Discussion group comment; Bob Brinsmead; Dense complexity (causes of violence, NCI response); Mimetic Mennonites (the futility of reforming Christianity); Harold Ellens’ ‘The Destructive Power of Religion’; New comment; It all gets better, infinitely better; History’s greatest liberation movement; Celebrating more CO2; Hitchens on violence; The longing for perfection; Brinsmead on imperfection; God as psychopath; the pathology in Western religion; Zenon Lotufo quotes (the psychopath behind atonement theology- finding satisfaction in the suffering of others); a model of religion and violence; review of Armstrong’s ‘Fields of Blood’; understanding the relationship between religion and violence; and Love and freedom- understanding suffering.
Comment from discussion group August 2014, Wendell Krossa
Much of this comment below, while pulled out of its discussion group context, has to do with response to the recent eruptions of violence in Syria/Iraq (ISIS) and elsewhere. For more detail on the issues discussed, see comment throughout this opening page and in various site articles.
Note comment further below from Bob Brinsmead on the Christian history of violence.
Discussion group comment (Wendell Krossa): He made some good points on the video interview I saw. Arguing that Israel was not gaining points for its still heavy-handed approach. Many commentators have said that this time around world opinion was more on the Israeli side, with the understanding that no country can put up with such ongoing attack on its civilians. But still, more can be done to insure less civilian casualties on the other side also.
And people also understand more of what we are dealing with- a nihilistic hate and lust for death that cannot be reasoned with. But still, for long-term resolution to such violence, total destruction of one side is not the answer. The Ottoman history and larger situation in Bosnia ought to be instructive. Those hatreds and the lust for revenge were passed down over four centuries to each new generation before exploding back in the early 90s as we all saw. Total destruction of your “enemy” is no long term solution. Many others are watching and remembering, and they are building a sense of hate and desire to retaliate, to get even, that will erupt again when it finds the opportunity.
This is where a Mandela and the Chinese sage that Armstrong quoted (The Great Transformation) can be of great value to finding long term resolutions (i.e. the approach of treating even “enemies” with respect). And despite the irrational mindset of the current “enemy”, there are critical factors that are not being thoroughly or properly introduced into presently proposed solutions, such as the ideological/theological elements at the foundation of all this violence. This is about the thinking of the larger religious community that supports extremist movements. And fortunately, not all those 180-300 million estimated jihad supporters (15-25% of the Islamic population) are totally blinded to change. They still have the same human spirit and consciousness that the rest of us do and the same human impulses that can be appealed to and reasoned with.
It is not helpful- the public discussion that just polarizes. People ask- whose side are you on? As if unquestioning, uncritical support for one or the other is the only issue. That just re-enforces the old “us versus them” mentality that keeps all this tribal violence going. These are all people- on all sides- of the same human family.
In another sense, Simon Singh in Big Bang was right. Many of the current generation need to die off (i.e. scientists holding old paradigms) in order for real change to come. Hoping the next generation will do better. That is the tragedy of human stubbornness and refusal to change. But rather than engage hate toward the current extremists, we ought to feel more the profound sadness at wasted life and opportunity, when people miss the very point for their existence and life- to learn something of love.
Another comment: I just watched “Day of the Siege” on Netflix (the siege of Vienna, 1683) where the European Christians held off the great assault by the Ottomans (Muslim). It was the final push of Islam into Europe for that wave of conquest that had gone on for over a century. The Islamic side prophesied that it would not be the last push to conquer Europe.
The movie did a good job of bringing out the tribal mentality or tribal spirit of both sides (and the stubbornness of religious commitment). Both arguing that their God was the one true God, their religion was the true religion and they would die to protect it. And so many did die, in the tens of thousands. Such pathological tribalism. And where did it get humanity?
Another: I don’t like to repeat it endlessly, but all this “us versus them” polarization and primitive tribalism- kill them all, crush them- is exactly what is at the root of all this ongoing hate and violence. As a well-known psychologist asks his patients, “How is your approach working for you?” The first paragraph in the post Tim sent explains a lot of the ongoing history of all this. Isn’t it time, after millennia of this failed approach, to try something different?
