"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion."
As an agnostic, I have to admit that I have no way of putting myself in the cultural shoes or the socialized mindsets of individuals so obsessed with, and so fanatically devoted to their religious beliefs that they often engage in behavior which—contradictorily—turns the very precepts of their beliefs on their heads. The only way that my mind can even try to grasp how people can have such myopic fidelity to their beliefs is by likening it to the unshakable certainty a small child has for believing that the Boogey Man awaits them in the room at the end of the dark hallway in which they are expected to enter…and that they are better off basking in the “safety” of what they can see. Perhaps a similarly skeptical reader can wax a more eloquent analogy on the level of understanding it takes for how and why people are able to place so much faith in the unseen, unknowable, and the unverifiable that they willingly surrender their ability to reason beyond their fears or feelings.
And although over the centuries, wiser, more intelligent individuals than myself have sought many times before to attempt to interjection some sanity into the thinking of such Godly individuals, events in recent months have compelled me—at the risk of further isolating regular readers—to write about how individuals have co-opted the already questionable concept of religion…to the detriment of informed thinking and society in general.
The current upheaval in Afghanistan provides an excellent example of how much blind adherence to religious dogma impairs judgment, reveals both intolerance and hypocrisy, and promotes social disharmony.
The recent protests and violence among Afghanis as a result of the accidental burning of Korans—the holy book of the Muslim faith—by low-ranking U.S. Army officials has been ranging for the past two weeks. As of this writing, some six U.S. service personnel have been killed by those protesting the burning of the venerated texts. And despite an apology by President Obama to both the government and the people of Afghanistan, the violent outcry continues, with protesters rejecting the apology and even burning effigies of the president.
Protesters in Afghanistan burning an effigy of President Obama, following the president's apology to the Afghani people over the U.S. military's accidental burning of confiscated Korans.
Taken from detained suspected militants, the holy books were seized by military officials because it was believed that the militants were using them to send messages among each other. The Korans were then accidentally disposed of in a manner offensive to Muslims—by burning them.
Despite the various cultural disconnects and misunderstandings surrounding the issue, the dynamics of the mistake are somewhat understandable…at least to those who are capable of thinking beyond blind devotion and an almost psychotic—if not oftentimes hypocritical—respect for a particular religious belief. Americans for the most part are not very privy to the understanding of cultures beyond our own. And sadly, this lack of understanding carries over to many within the various American military branches.
Additionally, many Americans—especially those in the military—cannot understand that many cultures see Americans as incapable of error, in a manner of speaking. Considering that no other country exports many aspects of its culture to the point where we are emulated the world over, that we are the only country to ever have put a man on the moon, have conquered many diseases which still plague countries like Afghanistan, and that we possess the mightiest military on the planet, Afghanis can—if erroneously—reasonably conclude that any country with such know-how is capable of such behavior only as a matter of intent.
But this is not to say that the Muslim people of Afghanistan are without fault. They are killing U.S. servicemen—the same soldiers who helped liberate their country from the brutally oppressive theocratic Taliban regime—because like Evangelical Christians in this country, Muslims in the Arab World worship their particular interpretation of God (and all things spiritually-related) with hair-trigger sensitivity to perceived “affronts.” So much so that many adherents forget that they owe American soldiers who sacrificed life and (in many cases) limb to give them a shot at a life outside of theocratic oppression.
And like their Christian counterparts here in America, Muslims in Afghanistan seem to embrace a level of thinking which, instead of promoting understanding, tolerance, charity, and forgiveness, seems to promote selective kind of each.
The problem I’ve observed with such single-minded adherence to these beliefs is that adherents often start to actually believe themselves as correctly representing their faiths, instead of the distortions of reality they tend to become. More so, these individuals tend to engage in questionable actions that are more often the manifestations of secular considerations rather than benevolently following spiritual precepts. Such individuals often act mostly out of anger (for not being “respected,”), fear (of being overwhelmed and/or feeling powerlessness in a world of more powerful and influential people exist), pride (in many cases, wounded by some slight), or because they presume to be following the “word/will of God. These motivations tend to reinforce a notion of self-righteousness which blinds adherents to the notion of questioning their own actions, or of seeing some contradictions in their actions. This religious soap boxing is how Muslims are able to convince themselves that those who do not share their personal convictions are “infidels” to support self-serving jihad against them.
We see this same dynamic often in America, where politically active left-leaning Progressives and Evangelical conservative Christians are often convinced of the righteousness of their various causes based on their personal religious convictions (or rather, their interpretations of such). It’s how those with politically right-leaning politics can accuse those on the left of being “Godless liberals,” while leftists can point out conservative “aspirations” of turning America into a theocracy (which admittedly at times seems that way). This is why those on either side of hot-button political issues like gay marriage can claim either that “God is gay,” or “God hates fags,” depending on one’s secular ideological—not spiritual—bent.
In America, religious beliefs tend to be more of a secondary consideration with regards to public and/or social policy. They may provide a driving impetus for these policies, but make no mistake…political power, aspirations, and one-upmanship is the primary consideration.
Just by observing the current Republican primary process, we can see how invoking the idea of divine intervention among the various candidates—both past and present—is meant to sway those who would vote for them in the name of political aspirations. Former Republican primary candidates Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain all have said that “God wants/called me to run for president” (apparently, “God” wanted these individuals to just run for the highest office in the land, but not to actually assume the post).
Political commentator LZ Granderson talks about candidates "called to run by God" recently in CNN.
Simply as a matter of common sense, God cannot be on everyone’s side when it comes to beliefs, motivations, and/or actions. And as a matter of experience with human beings, invoking religious backing and/or the idea of God in matters of personal desire is usually done as a justification for actions which adversely affects others.
To be concluded...