Religion, Politics and You

protestOnce again, the news today is full of death and destruction resulting from “sectarian” and “ethnic” conflicts. Sectarian and ethnic cooperation is not news.

In studying history, I have often been struck by the similarity of political movements to religions. An excellent and appropriately passionate summary of these similarities can be found in the book Fire in the Minds of Men. Revolutionaries, including those espousing atheism, are strikingly similar in operation to the religions they reject. It is very much like one religion fighting another for dominance. What is religion, then?

For a quick example, the French Revolution was partly a rejection of the vast political power of the Catholic Church. The Catholic leaders were, quite literally, king-makers. They owned vast tracts of land and wielded tremendous influence with brutal efficiency. Revolutionaries had justification for their backlash against the greed, repression and CIA-style political intrigues by Catholic elites, such as Pope Pius V’s edict stating that it would be OK with him (and God) if some Catholic decided to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I.

The French revolutionaries took it too far, as we humans are so inclined to do, murdering regular Catholics (many of whom fought for reform within the church) seizing their property and seeking with all their strength to destroy the foundation of the church, namely that there is a God who wills certain outcomes. They sought to replace the absolute Catholic worldview with their own absolute worldview-to replace one religion with another. Communists later attempted to do the same thing. The Reign of Terror followed in France. Reigns of Terror are a predictable, repeating theme where absolute worldviews vie for absolute control.

In the end, Robspierre tried to invent a new religion in the Cult of the Supreme Being. He went too far when he personally descended from a man-made mountain, in the manner of Moses. Following a second, predictable theme, Robspierre, who had said that terror without virtue was fatal and virtue without terror is powerless,” became himself the victim of the terrible guillotine.

Some who want simple, one dimensional solutions (i.e. almost everyone) say religion is evil. Ironically, the main proponents of this position also claim to be the most rational and intelligent of human beings. Simple, one-dimensional statements that evil has been identified and can be eliminated when the identified entity is destroyed…are neither rational nor intelligent. In fact, it is at its root, exactly the same brand of stupidity as the evil they decry.

“I have the absolute truth. Those who oppose me are evil. When the evil others are eliminated from the earth, truth and goodness will prevail.”

This is the position of some religious fundamentalists, revolutionaries and militant atheists. This position has and will continue to result in bloodshed on an industrial scale-and all in the name of “virtue” as Robspierre so eloquently put it.

Is there no solution? Is there no simple, one-step, quick fix for the violence and suffering of humanity? We must remember that everything is connected, human beings are not particularly rational and science deals with probabilities, not absolutes. Probabilities are what we have. We look at probabilities and choose to believe what goes into our worldview. Some are probably closer to the truth than others; 2+2=5 is closer to the truth than 2+2=7. We must believe something and we are rational to choose among probabilities. We are hypocrites when we try to impose our choices on other people, because we would not want them to do that to us.  This hypocrisy is evident among religious groups, political ideologues and scientific atheists.

A religion is a worldview. So is a political ideology. Everyone has a worldview, everyone believes something about the Big Questions. We cannot be functioning human beings without a worldview.

  1. Our worldview is precious to us, it defines us. Other people’s worldview does the same for them. We must grasp this,  grow up and deal with it.
  2. Considering our limitations, we must admit that our worldview may need tweaking. It is stupid both to insist that we have a monopoly on all the truth and it is equally stupid to throw out everything we believe and swallow the opposite worldview because our worldview may need tweaking.

When Jesus said, “Go do to others as you would have them do to you,” he was restating an older universal maxim with a positive spin. Others had previously said “Do not do to others what you hate.” We want a simple answer to the violence and suffering in the world? This basic principle of radical fairness is it. It has been repeated and acknowledged for millennia.

It has not been put into practice.

We can start by implementing this in our own little spheres of influence. We can start today. Do not do to others what you hate. Go do for others what you would have them do for you.

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