And another: We are going after long-term solutions, while fully recognizing the responsibility to act to protect in the short-term (i.e. use of force to restrain violence).
That first paragraph from Tim’s post…
“The late, great critic of the American Imperium, Chalmers Johnson, popularized the salient concept of “blowback”. That is, the notion that if you bomb, drone, invade, desecrate and slaughter—collaterally or otherwise— a people and their lands, they might find ways to return the favor.”
Another: I remember how I winced during the first Gulf War when I saw US soldiers wearing T-shirts with phrases like this printed on them, “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out”. Or standing, grinning, beside bombs hanging on jets with all sorts of similar phrases printed on them. War, though sometimes tragically unavoidable, should never be an excuse to abandon our humanity. We should never abandon the humane sense of regret at having to resort to force, or our pity for those who have abandoned their humanity.
Another: Ahh, there can be a dense complexity to maintaining humanity in an imperfect world. But thankfully, we can and do take a careful look at our past, learn from it, and try to do better. And so much of what we inherit can be attributed to how our nations have acted previously over history. And yes, there is a nihilistic insanity in extremist religion, in these death cults. Any common sense response will act protectively when faced with such threat.
But these extremists do not spring up in isolation from the larger world and their perceptions of how they have been treated, back to the Ottomans and over the previous centuries. And that is where we can also act to lessen the ongoing cyclical nature of all this insanity. Correcting our involvement over the long-term. Again, the Chinese sage offered some insight, as did Mandela and others on treating even so-called enemies with respect. But most of the work here has to do with how all these people think. The distortion in the religious beliefs that validate their hatred. And yes, for us Paul is a prime example here of the complex feedback loop that operates to maintain violence. He was a man whose mind was filled with violence and anger (Stephen Mitchell, The Gospel According to Jesus) and so he created a Christ myth that expressed his violence and anger, and then used that creation to validate his own cruelty toward others. Paul has been the most influential person in history in this regard.
This process of creating gods to validate violence began long ago in the ancient past. People choosing to express violence sought validation in gods of similar character. They created gods that would validate their worst impulses to act violently.
Another: One place I would start is by defusing all this “us versus them” thinking. And stop all the dehumanizing of those on the “other side” from us. And we dehumanize in so many varied ways, viewing and labelling people as something less than fully and equally human. In a more graphic manner, this is how the slide into violence began in Germany under Hitler, calling Jews “Vermin” to be exterminated. Also in Rwanda, people calling opponents “cockroaches” and so on, something to be despised as less than human, a bothersome pestilence to be eliminated.
Another: And maybe someone should just read aloud to the world a good NDE to give some sense of what is behind all reality and life, this incredible love, and then reveal that we are the same love, and that is the very point of our existence, to learn and live something of that love. So what a tragedy to miss that fundamental purpose for one’s life. To miss the wonder of being human that is our purpose and reason for being here. This is the tragedy in engaging violence.
Another: And to add to the list of movies suggested here over the past, there are some very powerful stories on Netflix. One that will devastate is the movie/documentary called Nanking. On the 1937 Japanese invasion of China. One of the missionaries trying to protect her girls in a school, after living through the Hell of that invasion, went home and committed suicide. And your sympathies are with her. A series of well-known actors narrate the story but most powerful are the Chinese victims who tell their stories.
And then I just watched “The Act of Killing” on the history of the 1965 crushing of the supposed communist threat in Indonesia. Incredible stories in both of these movies. These now older Indonesian men relive and re-enact how they killed and tortured thousands of mostly innocent people. The one man named Congo is fascinating. He has to act in the movie that they are making and in one scene he plays the part of one of his former victims. He can barely make it through his part. Later, as he ponders what happened, he asks the director, “Did the people I tortured and killed feel as I felt just now?” He then starts to cry. Here, at the end of his life, he experiences a stirring of empathy. The director reminds him that he is just acting in a movie while his victims knew they were going to die so their terror was far worse.
