Nine years ago today almost 3,000 people died because 19 gullible young men were convinced God wished them to commit an act of unspeakable evil. Today we call these murderers “fundamentalists”, but that's probably according them a degree of systematic coherence they clearly lacked. In reality they were just another teardrop in the vast ocean of post-adolescent males who’ve been seduced by a dangerously stupid cocktail of testosterone and religious idealism. A cocktail which continues to be served unimpeded, and not just in socio-theological basket cases like Iran and Afghanistan.
Sure the after-effects are rarely so obvious: the self-righteous drinkers in Pittsburgh might not execute homosexuals as their counterparts do in Tehran, and those imbibing in the ACNA Diocese of San Joaquin might not allow their revolting misogyny to express itself as blatantly as their Taliban equivalents in Quetta (although I fear it’s only a matter of time before someone emails with news of the evangelicals of Sydney stoning women caught reading the bible aloud while clad “immodestly”), but talk to any of them privately, when their guard is down, and you’ll invariably reach the frightening conclusion that their deepest hope is it’s only a matter of time…
What’s also always the same, irrespective of the place, context, or theological rhetoric, is that those serving this nasty brew are invariably older men with little or no chance of losing that which they urge their gullible young followers to abandon for the sake of the cause/gospel/jihad/faith/whatever. Whether we’re talking about anti-social young men killing at bin Laden's sociopathic behest, or sexually insecure young men throwing away their (and their family’s) security and future in pursuit of the lie that is the Anglican schism, there’s always a group of older men urging them on in the background. Men who’ve already got their pension plans and health-care schemes sorted. Men who profess to know that God wants others to waste their lives, while resolutely holding on to their own – along with all the status and luxury they’ve accumulated along the way.
This is hardly a new phenomena: for every young Saul of Tarsus risking his life by stirring up sectarianism in the face of Caesar’s determination to enforce the Pax Romana, there was at least one older Pharisee looking on approvingly, secure in the knowledge that he’d remain safe even if his protégé did push things a little too far. And despite Christ's indisputable condemnation of those who would cause the young and naïve to stumble, the tragic pattern remains entrenched: for every immature nitwit posting bile at Stand Firm you can be certain there’s at least one senior cleric grateful he doesn’t have to get his own hands dirty throwing around the mud.
So while we pause today in remembrance of those killed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, also spare a thought for those who have died in other places and times as result of this unholy exploitation. In abhorring the mindless absolutism of Islamic extremists, let’s not lose sight of the dangerous old men in our own midst. Ridicule them, laugh at them, and use whatever democratic processes you can find to prevent them silencing the voices of wisdom, faith, and inclusion. Ignore them, and flying planes into the side of buildings, or claiming that God hates individuals on the basis of their gender or sexuality (and the even more horrific death toll ensuing), is only the beginning.