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Fundamentalism, Father and Son, and Vertical Desire

Ruth Stein

Paper in: Stein, Ruth (2006). The Psychoanalytic Review, 96(2), 201-229.

Ruth Stein was Associate Clinical Professor at the NYU Postdoctoral Program for Psychoanalysis. Born in Austria, she wrote extensively on affects, sexuality, perversion and fundamentalism. In addition to teaching, she practiced psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Following 9/11, Stein became deeply invested in the study of fundamentalism, utilizing Muhammad Atta’s letter to explore the motivations of his group. This interest culminated in her final book, For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism.


In this paper I describe a certain state of mind which, conjoined with cultural and group processes, leads to fundamentalism, and with further developments, to coercive and violent fundamentalism. Hallmarks of this state are a sense of utter certainty, a feeling of being in the right, hermetic consistency, and highly rhetorical reiterations of Truths. I describe how the simplification of complexities into binary oppositions (basically of good and bad) not only creates order out of chaos and vagueness, but also constitutes a “vertical” homoerotic quest for God’s love. These processes of ordering and desire are supported by the need to sacrifice, by masochism and coercion, and are enacted by increasingly severe purification processes. It is usually assumed that the religious quest is a search for meaning, but, as will hopefully become clear, this quest is at the same time a series of transformations of fear. In this latter sense, the fundamentalist state of mind originates from what may be likened to an extreme and long-extended form of what we experience at those moments and hours when anxiety and fear, or shame, overwhelm us and reduce us to helplessness, a painful sense of smallness, and the feeling of being at the mercy of greater powers than ourselves.

Basically, there are two elemental types of fear leading to fundamentalist formations: (1) fear of death, or rather, of personal annihilation (see the works of Rank, Becker, or Lifton), and (2) the fear and rage in the face of the very existence of the other human being, whose presence and intentions are experienced as an obstacle to one’s desires (Hegel, Sartre, Klein in their works develop this predicament). Fundamentalism1 would then be the quest to get rid of these experiences, or to violently transcend them. Human destructiveness and self-destructiveness is to a large extent the need to destroy these fears. Significantly, the destruction of fear and rage can be accomplished through processes of idealization and purification in whose service destructiveness is being battled, and at the same time, enacted, even worshipped.

The World is “Furiously Religious”

Recently, our awareness abruptly sharpened to the dangers of worldwide religious terrorism. The rudeness of the awakening has been proportional to the strength of the assumption that we live in a secularized world, and that religious wars are mostly a thing of the past. The view of religion as waning in the face of increasing secularization, was developed by Max Weber, the father of modern sociology, who argued that we no longer experience our world as an enchanted, divinely-conceived, grace-dispensing place, since there has been a progressive disenchantment (Entzauberung) going on in the world and in all areas of life. This thesis claims Peter Berger (1999), one of the world’s leading sociologists of religion, is patently false:

The world today, with some exceptions … is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. (p. 2).

Berger—who has been studying this subject for decades—as well as other researchers, maintain that the world is becoming increasingly de-secularized, increasingly religious, and increasingly fundamentalist.1 What hides this situation from view, argues Berger, is the high visibility of a small number of intellectuals in the West who assume that the world has become increasingly secular. Berger’s notion of the radicalization of religion finds support in his and his colleagues’ findings that the more reactionary and less adaptive to secular environments religious institutions are, the more they flourish, whereas the religious systems that are more “progressive” and accommodating to modernism succeed much less. They found that the more closed off a religious “enclave” (cf. Almond et al, 2003) that the religious culture maintained in the modern surround, the more power it accumulated to survive and to expand. The Islamic upsurge is conspicuous in most modern cities in the world, the Latin American mass conversion to Catholicism has created a cultural transformation in this continent, and North American fundamentalism is gaining in power. These authors emphasize that the Islamic revival in particular should be seen not only through the political lens (although it carries serious political ramifications), but as “an impressive revival of emphatically religious commitments.” (Berger et al, p. 7).

Is this religious upsurge, which is so often fundamentalist and prone to degenerate into militant-coercive fundamentalism, a simple reaction to modernity, as many suggested? It is a prevalent view today that fundamentalism, and particularly violent fundamentalism2 is a direct counter-reaction to the combined elements in contemporary culture of the despiritualization and economical globalization (Armstrong, 2002; Juergensmeyer, 2000, and others). More forcefully, Juergen Habermas (2002) who regards religious Islamic fundamentalism as “a uniquely modern disruption” (Barradori, p. 69), views it as a “response” to the challenges of modernity to the Arab world. The West in its entirety, says this philosopher who intensely believes in the power of communication, serves as a scapegoat for the very real experience of loss suffered by Arab populations torn out of their cultural traditions during processes of accelerated modernization.3

Another view that endorses the de-secularization thesis, that is, that the world becomes increasingly religious again4, holds that patriarchal monotheism5 draws to itself most of the residual enchantment that still remains in the world. This view is endorsed by Christopher Rhoades Dÿkema’s (2001), who suggests that magical thinking restricted the focus of its cathexes to a decreasing number of imagined objects, finally limited to god-the-father. Monotheistic religions, which almost by definition are patriarchal, may be no less (and possibly more) “enchanted” and “enchanting”, no less magical and mystifying than polytheism or paganism.6 Dÿkema’s point that patriarchal monotheism is consistent and continuous with both coercive fundamentalism and with “the liberal religion of loving-kindness and compassion most of us would prefer” helped clarify my thinking on this subject.

Patriarchal Monotheism:

Abstractness, Oneness, Invisibility

The view of patriarchal7 monotheism as one of the last vestiges of enchantment, contrasts with the usual notion of monotheism as the peak of _religious disenchantment_held by many, among them Frankfurt School thinkers Horkheimer and Adorno (1944), who wrote approvingly on the “disenchanted world of Judaism”, with its prohibition of pictorial representation of God (Bildverbot). In line with Freud (1939)8, for whom the monotheistic prohibition on images made Judaism into a religion of instinctual renunciation, Horkheimer and Adorno regard the prohibition on image-making as enabling the Jews to cross the threshold from sensory imitation (mimesis) to abstract ideas, from mythology to rationality, by enabling them to convert, or rather abolish, images into a series of duties in the form of ritual (see Rabinbach, 2000).

