Deeply held beliefs will be called into question. That’s an epistemic guarantee, based on the nature of those beliefs. People will call them into question and, more importantly, so will you. What will you do about it? How will religious people respond? That’s the ethical question. In light of the killings that took place in Paris recently, I am reminded about the fragile nature of the religion of some people. As a lover of free expression and people, I’m saddened. As a lover of religion (including Islam of course), I’m forced to ask questions.
Who to blame? That’s the knee-jerk reaction. Most will blame the particular people. Crazy people do crazy things. That’s what John Stewart did on The Daily Show. Some will blame religion, calling it a disease that is plaguing our planet. That’s what the New Atheists will do. Others will blame Islam, misrepresenting it as religion of violence. That’s what some self-righteous Christians will do (and, I’m guessing, Fox News, in their own special way). Others will blame extremist ideology in all its various forms (secular and religious). Perhaps it’s a mix of the first and last of these.
|note: I’m not picking on Islam here; a cross would have covered the mouth.|
We are creatures who like certainty, and that’s what some people get from religion. I remember back when Christianity was taking root in me. Morally speaking, I got the message very early: love, forgiveness, sacrifice, random acts of kindness. After reading the Gospels, that was easy. But intellectually, it was a whirlwind of philosophical questions, most of which were exciting but many of which were confusing and challenging. What about other religions? Is the Bible the word of God? Early on, I do remember being threatened by other beliefs, rival systems, atheism, philosophical naturalism, even science itself (eek!). Intellectually speaking, they were the competition. I was using them to help define what I was. Which makes me wonder: Is this our default position? Is defensiveness the starting point of religious psychology? Perhaps.
But I grew up. All that disappeared. You face your own doubts. You question. You come back much better. Morally speaking, Christianity has not changed for me. Not one bit. Intellectually, it has expanded quite a bit. Here’s the point. There is absolutely nothing anyone can say that could ever offend me regarding religion. Similarly, there is nothing anyone can say about my own son that would offend me. Why? Because who gives a shit, man! People who get offended, I conclude, are religious infants. They never grew up like the rest of us. In proportion to the amount they are offended, is the amount of faith they lack. In proportion to how angry they get, is the amount of insecurity they have. In proportion to the amount of cognitive dissonance they experience, that is how mentally weak they are. I pity them; they probably live in a scary world. When I was young, my mom had to shake me out of bed. I hated it. That’s infant religion. Now I get out of bed. That’s adult religion. I don’t know how many infants are out there. That’s a hard question. All I can speak for is myself. I refuse to make myself a special exception. That’s not right either. I give humanity the benefit of the doubt. Most of us are adults.
At the moment these extreme Muslim terrorists were killing people, the words ‘praise God’ was on their lips. They have no God. They have a reason to kill. This is a gang mentality. It is revenge dressed in religious language, the only justification they can muster. They never grew up. This is a primitive, primal, childish mindset. I actually don’t have tools to explain it; it’s beyond me. These are just my fleeting thoughts and guesses. But I do know one thing. The core teachings of the world’s religions is the Golden Rule, a common-sense rule based on empathy. In this sense, it is a contradiction to be religious and to kill people. Nothing could be more hypocritical.
However, I do understand that religion is a complex thing interpreted by complex people. Here is where I partly agree with the New Atheists. There are parts of religious sacred texts that seem outdated and wrong, and in that sense I put some blame on the texts themselves; or, rather, on the infinite value people place on those parts of text. I cannot speak for the Quran and other religious texts, but the Old Testament, for example, interpreted by the wrong people, could spell disaster. God condones killing (for God sake!). When I read the O.T., I read about a primitive people and their primitive God. Partly. The New Testament, in my opinion (and Kant’s), is much better, but still could be used for horrible things like sexism (Paul’s letters). Again, I think religious people need to grow up, realize that these parts of text require careful interpretation (as St. Augustine noticed), and move on with the good parts, the core parts.
How do we deal with religious infants? Lightly, I suppose. How do we deal with dangerous and violent religion infant organizations? Through justice, I would hope. This is why we have United Nations, International Courts, Crimes Against Humanity, and so on. On a large scale, justice is the best alternative to revenge.