Violence in the middle East – in particular, Libya – in response to a deliberately provocative film trashing Muslim culture and religion has been discouraging to say the least. If anything is incoherent, it is killing another human being over an idea. Especially when the person being murdered has expressly condemned the idea for which s/he is about to be killed. It is heart-breaking and makes one wonder if there is any hope for the species at all.
I say “species” and I mean that. This is not a problem of Muslim violence. That’s the form this particular incident is taking, but it is hardly limited to the Muslim world. Yet to read certain people, one would certainly conclude that the problem is Islam and not religion – by which we mean the notion that there is one truth and it is the sole provence of one group of people allied to a collection of religious beliefs and rituals.
See for example this article and related comments on Redstate – a popular conservative website in the United States. MikeyMike143 says that “islam is a cancer on the world. and its followers are the mortal enemies of the united states (sic).” Rodguy911 calls Muslims “Muzzies.” The vitriol is clear – there is something wrong with this particular religion. It is violent and hateful. The implication is also clear: the problem isn’t religion. It’s this religion. Our religion is okay – maybe better than okay.
Interestingly, in the same thread, a reader named ateam points out that “You don’t see Christians rioting, looting, and acting like mindless vandels” every time you hear people “claiming all kinds of things about Jesus.”
I don’t think the individuals making these assertions are bad people – I think they believe that what they are saying is true. And they are hardly alone.
The problem arises when we start to look at what Christians have done in response to what they perceive as slanderous attacks on Jesus. For example, in 1988, a Christian group literally firebombed a French theater that elected to show the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. Several people were severely injured; dozens of others were received minor injuries.
What can one say about that except that religion – be it Christian or Muslim – can make human beings behave in incoherent ways?
There are two problems here. The first is that there is something in the human brain, the human mind – our thought process, say – that renders us murderers. Based on nothing more tangible than an idea, we are willing to torture, injure and kill human beings who are at best only tangentially related to the source of our anger. Please don’t be too quick to deny that it’s not your problem – or that it’s only the problem of people who are raised certain ways or in certain traditions or whatever. I think that is too easy an out.
And it leads neatly to the other problem – which is more subtle but I think equally insidious. We don’t see our own inconsistency. We don’t realize that what we are criticizing in others exists in our own mind as well. And because we don’t see it, it is always somebody else’s problem – and so we are always looking for political or military or bureaucratic solutions.
What I am saying is that we need to be able to take a deeper view of this – a less judgmental view – a view that is not premised just on the horrifying news of the moment. We can’t just react to this or that. We have to make contact with what it is inside of us that can rape someone or shoot them. And we have to do it in a non-judgmental way. We just have to see it. I think that if we can do that, we can start to dismantle some of the boundaries we put up. We can start to say, okay, it’s not just people in the Middle East. It’s me too. At least a little it is.
Coherence asks that we get clear about what we are doing – that we not do one thing while thinking or feeling another. We don’t want to project and we don’t want to deny. We simply want to allow the psychological baggage – call it what you will – to surface in us. In a way, being coherent is about seeing where we are incoherent and not rushing to fix it or improve it. I think a lot of the wind that fills anger’s sails can be taken away simply by diminishing the impetus to castigate others.
I am not trying to absolve anyone of violence. Murder is horrifying in any aspect. And it is not justified. Nor am I suggesting that we absolve those who do it. But I am saying that so long as we insist on seeing the problem – the big picture problem – as something outside of us, then we are never going to really have a chance to solve it. We are simply going to continue to devote our time and energy and thoughts to a system that has no interest in doing anything other than perpetuating itself.
Real freedom comes when we are able to see ourselves as we are – broken and fragmented and in that regard intimately connected to all the human beings on the planet. Only when we can begin to see ourselves as parts of a fabric can we begin to talk in a serious way about healing. It can’t be contingent upon others. We can’t say, well, when so-and-so gets around to it I’ll get around to it as well. We have to go first. We have to be coherent for the sake of coherence. We have to.