The idea that the peak of spirituality and moral development is synonymous with (or dependent upon) “instinctual renunciation” seems dubious. To give up on one’s “instincts” (that is, one’s desires and pleasures) for the sake of spirituality, is often a slippery affair. We know that what is split off or violently suppressed often returns through the back door. To put it in Freudian similes, the proximity of superego and id makes for possible reversals, in which the superego, or the ego-ideal, acts as ruthlessly and wantonly as the id, whereby ascetic renunciation of instinct and desire becomes the motive force for cathartic violence that becomes justified and sanctified by the ego-ideal. The traps of deception and self-deception, the return of what has been “renounced” under a different guise, are ever-present. Renunciation of instincts and eschewing attempts to create images can have their advantages, but also their drawbacks.

The taboo on images and the idealization of abstraction and renunciation is found in Judaism but has been further radicalized by Islam, where not only God, but all creatures are prohibited from being pictorially represented. The notion that one must not make God visible in any way led to the creation of the beautiful arabesques featuring in religious non-figurative Islamic art.9 “To create an image of something”, says the Lisan al-’Arab, “is to imagine it.” To think in images is to be enabled to imagine a different reality, many realities, pluralities. To think in images is to speculate, to make things specular, make them mirror new knowledge. This free play of the imagination, this making-visible, is doomed, from a fundamentalist perspective, to create anarchy. Imagination threatens the fundamentalist with excessive individuality and with choice, which harkens back, for him, to the pagan anarchy of pre-Islam, called jahilia. To overcome anarchic proliferation, monotheism professes and wishes to be about the singularity and abstractness of God. Fatima Mernissi (1992), a Moroccan religious feminist scholar, tells us that

Mohammed proposed to reduce the many to One, to abolish all idols and believe in one God. From the year he began to preach publicly, to the year of his conquest of Mecca, Mohammed succeeded in destroying the statues of gods and goddesses and in unifying the Arab world around al-wahid, “the One”
(p. 98).

This was revolutionary, since henceforward,

Opposition to the One would forever have a negative color. Submission to the one is paid by immortality and the vanquishing of death (p. 97).

Belief and Desire

Monotheism is about the One, about the one who is invisible,10 and it is usually patriarchal, that is, it has at its core the belief in a masculine and paternal deity. Regarding monotheism as masculinist and patriarchal, and as generating problematical forms of desire, poses a challenge to cherished beliefs regarding monotheism as the most evolved form of religion. It is usually assumed that patriarchal monotheism represents an advance over polytheism (or matriarchal religions) by virtue of its sanctifying a single, integrative entity. Challenging these assumptions may offer new knowledge as well as extend feminist critique to the religious realm.

In addition to the emphasis on the particular characteristics of patriarchal monotheism, the stance I offer here differs from most positions seeking to understand fundamentalism in that my position foregrounds the libidinal and perverted relations between a certain kind of believer and his God, in which the libidinal and the violent come together. Assuming that cultural forms reflect underlying motivations or structures of desire11, I suggest that coercive fundamentalism is based on a violent, homo-erotic, self-abnegating father-son relationship, as we so clearly see in Atta’s letter, or in Bin Laden’s poetry to his fatherly God (Stein, 2002). Psychoanalytically speaking, this relationship ultimately obtains between the fundamentalist and himself, but it is obvious that group processes and internal dynamics join into the production of fundamentalism.

Thus, at the core of variously structured fundamentalist groups, we find psychodynamic processes involving transformations of hatred (and self-hatred) into idealizing love, whereby a persecutory inner object becomes an exalted one. These projections and transformations of hate purchase respite from fear of destructiveness and persecution (although the calm is only temporary). The crucible grounding these processes is what I call “vertical mystical homo-eros”. Since what is involved is a large-scale transformation of a persecutory object into a loving one, this process cannot but be profoundly paranoid and destructive. But before we go into these motifs, let us take a look at how religious fundamentalism is usually described.

What is ordinarily stressed in discourses on fundamentalism is its cognitive style of black-and-white and the absolute certainty that shapes this state of mind. It has been said that fundamentalists do not want understanding, negotiation, compromise, or even dialogue. People and phenomena outside the fundamentalist “enclave” are “shorn of context and historical circumstances;” they are seen as transparent and a priori knowable (Adorno,1951; Moss, 2003) at the same time as they are uniformly perceived as “not one of us.” For the fundamentalist lens nothing is opaque and truly puzzling, nothing needs further understanding (that is, understanding in other than pregiven frames of interpretation). There is nothing genuinely new under the sun; everything is self evident and self-identical. Such a style of thinking seeks order and certainty so as to create a patterned, predictable world-view, to feel safe and free of self-eroding doubt. Fundamentalism provides a sense of mastery and lucidity in the face of powerlessness and existential anxiety, and in the face of the will of the other and one’s own will and desire.

By separating the good and the bad through strictly following religious fundamentals and creating clarity and order, fundamentalism functions as mind-control and as a tight holding, providing a kind of soothing iron belt12, a shielding carapace to keep away the confusion and fragmentation that come from a weakened, brittle self, from a looming sense of futility and failure, and an assortment of resentments at contemporary culture, whether experienced as rejecting and unattainable, as corrupt and hateful, or as frightening and predatory (and it often is not so far from these pictures). To uprooted, frustrated, confused, lost, envious, sometimes degraded persons, the group construction of such a carapace seems the most natural and right way to collectively strengthen their sense of self. The stress put on the boundaries between the faithful inside this carapace and those outside of it, is a necessary concomitant of the protective process.

Karen Armstrong’s (2002) shift of emphasis when tracing the development of American fundamentalism is an illustration of this collapse of meaning-seeking and fear-avoiding motives. In her account, she shifts from explaining fundamentalism as a quest for transcendence that has become empty of spirituality, to describing how deeply the fundamentalist mind is ridden with fear and anxiety that cannot be assuaged by a purely rational argument, as she puts it. There is a vast sociological literature on the sense of persecution, escalating anxiety and revulsion against the dangers of an outer world, and a certainty about impending doom that fundamentalist groups protect themselves against or prepare for (cf. Almond et al., 2003; Lifton, 2001; Mousalli, 1992).

Submission, Verticality

The danger is conceived differently from within the fundamentalist group and from an outside interpreter’s viewpoint. Most fundamentalists mourn the moral and social decline from better times to the present situation of corruption and license-even (or especially) in relation to their own co-religionists. The danger they see is that of God’s truth and righteous values are forgotten or have become confused and weakened. To outside observers however, the danger the fundamentalist mind shuns is perceived to be about annihilation anxieties, weakness and shame, as well as about personal confusion (Erikson called it “identity diffusion”). Whereas for the fundamentalist combating the danger is what deepens one’s religious faith, to the non-fundamentalist it is precisely this sense of danger that turns the religious spiritual sense of the sacred-the sense that the world is suffused with invisible meaningfulness (cf. Eliade, 1968; Otto, 1958) into an absolutist, impenetrable, passionate religious cement–fundamentalism.

