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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 33, 2017

Power and Public Reason

Geoffrey Karabin
Pages 131-153

Impotent Vengeance
Is Afterlife Belief a Vehicle to Avenge?

The afterlife has been imagined in a diversity of ways, one of which is as a vehicle for vengeance. Upon outlining, via the figures of Tertullian and Sayyid Qutb, a vengeful formulation of afterlife belief, this essay examines Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of such a belief. The belief is framed as an expression of impotence insofar as believers imagine in the beyond what they cannot achieve in the present, namely, taking vengeance upon their enemies. Nietzsche’s critique leads to the essay’s central question. Is a vengeance-based formulation of afterlife belief an expression of impotence? To respond, this essay will analyze the practices and rhetoric of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram, while also briefly mentioning Al Qaeda and ISIS. As a result of the analysis, a simplistic and unqualified form of the impotence critique is to be rejected. Nonetheless, the critique remains relevant. Boko Haram’s lack of emphasis on afterlife belief in general and its omission of a vengeance-based formulation in particular highlights the possibility that a radical religious group’s approach to the afterlife is related to the group’s relative strength or weakness. Such a possibility carries practical ramifications when assessing the scope of that group’s aims and its willingness to act.

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