How Religion Can Let Loose Humanity’s Most Violent Impulses

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

The year 2015 has opened to slaughter in the name of gods.  In Paris, two Islamist brothers executed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “in defense of the Prophet,” while an associate killed shoppers in a kosher grocery.  In Nigeria, Islamist members of Boko Haram massacred a town to cries of Allahu Akbar—Allah is the greatest!  Simultaneously, the United Nations released a report detailing the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militias, sometimes reciting Bible verses. On a more civilized note, Saudi Arabia began inflicting 1000 lashes on a jailed blasphemous blogger—to be doled out over 20 weeks so that he may survive to the end. In media outlets around the world, fierce debate has erupted over who or what is responsible.  Is monotheism inherently violent? Is religion an excuse or cover for other kinds of conflict? Are Western colonialism and warmongering in the root of the problem?  Do blasphemers make themselves targets? Is the very concept of blasphemy a form of coercion or violence that demands resistance?

Is killing in the name of gods a distortion of religion? Alternately, is it the real thing?

Each of these questions is best answered “yes, and” rather than “yes/no.”

With the possible exception of Buddhism, the world’s most powerful religions give wildly contradictory messages about violence.  The Christian Bible is full of exhortations to kindness, compassion, humility, mercy and justice.  It is also full of exhortations to stoning, burning, slavery and slaughter.  If the Bible were law, most people you know would qualify for the death penalty. The same can be said of the Quran.  The same can be said of the Torah. Believers who claim that Islam or Christianity or Judaism is a religion of peace are speaking a half-truth—and a naive falsehood.

The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuumHappy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace.  Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.

Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role.  It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.

From a psychological standpoint, religions often put a god’s name on impulses that have subconscious, pre-verbal roots. They elicit peak experiences like mystic euphoria, dominance, submission, love and joy. They claim credit for the moral emotions  (e.g. shame, guilt, disgust and empathy) that incline us toward fair play and altruism, and they direct these emotions toward specific persons or activities. In a similar way, religions elicit and channel protective reactions like anger and fear, the emotions most likely to underlie violence.

A case from my own field, mental health, tells the story. On November 5, 2009, Muslim US army psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan, shot and killed thirteen of his fellow soldiers on the Fort Hood military base, injuring another thirty. His case shows how religion can combine with other ingredients to produce a lethal brew.

What was the role of religion in the Fort Hood shootings? The answer isn’t simple. From the swirl of conjecture and hype emerged the image of a man who was lonely, who couldn’t quite seem to win at love, and who was profoundly troubled by the horror stories brought home by his soldier clients. Do therapists experience vicarious trauma?  Absolutely. Does this trauma put their own mental health at risk?  Absolutely. Many of them deal with this risk by seeking professional consultation, asking for support from loving family and friends, and limiting the number of post-traumatic clients that they see.

It appears that Hasan made at least tentative attempts in several of these directions. But primarily he turned to forms of Islam that only deepened his sense of alienation and anger. In what must have been an anguishing conflict of loyalties, piety helped him to resolve the conflict in favor of co-religionists over compatriots. Ultimately, rage won out—righteous, sanctified rage—which came to matter more than any value he as a healer placed on his own life or the lives of his colleagues and clients.

I would argue that, like alcohol, religion disinhibits violence rather than causing it, and that it does so only when other factors have created conditions favorable toward aggression. I might also argue that under better circumstances religion disinhibits generosity and compassion, increasing giving and helping behaviors. Religion often is centered around authority and text worship (aka “bibliolatry”). Because of this, it has the power to lower the threshold on any behavior sanctioned by either a sacred text or a trusted religious leader and is at its most powerful when one is echoed by the other.

As many have pointed out, thousands of Muslim servicemen in the U.S. military shot no-one on November 5, 2009, nor will they unless they find themselves assigned to combat. Similarly, millions of people consume alcohol without insulting, hitting, kicking, stabbing or shooting anyone. Most of us are peaceful drinkers and peaceful believers. Yet, statistically we know that without alcohol assaults would be less common. So too, we all know that when suicide bombings happen, Islam is likely to be involved. And, I would add, when we hear that an obstetrics doctor has been shot or a gay teen beaten and left to die, or a U.S. president has announced a “crusade”, we know that Christianity was likely a part of the mix.