The shift from religious devotion to fundamentalism parallels the deterioration of the sacred into an alien, persecutory presence.13 Thus, whereas the religious14 sense of the sacred is the confrontation with the numinous (the godly) and the sublime by letting oneself go and holding no expectations, fundamentalism is a sense of “being held tight”, being enveloped by a comforting straightjacket. Whereas the sense of the sacred and transcendent is precious and many of us would agree that life is all the poorer without it, fundamentalism is the self-rejecting submission to an ideal authority that finally turns out to be submission to an alienated (projected), horrifying aspect of oneself. What is achieved through this submission and tightening of boundaries and restrictions is not only safety; there is another precious imagined reward involved in this posture. Fatima Mernissi (1992) summarizes her researches into Islamic history of thought by holding that_ Islam gave the faithful immortality in exchange for submission_ and God-man inequality.

The Arabs (in Mohammed’s time) were to become immortal. A great Beyond opened to them the royal road to the conquest of time. They would no longer die. Paradise awaited them. Because the child born of the womb of the woman is mortal, however, the law of paternity was instituted to screen off the uterus and woman’s will within the sexual domain … The new code of immortality was to be inscribed on the body of woman. Henceforth the children born of the uterus of a woman would belong to their father, and he is certain of gaining Paradise if he submits to the divine will (p. 128).

Thus, men are accorded (promised) security until the end of time, at the price of total repudiation of women and total submission to God. While woman is a repulsive reminder of mortality and the finitude of the flesh, God is the promise of immortality. Life and death become highly symbolized. Temporality, earthliness, feminine desire are all linked in the fundamentalist mind and must be obliterated. Devaluation of the present and a forcefully sustained hope for a glorious future is a hallmark of cults and totalitarian movements. In the fundamentalist world, desire is a dangerous subversive force. Islam promises peace at the price of sacrifice of desire (hawa), which is considered in the Moslem community as the source of dissention and war.

Desire, which is individual by definition, is the opposite of rahma [grace, mercy-RS], which is an intense sensitivity for the other … for the group (Mernissi, p. 128).

Non-Earthly Vertical Desire

What Mernissi did not attend to, however, is the desire that grows and luxuriates on the stump of the cut-off “earthly” desire. As Altmeyer and Hunsberger (1992) point out,

Those who espouse this ideology have a special relationship with the deities (p. 114).

It is this “special relationship” that is of interest to me here, since I assume that fundamentalism is not just strictness, rigidity, and literal adherence, but is suffused with a libidinal dimension of desire. For the fundamentalist, keeping the laws (1) is the Truth; (2) protects him; (3) gives him a special relationship; (4) “marries” him vertically. Verticalization of difference engenders vertical desire. Vertical desire is the mystical longing for merger with the idealized abjecting Other. On this view, the starkly opposing terms and polarizations with which fundamentalist thinking is suffused come to assume positions of higher and lower on a vertical axis. Since such binary oppositions, as we know (from deconstructionism, feminism, race theory, or colonial theory) always result in inscribing inequality, fundamentalism is not only a psychic mode of separation; it is also a psychic mode of inequality.15

Within this mode the non-believer is profoundly unequal to the believer, man is eternally unequal to God, and woman is unquestionably unequal to man. Fundamentalism is about inequality. When we think about fundamentalism, we tend to be aware of woman’s inequality to man and the nonbeliever’s inequality to the believer, but we tend to forget the believer’s inequality to God.16 In fundamentalist regimes, God rules over men, while men rule over women. Being oppressed by God, oppressing women, fundamentalism is an oppressed oppression. Although so persistently present as to be invisible, so totalistically embraced as to be sacralized, this inequality generates a desire aimed at overcoming both the distinctions and the verticality. The striving to overcome verticality through mystical reunion and kill what stands as barrier to this trajectory can generate deep faith and powerful hope (cf. Stein, 2003).

Since certainty and fundamentalistic knowledge are linked to a desire that springs from the “verticalization of difference”, difference becomes scaled and graded perpendicularly. Whereas heterogeneity spreads and sprawls “horizontally”, encompassing different kinds and species, difference in the fundamentalist order is well-marked and sharply circumscribed. Cognitive simplification is the underside of archaic emotional intensity. In this vertical mode, there are purified, triumphant, superior believers, and puny, defiled, noxious nonbelievers. The exorbitant, absolute distance between the two, the extreme of exaltation and degradation, mark this verticality. It is the distance between self-loathing and adoration. Rather than the rebellious son fearing his castration by the father, it is the abjection to a lethal ideal, a regression to the archaic phallic father that is at stake, for

whereas the ego submits to the superego out of fear of punishment, it submits to the ego-ideal out of love” (Freud, 1921; Nunberg, 1932).

What is a Father?

One of my earlier papers on fundamentalism (Stein, 2002b) ended with a series of questions expressing great puzzlement and mystification about fatherhood, as the nature of fatherly love seems to me infinitely mysterious. Being generated in the flesh, from the father’s body, yet invisibly so, being a tiny drop of the father’s body, issued forth in a fleeting moment-is the father-child love of the same order as that of mother-child love? And if it is not-what is it? Father’s love is neither mother’s love nor an adoptive parent’s love. The invisibility of the bodily link between father and child makes for a mystifying and unfathomable bond-simultaneously abstract and concrete, and ungraspable. Puzzling about “what is a father?” (Stein, 2002b) I asked.

Is “Father” a basically elusive entity, engendering yet not containing in the body, that is, close but connected through an act (of procreation) in the (un)conceivable past and hence through a law—abstract, but terribly binding? Must not father arouse unique longings? Must not symbiosis with the primal father be no less, although differently, terrifying than symbiosis with the “primal/”archaic”/”phallic” mother? Is it not forever enigmatic, having to do with narcissism and with idealization and the quest for transformation and hence with awe, the sublime, paranoia, impersonal Law and Justice–all measuring one’s self-worth in the face of another, one’s “Last Judgment” meted by an idealized object?

David Lee Miller (2003) is a literary critic who likewise addresses the invisibility of paternity. He dwells on the “bootstrapping” of the father:

Symbolically, [fatherhood] … is at once the origin, foundation, and summit of the family, the tribe, the nation, and the church. No member of a class can stand outside the class to which it belongs; no human person can be the Father.” The impossibility of embodying such a function is precisely what requires its personification as a deity (p. 16).

Miller suggests that since culture is patriarchal, and since fatherhood is an object that cannot be visualized, it needs strong representation. In other words, the impossibility of embodying such a function is precisely what requires its personification as a deity (p. 16).