He then asks, “Did I sin?” On one hand you feel, good god man, did it take you this long to finally learn a smidgeon of empathy? What a tragic waste of your life. What a tragic missing of one’s purpose, of missing the wonder of being the human that you were supposed to be. But at least he seems to finally get it. And then he goes out to the place where he killed so many, and begins to retch.
His friend, however, refuses to accept any blame. Another old man, nearing the end of life, but stubbornly insisting that the “communists” deserved what they gave them. And another yet is a pure psychopath who describes the fun of raping young girls. And laughs with others about it. These are all now elderly men recounting how they committed atrocities toward so many people (some 1-2.5 million in total were killed across the country). The pathetic excuse-making and rationalizing of these men is beyond repulsive. What a tragic distortion of being human, and they still walk the streets of Indonesia and “inspire” young people in that country today with their perverted vision of vengeance and violence.
Another: There are many angles to deal with…you rightly emphasize Herb, the role of commerce in supporting peace and promoting peace. Good. And we all need to start with ourselves and our own ideals and lives before blaming any others. I just read last week a Catholic priest who is a regular columnist for the National Post. He was scolding the Russians for not cleaning up their respect for Stalin, but still holding on to that violent old icon. And I thought, well, what self-delusion. What about you hanging on to the most violent icon of all- Christ? Clean up your own ideals first before lecturing others (i.e. take the beam out of your own eye before worrying about the little speck in someone else’s eye). And so with this Islamist thing- we in the West have a lot of cleaning up to do ourselves, while we frown on Islam. Look at the bloody history of Christianity (Councils, Crusades, Inquisition) and Israel (i.e. Old Testament genocide). All in the name of God. See Bob’s comment below on the violence done by Christianity.
Another: The Japanese in Nanking in 1937 or the Indonesians in 1965 are so similar to ISIS today in Iraq. But so many other people in those situations did not descend into that darkness and hate and violence. What are the mechanisms, institutions, belief systems, ways of thinking and all else that societies build in order to lead children toward humanity and prevent such horror emerging? I mean, we now teach young kids not to bully others, to be inclusive, kind, and respectful of everyone. These things profoundly shape young life and the future direction of societies.
Another: (Response to someone who suggested that in my comparison of Stalin with Christ I was engaging moral equivalence)
The moral equivalence is in Christian history and the rivers of blood there (remember the priest who wrote God’s Chosen Peoples and claimed that Christianity has shed more blood than any other movement in history). That was my point. And what validated that Christian brutality? Look at Paul in Gal.1:8-9, damning to destruction those who disagreed with him. And he is speaking of his fellow Christians, who differed only slightly from him. And think of the following centuries of Christian violence. Read Constantine’s Sword (James Carroll) again on the violence that is embedded in the Christian belief in blood sacrifice- a violent death to atone for sin. And note how the veneration of divine violence has inspired a history of Christian violence. Again, see Bob’s comment below.
Another: And yes, I get the need to be careful about the moral equivalence arguments today re Israel and Hamas. But in the case of Stalin and Christ, which really has promoted more bloodshed?
Another: And this gets to another critical element. Hope. Apocalyptic (expressed today in the general feeling that the world going to hell) promotes hopelessness and associated fear, and hence, is involved with unleashing violent response. Psychology deals with this fear/violence response. Also, note how people employ a sense of victimhood. So the Indonesians used this threat of being victims (threat and fear of enemies attacking them) to inspire violence toward the communists. As leaders did also in Bosnia (i.e. we must stop the threat from our enemies before they get us). All these things play a role in promoting violence.
Another: Just as people understanding the great Love at the core of all reality find a new inspiration to live as human, to attain such love in their own lives, so hope can promote better motivations in people. Julian Simon got this linkage in Ultimate Resource, and noted that hopelessness causes people to give up, to become resigned and passive. Where on the other hand hope- noting the evidence that life is improving- inspires energy and activity to keep improving life.
