In my line of work I am forced to come to grips with the thought process of radical Islamic terrorists. Because the work I do and the people I support are tied in many ways to the war on terror, it is never far from my mind. I think it would also be fair to say that the psychology of people in general has always been of interest to me. I find myself fascinated by people who kill and die for various causes and reasons, and I endeavor to understand why they do what they do. Serial killers, suicide bombers, mass murderers, genocidal despots, and others, are all of interest to me.
You may think, depending on your belief system, that religious zealots (suicide bombers) do not belong on a list with these others. Religion is a belief while many (if not all) of these other groups commit atrocities due to a mental defect. Megalomaniacs, racial purists, nationalists in the extreme, generally (in my view) are people whose minds fail to process things in a “normal” manner. For instance, if we were to stipulate that I didn’t like a certain group of people, the “normal” thing for me to do would be to avoid them. Perhaps I would make disparaging remarks about them in groups of like-minded individuals. But there is no set of circumstances under which I would advocate for, or attempt to orchestrate, the genocide of all people in that group. (Note, it is a bit of a stretch for me to claim to be “normal”, but with regard to genocide I’d say I’m “typical”)
Religion is in fact a mental defect however, if the person or object of worship does not exist. If the “religious experience” some people claim is simply a hallucination or mass hypnosis, or the conversations had with “God” are a delusion, then religion is a mental disorder. Without doubt the most costly mental disorder in the history of human existence in terms of human lives. We have burned, drowned, beheaded, stoned, purged, cleansed, flogged and tortured our way through human history in the name of beings no one can verify actually exist.
The Catholics invaded the “Holy Land” to reclaim it from the Muslims. The Muslims blow up things all over the world as some twisted method of preaching the Gospel (which in Islam is “Convert or die”. http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/quran/023-violence.htm). Protestants and Catholics kill each other, as do Muslim sects, over interpretations of various verses. I think it’s safe to say that as I write this, somewhere in the world, someone is suffering and/or dying for what they believe. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.
However, as I drove in this morning thinking about these things I was struck by the difference between western and eastern cultures with regard to adherence to belief systems. From Samurai to Jihadists, Medicine men to Witch Doctors, from Asia to Africa to parts of Eastern Europe, there is a stark contrast with western culture.
First it is worth noting that I grew up in a Christian household. After many years my father eventually retired from his government job and became a pastor. I spent quite a few years as an apologist, arguing with atheists on the internet. I was never an evangelist, but I could debate religion and religious belief all day long. What set me apart from many of my associates was that when something I was saying troubled me I did not view that as a lack of faith and pray harder. I viewed it as critical thought, and read harder. I studied, and learned, and questioned. As has always been the case in my life, music touched me and opened my mind to new thoughts and my heart to new feelings.
I concluded that the essence of Christianity was simple. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that I might be saved from my sins. There was supposed to be a life changing power in the blood of Christ. We were called to be in the world not of it. We were to cast off the world. We were called to be a peculiar people. But as I looked around I noticed that from Jimmy Swaggart to Pat Robertson; from the local pastor, to my own father, to the pedophile priests popping up on the news from time to time; there was no real difference. Many of these people didn’t even have basic honor, dignity or integrity, much less a legitimate life-altering relationship with the almighty creator of the universe. Then two important things happened.
Styx released “Show Me the Way“, and I met Eric Roux. Eric is a molecular biologist and a brilliant man, with whom I disagree strongly on nearly every subject. Which would seem to make me a dumb ass…. Nevertheless, after years of talking I finally came about 13/16ths of the way to Eric’s position. He is an atheist, while I believe in intelligent design but I no longer practice any religion.
However, the thought that crossed my mind this morning was, “What if we really believed?” What if we had the conviction in the western world that people in the eastern world have. Not the conviction of those who obey under duress or threat of violence. Not the conviction of those who are beaten or tortured in to conversion. But true conviction. What if we in the western world were all radicals and actually practiced the precepts of the most prevalent religion in western culture? What kind of world would we live in?
I realize that this is a pipe dream, but bear with me for a moment. While you ponder this please bear in mind that I am not talking about a theocracy like those in the middle east. I am talking about people actually (voluntarily) living according to the precepts of the religion they (voluntarily) espouse, which is by and large Christianity in western culture. What would the United States look like if we weren’t all hypocrites?
Rather than answer this question myself, and speak in to the ether… I will leave it open and let the reader comment. I’d like to hear what YOU think the United States would be like. What if we kept the 10 Commandments? What if we adhered to the Golden Rule? What if the teachings of Jesus were our guide, and we lived what we said we believed?
I await your reply.