Columns

Belief kills ... but what's the truth?

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, September 30, 2012    

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Condolence go out to the families of those killed in the tragic events at the Embassy of the United States in Libya, and to those here in Jamaica who may have lost friends and co-workers in that incident. Killing is such an unnecessary and unacceptable action in most world religions, but the discussion and logic does not end there.

World religions are full of fringe groups usually described as fundamentalists, and history is replete with these accounts. Many are carried forward by breakaway groups, usually described as cults, such as the Jonestown mass suicide in Guyana led by Jim Jones a self-styled messiah, or Waco, Texas, and both resulted in mass death.

But it is not the spin-off groups that account for the raised levels of intolerance, and this is by no means a "Muslim thing". Ancient questions arise such as "how did the Mayans just vanish? Was it a final cult death, or were they taken up in spaceships, or other seemingly wild theories? But they did vanish, leaving behind evidence of a mathematically advanced and literate society which built pyramids seemingly using manual labour, a feat that we could probably not duplicate today using primitive tools.

The Christian Church in Rome has two questionable episodes as marks against the spirit of the religion. Firstly the dreaded Inquisition that saw persons tortured and killed as heretics, witches, and believers in science. Secondly, the major periods of the crusades to destroy the "infidels" (read Muslims) in a war for the Holy Land that continues today over Jerusalem. These two examples are not collectively exhaustive, but serve merely as reference points.

In similar fashion, this has been answered several times by the Muslim armies, with equal brutality. Thus the squabbles and violence of today must be seen as merely an escalation of fundamental religious beliefs without a safety net being drawn before war and death occur. It went across the ocean to the New World and took root in places like Salem, Massachusetts, in the United States.

What makes fundamentalism so dangerous in many places is not the belief itself or even how outdated it may seem to many other people. Most non-cult fundamentalist beliefs are quite innocuous and perhaps even harmless. They usually follow the letter of their religious book, literally and slavishly, and brook no interference from competing interpretations. So believing today that the Earth is flat is quite laughable, but not dangerous. Refusing to go in a plane is quite acceptable if you do not believe in science, and staying at home is not a criminal act.

People have asked the question "why has this strong violence in the Muslim uprising not taken hold all over the world"? The answer is so easy if we trace a common thread through history and identify a common theme in the diverse examples. It does not seem like rocket science at all.

My answer is that whenever fundamentalist religious law is the same as the civil law then intolerance is bound to cause turmoil, even as the world progresses. So mindless following is the result of unchallenged belief systems, and yes even the barbaric practices of female genital circumcision and mutilation, stoning of adulterers, marriage by arrangement between the families of underage children, and societal exclusion, finds fertile soil to grow and fester.

The civil law tends to evolve with the world, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. So we who have no religious law tend to have less rigid beliefs and so we are challenged by Gay Rights, and groups against hanging, but there is little action in Iran or Saudi Arabia where there is the ascendency of religious legal observances. So evolution of civil law tends to generally break down resistance to fundamentalist beliefs, except for a few harmless pockets of unthinking and unchanging fanaticism.

So, the evolution of religious thought in tandem with secular law accommodates the easing of tensions in these societies, ours included. Unmarried mothers can attend church without a stigma, as can the repentant criminal, drunkard, wife-beater, drug dealer, and embezzler; one happy family.

This may seem very "Christian" to us, but compared to the countries under solely religious law our system tends to allow a descent into diversity in the society, and "every man for themselves" concepts. Thus we find it difficult to stage joint protests, we have to be politically correct or be ostracised from the so-called "civilised world". The Western world powers over the last two centuries have initiated a process of societal deterioration that is being rejected by fundamentalist nations, and frankly we in the West seem to be courting disaster.

We have choices to make and these are firstly, are we willing to die in order to change fundamentalist nations? I think the private citizen would say no. Secondly, are we willing to stop supplying rabid fundamentalists with arms and weapons of mass destruction? I think the citizens would say no. Thirdly, are we willing to do without their oil, or are we determined to get it even if bloodshed is unavoidable? What say you to these basic questions?

Regrettably, if we answer yes then the unfortunate circumstances in Libya are bound to escalate to unprecedented levels of violence and war that will engulf us and much of the planet. Let us pray that reason can prevail, if not, then let us prepare to meet our Creator after Armageddon.

These are times for thinking leaders not military cowboys with dangerous weapons. Perhaps it is time for religious leaders to take some action to reduce tensions and promote reason, even when intolerance is promoted by the very books that were designed to promote social order in historical circumstances.

Here in Jamaica, the recent alleged circumstances surrounding two young boys being found dead in a river, seemed to have sparked a scenario of mob justice. The result is the death and injury of relatives of the person the crowd was seeking. This represents a strong public resistance to the question of homosexuality, but I wonder if the same sentiments will be held against the armed men who raped five females, including an eight-year-old child in St James? Or, the old man, aged 63, who was alleged to have impregnated his grand niece, aged 11?

Nor will there be any prosecution of men who father children by underage girls. So what are we saying, and what messages are being sent to extremely warped individuals? Can we be saying young girls are fair game, but young boys are not? Come on Jamaica, this is the time for mass indignation and more severe punishment for all these criminals.

We need to perhaps become fundamentalists in our attitude towards these crimes, and totally exclude them from our circles. Stop the religious quarrels in the bud and agree to basic rules that tend to enhance order in our society.

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