Few reading this, I dare say, have any qualms about seeing religious extremists who believe they please the Almighty by dealing with nonbelievers, sinners, so-called apostates and “infidels” with intolerance and especially cruelty and butchery, contained and even eradicated (Mandated when an armed response is the lesser of 2 evils — kill or else have more innocents killed).
At the moment (October 2014) a coalition of nations including many predominately Muslin ones are involved in rolling back the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) whose atrocities and wanton evil are regularly showcased and discussed on TV and in newspapers, not to mention web, blog and social media outlets galore worldwide.
In the midst of all this most justifiable righteous indignation with extremist violence and monstrous wickedness, there is also a growing hostility towards Muslims in countries throughout the world in which peaceful, law-abiding ones are not only suspected of being sympathetic to Islamic extremists like IS/ISIS/ISIL but are thought to be fellow travelers, even members of planted “sleeper cells” who lurk in the shadows awaiting conditions to favor their popping out and engaging in terrorism.
And, even though Muslims including scholars have come out and denounced the extremist evil of IS including their cherry-picking of the Quran to support their beliefs and actions (Examples: Here & here), this is oftentimes ignored or eclipsed by our all-too-human in-group/out-group sentiments (wiring?) which in many instances has given rise to xenophobia and then paranoia. There is something both ironic and paradoxical in the fact that many who decry the intolerance and acts of cruelty championed by extremists began to treat anyone or anything that “smacks of the enemy” with intolerance and cruelty (ranging from subtle ostracism to physical violence).
It is also tempting to filter out contrary evidence within the Islamic world and conclude that IS/ISIS/ISIL actually reflects the heart and soul of Muslim beliefs and heartfelt convictions. It doesn’t help that stories and accounts come out of how many Muslims actually do believe that certain Islamic extremist groups, often dominated by clerics, are an antidote for deviating from a literal interpretation of the Quran or “creeping liberalism”. This sort of thing is naturally seized upon by those who argue that Muslims who bomb, shoot, crucify, bury alive, behead and otherwise dispatch “infidels” in bestial ways represent the real Islamic McCoy. Here is one of many posted articles on the Web that take this position (This one claims that the Oklahoma Muslim who beheaded an ex-coworker represents the “real Islam”): http://www.wnd.com/2014/09/oklahoma-beheader-represents-real-islam/
If this doesn’t should familiar, you’ve either forgotten your high school history lessons or slept through them. How so? At one time the Christian world, especially many of its leaders both religious and secular, sanctioned draconian measures against “infidels” which included torture, imprisonment, exile and cruel executions. What did these “defenders of the faith” base their actions on? They certainly didn’t need to make up scriptural justification for this sort of thing. The Bible provided them abundant material that when taken literally and narrowly applied, sometimes out-of-context and sometimes not, justified the cruelest imaginable treatment and horrific execution of gays, occultists, nonbelievers, heterodox believers (heretics), infidels (non-Christians) and more. Click to read a rundown of such verses.
Historic examples? Thankfully, a chap by the name of Mark Humphrys saved me having to dig out all the applicable historic incidents and practices and such, as he researched, organized and posted this to http://markhumphrys.com/christianity.killings.html (Readers are also encouraged to peruse what’s posted at http://www.heretication.info/_heretics.html).
Of course, most modern (Western) Christian believers and organizations including churches and denominations would never entertain taking verses such as Leviticus 20:10 as (ahem) gospel and acting on them: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death (Albeit some especially aggrieved wives or husbands might wish this was the law of the land)
But ask yourself: What stopped the waves of church-sanctioned persecution, torture and cruel execution of heretics and those declared apostates, sinners or such who would not repent or otherwise bend their knee to those who held their lives in-the-balance? History reveals no sudden turnabout. However, over time a number of shifts and changes occurred that gradually undermined and eroded intolerance and forced conformity to orthodoxy: Among these, the church lost secular power and influence while Biblical literalism and militant, extremist Christian policies and actions lost steam as more moderate views won the day (And these because to a great extent religious scholars and others critically examined archaic beliefs and practices and even the scriptures themselves in light of contrary or mitigating factual evidence and reasoning).
