Fantasy Ideology

In Policy Review, August-September, 2002, there appeared an article by Lee Harris, entitled “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology.” Harris writes from a resolutely secular point of view, to address America’s difficulty understanding the events of September 11, 2001. He uses terms of Georges Sorel (myth), Friedrich Nietzsche (Will to Power), and William James (religion). Especially the last functions as a point of scientific objectivity, explaining that William James and Vilfredo Pareto, “took up beliefs . . . and examined them . . . as a botanist examines the flora . . . cataloguing . . . not producing new ones.”

Harris covers the appearances of 9/11 well enough, but below the surface of his argument lies a polemic that needs to be addressed: the polemic against religion of any kind, in favor of Enlightenment empiricism. That has become such a part of our cultural atmosphere that even religious people scarcely notice it any more. The problem is, it leaves us no clear distinction between religion we ought to protect, and religion that needs attacking; between the liturgy of godly worship and the dramatization of Al Qaeda’s fantasy ideology. We need such a distinction, especially at this moment.

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