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Faith and Submission: The Dynamics of Political Violence
Richard A. Koenigsberg
“The ideologies of both Islamic terrorism and Nazism rest upon absolute faith in an object or entity conceived as all-powerful. Followers are expected to submit unconditionally to the object that is worshipped. Violence is directed toward human beings who do not share the faith; do not acknowledge the obligation to submit to the object or entity that is worshipped”.
Mohamed Atta
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
In 2004, I participated in an online Symposium on “The Psychologies of Religious Fundamentalism” (organized by Daniel Hill, Director of PsyBC) with a number of prominent psychoanalysts and scholars. Please see a description of the Symposium directly below.

The Symposium began with responses to Ruth Stein’s paper, “Evil as Love and Liberation,” which I discuss in two previous issues of the LSS Newsletter, here and here.

In the course of the Symposium and for the duration of 2004, I engaged in a dialogue with Ruth Stein. It was evident that her findings on the dynamics of terroristic violence were nearly identical to my discoveries on the dynamics of Nazi mass murder.

Ruth’s central finding is simple, but at the same time profound—and is contained in the title of her paper: evil as love.

Mohamed Atta’s last letter (found in his luggage) details the acts that the suicide bombers would be required to perform in order to achieve their mission. Stein concludes that this letter “does not speak of hatred.” It is “past hatred,” rather it is about “love, love of God.” Seeking to annihilate the enemies of God, Atta seeks God’s approval for what he is about to do.

Although we call the perpetrators “evildoers,” Stein notes that they “did not themselves consider their acts to be evil.” Rather, they deemed their acts to be “appropriate, just, necessary.” Murder was conceived in moral terms.

Bin Laden, similarly, conceived of violent acts as morally justified, indeed required, since they were to be undertaken to express the will of Allah. In an interview of December 1998 conducted by ABC news, Bin Laden stated that possessing weapons (of mass destruction) was a religious duty. To acquire these weapons was necessary in order to “counter the infidels.”

It is not that Bin Laden enjoys acts of violence, Rather, he says, killing and fighting are “prescribed” for Muslims—are an “obligation.” It is possible that one “dislikes a thing that is good for you.” Nonetheless, “God knoweth, and you know not.”

In an interview conducted in May 1998, Bin Laden explained that his religion believes that Allah has “created us for the purpose of worshipping him.” Thus, Allah has ordered Muslims to “make holy wars and to fight to see to it that His word is the highest and uppermost and that of the unbelievers the lowermost.”

Terroristic violence is undertaken, it would appear, according to the following schemata:

  • Allah is an entity that all Muslims must worship and to which they must submit.
  • Out of faith in and love for Allah, violent actions must be undertaken—to destroy those who do not worship and refuse to submit to him.
  • Violent acts are necessary in order to destroy unbelievers, thus affirming the power of Allah.

The key terms are faith, love and willingness to submit to an object conceived as all-powerful. Out of faith and love, acts of violence are undertaken.

What Allah was for Bin Laden and the 9/11 suicide bombers, Germany was for Hitler. He declared:

  • “Our love towards our people will never falter, and our faith in this Germany of ours is imperishable.”
  • “Deutschland uber Alles is a profession of faith which to-day fills millions with a great strength, with that faith which is mightier than any other earthly might.”
  • “We National Socialists wish to love our Fatherland, we wish to learn to love it, to learn to love it jealously, to love it alone and to suffer no other idol to stand by its side.”
  • “We do not want to have any other God, only Germany.”

Germany was the object of worship for the Nazis. Hitler was conceived as the perfect “representative” of the nation. Faith in Hitler thus was equivalent to faith in Germany. Rudolf Hess declared, “We know nothing but carrying out Hitler’s orders, and thus we prove our faith in him.”

The term “obedience” commonly used in relation to the behavior of the Nazis is unsatisfactory. One might as well say that Muslim’s are “obedient” to Allah. In neither case does the term convey active faith and devotion to the object worshipped. In the name of faith and devotion, violent acts are performed. Violence testifies to the depth of one’s faith.

Here we approach the dialectic of faith and submission. German soldiers declared an oath of personal allegiance, swearing that they would render “absolute obedience to the Fuhrer of the German Reich” and would be prepared to offer their lives “at any time for this oath.” The SS-man famously declared “absolute allegiance unto death.

An essay appeared in a 1936 illustrated book by Dr. Otto Dietrich entitled, “The Fuhrer and the German People.” Dietrich states that nowhere else in the world does one find such a "fanatic love on the part of millions of people," a love that grows from a "deep and great faith," the kind of lasting confidence that "children may have for a very good father."

Writing about Islamic terrorists, Ruth Stein discusses their love for the primal father, theorizing that this love contains “masochistic elements of profound submission.”

The ideologies of both Islamic terrorism and Nazism, then, rest upon absolute faith in an object or entity conceived as all-powerful. Followers of these ideologies are expected to submit unconditionally to the object that is worshipped. Violence is directed, therefore, toward human beings who do not share the faith; do not acknowledge the obligation to submit to the object or entity that is worshipped.

Online Continuing Education for Scholars and Mental Health Professionals
Online Symposium—Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism
Join Michael Eigen, Richard Koenigsberg, Ana-Maria Rizzuto, Walter Davis, Chuck Strozier, Joel Whitebook, Sue Grand, Werner Bohleber, Jim Jones and Don Moss.


Religious Fundamentalism: Toward a Psychoanalytic Understanding
Dates: June 21 - July 20, 2004
Fee: $59.95. Papers included in fee. No coursepack necessary. No CE credits.

The resurgence of religion during the past 35 years has included the powerful appeal of religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalist movements are a global phenomenon generally understood to be reactions to aspects of “modernity” (pluralism, market economies, globalization and human rights movements) that are experienced as threats to their worldviews and personal identities. Such fundamentalist movements are problematic not only because they are increasingly politically active, acting as obstacles to democratic principles, human rights efforts, and attempts to create economic improvement, but also because, in some cases, their activism becomes violent. Indeed, many fundamentalist groups have a high potential for theocratic politics, the violation of human rights, and violence.

Given the powerful appeal of religious fundamentalism, the political activism associated with it, and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, understanding the psychology of the members, activists, and leaders of religious fundamentalist movements has become urgent. It has become crucial to understand the appeal of fundamentalist movements, the psychological nature of the threat to which they are a response, the obstacles to entering into dialogue with them, and their vulnerability to becoming violent. In each case (their anxieties, appeal, obstacles to dialogue, and vulnerability to violence) there are powerful psychological forces at play that are only superficially understood and that must be addressed for social and political solutions to be successful.

We are very pleased to announce the first program of what we hope will become a series of symposia devoted to the psychological study of religious fundamentalists. Our first program will discuss two papers by Ruth Stein:

“Evil as Love and as Liberation: The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist”

“Fundamentalism and Vertical Desire”

The papers will be discussed by a distinguished group of analysts drawn from all schools of thought.