Archives for posts with tag: Religion

Many are aghast at the evil acts suddenly erupting all over the world – most of it in the name of jihad. Not a few are actually inspired by the mayhem and join the fight. The new world order is outrageously brutal; things had seemed so reliably predictable during the cold war. Popular pundits blame George W Bush or Barack H Obama.

Of course, in the old days we were not inundated 24/7 with continuous news streams covering all the wars and ethnic cleansings of the moment in faraway places: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, South Africa etc. Total killed in such conflicts in the 20th century ~100 million. The average person was more oblivious in the good old days.

The scary thought is that things may actually have improved over the centuries. We don’t really know what life was like in distant times but this paragraph from a review in the WSJ of a book by Robert Harris on the life of Cicero suggests that evil has always been a prominent part of our social fabric:

“Nonetheless, Mr. Harris captures the senselessness of triumviral intrigue magnificently, not relenting as the players meet their gruesome ends. Crassus was slain at Carrhae in 53 B.C., Pompey on an Egyptian beachhead in 48 B.C., following his defeat at Pharsalus. Both were posthumously decapitated. Cato, having unsuccessfully attempted to take his life, tore the stitches from his wound, pulled out his intestines and bled himself to death at Utica in 46 B.C. Caesar was savagely murdered on the senate floor in 44 B.C. Cicero was proscribed by Octavian and Antony in 43 B.C., losing his hands and head soon after. Antony killed himself in 30 B.C., one year after the Battle of Actium.”

The religious myth that the devil has corrupted our pure souls, or some such, is wrong. Evil resides within each one of us, placed there during the process of creation. It is up to each one of us to find ways to control it. Society and culture tries to promote the good and discourage the bad but things can spin out of control so easily. Science, religion, philosophy and politics all have their roles to play.

Will there be an end to the personal crimes committed by sociopaths, murderers, rapists, thieves and the like? Probably not, but it does seem reasonable to tackle the phenomenon of social movements intent on killing, raping and pillaging. But is there a cure for the waves of mass cruelty and suffering that wash over humanity? The mystery answer has been blowing in the wind for a very long time.

Humankind should of course strive for improvement of our world, if only we could figure out what the problem is more precisely. Commitments to various communities (religious, philosophical, political, ethnic, national, ideological – even tribal or criminal gangs) have been the more obvious strategies for success, but they have actually been the very source of the mayhem  when a mob mentality supervenes. Philosophers tend to be peaceful by default, if for no other reason than they spend their time arguing with each other. Too often, however, fear of the other leads to a fight or flight confrontation.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the solution to this universal problem may reside in a fuller recognition of the important role of the individual. Communities should be organized so as to foster involvement by more individuals to understand and solve problems, and then to act for the common good. This may be the true source of progress. Morality is an emergent quality of a super-complex system of individuals acting independently in their immediate interests as they see fit. All that would be needed is a sufficient number of ‘virtuous’ people who are willing to make the effort – what exactly that means is for them to decide. It does suggest that we be a little more skeptical about the pronouncements of others who claim to know what we should accept as reality.

Warning! Please do not read this if you are one of those that take offense when free speech is being exercised.

It is often said that Giordano Bruno was killed 415 years ago this week because he did not believe in the geocentric dogma of the Vatican. Not true. He was martyred in a most horrible way, burned in a public square with his tongue barred, very much like the recent video burning of a pilot by Islamic State. Bruno’s crime really was that he publicly and repeatedly made statements that the authorities found threatening and disruptive. He was an obnoxious fellow, and he rubbed many the wrong way because he thought he knew better. His crime was that he publicly challenged the orthodoxy, the socially accepted delusions of the day. He exercised his God-given right of free speech too vigorously. He vented his truth too publicly. He was a new age type of a person and probably made fun of the church. The scientists of the day, Galileo et al, knew that Copernicus was right, so too did the elites of the church.

Language and communication is the most essential of all of our qualities. Our human culture is the sum of all of our communications and shared artifacts. Speech is the most basic tool of communication. Any limitation of speech is therefore a limitation of our humanity and represents an assault on our selves, our society and our human rights. Certain limits are tolerated in all societies, e.g. libel, but limits on political and ideological speech are hallmarks of all authoritarian and oppressive systems.

Western societies have struggled with the issues of free speech for at least five centuries and have concluded that restrictions should be minimal, and should never interfere with the expression of opinion. I would argue that this is a major contributor to the economic wealth of the West: education, science, technology, productivity; all are encouraged when everyone feels at liberty to speak and contribute. The more speech the more human activity.

Libertarian free speech is still under assault in most parts of the world, there are even religious and other opponents in the US. The world-wide attacks by fundamentalist Muslims are directed against freedoms, most specifically speech. Islam means submission to the will of Allah, and those that do not submit are at risk. The horrible public displays of cruelty and torture are a warning to those who believe that honestly sharing their true thoughts is a duty, a means toward improving the world. Censorship is a form of enslavement. A censored human being is one that is being curtailed, prevented from living a full life.

Any political, philosophical or religious system consists of do’s and don’ts. What to think, and what not to think. Anyone is free to exercise their choice and responsibly follow their muse, and then to change their mind if they want. Any system of thought or practice that fails to recognize this and seeks to impose, through force, its rules represents a criminal organization, guilty of crimes against humanity. Islam, as it is being practiced in some quarters, is the worst offender that we have seen, and does not deserve to be called a religion.