Here we go again. The cycle thing. How do we escape the return?
The moment feels like a replay of the days after 9/11–the outrage over a terrorist attack, fear traveling in great waves, and the cry for vengeance, this time amplified by election eloquence. One hopes that clear heads will triumph, because surely we have learned by now that our country won’t. In a globalized world, nothing will ever be that simple again. So it’s time for all of us to pause, reflect, and–maybe–commit to rise above the baseline.
It is ironic that the violence rocking the world has erupted once again from religion. When I was a child, I thought the point of the Bible was to teach everyone how to be good, kind of like the story of Santa Claus, but it’s so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?
When you look at the three salient figures of the religions embroiled in conflict, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, we can safely assume that their purpose was, in fact, to provide guidelines by which people could live in more socially just and harmonious community. However, as columnist David Brooks recently wrote, religions foster groupishness, “and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group.”
The history of religious aggression is appalling. On the Christian side, we have the Crusades and the Inquisition. On the side of Islam, is the conquest of India. (I have not studied this, but the great historian Will Durant described it as “probably the bloodiest story in history.”) In the case of Judaism, their religion has subjected Jews to a tragic trail of victimization through isolating ghettos, pogroms, and, of course, the Holocaust. Now we have ISIL, whose members seem to think that everybody who is an “infidel” does not deserve to live.
If organized religion repeatedly leads to the like, is there something profoundly amiss in our understanding of its mission?
I often think about the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment that belongs to all three religions. It surfaces in the context of the unrivaled dedication in the United States to maintaining the ability through our military to kill more people at any time, anywhere, and faster than any other country on earth. Something is really off in our thinking, and whether we can align and lead with a higher ideal in time is up to question.
And it is globalization, as well as the terrorists, that have made the need apparent. We like to think of America as the “great melting pot,” but as people scatter across the globe to escape persecution, war, and the hazards of a deteriorating climate, the world becomes a melting pot as well. And one cannot help but consider the meltdown that nuclear war could cause.
Unwilling though we may be, it is time to think of the entire world as a community with interlocking needs and advantages. The “reciprocal grooming” of primates comes to mind, because its purpose is to sustain group cohesion. Are we up for that? Can we pull back from the temptation to repeat that recurring cycle of conflict that leads to all-out war, or can we start thinking more creatively and forego our own primitive response behavior? Can we begin to move in a mindful way toward some form of spirituality that is more likely to unite than alienate us from each other? How about simple love and care for the well-being of our home planet?
I discovered something today that might put the challenge into perspective. It’s a video of the face of human evolution that came out in 2013. Its purpose was to publicize a book by paleoartist John Gurche. Of course, those who don’t believe that humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years probably don’t believe that we will. However, the series of images will remind many of us about potential that may yet remain. Let us hope so.