In general, as the gospel writer said, it is far easier to see the mote in our brother’s eye than the log in our own. American culture is bathed in Christianity, and even for most secular Americans, is easy to see Islam’s role in violence while missing the times when Christianity plays the same role. But the rest of the world doesn’t see us through our own rose colored glasses, and under a bare light bulb, American Christianity retains shadows of the inquisitor’s hood and implements of torture.

In recent years, the European and Australian press repeatedly have called attention to horrors being perpetrated in Africa thanks to American missionary dollars, a story that has been slow to get mainstream American press coverage.  As Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity spread across Nigeria and Congo, thousands of children are being beaten or burned or disfigured with acid after being condemned by Christian ministers as “witches.”   After all, the American missionaries teach that the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, and the Bible says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18).  When children are condemned by pastors and priests, exposed in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit himself, parents abandon them and their villages drive them out.  The lucky ones find refuge in shelters.  (For photos click here.)

Meanwhile in Uganda, American Evangelicals have helped to advance prison terms and death penalties for African gays. The Family, an American Christian organization with members in congress helped to convert Uganda’s president to their form of politicized Christianity. American activists attended a conference in Uganda aimed at “wiping out” homosexuality. Within months, a bill had been introduced that would allow the death penalty for gays with AIDS and institute jail time for parents who fail to turn in their homosexual teens. Unrelated? No. But horrors such as these don’t seem to have abated the flow of salvific dollars, Bibles, and earnest missionaries eager for converts any more than suicide bombings have dried up support for madrassas.

Was the Fort Hood murder spree caused by Islam? Are the African murder sprees caused by Christianity?  A yes answer is far too simple. But the fact is that religion around the world continues to disinhibit lethal violence at a horrendous rate. For us to vilify Muslims or Christians or any group of believers collectively is to engage in the familiar act of cowardice we call scapegoating. It means, ever and always, that we end up sacrificing innocents to appease our own fear, anger and thirst for vengeance. But for us to ignore the complicated role of religion in violence is a different kind of cowardice, one that has been indulged by peace-lovers among the faithful for far too long

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/how-religion-can-let-loose-humanitys-most-violent-impulses?akid=12692.123424.MtbUGR&rd=1&src=newsletter1030376&t=2

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Right-wing Hate Mongering and Evangelical Christianity

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.

He writes in Alternet: “The ugly side of Evangelical Christianity is very much to blame for the anti-Obama hyperventilating.  Former president Jimmy Carter went on the record to point out that he believes that racism is at the heart of the great deal of the extreme animosity being leveled at President Obama…if you’re going to blame one group above all others for the willful ignorance and continuing ugliness of the response to President Obama the best candidate would be the evangelical/fundamentalist community.  The angry part of the South Carter spoke of is racist because it’s dominated by a certain type of “Christian” culture.

Since Carter is also an evangelical Christian (as well as a Southerner) he would have done well to use his evangelical  insider status to point to not just racism but to scream bloody murder about a bigger problem today: the hijacking of Christianity as the source of the hate and anger directed against all things “other” by a vocal (and health care lobby-organized and funded) angry  minority of voters who are poisoning the American body… Are the New Atheists leading us to enlightenment? The problem with the recent New Atheist attacks on Christianity is that they mirror the hostility of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture toward the secular society that it so disdains.  The real answer to the question; “Can Christianity be saved from the Christians?” is not going to be found coming from people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris et al …The people running around calling Obama is “Hitler”, the so-called “birthers” and all the rest can’t be understood outside of the context of the hermetically sealed world-hating gated community known as Evangelical Christianity… The key to understanding the Evangelicals is to understand the popularity of the Left Behind series of books about the “return of Christ” (and the whole host of other End Times “ministries” from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre pages of Christianity Today magazine). This isn’t some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but evidence of the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community. ..The words “left behind” are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their “intellectuals” touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have indeed been left behind by modernity. They won’t change their literalistic anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against “the world.”…

Millions of evangelicals have been raised in homes where they’ve been isolated from the wider culture, home schooled and/or sent to “Christian schools” where they have been indoctrinated to believe that the Federal Government is the enemy of all true believers, that the “End” is near, that secular society is their enemy as is art, learning and culture.

They now form a Fifth Column of the deliberately intellectually disenfranchised. They know they are out of the loop and hate the rest of us for their own self-imposed isolation. I’m afraid they will soon turn to violence.

