Religion 21st Century

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Religious Wars

There is no place and time in human history that was free of wars. Human males enjoy fighting and when they do, they destroy property and kill other humans, often in a cruel, extravagant manner. Large fights with much property destruction and deaths of large numbers of combatants and civilians are described as wars. As populations increased, the magnitude of wars increased. Somehow, even in relatively civilized countries, war is viewed as a normal expression of nations and war-making governments as valid expressions of the people. In an ideal future, war would not be considered a legitimate expression of governments. Instead humans who proposed war would be recognized as mentally ill and would be confined to special institutions for the politically insane.

History records wars that appeared to have a religious purpose or justification, although many group dynamics are usually at work, including the sheer delight one group enjoys when waging war against other groups. The delight is enhanced by winning a war and growing richer. The delight is diminished by losing a war and growing poorer. The convergence of three conflicting religions at the Sinai Peninsula, a tiny piece of land, continues to this day. This modern version of an ancient conflict promises to generate increasing human paranoia and militarism that will obstruct efforts to replace war with negotiation and compromise. The Christian Crusades were a series of military campaigns the occurred in the 11th through 13th centuries. The goal was to send warriors from European countries to take Jerusalem, the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Noble knights leaving England might have shouted pro-Christian, anti-Muslim slogans, but, once on the road, they were easily distracted by other opportunities to pillage, plunder and rape. A 1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews being massacred by Christian Crusaders. The Crusaders' atrocities against Jews in German and Hungarian towns, later in France, England left enduring hostility on both sides. The security of the Jews in Western Europe was threatened; legal restrictions on Jews increased following the Crusades.

Jews fought as allies of Muslim soldiers to defend Jerusalem against the Christians Once allies against Christians, Jews and Muslims are now enemies and some Christians, especially in the US, support the Jewish settlement of Israel with money, weapons and belligerent slogans directed against Islamic states. The Crusades also involved battles among Christian groups in different countries.

In 16th century France, wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants were popular. In the 17th century, German states, Scandinavia, and Poland hosted battles between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. In Northern Ireland, bloody battles between Roman Catholic and Protestant groups continued through the 20th century.

Puritan families left England in opposition to some of the expressions of the Anglican Church. They established New England on the Atlantic coast of what would become the USA. The first great migration to the new world occurred between 1630 and 1640 The influence of protestant groups in Canada and the US continues to this day, although intergroup wars have been replaced by political battles and litigation. In Canada, a French-speaking, Roman Catholic province, Quebec, continues to assert its cultural independence from the rest of Canada which is secular, multicultural and polylingual.

I have mentioned the rise of the Muslim empires, first by the Arabs and later by the Turks. While the battles that continued for centuries can be viewed as Muslims against Christians, the quest for territorial domination and wealth superseded other motivations. In the early 20th century, the Turks brutally suppressed political opposition in Armenia in what is now known as the “Armenian genocide.” Talat Pasha, the Turkish interior minister at that time ordered the arrest of Armenian leaders in 1915 and initiated large scale deportations and massacres of the Armenians. The stated reasoning was political, although Armenians were Christians and Turks were Muslims. The Armenians were accused of collaborating with invading Russian forces. You could argue that, all political excuses aside, the policies of the Ottomans were Islamic and that the first priority of an Islamic state was to defend Muslim territory. The second priority was to extend Muslim territory. The laws of the state were Islamic laws. Islamic states often tolerated members of other religious groups who paid taxes and enjoyed inferior status; however opposition to the Islamic state was not tolerated.

If you advance to 21st century USA, you find growing numbers of militant Christian fundamentalists ready to fight with Islamic fundamentalists. You time travel back to the 7th century. The documentary film, Obsession, was a brief course on radical Islam that increased concern among US viewers in 2007. The film featured clips from Arabic TV, interviews with former terrorists, videos of suicide bomber initiations, secret jihad meetings, indoctrination of young children, and private celebrations of 9/11. To US viewers, the most shocking revelations were the hatred of the US taught to children and the support for a global jihad (battle of God) with the goal of Islamic world domination

On the other side, both radical and reasonable Muslims view footage from US television, news and movies. They see US extremists and their expressions of belligerence toward Islam. They recognize the belligerence of a US federal government with a policy of attacking any country that poses a threat to the US. The Muslims consider the US to be a country of greed, corruption and duplicity. The political equation is balanced with hatred growing on both sides.

In the middle east a confusion of conflicted groups has arisen with Arabs, Jews and Christians fighting with each. There are schisms in every group that lead to internal conflicts. The Islamic world is split in with fighting between the Sunni majority and minority Shia. Israel with its population of immigrant Jews from many parts of the world has become a militant oppressor of the Palestinians, the former occupants of the land now claimed by Israel.

There will be no easy solution when angry, fanatical humans with religious disguises practice hate and threaten others. Fanatics will attack communities of nicer, more rational humans. The tendency is for nice, rational humans to become fanatical in response. The law of Karma is that conflict escalates and everyone loses. The law of revenge, Lex talionis, produces an endless cycle of property destruction and killing.

You can argue that human nature can change and permit sustainable, free societies. Or you can argue that a number of social constructs can identify and constrain the bad guys, leaving the good guys time and space to enjoy peaceful lives. Or you can argue that human nature will not change and belligerent groups cannot be constrained by any combination of social constructs. A study of the chaotic, paranoid response in the US to the September 11 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York does not support an optimistic view of social constructs. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq produced devastation, death and global hatred directed at Americans. The US remains a paranoid nation searching the world for "terrorists" also known as Islamic militants.

History records an interminable series of wars of revenge. Wars are contagious. Social order and peaceful intentions fade as belligerence increases. The wealth of every great civilization has been squandered on war. The results are predictable – death, destruction, and sooner or later, the collapse of warring states. There are no winners. The main lesson from the in the 21st century is that belligerence can prevail in “free” societies and assumes many forms. Countries with big investments in military equipment and armed personnel are primed to fight the enemy and will seek opportunities to go to war.

 


  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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