Image by nataliesap via FlickrI originally wrote this in 2007. Though dated the gist of this article is still pertinent. While our own recent elections and the strife currently ongoing in Iran have marginalized the extremist; they have not provided any guarantee that a world wide catastrophe could not be precipitated by a fundamentalist faction from either side of this divisive geo-political issue.
This question has been posed by no less then the President of India, to the entire world via Yahoo. The simplistic answer was given by Rodney King when he asked “can’t we all just get along”? That simple question contains both the answer and a profound glimpse of the reason we will never get rid of not only terrorism but also war, genocide, rape, pedophilia, bullies, gang fights, internecine religious struggles, anger management classes and the people who need them. We cannot just get along.
Humans are competitive by nature and have an insatiable need to validate themselves by winning at everything. From games to conversation, we strive to come out on top. Parents playing with young children often would rather win time after time at their children’s expense, rather then let the little one experience winning. We harbor the hope if not the belief that we are smarter then everyone, even when we really know we are not. How often have you seen someone or have you yourself clung to a position you were not comfortable with because to agree with someone else is to lose.
All Christians, Jews, Muslims, and agnostics (when in extremis) believe that God is on their side. We have a plethora of religions and only one God, but we keep killing each other over whom he likes best. As a species we prefer to concentrate on which religion is the true religion instead of on how we might be of service to our fellow man and leaving the education of the unenlightened up to God. We are so convinced that we know the mind of God that we would rather force-feed it to the rest of the world then just love them for who they are.
Look at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. He recently told the UN that and I quote “People driven by their divine nature, intrinsically seek good, virtue, perfection and beauty.” He then went on to say, “Relying on our people, we can take giant steps toward reform and pave the road for human perfection. Whether we like it or not, justice, peace, and virtue will sooner or later prevail in the world with the will of almighty God.”
Human perfection, whether we like it or not, imposed by a beneficent and omnipotent God, along with justice, peace and virtue, is not a new concept. It has been present in all three of the great monotheisms throughout history. It comes from the complete and utter certainty of those who say they have seen the face of God and use the books of all three faiths (the Koran, the Bible and the Torah) to justify their views.
In today’s unnerving, globalizing, sometimes terrifying world, such religious certainty is more in demand then ever. Muslims are not the only faithful who teach submission to divinely inspired authority. The new Pope, despite his criticism of extremist religion and religious violence, represents a return to a more authoritarian form of Catholicism. In the Catholic, triad of how we discern truth- a dialogue between papal authority, scriptural guidance and the experience of the faithful- Benedict XVI has tilted the balance back towards his own unanswerable truth.
In his recent remarks on Islam, he made it clear that if your conscience tells you something different from his teaching it is not only a false conscience but also sinful thought. A conscience that reaches different conclusions is not a sign of personal integrity but rather a wayward soul lost in confusion.
Protestant Christianity, especially in the U.S. is becoming more and more certain and uncompromising in its views. The churches, which teach absolute adherence to inerrant scripture, are becoming megalithic congregations and other more moderate views are in decline. This sense of certainty is nowhere more obvious and dangerous then in democratic politics. We have a proudly born again, President who is more certain then most about what God expects from him. His mistakes in Iraq cannot be disentangled, from his religious views. He has written, “My faith frees me, frees me to make decisions others might not like. Frees me to do the right thing even though it might not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next.” He is certain beyond any doubt that he knows the mind of God and is led in all his actions by Gods counsel.
So here, we are in a world of thermonuclear weapons with fundamentalist zealots on both sides returning to the rhetoric of the sixteenth century when Muslims and Christians neither asked for nor granted any quarter to each other. See the problem.
Religious absolutism by definition belittles and demeans God in my opinion. By virtue of the fact that he is God there is something unknowable about Him that surpasses our ability to understand. Not entirely, we have scripture, we have revelation, we have religious authority and finally we have our own spiritual experience of the divine, but there is also that which we cannot grasp. There is that part of God beyond our human understanding that makes God, God, and that without it He would not be God.
To get rid of terrorism, strife and inter-human struggles like war we all have to give up the notion that we know the only truth. We have to give up the notion that in knowing it we are endowed with a moral authority over our fellow humans. We have to learn to ignore the minutia of religious belief that entitles us to feel superior to others and concentrate on the wider application of brotherly love taught by all religions. We will have to suppress our egos and surrender our prejudices so that we might be able to ask first how may I be of service to my fellow man, not how may I convert him.
If we ever get to the point where we are willing to try to ease the burden of our neighbors regardless of the weight of our own burden we might just learn to get along with each other. We would do better to follow the examples of people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ, all of whom rejected violence and put service to others first. I hope that we find a way.