Extremism, religion, accountability and the human mind

Firstly, I’d like to say that the following is all my own opinion, not necessarily shared by anyone, not necessarily right or wrong. It is only what it is, which is my own opinion. ‘I’m not the messiah’ etc.

I’m posting this because I wanted to ‘react’ to the events that happened in Woolwich, where a road was turned into a butchery and a soldier replaced the hors….beef. Insensitive as my description may be, no disrespect is intended. Quite clearly, the beanie-wearing creature who committed this vile act and started shouting the odds into the nearest camera should be condemned. And condemned he sure is. What troubles me is the fact that not only are he and his accomplices condemned by the general public, but many people seem to extend this to others who share the same religion as him. This is the point at which I do not share sentiment. Terrorism is absolutely not fundamental to Islam, and I can say this with confidence, because I have a lot of evidence to support my assertion. My evidence is the millions upon millions of Muslims who live in this world and do not go round killing people. As an atheist, I pretty much disagree by default even with those millions upon millions of Muslims, but I like to think that being somewhat less indoctrinated leads my mind to logical deduction, which in turn leads me to the conclusion that Islam, in principal, isn’t the actual cause of these problems.

Indeed it would take an immense amount of faith and assumption to blame Islam. just like it would take faith and assumption to blame Christianity for the funeral picketing of gay soldiers, the people who would rather let their families die than take them to hospital when they get seriously ill, and the holocaust. Christianity is not the cause of those issues.

In all described cases, it’s generally a vocal minority of people with a sub-par understanding of their own religion’s basic principals, teaching gullible people how to wildly misinterpret the helpful guidance of prophets. Teaching people that hate is love and violence is kindness. This is extremism. It exists, and it’s not nice.

But what is religion, underneath the various factions, the different gods, the crazy beliefs and the indoctrination? Religion is, and always has been, a tool to keep the population at large in some sort of reasonably tolerable state. To bring hope to people who otherwise would have none. To soothe troubled minds, calm people down in desperate times, and set out a rough set of rules that generally make sense, even if they’re written in a way that doesn’t. It awakens faith, and faith is important, even to people who don’t have a god to apply it to. Faith is why you get up in the morning, because you don’t wake up with any particularly good reason to believe you won’t get murdered within the hour. You take that on faith. Nobody knows the future, and faith fills in the blanks with what can reasonably be expected. Even as an atheist, I see no logical reason why religion, at the basic level, should be classed as a bad thing. If faith in my computer to not cease operating before I finish this post works for me, and faith that god will take them to heaven when they die works for someone else, I think I will settle with ‘each to their own’. I might find their faith rather laughable and unnecessary, but the odds of my computer suddenly dying are relatively high compared to the odds of the world being swallowed up by some sort of netherworld of fire and brimstone. This statistically puts my faith at a significantly higher risk of being proven misplaced, though those statistics don’t convince me to lean towards the even lower likelihood that I’ll be touched by some magical giant hand and ‘saved’. Besides which, I know it’s only a metaphor for things that really aren’t quite so logically absurd.

In my analysis above of what religion basically is, I make particular note of the positivity of it all. It’s there to placate the worried mind, and try to explain the unknown. Essentially, it’s there to stop people getting agitated and killing each other, not promote exactly that. It is, at its very core, a very helpful and positive thing. I am sure this is the point where someone will happily rattle off a long string of scripture at me, pointing out the plethora of war-like orders from what can only be described as an infinite, all-seeing, all-powerful, grumpy, teething infant having a tantrum because his creations have free will, provided by him, and are not afraid to use it. This is where the human taint is highly visible, and it’s what’s wrong – not with religion in general, but with ORGANIZED religion.

No two people will believe all the same stuff, in the same way, and follow it all with exactly the same enthusiasm. Faith is highly subjective. Some people are far too realistic to have room for some of the parts of some religions that require the most faith. Even as faithful followers, cynicism gets in and creates a variance between people. Organized religion tends to be pretty ok with this, which is good because it’s natural enough. But I digress. The point I wanted to be heading towards was that the second someone actually writes up a collection of beliefs and establishes a band of faithful fellow believers, each and every one of those followers may have a subtly different interpretation of what the first guy even meant, essentially agreeing with and believing a slightly (or sometimes wildly) different version of the same thing. And all this is BEFORE personal agendas and politics gets thrown into the mix. All it takes is someone powerful enough to authorize a re-write of the original scripture, under the guise of a translation or an update, and you can end up with a scripture that nobody can differentiate from the original, except for the fact that the new version serves only the interests of the guy who edited it. Is it any wonder that the same powerful tool that keeps people peaceful and comfortable can also be a powerful tool to get people murdered in cold blood? I could probably cherry-pick a thousand or more verses from the Christian Bible to justify trying to wipe out the entire human race if I had some sort of strong urge to do so. Ultimately, though, that’s not the point of that scripture, and it’s most certainly not going to be supported by 99.99999% of Christians. Cherry-picking and selective understanding being what I’m getting at here. Why would I even get that urge, though? I think that question leads us nicely into motivation and accountability.

So.. extremism is bad, and it happens. People use something written to promote love in order to advance an agenda of hate. Why? What makes a person want to convince his peers that it’s a good idea to kill people, or that <insert deity here> wants them to throw away a substantial percentage of their life in exchange for several others? I think there are a lot of potential reasons. Not necessarily the same reasons for each case. It doesn’t seem very rational. Faith itself usually doesn’t, but faith at least serves some form of logical purpose, so I’m willing to bet there’s some sort of emotional investment behind the scenes. Anger, for instance. Why are these people angry? Does anyone even ask these questions? What’s so bad about ‘the West’ that people deem it necessary to damage the place? I am a Westerner. As far as I’m aware, I have done nothing to harm any Muslims, be they ones who live here among us, or those who live far away. Although I feel I might be missing the point. Do I honestly have any claim to victimhood if I get blown up? Am I an individual entity who happens to live here, or am I a part of the society these people seem to hate so much? If the latter, am I hated? My honest answer is that I don’t have answers. However, I speculate that perhaps I do own a share in the responsibility for atrocities. If people are angry at my country in general, and I am a part of my country in general, then whatever it is that pissed them off is at least slightly my fault. If not, then I should not be a citizen, and should perhaps claim my place as a free agent. Without religion, without nationality. Perhaps then, I can hopefully escape from under the crosshairs. However, that won’t happen. Besides which, with all of those questions as yet unanswered, how do I even know it’s my fault as a Westerner? For all I know the people aren’t angry at us for some perceived slight. Maybe it’s all for fun. Maybe it’s something born of jealousy because where we live we have nice things and where these terrorists live (the most recent ones 20 miles away from where I’m blogging from) is not such a good country. Is East London really all that different from West London? Everyone has reasons. There can be understandable reasons and seemingly dumb reasons, but everyone has reasons for everything. To find what they are and try to resolve things sensibly is the duty of all rational people, whether they have gods and faith or not.

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