Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Untying the Knots - Violence & Religion

Violence & Religion

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

 In the wake of the several recent needless bombings and shootings that have shaken our community, and the ongoing "war on terrorism" that we hear so much about, many people have begun questioning the connection between faith and violence. Last week, Bill Maher stated unequivocally (as is his way) that Islam is the most violent religion that there is. I have several friends who also feel this way, and appear to have the proof to support this claim.

 So let us examine this idea, without comparing an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth… without (for the time being) getting into historical or statistical references regarding the Crusades or other invasions of Christian western imperialist nations into Islamic territories… but by deconstructing what the word religion itself means. I suspect that we shall discover that it is a vague and meaningless term which doesn't really help us to understand the nature of violence, and the reason that it has troubled our poor embattled species since the beginning of time.

 I strongly recommend that anyone wanting to understand this subject more clearly reads a book called "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright, wherein Mr. Wright does a wonderful job of cataloging how the belief in a supreme being germinates in both ancient and modern societies, over time, and develops distinctions which are unique to that particular faith because of the needs of the society from which it springs.

 He cites also many examples from the Bible and the Koran which reveal just how the layers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have constantly evolved and adapted into widely varying personalities— not just between the religions, but within each of them— depending upon the given moment that we look at them, and the relative situation of the power brokers within them. Let us suffice to say that not only is Islam not a homogenous whole whose exact nature can be agreed upon by all of its participants but, just like every other religion, it is a constantly writhing and churning set of beliefs that in any one generation may seem rather alien to the generation that precedes it, or follows it.

 We may arguably say the same thing about politics. What— after all— is a Republican? Is it Lincoln… or is it Joe McCarthy? What is a Democrat? Is it a hood-wearing Dixiecrat of the 1930s… or is it Obama? Perhaps it doesn't matter whether we call ourselves a Democrat or a Republican, a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim. Perhaps those who hurt other people do it because they like to hurt other people, and in order to assuage their natural guilt about doing so, they rationalize their behavior by inaccurately citing a chapter from their holy book or constitution.
 We have certainly seen Christianity go through its violent phases, and when we examine such things as the Crusades, Naziism, the Ku Klux Klan… we tend to understand that it was not the word of the supposed "Jesus" that imbued these movements with such horrific violence, but the nature and condition of the people who perpetrated these acts that were responsible for them.

 Firstly, there is very little historical proof that Jesus (if there ever was a Jesus) said half of the things he is claimed to have said. The same is actually true for the word of Mohammed, the vast majority of which has been conveyed down through the centuries via the spoken word. Anybody ever played the telephone game? Now imagine that being played over centuries… over millennia. Basically, whatever our religion, we end up believing in what we want to believe. And if we want to believe it is right to hurt others, then we can find that proof wherever we seek it.

 Secondly when we view societies through a socio-economic lens, it becomes very easy to predict where the violence is going to erupt, and against whom. Thinking that religion itself is responsible is actually giving it more credit than it should fairly claim. If the West were mostly Islamic, and the Middle East mostly Christian, the violence would still be coming from the same place.

 No, religion is not the cause of violence. It might be more accurate to say that violence is the cause of some people's religion.

 So what makes us violent?
 The answer to that is simple. Fear! And usually it is the fear of violence. So we might say that it is in fact violence that causes violence.

 We all have felt the need to be violent on some occasion; the need for vengeance. The need to repay a grievance that we feel was unjustly perpetrated upon us, or those for whom we care. But if you think of it this way— that vengeance is the flower of the seed of someone else's anger— then to commit ourselves to vengeance would be to fulfill the intent of our persecutors… even if by some miracle we could actually get revenge on them personally.

 But this is not usually the case. Usually we "get back" at someone else. Usually we punish our children for the sins of our parents. Usually we bomb the poor and innocent people in another country because someone else bombed the poor and innocent people in ours. Even when we get the right person, and we feel we have achieved justice, it is often not actually that particular incident that has motivated us to respond in a violent way, but something long ago forgotten. Some ancient wound that festers within. Or else why would simply stopping the violence of others, not be enough? Why would we then need to injure that person, to kill or maim or punish them in some more dramatic and painful way?

 It is clearly an emotional response. It is because the thing that has injured us at the deepest level has not been stopped. It is replayed for us whenever a new incident reminds us of that suffering that we are constantly trying to subdue. It is a thorn in our side that drives us to repeat the same violence that we believe that we hate in others. But that we contain within our selves and refuse to acknowledge.

 Most murderers, bombers, terrorists, dictators and sociopaths are people who possess the highest moral convictions… and yet the lowest ability to forgive.

 So before we judge others who have committed horrible violent acts, and before we indemnify ourselves from any responsibility for the violence of the world, let us remember that every violent act committed is a seed that goes out into the world, like a dandelion weed, planting itself into the fertile ground of someone else's despair. We exist within a matrix where every event, every deed, every thing that exists affects every other on some level. If we add to the violence of the universe… then there is more violence in the universe, plain and simple, and we have to live in that universe.

 Perhaps sometimes violence is called for, but it is a measure of our weakness, not our strength. Let us use it then, only when it is absolutely necessary, and let us learn not to delight in it, or to rationalize it by blaming our religion or the religions of others. Let us realize that when others use it, it is also a measure of their weakness, and perhaps we will learn to fear them less. Let us understand that even though they claim it is condoned by their religion, many of their brethren would disagree. And let us repeat this mantra to ourselves, every day, so that hopefully it will one day become a part of the fabric of our universe— that we will attempt in every way possible to personally lessen the violence that is around us.