In a recent interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, Scott Atran, an Anthropologist and Presidential Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York was asked how we can create a counter narrative to ISIS: “Moderation is not the answer.” He continues, “In order to understand ISIS, you have to look at how they define their mission. Their goal, as stated in their manifesto, is to inhabit places in chaos and then breed that chaos everywhere else.”
So what are we to do? Scott learned wisdom from an imam who left the Islamic State: “We've got to - and this is the, again, an imam from the Islamic State telling me - we have got to come up with a positive message within our religious idiom that can attract these young people and track them away from violence and killing.”
Scott has learned that ISIS “recruiters” take a very intimate and personal approach. “They look at each individual and sometimes spend hundreds, even thousands of hours drawing out their personal grievances and frustrated aspirations and trying to link it to a larger story of how the world should be and what they can do to contribute to it… Well, we've got to provide young people the possibility for some other mode of life that's hopeful, adventurous, glorious and provides significance. Again, we don't provide much of anything except belief in things like shopping malls. We don't even listen to young people. There are no programs that I know of that really allow the ideas of youth to bubble up and cultivate an alternative that comes from them.”
On this same Sunday, I heard our rector at church, the Rev. Leigh Spruill talk in his Sunday School class about making disciples and how crucial it is in creating a resurgence of the Christian church.
I began to connect the two: “What if we were to start “recruiting” young and old to Christianity by listening to their grievances and frustrated aspirations about the world and organized religions, and then spent 100-1000 hours with each person in helping them determine their important role in the larger narrative of God and Christ’s story, where there is no need to kill others or commit suicide in order to feel an identity and a sense of belonging?”
Isn’t that how Jesus first invited Peter and Andrew to “follow him” and to become “fishers of men”? (Matthew 4:19). In one sentence, Jesus gave them the way to a larger purpose, and then spent 3 years with them in close instruction.
Being a Christian disciple is hopeful, adventurous, glorious and provides significance. We must invest our time in an intimate, personal approach to making more disciples if we are to provide the catalyst to revive Christianity as an alternative to evil.