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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Suicide Bombers and the Prozac God: A Review of Dying for Heaven By Bruce B. Lawrence

A new work advancing a radical theory of the motivation behind suicide bombers is almost bizarrely off the mark. Stitching together thought and observation from disparate and often dissonant sources, Georgetown theology professor Ariel Glucklich’s book would be laughable were he not a consultant to the defense community. Suicide Bombers and the Prozac God: A Review of Dying for Heaven By Bruce B. Lawrence

Some excerpts:

While it may be easy to decode the thesis from a mere glance at the book’s title and subtitle, it’s not quite so easy to accept the premise. Dying for Heaven, released today, is at once conceptually misguided and systemically flawed; psychologizing religion in general and Islam in particular. Having mined myriad, often disparate sources, and writing from a lofty platform, the author is attempting to answer several metaphysical questions with some potentially physical, real-life implications on the ground. Of his book, Glucklich writes on the HarperOne site:

The obvious topic is whether Iran can be deterred from using nuclear weapons against Israel when they finally do acquire them. Can deterrence ever work with
an actor who is completely committed to a religious life?
An Indologist by training, Glucklich has written highly acclaimed, prize-winning books that adroitly analyze the Hindu tradition and its mythic claims. He occupies a major academic post (professor of theology at Georgetown) and serves as an advisor to the US defense community as it attempts to cope with asymmetric warfare in the post-9/11 era.

This stream of consciousness does, of course, have a history. There is, for instance, happiness economics—a.k.a. hedonics—which focuses on how the pleasure principle impacts investment strategies and consumer preferences. But the oldest use comes from religious psychology itself when no less a mystic than Timothy Leary coined the term. Back in 1971, when he was still a professor at Harvard, Leary operated a Hedonic psychology laboratory where he postulated and tested his eight circuits of consciousness, all of which could be traced to tantric yoga.
It is a pity that the long list of friends and colleagues who are acknowledged at the end of Dying for Heaven did not have the courage to tell Glucklich (or if they did, that he did not have the wisdom to hear) that the thesis he advances is a dystopic inversion of The Chronicles of Narnia—minus, alas, C.S. Lewis’ self-mockery and genuine sense of humor.
Dying for Heaven makes a mockery of both religion and death, transforming holy pleasure into a dirge of contradiction and Islamophobia. No laughing matter, it should be treated as a symptom rather than a solution to American (dis)engagement with Islam and Muslims. [thanks YA]


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