The question has been posed in the news nearly every night the past week. What would prompt three teenage girls from an upper class neighborhood of Scotland to leave their homes on a whim and join ISIS? The news media seems to be perplexed by this startling turn of events. Recently, the news profiled the upbringing of one of the girls. She went to the best school in Glasgow. She enjoyed pop culture, listening to specific music stars. She enjoyed going out with her friends. Her family was healthy, supportive, and well-off. Yet, in a moment, she changed. She began to wear a head scarf and espouse radical ideology. Then, she woke up one day a week ago and traveled to Turkey before continuing on to Syria to join ISIS. It is a nightmare scenario for any parent. What would prompt such a decision?
It is impossible for anyone to know the specific motivational factors on the part of these three girls. It is possible they felt socially estranged and therefore found connection with this particular religious community. Or, they could have had some negative experiences with western culture that led them to be attracted to ISIS. And maybe they simply wanted adventure. These are quite possible. However, I also think it is very likely that one reason they were drawn to ISIS (and this has been speculated by the news) is a desire to be associated with something that had a clearly-defined purpose. In other words, they wanted to believe in something and ISIS provided it for them. Interesting.
In our culture of tolerance and relativism, it does not surprise me that there is an attraction towards a religious group that displays passion and convictions. (For the record, I in no way endorse radical religion in any form. It is absolutely despicable, horrifying, and destructive). Yet, here is my point. There is something in us that wants to matter. As humans, we desperately long for purpose. We want to make a dent in this world, to leave a mark, a legacy. In our hearts, there is a stirring to live with passion and conviction. We admire people who know what they want and go for it. People who float through life without any purpose aren’t inspiring. Yes, there is a side of us that wants to dream of winning the lottery, retire early, and settle in a beach home in Jamaica. But, in our heart of hearts, this is not really what we want. We want to have a rich obituary with meaningful substance – to have it said that we impacted people. This is what I want in life. And when I talk to others, it is what they desire. It is probably what compelled those three teenage girls.
As a pastor, I think about this. Unfortunately, I think the church in general has watered down convictions too much. Expectations have been lowered. Passion for life has given way to a survival mentality; e.g., how do I just get through this week? So, we kind of exist rather than live; we get by rather than make a difference for God. This type of faith doesn’t inspire. It is nice for awhile but ultimately becomes boring. But, what if we promoted a passionate life? Or better yet, what if we ourselves lived a passionate life? What if we offered to the next generation convictions of joy, love, and forgiveness as shown to us on the cross? What if we embraced that hope that can change the world for the better rather than lash out at it? Oh, that would be a life worth living.