The personification of the figure of the father as a deity, however, requires the complementary relation to a son. The most powerful complementarity has to do with the body and with life and death. Miller quotes anthropologist Nancy Jay’s thesis that rituals of blood sacrifice compensate for the formal embarrassment of fatherhood’s inability to represent itself.17

Patrilineal kin know that they are kin because they sacrifice together; they become patrilineal kin by so doing. To so create social and religious paternity is precisely to transcend a natural relation (p. 2).

Blood sacrifice [equals] a technology of representation, a way to make paternity spectacular and so to foster its social reality. The son “belongs” to his father by God’s decree.

However, the blood sacrifice celebrated together is a pale version of the sacrifice of the son himself. Miller points to Western culture’s oddest couple: the deified father and the sacrificial son, and speculates that the motif of filial sacrifice is the most striking feature shared by the canonical texts of English literature, along with their classical and biblical antecedents. He adduces numerous and rich examples showing that in classical Hebrew, and Christian cultures, the son offered in sacrifice provokes worship, fascination, and dread. The son in these traditions acts as a complement to the father at the same time as the son points to the contradiction at the heart of fatherhood under patriarchy: whereas the son is indispensable “proof” of fatherhood (only the male heir can extend the patriline), at the same time the son’s existence provokes the crisis of fatherhood’s uncertainty (there is no way to see and there was no way to prove that any particular boy springs from this man rather than that one, or indeed from any man at all). Blood sacrifice is needed to substantiate patriline, but the father who sacrifices a son (especially an only son, or a firstborn son) would seem to be destroying along with that son the very paternity the ritual is supposed to create.

The father looking from above the scene where the son is (being) destroyed is recurrently avoided by Christianity. Jesus does ask from the cross why God has forsaken him, but neither the Gospels nor the iconographic tradition shows the Father looking down to behold his son’s suffering.18 In general, however,

to be a father in the literary tradition is to bear witness [= to give meaning] to the destruction of the son, and to see in his death at once the essence and the destruction of fatherhood itself (Miller, pp. 5-6).19

There is a growing body of thinking pointing to the notion that patriarchal, patrilineal cultures recruit sacrificial victims as visible stand-ins for the fatherly body. The growing prominence in psychoanalysis of the Laius Complex to supplement the Oedipus Complex is one example. Sending of soldiers to war as a sacrificial gesture of the father and the group is another horrific instance.

Indeed, Richard Koenigsberg (2002, 2003) juxtaposes the texts of numerous writers who glorify the young men who were sent to war that sound morbidly perverse in the adoring and cunning frissons they convey. He also references the notion that the most important point to be made about WWI is that the soldier’s body was _“intended to be mutilated.” _The idea is that perhaps soldiers die not only because they are killed by the enemy; soldiers are sent to be killed by the leaders of the nations at war. War is a sacrificial ritual on a huge scale, and this may be its ultimate function.20 The kamikaze, the German soldiers, were all offering themselves to be slain. This is the essence of being a soldier, as Gwynne Dyer says: “By becoming soldiers, men agree to die when we tell them to.” War is an institution whereby sons give over their bodies to Fathers in the name of validating or valorizing the sacred ideal.

I believe that even after having exposed this cultural construct for what it is, its wellsprings originate in some of the most deeply human psychodynamics that have to be further mined. There is considerable support for the thesis that the terrorist wants (unconsciously)_ to change the father from persecutor into an idealized love object_, to reverse the rage and discontent (and the pain and the suffering) into glory and narcissistic enhancement. When I use the term “regression to the father” to explain terrorist behavior and experience, I mean regression from the persecutory to the idealized father. The persecutory residues, however, remain, as we shall see later. Meanwhile, I shall narrate the case of an ambivalent fearful idealization of God/”God.”21

A Case of “Deicide”

E was a brilliant young man who came to analysis as a last resort before undergoing a sex-change operation. In my past account of his analysis (Stein, 1995), I foregrounded his transsexualism, and only secondarily mentioned his intensely personal, terrorized, loving-and-hating, idealizing-and-devaluing engagement with a God. He created his God for himself without any background of religious upbringing or immediate social influence. At the time of the analysis, I had great difficulty understanding E’s relation to God. It was only after reading Atta’s letter, and after I could articulate to myself my puzzlement at the enigma of fatherhood, that I could understand the meaning of E’s bizarre relationship to his inner object, and what he needed to do in order to heal himself. Short of open, dysfunctionally psychotic illnesses, I have never met this kind of “deifying transference” before, nor did I find anything like it in the psychoanalytic literature. In particular, the developments that occurred in this analysis can be seen as a process of a successful “deicide” and can be contrasted with Atta’s and the terrorists’ failing to “kill the father.” The dramatic battles this man was fighting against God constituted a great part of the analysis.

E was an unkempt big youth dressed in a gender-ambiguous style. His physical and verbal aggressiveness and his big masculine body build stood in marked contrast to his unrelenting longing to become a beautiful, blond, delicate “innocent” woman, who will then gain tons of love without having to work for it. E functioned very effectively in his profession, but was paranoidally and schizoidally isolated from others at the same time as he was overwhelmed by fantasies of death, deterioration and forced reincarnations. At the beginning, E hardly looked at me through the curtain of his long black curls. He also warned me not to talk because his wounds were open and could not be touched by anyone. At that time, he filled the hours with inchoate speech about his longings to be a woman and his dread of God.

E lived in terror most of his life. He felt besieged by menacing powers against which he had to stand up and fight lest he succumb and die. His father died when E was five. The brother closest to him in age was killed years later on a trip while serving in the army, and his commander to whom he felt deeply attached, was killed in a plane accident. E was the youngest sibling of four; he felt small and helplessly enraged at what he experienced as being constantly put down and made fun of by his siblings. Feeling neglected and uncared for by his chronically depressed mother and his siblings, E grew up to be a strange, isolated, aloof youth with bizarre manners. When he entered the army, he finally had a male mentor, whom he learnt to trust and love. Until the day when his commander’s plane crashed in a training accident. This increased his fears and he doubled his counterphobic efforts to combat them through violence, getting into fights, competitive ambitions, and, as a last resort, resolving to become a woman.

Early in the analysis but after arduous work, E realized with a shock that the tyrannical God who had ruled his life since his early childhood, and with whom he negotiated a system of atonement procedures for his sins, was none other than his father. He was overcome by a torrent of memories of his horror of punishment, which he had been visualizing mostly as being castrated, and of the incessant anguished and mechanized rituals he performed to appease God. Gradually, with great trepidation, and feeling that he was conspiring with me in a plot to liberate himself from God’s terrifying hold, he revolted against God. Filled with terror and guilt, E sensed, with hallucinatory clarity God standing over his shoulder and looking down at him. But he felt that he “needed to crash the image of God.” He no longer wanted to be “father’s girl,” a role he had desired for many years. As he felt stronger, he began to experience bouts of “love” for me, a “love” that had the quality of worship and adoration. I was now his new God in the transference; I had replaced the Father/God.

