“We are seeing a metastatic spread of ISIS.”
“Metatastic” is an apt but frightening description of the string of terrorist bombings that are ravaging whole communities and taking the lives of staggering numbers of innocent citizens—men, women, and children. The latest death toll is appalling: 49 in Orlando, 41 in Istanbul, 22 in Bangladesh, over 250 in Bagdad, and 4 in Saudi Arabia.
The first question on people’s minds whenever multiple shots ring out, as they did this past week in Dallas, is whether or not the shooting is ISIS inspired or ISIS related.
Increased security at transportation hubs and large events and urging citizens, “If you see something, say something,” are all crucial strategies. But they are targeting terrorism in motion. They don’t get to the roots of the crisis. They don’t key in on how to stop the violence before it starts.
It’s not okay that dozens of young men are blowing themselves up. It’s not okay that they’re being radicalized out of their own humanity into savagery via ISIS propaganda on the Internet. It’s not okay that their violent acts are destroying the lives of innocent citizens, devastating whole communities, and spreading fear and grief like wildfire.
New questions must be asked that drill down to the roots of what’s happening in order to address this cancer at its source. Why are young men becoming radicalized—knowing full-well they’re signing up for suicide? What is drawing them? How can we counteract what’s happening to them?
John L. Esposito (Professor of Religion and International affairs at Georgetown University) believes that “men are drawn to ISIS in search of a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging.” Huffington Post Executive Religion Editor, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, echoed that conclusion when he observed that a key factor is “a lack of meaning and purpose in life.”
What does ISIS offer these marginalized men? One ISIS recruit explained, “Overnight you go from being an unemployed nobody to being a headache to the most powerful man in the world.”
Frankly, the very symptoms that are driving young men into the arms of ISIS are surfacing among males in many other contexts. The manhood crisis is on display on city streets, behind closed doors, in locker rooms, and countless other places. Most notably we are seeing it in the angry white men who are flocking to Donald Trump who is offering empty solutions and exploiting the very real pain these men are suffering to serve his own political ambitions. Their very masculinity is under siege. Stagnant or declining wages put their dreams out of reach. The rise of women and a surging minority population threaten white male privilege and dominance.
Globalization, immigration, economic instability, inequality, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, systemic poverty, injustice, terrorism, technology—this is today’s world. The aftershocks in men’s lives can produce a horrible sense of diminishment, frustration, despair, and anger.
The world pays an exorbitant price when these emotional forces spin out of control.
Page one of the Bible puts every man-child born in the world on solid ground when the Creator makes human beings his image bearers (Genesis 1:26-28). This isn’t mere taxonomy or simply distinguishing humans from plants and animals. God is bestowing on every human being an indestructible and breathtakingly exalted identity, meaning, purpose and sense of belonging. The imago dei changes everything for men. No conceivable definition of manhood compares with the call to “be like God”—to know and reflect the Creator and to represent God and do his work in the world.
This reality completely obliterates the lies that come from culture, circumstances, bullying, hatred, violence, and even negative self-talk combined. No matter what downturn a man’s story may take, this fact about him remains intact. In fact, it raises any indignity or offense against him or any self-destructive actions he may take himself to a cosmic level as an affront to Almighty God.
With a message like this, the only thing more tragic in the current crisis is for the church to remain silent in the face of the challenges and suffering we are called and equipped to engage. It is time for us to “man-up” and challenge our own theology of manhood (that all too often falls woefully short of God’s vision) with pressing twenty-first-century global realities confronting men and boys. Jesus calls his church to reclaim her prophetic voice in a world desperately in need of hope.
The metastatic spread of ISIS underscores the urgency of our task and drives us back to scripture to wrestle afresh and press the Bible with new and unsettling global questions and to bring humility with us. Inevitably, we will discover we haven’t been right about everything after all and have a whole lot more to learn.
The problems are complex, and we have only begun to grasp the powerful remedy God provides. But Jesus knows the way and is saying, “Follow me!”
This article was originally published at www.missioalliance.org