Here Are The Alternatives To Change the Theologically-Induced Hate Landscape:

A) all sane Americans must become atheists or agnostics,

or…

B) those of us who are Christians must rescue Christianity from the willfully ignorant evangelicals and fundamentalists.

I favor the second alternative.  First, having been raised in an evangelical/fundamentalist home I’ve long since moved beyond my background when it comes to my politics and my theology. That proves something; people can change their minds! I did.

But I believe more strongly than ever that we human beings are spiritual beings with or without the permission of those who take a purely rationalist approach to human existence.  The better — and I think only realistic option — is to regard religion as an evolving process of human consciousness and work to reform rather than eliminate it

In my soon-to-be published book Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don’t Like Religion (Or Atheism) I have very deliberately started a radical conversation through which I hope many of us can carve out a position that embraces religion while absolutely rejecting the type of insanity that has become synonymous with the word “Christian” in contemporary America.

Two “Threads” In Religion

As I argue in my new book the choice between the absolutist secular fundamentalism of the New Atheism and the authoritarianism of James Dobson’s-type of “Christianity” is no choice at all. The better alternative is to understand that there are two main threads running all through almost all religions including Christianity:

1) an open, inclusive and questioning thread

and…

2) a closed and exclusionary thread.

The more open thread is not some modern phenomenon developed by “liberal thinking.” As I explain in Patience With God this “thread” can be found in the earliest Christianity and Judaism.

If you look around and see  good results from Christianity, say from the invention of modern hospitals, which have their roots in religious groups or the music of JS Bach, you’re looking at the fruits of the best of the open tradition and thread.  When you see a group of scared racist white people like Joe Wilson in Washington DC screaming “liar” or “Obama is a socialist” or “Obama wasn’t born in America” you’re seeing the madness of the other thread: fundamentalism that wants absolute certainty about everything, and forces its followers to live in a narrower and narrower field of existence.

Conclusion

Christianity is worth saving from the Christians for two reasons.  First, because as moral and spiritual beings religion should feed our souls rather then strip out our humanity.  Second, because whether we like it or not, religion is here to stay. Better to shape it rather than to simply denounce it.

I may be an idealist but I believe that if others will step forward and add to what I have tried to begin with my new book together we can give good answers to both the extremes of the New Atheists and to the hate of the Evangelical fundamentalists. Join me to build a better vision. We might actually be able to change the conversation in America about religion.

Is that important? Yes, like it or not religion will not go away. It motivates the worst in the American psyche and some of the best too. It is Joe Wilson’s religion of hate but it also motivated Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps a generation from now the image of a typical Christian won’t be a hate-monger like James Dobson but rather a lover of peace such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, or a literary giant like John Updike, and yes, a President Obama.

The only real answer to the hijacking of Christianity by the Religious Right, the longevity of religion-based racism, and the backward and inward looking movement we now call “American Christianity” is not to talk everyone out a having faith but rather to fight for the humane and ancient thread found within the Christian tradition. Blaming everything on race is too easy.

If you get the chance to read Patience With God please let me know what you think of it. I’m asking one big question in the book: Can Christianity be rescued from the Christians? You tell me.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/142755/

see: http://www.alternet.org/story/142755/right-wing_hatemongering_fueled_by_christianity

A Gay Decade?

That is, the first decade of the 21st century, not the last of the 19th. 

In 2004, Ohio and 10 other states declared a legal marriage as existing only between a man and a woman. By 2008, 30 states had passed laws banning gay marriage, including – and perhaps most notoriously – California. 

Today, April 19,2009, those of us who attended the North Central Chapter of the ACLU of Ohio’s 2009 annual meeting featuring Harry Hirsch, professor, Oberlin College, had a wonderful experience.  He described the roller coaster ride that has been the fight for gay marriage in California and how the events in this state have influenced the movement towards equality across the country – most recently in Iowa and Vermont.  He discussed the Iowa decision, in which a unanimous result was reached by a Republican court, due primarily to how it was argued, by the strength of their state Constitution, and by the long history of civil liberties in the state – which has been 50 to 150 years ahead of the nation on many issues.