In this process of emerging out of a merger with God and separating from Him, E gave up a great part of his quasi-delusional world in favor of a quasi-psychotic form of idealization of me, in fact, a deification. Now he was careful not to incur my wrath; his relationship with me became even more ritualized than before. He revived the childhood rituals that he had addressed to God: in fantasy he performed them for me in the hope of securing my protection, so that I would take responsibility for his life and save him from death. At the same time as he was propitiating me, he, in his typically secretive and indirect ways, reinforced his compulsive battling with me, anticipating and preparing for an imminent attack on my part.

He once explained why I had become God to him: first, I could serve as protection against all the danger he was chronically dreading. But, he added, I also became God because he felt I did not love him, which he had inferred from the fact that whatever I said “was bad and hurtful because it was not words of love.” I understood him to mean that the distance he felt every time I was not completely in tune with him was so painful and humiliatingly abandoning, that he was left with a single recourse: to deify me, that is, to hold me in veneration, fear and awe, in an ecstatic merger which left him feeling electrified, longing and hating at the same time. Although I distinctly felt those intensities and emotional combinations, I could not at that time fully comprehend how his experience of being deeply humiliated by me (he was exquisitely vulnerable) created such thralldom and subdued excitement simultaneously with a wish to annihilate me. I was unable to untie this bizarre knot of opposing emotions for years.

E’s liberation from the subjugation to the divine figure I incorporated came in stages. A starting point in this process was a chance encounter in a grocery store: I looked small and human; I was even wearing a straw hat. My gradual loss of perfection helped him to supplant his idolization with a violent sexualization of the transference, and, following this, a hallucinatory scene in which he found himself in a Roman temple. The temple was filled with statues of gods whom he tried to shake and shatter, dreading all the time that one of them would recover and annihilate him before he had finished demolishing them.

In the analysis, I was such an idol for him, and he put much energy, he said, into destroying me, or at least reducing my powers with the determined aim of fortifying himself. With all the frightful animistic images that were haunting him, he fought me with determination and cold hatred, and, whenever he felt he had beaten me, he experienced enormous satisfaction (he then went to the bathroom, and defecated a large amount, which he felt had to do with the happy ending of another battle, and which I saw (without telling him) as a symbolic act of evacuating the bad, persecutory inner object). It was only now, for the first time, that he could grasp that I was a human being who had weaknesses, rather than a divine/demonic entity. At the same time, he dreaded that should he defeat and destroy me, analysis would end. He also feared that at the moment that he would realize that I was weak and stupid and that he had to leave me, I would take a cruel revenge on him. Following cycles of hatred, fear, and neediness, he could, with great effort, describe in detail his elaborate fantasies of assault and destruction of my body, of which he did not leave one part intact after he had burned, strangled, torn everything off, and sealed its apertures. He now felt tremendous relief, and his self-confidence strengthened.

The third stage of his “killing of God” came when E began to mourn his father, whose death he had been denying all these years through a ritualized, ever-present relationship with him. He now realized that the competitive fear he felt of his father as a rival protected him against accepting his father’s final, irreversible death, which he had had to deny until now. For the first time in his life, he could grasp and acknowledge his father’s ultimate and irrevocable absence and sadly give up (that is, find non meaningful) the intricate plots of gods, ghosts, and skeletons he had woven, through which he had maintained a tie to a fantastically enlivened paternal object. In his conscious fantasy, his father’s death was a slow, tortuous, Voodoo-like murder E had committed. A period of unbearable guilt followed. After difficult analytic work, the avenging phantom of his father, the living skeleton he often used to visualize, vanished. Analysis was essentially a process of “rebirth” from psychic deadness, violence, and fearful thralldom to a cruel, greedy, protective, God.

E’s life shows how relations with an anxious, depressed mother and an ongoing relatedness with an absent, inaccessible, longed-for father, can breed a wrathful castrating God, who is punitive at the same time as He bestows inner entitlement and a sense of protective superiority in exchange for obeying His will. The defensive sense of entitlement that shaped E’s condescending, hurtful, and physically violent behavior was held in place through constant appeasement of and sacrifices to an omnipotent, omniscient God. When E, as an arrogant boy and adolescent, attacked and humiliated everyone he could, it was as if he had “decided” to kill the anaclitic and soft part of himself by his display of provocative machismo and physical and verbal assaults on others. At the same time he wanted to reincarnate himself in such a soft creature, “a woman.”

The recurrent question with which he had entered analysis, “How much killing can I take upon myself?” in fact expressed his guilt at his murderous rage and attacks. He had attempted to resolve this conflict by ridding himself of all evil and projecting it onto the outer world, which then became persecutory and malevolent. In the face of such a menacing world, he cultivated a fantasy of the _Übermensch _through extreme “masculine” behavior, more physical beatings, assaults on people (he sought and provoked opportunities to beat up people on public occasions), more humiliations inflicted, more hostile stinging of people at their weakest spots. In this way he achieved temporary relief from his chronic feelings of weakness and badness, but he was left with heavy, disavowed guilt. The question “how much killing can I take upon myself?” sounds like a weary megalomaniac, an Atlas having to carry (out) all the killings that are done on humans. His magical translation and confusion between killing and dying, between natural death and violent death, are folded in this sentence. He was fettered by an absolute dependency on a cruel God, to whom he became addicted.

His wish to become a woman and his active rejection of his masculinity were felt by him to be a strategy of survival. He believed that, by becoming a woman, he would escape being among the line of men in his life who died, because-he fantasized-they had all been sentenced to death and killed by a cruel, malevolent, fanatical Godhead. His analysis allowed him to kill the avatar of his dead father, that is, to face this tyrannical God and overcome him, thereby enabling himself to make peace with himself and to be able to love his fellow human beings. The later stages of this long analysis dealt with his mourning his father and his fatherless childhood, retrieving and remembering the few loving memories he had with him, which enabled him to develop a capacity to love, even to create a family.