Another: You touch on all the key issues here Julia. Right now we do need the state to act to protect and stop this madness from spreading (i.e. ISIS) and to save those innocents subject to this. But along with moderate Islam rethinking the theology behind this, so the West needs to be seriously coming to grips with its past historical role in all this. The historical roots go way back as the Ottoman thing shows (and even further back to the Crusades). And again Landes’ book on Millennial apocalyptic (Heaven on Earth) is so good for understanding what is unfolding here (i.e. the honor thing and felt humiliation at past defeat and the felt need to retaliate in order to regain honor- so also Hitler was driven to regain Germany’s honor after feeling intensely the defeat in WW1).
Another: All humanity needs to search deeply into what is at the root of all this erupting madness and then deal thoroughly with long term solutions. I agree so much with your point that this current eruption of evil may shock many in so-called moderate Islam to more seriously consider what is in their religion or religious orders that promotes this. Just as many are doing with Christianity (i.e. the Mennonites getting the point that violence in the Bible shapes violence in society- such as in our Western justice system, based on Christian theology, that is oriented to retaliation and punishment).
Another: Nothing is more critical than getting this unconditional narrative out everywhere. Both the ethical and theological aspects, and then offer good illustration as in the life of people like Mandela. Good up-to-date illustration of its powerful impact on people and how it can resolve potentially violent situations. Related to this- someone said, we need another Sadat and Begin who decided in one sudden moment of inspiration to set hate aside and make peace. That took some unconditional thinking and acting.
Another: And we need to challenge the extremist’ appeal to versions of ultimate authority that are violent. This is behind so much inhumanity. It is a fundamental human impulse to seek validation in the highest ideals and authorities. Whether God or the god-like emperor (Japan). So it is critical for all religions to recognize that there is no violence in deity and there never has been such a deity. Islam also needs to face the truth that there is no violence in ultimate reality, and radically alter their theology. There is nothing but the absolute contrary in God- unconditional love. And that validates the best in humanity, it inspires our highest, authentic human self.
Another: A significant part of the response has to do with the issue of offended honor as Landes pointed out. The going forth to beat down and destroy your “enemy” has long term humiliating consequences. Hence, the value of heeding the Chinese sage that Armstrong quoted. He got the point that while force is necessary to stop violence, it is critical how we use force and the attitudes that we communicate that can have long term impacts for good or bad. Just one part of a complex mix of factors.
Another: Note this also in the case of Russia (I.e. the sense of offended honor and desire to retaliate). Remember the boasting in the West that we “won the Cold War” and defeated our “enemy”. That, as Landes argues in the case of Islam, produces humiliation and a sense of offended honor and desire to retaliate to regain honor. Watch this as expressed in Putin. The loss of “past glory” and felt need to hit back to regain lost honor. These are all elements in the mix of ongoing violence. There is not enough solid endeavor to create the perception that we are all one human family and all in this together, solving this violence among ourselves and ensuring our common success as one family. And then read Matthew 5:38-48 and watch how Jesus pushes this issue- no retaliation, no enemy, but treat all the same, as one family. No more privileged insider, no more bad guys getting what they deserve. All get the same forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity. And of course, this still includes the responsibility to hold one another accountable for behavior that is not human.
Another: This deserves more thought- along with the entire complexity of this violence issue. But note this idea of offended honor (a very primitive view) and the related felt need (or right) to retaliate in order to restore honor. We all feel this at a personal level so we all know what is going on. In Islam if a girl does not follow her father’s wishes and obey him, she dishonors him and his family. And the father demands the right to retaliate to restore his honor (and violently so). So also at the national level as Landes points out so well- Islam felt humiliated by this tiny Israeli state after the Six Day War, and those other defeats. So now Islam seeks to retaliate in order to restore its offended honor.
And then add here the larger background of theology that supports this social practice of honor. A holy God is offended by sin and so must retaliate to “restore” his offended honor. This is the ideal that validates the social custom. And this is also true in a similar manner in the West as we have the same basic theology (see comment on holiness mythology below).
