Hurting oneself, sacrificing one’s life or even risking to do so for religious reasons is generally considered excessive and suspect behaviour. It often triggers fears dangerous extremism in mainstream society. However, consider the following list of situations in which similar behaviour for non-religious purposes is actually considered praiseworthy in dominant Western discourse:
- Dying for your country as a soldier
- Risking imprisonment, torture and even death as a journalist
- Permanently harming your body through extensive training and practice to be an Olympic athlete or a concert musician (even assisting minors to risk injuries in this way)
- Walking into a burning building as a firefighter
- Sacrificing family relations, health and even fortune to pursue an ambitious entrepreneurial or professional ‘dream’ (sending babies to daycare and elders to specialized homes in order to pursue such ambitions)
- Of course, the list of examples could go on indefinitely, but I hope you see my point. Negative perceptions of ‘excessive’ religious behaviour, particularly by members of minorities, is linked to cultural assumptions and values. Without denying the existence of problematic religiously-motivated behaviour, it is important to be aware of such biases, especially when they are linked to hegemonic discourses of dominant classes and ethnic groups.
An interesting academic discussion related to these questions is:
Beaman, Lori G. Defining Harm: Religious Freedom and the Limits of the Law. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008.