The Fierce Struggle with Self-Hatred

E hated himself so much that he often felt he wanted to leap out of his skin, out of his body, out of his shape-become a woman, or just somebody else, yet he was also terrified of being transformed by God into a something else-an animal, an old (dying) man. Fundamentalism is a process that begins with self hatred and abjection, perceiving oneself as weak and ineffectual, which gets translated into bad and full of sins. The analysis enabled E to gain a sense that he is redeemable, that is, that his badness and sins do not weigh him down and rob him of his powers to challenge his persecutory inner self. In contrast to the terrorists, who attained a feeling of megalomaniac superiority, E, although grandiose and entitled in many parts of his psyche, did not give in to his inner violence. Perhaps this saved him from the terrorist fate in which humiliation, although relayed with murderous violence and ghastly manic killings, is still turned into active submission to a destructive ideal. E was horrified of old age and death; yet I was struck at that time at his sense—similarly to that found in the terrorists’ letter—of there being no boundaries between life and death: people went on living in a different mode, he believed. They were (horribly or blissfully) transubstantiated into different incarnations. Behind the fear, as we discovered, lay tremendous, intolerable self-loathing.

The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it off and lose it, produce both a readiness to sacrifice the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one’s individual distinctness in a compact collective whole (Hoffer, 1959, p. 59).

Walter Davis (2003) contributes to our understanding of the internal object—basically one’s own creation—whose condemnation demolishes the person.

In depth destructiveness is what happens when a subjectivity defined by self-loathing finds in cruelty the only release through the free projection of all the hatred one feels toward oneself in one’s inner world upon a host of objects … Elation then beckons with the discovery of new targets, richer occasions, with but one proviso—the feast of aggression must never end (p. 110).

Davis’ pessimistic (but perhaps realistic) perspective sees the human core anxiety as the inability to reverse inner destructiveness, that is, the failure of mania:

In mania the aggression that the other has projected into me becomes my aggression, but now free of the other’s chains and increased as a result of that “reversal.” As such it must be projected into objects … (1) the object must be beneath us and thus deserving of contempt and (2) it must be an appropriate stand-in for the true object of our hatred (p. 110).

In a different way, Michael Eigen (2001a) touches on the same central configuration. By suggesting that self-hate should be transformed and made psychically useful by our directing aggression against the self:

We keep ripping at what pains us. We take inner baths, try to clear away barriers … Soul rubs and shines itself by immolation-demolition …We must learn to kill ourselves without end without doing ourselves real injury. We may discover ways of “killing” ourselves that make us better people (p. 138).

Eigen talks about purification through ascetic self-castigation which, he believes, can relieve the torturing experience of one’s destructiveness and self-loathing. The similarity to religious ascesis and purification rites in fundamentalism is unmistakable, and it is continuous with destructive acts aimed at crushing destructiveness, in moments when, as Eigen says, “good deeds can no longer deflect destruction from oneself” (p. 138). One then has to purify oneself in order to destroy the destroying other within oneself. Eigen equates cleansing parts of oneself with “killing” those parts. One kills those parts in order not to feel that one is bad, or that one is perishable, mortal, fallible. This involves the fantasy of being purified that is a way of dying in order to be reborn (“A new heart create for me, O God” says the prayer). It is also dying in order to preempt death. Although the dividing line between religious devotion and religious terrorism is crucial, the continuity between them becomes clearer the closer we look at them. There is a frightening and potentially subversive resemblance between the intimate, loving discourse a believer holds with God while praying and supplicating, and the intimacy that is being acted out in fundamentalist desire.

In my clinical experience, I have assisted many painful moments that showed me what I take to be the core, or one of the kernels, of psychic illness: self-loathing, self hatred, what Kaufman (1980) calls “internalized shame,” the revulsion, the unbearable self-condemnation, the feeling of depletion and worthlessness. These places breed the worst kinds of symptoms and paralyses, wasted lives and damaging bonds. To further clarify these increasingly destructive processes of purification and self absolution, let me delineate their progression toward increasing destructiveness. I shall spell out the general itinerary toward increasing efforts at eliminating bad feelings about oneself, and how religion can provide potent means toward accomplishing this procedure.

Religion guarantees salvation through the doing of good. Doing Allah’s will, satisfying Him, is the thread running through the terrorists’ utterances. Doing good, in religious discourse, is often synonymous with fighting the bad. The bad can have different faces: it can be in the nature of a diabolic temptation, of losing one’s connection to God, or coming to doubt divine intention and goodness. These forms of “sin”23 amount to the betrayal of God’s goodness and mercy.24 Whether we are religious or not, psychoanalytic thinking conceives of “the” war between good and evil as an expression of a psychic conflict between a sense of inner badness (that which brings suffering and pain), and a need for goodness, so as to attain a state of purity, righteousness, calm, and goodness. This can be achieved through being good to fellow humans, and/or through doing God’s will. Although it entails extreme emotional reversals, the sequence leading from badness to goodness is quite simple, having basically to do with the perennial striving to transform bad feelings into good feelings. This basic psychic activity is mediated by the religious idiom of fighting an eternal war between good and evil. When this war takes place outside the person and within a group of like-minded believers, and when it is fought against non-believers, we have a religious war. Keyword in these processes is purification.

Stages of Purification

Unpacking this basic process of “purification”, by which one achieves “goodness” or has the “good” dominate the bad, reveals a process in three stages:

  1. Separation of badness and goodness;

  2. Elimination of the bad,

    2a. Through reinforcement of inerrancy and renunciation of choice, and

    2b. Through elimination of the bad, by vehement action;

  3. Achievement of the good through death.

The first stage of purification attempts to separate good and evil through religious rituals, which ensure God’s protection of the right and the just within a stable inner place, unassaulted and uncontaminated by evil-not unlike our usual need to safeguard goodness and love in times of hardship and trouble. When these religious rituals (e.g., ritual bathing, prayer, fasting, removal of excremental symbols, circumcision) that function to segregate the good from the bad and to safeguard it, prove inadequate, the second stage is entered. This stage necessitates more rigid rituals and a further degree of concretization. Some device has to be established that will permanently prevent the return of the bad and its infiltration into the realm of the good.

The second stage-seeking warranties-is that of fundamentalist formation. Although there is a world of difference between fundamentalism and violent fundamentalism, psychoanalytically speaking, they are still both motivated by the need to eliminate badness (errancy, betrayal of the divine, loss of faith in “goodness”) through fighting the bad outside (of oneself). What is required now isto eliminate the heretical, impure, inimical elements, that is, killing the infidels who do not believe in (my/our) God. However, the third stage in this separation of good and bad is psychoanalytically the most intriguing. Here a destructive counterpart is created to the killing of “God’s enemies”: it is the killing of oneself. Obviously the killing of oneself in the effort to kill the impure part of oneself, amounts to the total failure—or total grim success—of the process of purification.

