Though I didn’t see it air, the above superbowl commercial is making the rounds on FB this morning; I quite enjoyed it, and the implicit message it communicates about vocation. Related to this idea, about a year and a half ago, my friend Steven Wedgeworth wrote some thoughts on extremism worthy of further reflection. He concludes with the following:
But I am insisting that what there is to worry about with Islam is totally different than what the majority of the media and mainstream press get worked up over. What they’re always on about is either something worth considering (the idea that religion and culture might actually impact each other) or it’s just the Fight Club phenomenon. And when dealing with this latter issue, we don’t need to be fooled into thinking that it’s primarily a political or theological issue. It’s a personal issue. People attracted to real-life RPGs in the form of partisan hostility do not need so much to be combated on the intellectual level, but on the existential one. They are having trouble with “reentry” and need to come back to reality.
There’s certainly a political angle to extremism. I wouldn’t want to deny that. The leadership of many terrorist groups has adopted its style of action because of the necessities of being a non-state actor or what Carl Schmitt called “the partisan.” Schmitt’s political and historical reading is important, to be sure, and it shows that the tactics of terrorism come from a very specific military strategy which has its origins in Spain and Russia, further supporting my insistence that it cannot be addressed merely by religious or philosophical ideology (though again, to be clear, religious and philosophical ideology is important and does have a role to play). Nevertheless, as helpful as this is in addressing the organizational level of extremism, I still believe that the Fight Club phenomenon best addresses the recruitment level. It is, as much as anything, the root of the problem. They have an identity crisis.
What’s the solution? Daddy-issues-styled therapy? Perhaps. But more simply I think these individuals need to be reassured of their own manhood (or personhood in general) and given appropriate outlets to realize their desires. They need to kill and eat so to speak, but they need to be able to do this in non-harmful ways. Instead of being told to repress their energy, they need to be told to redirect it an appropriate manner. Instead of radical politics, they need what the old Protestant theologians called vocation, or a personal calling to work in the world. This isn’t limited to a job, though that’s not a bad start. It also includes marriage, a family, building something for the community, creating a larger life-project, and even contributing to the common good. This is where the churches can and should come in to address the problem. And I suppose that this is the level where ideology will also come back on the scene.
Churches cannot use “culture wars” to promote alternative realities and Fight Clubs. Instead, they have to be able to marshal a prophetic critique that is consistent with all of the prophets. “Seek the peace of the city,” -he said. “For in its peace you will have peace.”