Religion: Founded on Fear, Fueled by Fire, Fed on Fulfillment
The nice guys over at ISIL have got it backwards. Fear may indeed be the starting point of religion, but not the end, and certainly not the means. That original fear is something like existential dread, whether in our ‘primitive’ ancestors’ realization of their own mortality, the danger from enemies or the self-conscious knowledge of our human predicament, struggling for survival.
Regardless, that is something to be mitigated, not exploited. Organizing fighting forces on the principle of ‘kill or be killed’ with a God or a flag riding ‘shotgun’ to provide symbolic leadership and moral justification is a practice best relegated to the annals of history and the back pages of the Old Testament.
The superficial history of world civilization is all about wars. The question now is how to live in peace. We marvel at the fact that our generation was the first to protest against conscription for battle. The harder realization is that we were the first generation that didn’t WANT to fight, call us cowards if you will. I’d say we’re getting smarter. Wars are for the mighty; the real history is the advancement of peasantry: the invention of the wheel and the stirrup and rice and alfalfa. Those people have no names.
But this is not an indictment of those previous generations. They were only part of their zeitgeist, and so are we. Civilizations are entities just like individuals. Ours should finally be old enough to know better than to fight futile wars. All victories are ‘Pyrrhic,’ and won at great cost.
I think many people—especially proud atheists—like to imagine that everything was fine before religion came along. And that may be right—if you go back far enough, back when everyone knew each other, so there were no natural enemies and few natural predators. This was back when people first went forth and multiplied, long before they went too far and divided.
It’s well-documented that animals who’ve never known predators will just stand there and wait to be killed, with not a clue of what’s about to happen. Oops. There should be a word for that, maybe something like ‘Original Innocence’. Give them a taste of spears then arrows then bullets, and we’ve created a wilderness where none existed before; I call it ‘Institutional Fear’. I don’t know why so many well-meaning scientists and other assorted do-gooders want to recreate that state where it has been largely eradicated, albeit at great loss of life. I think it would be just fine if all animals were tame, our own human selves included.
But at the time religions came into being, roughly the six hundred years before and after Jesus ‘Chuy’ Christ (not to be confused with Jesus H. Christ), that Original Innocence was long gone, all but lost. Religion sought to re-establish it with wisdom, love, and discipline, respectively, corresponding to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, descendants of Hinduism, Judaism and Judaism, respectively.
And they all succeeded rather well, until they, too, went forth and divided, and they, too, became corrupt, corrupt as the degenerate societies they had intended to reform. Now here we are, looking for solutions.
Buddhism tries in vain to ‘let go’, like before—no go; passivity sucks. Islam tries to instill fear, as before—no good; violence sucks, too. Christianity tries to love love love—while conquering the world; naah, been there, done that. What now? Buddhism goes into denial—no way out. Islam goes to war—with itself and everyone else. Christianity develops a ‘female Viagra’—now we’re getting somewhere; I’m joking.
Religions are at their best when they make you feel good. That much is for sure. For Muslims that can be as simple as meeting Muslims from other countries at the yearly Hajj or elsewhere. For Buddhists that can be as simple as taking care of extended family. And Christianity is all about motivational speaking, ‘life-coaching’ optional. There sounds like plenty of room for overlap and convergence here. We should meet on highest common denominators—ASAP.