One purifies oneself to death, one purifies oneself out of existence, and one purifies the world out of existence.25 Psychoanalysts call it “the return of the repressed”, by which they mean the observation that nothing can be willfully erased from the psyche without leaving some active residual process smoldering. Trying too hard to cleanse oneself from one’s badness ultimately means being bad to oneself. Although self-destruction through suicide does not refer to the leaders who recruit the suicidal religious terrorists, both recruiter and recruited are implicated in a preparatory process whereby the mind of the recruited is taken hold of, “washed”, shaped, steeled, and converted into an efficient tool of death. Tracing this sequence, we make the startling discovery that both the evacuation of the bad and the attainment of the good are perforce reached through death, in death. Death is a final solution and an arch-answer to troubles. Death is also a magical homeopathic device which in fantasy is a means to forestall a more eternal death.

I think that the notion of purification is an axis that can explain our puzzlement as towhy religious belief is liable to deteriorate and become so vitiated as to attain the conviction that killing is considered good and righteous. Like so many phenomena that can be unlocked by a psychoanalytic key, the phenomenon of the transformation of the good and spiritual into the murderous, can be better understood when we realize that a simple human belief, namely that it is good to fight evil, or that doing the good means eliminating the bad, can become perverted. The progressive stages in such a process of increasing splitting, increasing binarism, appear when such a belief becomes translated into the thought that it is good to erase evil, and hence, it is good to “kill” something-or someone-who represents evil, that is, who must be destroyed totally. This belief now requires the ratification through a divine command to kill the bad ones, built up and supported by continuous processes of group dynamics, isolation and affiliation, and brainwashing.

Excessive processes of “projection” operate when, in order to deal with my woes and sorrows, pains and dreads, I “externalize” these experiences and make other people into carriers and experiencers of these emotions. These other people are then perceived by me as really such. According to this emotional logic,26 by rejecting, even (symbolically or physically) destroying the people who have become recipients and carriers of my bad, denigrated parts, I achieve the destruction of bad parts of my self, which is my deep goal, and brings me great relief. The trouble is that, as this process of projection goes on, the self becomes amputated and decimated. It can now be filled up or (artificially) restored only by inflating another part the psyche, which will function as prosthesis, the part that will be called “God.” God becomes a filler, an imported goodness. But this goodness is defensive and compensatory. The God of a psyche impoverished by continuous projection and amputation of badness outside has to be endlessly powerful and superior to replenish, boost, and vindicate the diminished and depleted state of self.

Since the projective and identificatory processes described above become increasingly violent27 as they go on, God becomes increasingly harsh, demanding, and tyrannical. The all-powerful protector may be divine and hallowed by an aura, but it successively becomes a Dorian Grey-like inner picture of a blood-thirsty tyrant: the guardian turns into the persecutor. My patient E, the more entangled he became with his pain, rage, and a sense of betrayal, the more his God changed into a persecutor. This change from God as protector to God as persecutor is often beyond the awareness of the troubled believer, who, in the depth in his psychic processes, has now a converted mind. But what this transformation means is the emergence of a nightmarish situation where going toward Him and fusing with Him now require renouncing not only one’s autonomy, but one’s body and physical existence as well. In Jewish mysticism, the believer says to God: “I flee from Thee toward Thee.” This constitutes a complete failure and perversion of the intention and function of religion, although this is precisely what religion has set out to do-being good by fighting badness. Here the psychoanalytic and the existential meet, in that religion also aims to contend with the human dread of death by embracing death and conceiving of it as the gateway to a new and better life.

This stage of the religious process of purification is the most perplexing and extreme of all. The attempt to magically annihilate suffering and feelings of badness about oneself, the attempt to exterminate defilement and infidelity, eventuates in the necessity to die together with the killing of others, as if the boundary between life and death, self and other, has been completely obliterated and swamped by the total destruction of all materiality. It seems that in the process of projecting the bad parts of the self to the Infidels and the idealized parts of the self to God, nothing is left. The splitting of sublime immateriality and base badness and lechery is complete. The remaining body of the terrorist, has unconsciously stopped existing. The remaining physical body, with its needs and desires, is now superfluous. Like a pencil that is reduced out of existence by becoming increasingly sharpened, this body will find its redemption by becoming pure instrument of God’s will, eventually by merging with God in a cataclysm of purifying fire. Becoming ashes is the ultimate act of purification and spiritualization: there is no more desire of the flesh to defile one’s self image, and the desire for God has been given its most extreme and loving due.

The Father/ly

The role of the father in psychoanalysis is conceived as being that of a lawgiver (Freud, Lacan, Chasseguet-Smirgel), as well as that of a liberator and facilitator of desire and ambition (Benjamin, 1988). The father’s role is widely conceptualized as creating an exit from the mother-infant orbit (sometimes called “merger”, “symbiosis”, the Imaginary, or”regression”) into the outer world, lawful, reality, language, and the Symbolic Order (Lacan). In religious fundamentalism the figure of the father is perverted: a father who liberates his sons (and daughters) into social life, into taking initiative, and into the joy of competence and the entitlement to pursue their desires in life, becomes the Father who liberates his sons (and daughters) from “themselves”, from their individuality, human compassion and the moral impulse. Love for this father liberates his sons to humiliate, kill and destroy “his” enemies. The persecutory father, who is an inner “gang leader” (Rosenfeld, 1971) is rephrased as a loved and loving father, although this father is obviously a vengeful killer. Obviously, what subtends this love of God is tremendous, transformed hatred, a kind of loving paranoia.

When discussing paranoia, we tend to stress the persecuted, fearing-and-hating, self-referential, hostility-imputing quality of experience. But we often forget another dimension that marks this state of mind: solemn reverence and mindless adoration. At the beginning of his Analysis of the Self, Kohut (1971) draws a most evocative diagram in which he traces the regressive itinerary of the omnipotent archaic object. This archaic object constitutes an endpoint along the path of the disintegration of higher forms of narcissism into archaic narcissistic positions. The regressive itinerary of the archaic object exists, according to Kohut, alongside the regressive itinerary of the self. On this diagram, (1) “normalcy” is the capacity for admiration and enthusiasm. In narcissistic personality disturbances, writes Kohut, this capacity degenerates, at the stage of (2) “idealized parental imago,” into a “compelling need for merger with the powerful object.” A further “downward” spiraling stage, still within the narcissistic personality disturbances, is that of “nuclei (fragments) of the idealized omnipotent object: disjointedmystical religious feelings, vague awe. The final, irreversible stage is reached in (3) psychosis, with the “delusional reconstruction of the omnipotent object: _the powerful persecutor, the influencing machine_” (p. 9; italics added).

