The message of the musical The Book of Mormon, writes Ross Douthat, is a very conventional one: religious people would be happier if they shed their beliefs in hellfire and other superstitions, and focused exclusively on the key moral messages of their creeds. But there will always be those left dissatisfied with the resulting secular humanism. It is to a subset of such people that ideologies like Islamic State (IS) appeal:
The deep reality . . . (a reality not unlike the one that’s playing itself out on certain college campuses right now) is that many human beings, especially perhaps young human beings, still crave a transcendent purpose, even in a society that tells them they don’t really need one to live a comfortable, fulfilling life. And more than that, many people experience both a kind of liberation and a kind of joy in submission to these purposes, even—as is the case with IS—when that submission involves accepting forms of violence and cruelty that rightly shock the conscience of the world. . . .
[I]f the West’s official alternative to IS is the full Belgium (basically good food + bureaucracy + euthanasia), if Western society seems like it’s closed most of the paths that human beings have traditionally followed to find transcendence, if Western culture loses the ability even to imagine the joy that comes with full commitment, and not just the remissive joy of sloughing commitments off—well, then we’re going to be supplying at least some recruits to groups like IS for a very long to come.
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