This is viewpoint is reflected in comments made by Southern Baptist Theological seminary faculty member Dr. Timothy Paul Jones to the Baptist Press which were incorporated in a July 2014 article titled “Why Christians killed and why Muslim violence continues” by David Roach:
“Christians used to kill with some frequency over matters of doctrine. There was the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, England’s notorious Bloody Mary, the drowning of Anabaptists, the Crusades and more.”
Dr. Jones, the author of “Christian History Made Easy“, also stated that “it was the intermingling of church authority and civil authority that made it possible for persons who claimed to be Christians to have the state execute others who also professed Christ.”
But,…and this is a big but…..this shift was not without acrimonious debates, calls for a return to “that old time religion” (i.e., a church with secular power that punished heretics and others), fist fights and open warfare, and worse, in various quarters at various times.
Now ask yourself: Does all that’s happening in the Middle East — the theocratic Islamic governments who rely on oppression and cruelty and public executions to hold the pot lid down on dissent, the pitched battles (literal and figurative) between proponents of a Muslim religious worldview that is exclusivist literalist, and radically fundamentalist and those who champion the opposite, etc. — represent the kind of “Future Shock” cultural, social and religious clashes and upheavals that arose from and signaled the transition from a Europe that was ruled by clerics and which burned heretics to one of nations largely democratic and essentially tolerant? (But not without periodic lapses into darkness when conditions favored the eclipse of reason and tolerance by fear, hatred and bigotry). I tend to think so.
The question of whether such a complete transition will occur may not be one of if but when. But at what cost to the Muslim world and Israel, the EU, America, and other countries before the dust settles?
Beyond containing militant/radical Muslim extremists, there are other variables at play that could up the ante and the “dust” that gets kicked up before it settles to the ground. Assume for a moment that those who warn that Iran is dead set on building nuclear weapons — something underscored by alarming developments such as this — are right and they do. What happens if a major offensive is launched by one or more Arab countries against Israel and Iran joins this? If so, it is not inconceivable that Russia, which has longstanding ties to Iran (not to mention Assad’s Syria), might seize the opportunity to support such military adventurism. This would surely result in America rightfully jumping into the fray to help Israel repel this armed assault and intended invasion. Bingo, WWIII or, if not something this dire, surely a major regional conflagration that will come awfully close to unleashing it.
A major war in the Middle East, too, seems less a matter of if but when. Certainly a great many Jewish and Christian believers view this as inevitable based on prophecies in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel (Among others). Read my blog entry on this by clicking this link.
However, whether a great war hits the Middle East in the near future, later on or not at all, we can all expect a lot of craziness and bloodshed not only there but in Europe, the US, Canada, and elsewhere before the Muslim world breaks free of the forces of extremism, oppression and such.
Our challenge here in the US lies not just encouraging and waiting out the hoped for transition among Muslim countries, but also in preventing terrorist acts by Islamic extremists and their sympathizers in our midst, while at the same time avoiding letting their occasional successes drive us into the arms of authoritarian solutions…or worse.
Dr. Anthony G. Payne (Br. Anthony of the Resurrection)
Additional/supplemental reading penned by “yours truly”
At the tail end of Stanley Kubrick’s satirical and brilliant 1964 anti-Cold War movie “Dr. Strangelove” the wheelchair bound German scientist (played by Peter Sellers) manages to stand up and take a step or two forward and then excitedly proclaim, “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!” (This was reportedly an unscripted improvisation on the part of actor Peter Sellers) People in the throes of extreme excitement, passion or even religious ecstasy sometimes yell out to God, their mate or, in the case of Dr. Strangelove, to his leader (The American President whom he not infrequently calls “Mein Fuhrer” during the course of Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece).
I suspect Sellers added the dramatic final touch not as an expression of the neurologic malady which landed his character in a wheelchair but, rather, as an upwelling of Dr. Strangelove’s impossible to suppress fascist sentiments and loyalty to Hitler.
In addition, I would offer a slightly different take on Dr. Strangelove’s outburst: I believe it was meant to represent the transcendent march of evil across time. That is, Seller’s was acting out the fact that evil, like death, haunts humankind and is impossible to totally suppress, manage or banish. Of course, we all know that those who do not resist and oppose evil not infrequently find their lives overshadowed by it.
The late writer-director-producer Rod Serling actually captured this theme very adroitly in a 1963 episode of the Twilight Zone titled “He’s Alive” (“He” being Hitler) that focuses on a “bush league Fuhrer” named Peter Vollmer.
