there have been groups of people who think that killing those who are opposed to their ideology is one of the greatest signs that they have conviction in their worldview being true. Some of the most famous examples of this way of thinking took place during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany. In recent decades, this idea has been championed by Islamic terrorists.

Because it is such a radical act of devotion, it does seem that being willing to die in order to kill those who are opposed to their worldview is a sign of strong conviction. But I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions of history.

Terrorists definitely think that their beliefs are the truth. People are generally not willing to kill themselves and others for something that they believe is false. But, even though these actions may be done out of strong conviction on a conscious level, I believe that they are done out of a deeply imbedded insecurity concerning the credibility of their beliefs on a subconscious level.

The Truth about Truth

The 17th Century English historian, Thomas Fuller, once wrote, “Truth fears no trial.” In other words, truth, regardless of the discipline (whether it be physics, biology, theology, politics or any other subject), wants to be taken to court and challenged by the whole world. The reason is because by being challenged, the truth is able to more greatly separate itself from all the false theories.

The 18th century American political activist, Thomas Paine, once wrote, “It is error only, not truth, which shrinks from inquiry.” In other words, only false ideas fear being put to the test because by being challenged they might be exposed as fraud.

A person who kills someone because that person disagrees with a particular ideology is sending one clear message above all else. That message is that they fear letting their beliefs go up against all the other theories on the basis of reason and evidence alone because, by those standards, the person does not think their ideology could compete.

The Difference between Conviction and Dogma

After college, I spent a year as the personal assistant to an author and speaker named Josh McDowell. Every day, McDowell would encourage crowds to challenge all authority and consider nothing sacred until they had thoroughly tested it for themselves.

That message might sound radical. It sounds even more radical once it is known that Josh McDowell is a Christian. Most people probably would not expect a preacher to tell crowds to challenge everything, including the preacher’s own religion.

I used to be one of those people who thought that challenging anyone who questioned my beliefs was a sign of how strongly I believed my own worldview to be true. When I saw McDowell open up his own beliefs for the world to scrutinize, I finally realized the difference between conviction and dogma.

I believe that the dogmatic person tells the world NOT to challenge their beliefs because they are insecure. But the person of true conviction is so secure in their beliefs that they DEMAND that the world challenges their beliefs.

The person of true conviction does not fear their beliefs being disproven. They welcome their beliefs being refuted because if one of their views is false, they want to know so that they can discard it.

The greatest sign of conviction is not killing those who disagree with your beliefs, but welcoming those who oppose your ideology to challenge your views.

Terrorism’s Great Illusion

The American writer, Thomas Merton, once wrote, “What we pretend to be defending as ‘the truth’ is really our own self-esteem.” That defines terrorist’s great illusion. They want the world to think that by killing “infidels” they are defending truth, when in reality they are defending their own self-image. The illusion they portray is that their ideology is built on strength and conviction when the reality is that their worldview is built on insecurity and fear of their beliefs being challenged.

I do not expect a member of Boko Haram, or any other terrorist network, to read this article and have an epiphany that causes them to stop killing people who disagree with their ideology. There is a level of delusion in religious terrorists that, in most cases, cannot be penetrated. This article is more for the non-terrorist world. No matter how strong the violent action of devotion looks, do not view terrorists as people who have strong conviction in the credibility of their beliefs. At their core, I believe they are driven by insecurity.

Regarding Islamic terrorists, and all other dogmatic groups who resent having their beliefs tested, my hope is that one day they realize that the person who says you should not challenge their beliefs is the person whose beliefs you should challenge the most.

Dustin Lawson is a veteran and a former minister. 

(Photo credit: Steven DePolo via Flikr;

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