The Father as Divinely Exalted Persecutory Object

Religious terrorist mentality is essentially a perversion: an incestuous, archaic relation to the father, a vertical mystical homo-eros, which perverts father’s love and supplants love for the mother and oedipal and post-oedipal desire for woman. Individual upheavals and cultural shifts (note that the hijackers became fanatical Muslims in Germany, rather than in their mother countries) truncated the possibility of many of those who became terrorists to straddle two cultures. By joining fundamentalist sects, the way opened for them to a regressive escape into the holding comfort of a restricting, punitive paternal presence—and even more—into a joyous renunciation of lonely individuality for the sake of mindless libidinized enslavement. A potentially equal and loving relationship between man and woman (or between man and man) became hyperbolized, idealized and demonized into a perverse loving relation to a God who demands for His satisfaction endless sacrifice and self-sacrifice, in which His satisfaction is the reward. The self-abnegation and the abnegation of earthly love, culminate in these cases in murderous religious ecstasy. In the process of trying and failing to contend with the contradictory demands posed by a bi-cultural life and a family structure where women are oppressed and degraded by men, who, in turn, are themselves undermined by difficult socioeconomic conditions, the terrorists’ solution was a retrograde movement and withdrawal from achieving autonomous masculine identity and “earthly” (mature) love relations. Instead, they joined (and are joining) closely-knit, emotionally engaging mosques and group frameworks, which invite their individual narcissistic distress and diffused, fractured identities to transform into a vast projective-identificatory process that offers redemption.


  1. I am ignoring here the problematics of the term ‘fundamentalism’, as well as the differences among different types of fundamentalism.

  2. There is a difference between fundamentalism and coercive fundamentalism, which will be addressed later.

  3. For other arguments for and against the globalist and counter-globalist character of fundamentalism, particularly Islamic fundamentalism, see Juergensmeyer, 1993; 2003 for example.

  4. This is the religious form that is presently involved in the most violent activities I have recently come to believe that the world continues to be religious as ever (if by religion we mean a very broad use of the term) although in some heavily disguised ways. In this sense, I find writings of authors such as Ernst Becker (particularly his later work), Otto Rank, Peter Berger, Rene Girard, and others deeply illuminating.

  5. There are non-monotheistic movements that are violent; examples are: the Buddhist and Shinto inspired Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, the Hindu and Sikh altercations, etc. These religious movements are not monotheistic, but they operate under powerful patriarchal leaders.

  6. Although Nazism is usually not regarded as a religion, and certainly not as patriarchal monotheism, it was a Father-Leader cult, where Hitler talked about Germany as the Vaterland and said: “We do not want to have any other God, only Germany.”(Koenigsberg, Oct. 2002).

  7. Almond at all (2003) call them also Abrahamic fundamentalisms.

  8. Freud spoke in Moses and Monotheism of the “advance in intellectuality” achieved by abstinence and instinctual renunciation.

  9. However, not only are the arabesques non-humanly shaped—they are also tightly packed within their unyielding, repetitive outlines.

  10. For the purpose of this essay, I make no essential distinctions between Moslem, Jewish, and Christian fundamentalism, although I focus mostly on aspects of radical Islam, since they help the political circumstances into making it a brutally violent politico-religious form.

  11. In contrast to Anglo-American psychoanalytic terminology that makes little use of the concept of desire, I find it useful to follow the so-called Continental (mostly Hegelian-inspired, French, particularly Lacanian, psychoanalysis) that uses “desire” and takes it for granted that it subtends even the most abstract cognitive and cultural rational endeavors.

  12. See Hanna Arendt’s description of the structure of totalitarianism as the iron band of terror, which destroys the plurality of men and makes out of many the One who unfailingly will act as though he himself were part of the course of history or nature.

  13. This is why a simple thesis like Armstrong’s, where fundamentalism would be a normal response to a world shorn of transcendence and spirituality is unsatisfactory.

  14. Whether it involves the God of a particular religion, or “God” in its more generalized sense of the Numinous, the Holy (Otto) that is the experience of transcendence and spiritual meaningfulness, does not make a difference here, in my view.

  15. Fundamentalism could be metaphorized as aiming at imitating God’s creation of a new world by partitioning an earth and a heaven out of chaos, at the same time as locating earth down and low and heaven up and high, through separating them in an absolute manner.

  16. Mernissi notes the complete break between the divine and the human that was established in Muslim religion, where supremacy and sheer power belong only to God and cannot be claimed by man.

  17. Richard Koenigsberg writes: “The sound and fury of societal violence testifies to the existence of objects that transcend concrete human experience. Killing and dying occur in the name of proving that such objects exist” (Nov, 2001).

  18. That is the role of the Virgin Mother in pietas. The exception is a set of Calvinist texts in the 16C retellings of the Passion that describe a vengefully sadistic God presiding over the Crucifixion (Miller 6, quotes D. Kuller Shuger, and “The Death of Christ”, in The Renaissance Bible 89-127).

  19. Among numerous examples of the father being absent yet witnessing the undoing of his son, Miller uses Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the dream of the burning child in Freud, where the question of the father’s witness emerges once again with arresting force: “Father, don’t you se I’m burning?” (Freud, 1900, pp. 547-8).

  20. Koenigsberg points out that Hitler was among the greatest devotees of the sacrificial religion of German nationalism. Koenigsberg: In Mein Kampf Hitler stated that … “thousands and thousands of young Germans have stepped forward with self-sacrificing resolve to sacrifice their young lives freely and joyfully on the altar of the beloved fatherland.” Hitler explicitly declared that the war was if fought in order to provide the occasion for people to sacrifice themselves for Germany. Hitler is saying, in effect: “There shalt be no other god before Germany.” The Jews were sacrificial victims, but so were the Germans.”

  21. Whether to put “God” in parentheses here or not is perhaps undecidable. For my part, I tend not to parenthesize this or any other kind of God.

  22. In this domain, as well as in his worshipping-contemptuous relationship to God, he kept reminding me of Daniel Schreber (Freud, 1911).

  23. Sin is defined in many religious texts as the forgetting of one’s Covenant with God, leaving one’s connection with the Divinity.

  24. Cf. Shura the Koran.

  25. Although he meant it in a somewhat different sense, we can still borrow Derrida’s concept of “autoimmunitary suicide”, See Borradori, G. (2003), p. 96. See my Psychoanalytic Theories of Affect, Karnac, 1999.

  26. Kleinian thinking uses the adjective “violent” frequently to describe primitive mental processes and unconscious fantasies.

  27. Kleinian thinking uses the adjective “violent” frequently to describe primitive mental processes and unconscious fantasies.


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