Most Americans think of Islam as a radical force, a jihadist religion. But employing religion for political means--especially through the use of religiously inspired violence--is not new, nor limited to Islam. Dying for Heaven argues the provocative thesis that the very best qualities of religion--its ability to make people feel good and bring them together--are in fact its most dangerous.
We are currently involved in an international game of "Chicken," and the consequences are potential annihilation. And unlike in the Cold War, this time the winner won't be determined by who has the bigger, faster car, but which driver is willing to sacrifice the most. And that is often determined by the religious beliefs of the contestant.
In today's volatile world, deterrence won't work any longer. So rather than the ignorance, violence, tribalism or hatred of an opposing group, we should be most concerned with their religiously inspired transcendent values. Whether you are a suicide bomber or the leader of a country with nuclear weapons, fervent belief in an afterlife, in a messianic future, or in honor, love and self-sacrifice, makes complete self-annihilation a tolerable--even attractive--outcome to any conflict that threatens your society's way of life.
The Iranian war against Iraq in the 1980s revealed how dangerous the culture of faith, honor and self-sacrifice can be, and the export of this ideology to southern Lebanon and Gaza presages further mischief. When Iran finally does arm itself with nuclear weapons, can it be prevented from using them? Will deterrence work? Can it work in the face of a rationality that favors supreme future joy above ordinary self-interest? And if not, what other ways are there to combat nuclear recklessness compounded by religious devotion in the Middle East and elsewhere? Dying for Heaven addresses and answers these questions with a new understanding of religion, and provides a vision for preventing futher religiously instigated violence.