REVIEW: Terror in the Name of God. Why Religious Militants Kill


By Jessica Stern. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2003. 368 pages.


Those who support the current US administration's views about a global American empire; the demonization of terrorists and major efforts to hunt down and eradicate them will not suffer Jessica Stern gladly.

Those who are inclined to discount all religion because of its inherent dangers and destructive excesses won't likely benefit much from reading her either. Terrorism and religion can be a deadly mix. We have come to assume that the response to violence is more violence and that not all who declare faith in God are god human beings.

Stern, on a quest part spiritual and part academically focused on terrorism, decided to listen to and come to know some religious terrorists first hand. She wanted to learn why evil for them has become banal and why they see nothing wrong with killing in the name of God and political expediency. She determined that to empathise with evildoers is not the same as to sympathise with those whose skewed moral distinctions allow ends to justify means. The author is a prominent U.S. lecturer who teaches courses on themes related to her book Terror in the Name of God at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She researches, interviews, and writes about terrorists to better understand what makes them tick. She has discovered common terrorist thought and behaviour patterns, the world over.

Stern would like to rid humanity of all terror in the name of God but she concludes that will not happen as a result of military force. She has long sought an innovative antidote to religious terrorism; that deadly concoction, that oxymoron of sorts. To find some answers, she combines spiritual breadth, psychological depth and forensic scholarly vigor. Her primary recommendation seems, at first hearing, to be almost naive. She proposes that we must view evil differently. "Any creative encounter with evil," she learns from author Kathleen Norris (Cloister Walk) "requires that we not distance ourselves from it by simply demonizing those who commit evil acts. In order to write about evil, a writer has to try to comprehend it, from the inside out…"

Elaine Pagels (Adam, Eve and the Serpent) has explored the development of Satan, that classic religious characterization of evil, with his roots in the Hebrew Bible. From Pagels Stern learned that the evolving image of Satan served "to confirm for Christians their own identification with God and to demonize their opponents – first other Jews, then pagans, and later dissident Christians called heretics…"

Satan, our shadow side, exists within each of.

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