Professor Hirsh covered in detail some of the results of the Prop. 8 vote, and said the two major factors were a poor campaign run by the cons, and a strong one by the pros.  (N.B.: pro/con meaning for/against, not professionals or prisioners. )  He feels that in time gay marriage will arrive, because the younger generations have little issue with it, and that it will have an impact on the institution of marriage.  He does not see civil unions as an equal alternative to marriage.

Dr. Hirsh observed that in 2008/10, Republicans who take moderate positions  will face primary challenges from conservatives.  

The questions were good, the answers were even better, and all who attended should have left more enlightened than when they arrived.  N.B.: The issue came up on the Governor of New York submitting a bill to the legislature: my intrepretation is that New Yorkers were no happier in being upstaged on this issue by Iowa than they were in having the Cleveland Indians spoil the debut of their new stadium…

An ACLU activist and professor of politics at Oberlin College, Harry Hirsch specializes in constitutional law, gender and sexuality, and modern political theory. He has published several books and numerous articles on constitutional theory and practice, gay rights and politics, and the First Amendment, and his academic credentials include a PhD  from Princeton and a faculty position at Harvard.

see: http://www.oberlin.edu/stupub/ocreview/2005/9/16/news/article6.html

N.B.: Some of the material above was from the ACLU of Ohio Web Site

In attempting to keep up with those of us in Ohio, Frank Rich, in the 19 April NY Times, wrote in his op-ed column today: ““Gathering Storm”: a 60-second ad presenting homosexuality as a national THREAT second only to terrorism…easy to mock as “Gathering Storm” may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a HISTORIC turning point in the DEMISE of America’s anti-gay movement.

What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the ONLY LOUD protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is EVER MORE depopulated and ISOLATED as well as BRAIN-DEAD…On the right, the restrained response was striking. Fox barely mentioned the subject…More startling still was the abrupt about-face of the Rev. Rick Warren…As the polls attest, the majority of Americans who support civil unions for gay couples has been steadily growing. YOUNGER voters are fine with marriage. Generational changeover will seal the deal. Crunching all the numbers, the poll maven Nate Silver sees same-sex marriage achieving majority support “at some point in the 2010s.”

Iowa and Vermont were the tipping point because they STRUCT DOWN the right’s two major arguments against marriage equality. The unanimous ruling of the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court proved that the issue is not merely a bicoastal fad. The decision, written by Mark Cady, a Republican appointee, was particularly articulate in explaining that a state’s legalization of same-sex marriage has no effect on marriage as practiced by religions. “The only difference,” the judge wrote, is that “CIVIL marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more COMPLETE understanding of EQUAL protection of the law…. Some opponents grumbled anyway, reviving their perennial complaint, dating back to Brown v. Board of Education, about ACTIVIST judges. But the judiciary has long played a leading role in sticking up for the civil rights of minorities so they’re NOT held hostage to a MAJORITY vote. Even if the judiciary-overreach argument had merit, it was still MOOT in Vermont, where the State Legislature, not a court, voted to make same-sex marriage legal and then voted to override the Republican governor’s veto…As the CASE against equal rights for gay families gets harder and harder to argue on any nonreligious or legal grounds, no wonder so many conservatives are DROPPING the cause. And if Fox News and Rick Warren won’t lead the charge on same-sex marriage, WHO on the national stage will take their place? The only enthusiastic contenders seem to be Republicans contemplating presidential runs in 2012. As Rich Tafel, the former president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, pointed out to me last week, what Iowa giveth to the Democrats, Iowa taketh away from his own party. As the first stop in the primary process, the Iowa caucuses provided a crucial boost to Barack Obama’s victorious and inclusive Democratic campaign in 2008. But on the G.O.P. side, the caucuses tilt toward the exclusionary hard right…One G.O.P. politician who understands this is the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, who on Friday urged his party to join him in endorsing same-sex marriage. Another is Jon Huntsman Jr., the governor of Utah…He believes that social issues should not be a priority for Republicans in any case during an economic crisis. He also is an outspoken foe of the “nativist language” that has marked the G.O.P. of late. Huntsman doesn’t SHARE “the view of some” that “the party was created in 1980.” He yearns for it to reclaim Lincoln’s faith in “individual dignity.”

As marital equality haltingly but inexorably SPREADSstate by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have SPREAD the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be AFRAID.   “

(EMPHASIS MINE)

SEE: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/opinion/19Rich.html?_r=1&ref=opinion