Beliefs, Fanaticism and Violence

As I write this note, my heart is shattered. My eldest son died in the recent confrontation between terrorists that invaded a gas plant in Algeria, and the army of that country, which went inside to obliterate them.

In this occasion, Islamist fanaticism was the immediate cause of the horrible tragedy—many more people also died—but the deep roots of the terrorists’ absurd behavior get lost in the history of religions and dogmas. In every belief devoid of reasonable support rests the seeds of fanaticism that, as soon they sprout, create conflict and violence.

There is a trait in our behavior with dangerous consequences, which we have not yet recognized, therefore, we could care less about changing. Such trait is the stubborn certainty that we always have about our own ‘truths’—truths that in metaphysical matters are always ‘revealed’. Such certainty, inflexible by definition, immediately makes a heresy out of any thought that conflicts with it, and turns into transgression any deviation from its rules. The defense and spread of our ‘truths’, given their imaginary authenticity and transcendence, become duty. The difference between today’s Islamist terrorism and crimes, and the radicalism of other faiths, are only of format and intensity.

The list of sectarian cruelties throughout time is endless: the atrocities of the medieval Catholic Inquisition, the bloody religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation in Europe, the cruel conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in northern India… Even the transparent teachings of the Buddha’s, once their followers convert them into dogmas, have been used to promote persecution and discord. The most recent example of this discrimination is the conflict in Sri Lanka between the Buddhist majority government, on one hand, and the Hindu and Muslim minorities, on the other.

Religions, of course, are not the only field where enmity boundaries are drawn and around which sects band together; but without a doubt, it is sad to say, religious dogmas do make up one of the most fertile territories for breeding violence. Other expressions of fanaticism—nationalism, racism, partisanship, even sport teams’ adhesion—are equally harmful for both the individual and the whole society.

Nazi atrocities, Soviet purges and Chinese genocides are still recent memories. These other kinds of fanaticism behave like religious adherence, supposedly confirmed by physical or social principles. My Communist friends from the now distant college days argued, “The Marxist dialectics and social class struggle are natural laws, as evident and precise as the law of gravity.

In every biased or sectarian belief is the germ of fanaticism. The planting of this seed in our brain —without us noticing, as if they were weeds, by voluntary affiliation, or persisted training—is the sowing of violence that, once it bears its gloomy fruit, will be very difficult to contain. Fanaticism and its consequential hatred murdered my son in Algeria and they will continue slashing innocent lives for many years to come. Fanatic militants never recognize their irrationality; impartiality demands detachment from biased views; and only those who do not profess emotional and unfounded beliefs are truly objective.

The ideas of Krishnamurti are a ray of light to modern equanimity. This twentieth century Hindu philosopher said: When many people say they love God, they are loving “a projection of your own imagination, a projection of yourself clothed in certain forms of respectability according to what you think is noble and holy; so to say, `I love God’, is absolute nonsense. When you worship God you are worshipping yourself—and that is not love.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, wherever there is hatred let me sow love”, says a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, the Italian saint of eight centuries ago. Within my admiration of this beautiful poem, this ‘Lord’ may be God or the Cosmic Order, Allah or the Natural Law, Jehovah or the Collective Subconscious, Vishnu or the Dhamma. This is the message of hope that has sprung from my infinite sadness. We can senselessly murder on behalf of an ‘almighty’ who sides with his chosen people. But we cannot kill, not even hurt others, when in our hearts love reigns.

Houston, January 23, 2013


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