Of course, we all are cognizant of the fact that evil permeates the human experience and has countless modern day incarnations. It is certainly one wheel that gets reinvented without ever showing much wear or loss of perpetrators and victims. Sometimes, though, the expressions are so continuous across time they appear to come out of some kind of historical-cosmic Xerox® machine. Click these links and reflect for a moment:
OK, so evil is perennial. What we can do about it? Laugh at and ponder comic portrayals such as Seller’s, yes, but never make the mistake of viewing evil people as clowns or easy to control (A mistake many German pre-Nazi leaders made with respect to Hitler and his cronies). But above all learn everything we can about the nature of evil and its subtlest expressions and then work to expose and oppose them.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
This Broadway hit gets a solid film treatment by director Norman Jewison, but that can’t make up for the weaknesses of the script (which were as true onstage as they are here). Jane Fonda plays a chain-smoking shrink sent to a convent to do a psychological evaluation of a novice (Meg Tilly) who gave birth to a baby and then killed it in her little room. Was it a virgin birth? A miracle? And what of the bloody stigmata that seem to spontaneously appear on her hands? Fonda also finds herself clashing with the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) over the line between faith and science. But writer John Pielmeier can’t flesh this out beyond an idea; in the end, the solution is a disappointingly earthbound one that even the strong acting in this film can’t elevate.
OK, so the film isn’t flawless and has garnered more than its fair share of “1 or 2 thumbs down”. With this said, I like this flick. Why so? In-a-word it lays in the fact Agnes the novice nun somehow manages to interact with the world thorough a lens of innocence. That is, the unjaded aspects of her being for the most part dominate her day-to-day existence and how she perceives life and those around her.
Hollywood nonsense, you say? I might have agreed with you if this were early 1999. But not afterwards. What changed for me? I spent more than four years in Japan living and teaching classes of Japanese young people from pre-school through doctoral level plus many corporate classes filled with adult working professionals. What I discovered was that virtually all the young folks were, well, in some ways “Agnes of God” like. Mind you, I was aware that there were exceptions and many expats I shared sake and chat with were quick to point out their bad experiences with pretty jaded Japanese characters. But on-the-whole even they agreed most Japanese people they had encountered while teaching and in society at-large exhibited less of the cynicism and sheer nastiness that appeared commonplace back in the US and the West in general (Some of these expats came from the UK, New Zealand and Australia).
My then girlfriend and later (2001) wife thought I was seeing her people through rose colored glasses. This changed once we moved from Japan to southern California in early 2003. Having left being the corporate world in Japan (18 years work for a major multinational corporation in Tokyo), she pursued her long held dream of becoming a marriage and family therapist. This journey took her through the MS in Counseling program at Cal State Fullerton (she graduated with honors) and internships at a number of places including the Salvation Army residential program in Anaheim. While doing an internship at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, she happened to counsel a number of Japanese students who had come to the US in order to obtain specific educational credentials in an English language environment. What she discovered — and made a point of mentioning to me — is that her Japanese charges were very “unjaded” compared to the American students she counseled. Maybe my glasses were not so rose-colored after all.
At the very least, there seems to be at least a modicum of real world evidence that my original observation was spot on: The Japanese were and are on-a-whole less jaded (“more innocent”) than Americans.
Were Americans less jaded in the past? It seemed that way to me when I was a youngster. TV and movies in the late 1950s into the 1960s tended to reflect a certain un-worldliness (Less cynical, less nasty). This began to go out the window with the advance of the sexual revolution, Vietnam and all that entailed, and the general rejection of authority and conventional ways among many young folks of that era (including moi).
Can we ever recapture what we lost short of embarking on a 2nd childhood (individually and collectively)? Is the genie out of the bottle for good? Is there any way to truly be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Rabbi Yehoshua’s admonition). Good questions, I think. We American Indians (Choctaws) have a saying that goes like this: “The dog you feed the most becomes biggest”. By this token if we as Americans feed ourselves on jaded & cynical things such as pornography, greed, pride, and other vices then the dogs that will steer our sled (lives) will be these vices. On the other hand, if we feed virtues and starve vices, well, we just might find ourselves less jaded and “wicked”. And while we may not become a nation of “Agnes of God” characters or even Japanese-like, we could inch a little closer to it.
Dr. Anthony G. Payne
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.