Feb. 20, 2015
In the New York Times, David Brooks asserts that followers of ISIS are looking for purpose, fulfillment, and destiny, and that attempting to address these needs with materialistic solutions misses the mark. In order to lessen the appeal of ISIS, Brooks suggests, its followers must be offered an even greater opportunity for fulfillment:
"[P]eople don't join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits."
"They're not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They are doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation."
"You can't counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision. . . . Terrorism will be defeated only when they find a different fulfillment, even more bold and self-transcending."
He's right about all of that.
But he's wrong about the solution:
"[Nationalism has offered that compelling vision. We sometimes think of nationalism as a destructive force, and it can be. But nationalism tied to universal democracy has always been uplifting and ennobling. It has organized heroic lives in America, France, Britain and beyond."
Brooks proposes that followers of ISIS "will walk away when they can devote themselves to a revived Egyptian nationalism, Lebanese nationalism, Syrian nationalism, some call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime."
Perhaps, though unlikely. And ultimately, it is only a half-solution to their real need.
Nationalism alone does not appeal to humanity's deepest spiritual needs -- which transcend life on earth and mere physical existence. These young followers know, at some level, that there's more to life than the here and now. Many of us know that too. The followers of ISIS already have an "explanation" for life after death. Nationalism would seem bland and unappealing to them, for it only addresses earthly purpose, earthly satisfaction, and earthly fulfillment.
The answer for followers of ISIS is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who offers all human beings (regardless of skin color, ideology, political party, nationality, prior life choices, or past faith) the chance for complete devotion, both in the here and ever after: "My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. . . . my Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). He says to us, "if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it" (Matthew 16:25). For "this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever" (1 John 2:17).
How can we have this assurance?
"For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Only Jesus offers all human beings the chance to completely fill all our human longings and desires, for he offers the chance for complete devotion in response to his complete sacrifice for our complete salvation, beginning now and continuing ever after into eternity. Only in Jesus does death have no power, for he already defeated death for us.
David Brooks properly identifies the problem, but he misses the (ultimate) solution.