Alex Camlin

Elkton, MD, United States

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Alex Camlin
Posted about 4 years ago
Where on the continuum does religion become extremism? Is extremism a cognitive disorder?
I see extremism of any kind, whether it be religious, political, or other, as something of a mental Ouroboros- cyclical thinking of an autocanabalistic, and ultimately self-destructive, variety. Within the continuum of religiosity, there seems to be a sub-continuum, specifically of extremist beliefs. Sam Harris has made this distinction before, and it is a vital one to recognize: some forms of extremism give us very good reason to be alarmed, while others are more or less benign. He uses the example of Jainism. To paraphrase, the more "extreme" a Jain gets, the less we have to worry about them. The same can be said of many of the world's faiths and belief systems; Buddhists, Mennonites, Quakers, even Mormons (though arguably the more fundamental varieties of Later Day Saints pose some problems when it comes to affecting policy change in the US, but I'll put that aside) - these people, among others, should more or less not concern us the more fundamentalist they become. Not only is it important to note this distinction, as I said, but perhaps these groups of people can help us in your quest for gaining neural imaging data about extremism. As Lora Lopuhovsky poignantly asked, "Who would participate or who would decide who should participate in a study of this?" Failed Muslim suicide bombers, fundamentalist Christians who murder abortionists- these people will doubtfully submit to neural imaging studies to plumb the depths of their "cognitive disorders". But perhaps our friends, the "benign extremists" will. This may seem to run counter to my earlier call to recognize the distinction among extremists, and further study may reveal this to be so, but looking into the brains of the benign extremists may give us a much better understanding of the malignant extremists. My hypothesis is that extremism of any variety, though the ideologies behind it will cause beliefs/behaviors to manifest in very different ways, is essentially the same at the level of the brain.