I see this offended honor and retaliation thing at a personal level all across society. A partner cheats in a relationship and the offended partner feels dishonored and seeks to retaliate, often brutally. This is something fundamental to change in human perception (the idea of offense at wrong and right to retaliate) in order to solve violence for the long term. Especially as this offended honor and violent response is embedded in views of deity.
Another: It is critical also in the midst of outbursts of insanity to maintain our ideals and humanity. Even while taking responsibility to restrain violence and protect others. We must not give way to the same impulses motivating violent people. The urge to retaliate and hurt and punish. And yet you hear exactly this whenever violence breaks out- “We will punish the offenders, the enemy”. That takes us down the same road to vengefully destroy. We need to work with the long-term in view, to solve and end these endless outbursts of ugliness.
And this is good Herb, to bring forth these historical examples (i.e. McArthur treating the defeated Japanese with respect and humanity) where it worked to lessen any humiliation and restore an ongoing relationship. People who commit violence, having the same human spirit as the rest of us, at some level must feel that they are violating something basically human. I think the Japanese must have felt that. So instead of humiliating unnecessarily, we hold them responsible for their violence but at the same time welcome them back to sanity and back to full inclusion in the human family. We try to eliminate any “us versus them” residue.
Another: And there is always an individual story in these eruptions of violence that brings it all painfully home to one’s own mind and spirit. I recently read the account of one man fleeing the ISIS advance in Iraq. He said that he loaded his family and relatives into his car to get away from the quickly approaching jihadists. As he gunned the car to escape, his little daughter fell off onto the street. He desperately wanted to stop and return for her but he had so many other relatives to save and ISIS was almost upon them. So he left his little girl on the street.
Discussion group comment from Bob Brinsmead.
No, ____, Wendell has not quite lost his marbles. His starting point is that Jesus is real and that the Christ of Christian theology is religious myth.
I suppose the saving grace of the religion of Christ (Christianity) is that it claimed to be based on the teaching of Jesus, and for this reason had to carry something of his teaching, howbeit in a kind of subordinate way, along its long journey through history. The theology about the man and the history of the man have struggled together like Jacob and Esau in the womb of Rebecca. I tremble to think of what Christian civilization might have done without the leavening influence of the teaching of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus inspired, for instance, the saintly Abelard to challenge the orthodox doctrine of atonement with his moral influence theory. The teaching of Jesus inspired a lot of Christians to found institutions and works of mercy. It inspired the Quakers to fight slavery that was sanctioned by the orthodox teaching of the church.
Yet for all these good things, the Christian movement shed a lot of blood. It was not the teaching of Jesus that inspired the blood-letting. Some Christian commentators have been compelled to regretfully admit that the Christian religion might well have shed more blood in the defence of its faith than any other religion in the history of the world. No one should avoid reading the great thesis of James Carroll, the Irish-American Catholic priest – it is called Constantine’s Sword. He records how millions have been slain in the name of Christ and a certain kind of belief about his cross. The Jews learned to hate the emblem of the cross because it was in its name that they were accused of Deicide and subjected to nearly two thousand years of suffering and slaughter at the hands of Christians. Thinking Christians today are revisiting this issue of religious violence and trying to revise things like their theology of atonement and the belief in the holocaust of the apocalypse spelled out so graphically in the NT.
In was in the name of his private visions of the Christ of faith that St. Paul cursed everyone who disagreed even so slightly with his interpretation of the Christ event (See Galatians 1), and even called the first apostles of the church, residing in Jerusalem, false apostles of Satan. It was out of devotion to this Christ that the church, subsequent to Constantine, decreed that those who refused to believe that Jesus was God Almighty should be put to the sword. It was this Christ who inspired the unspeakable deeds of the Inquisition, the abominable Crusades and deeds like the massacre of St. Bartholomew. It was Calvin’s faith and dedication to this Christ which inspired him to proceed with the execution of the brilliant Michael Servetus, even though it must be said that the influence of the teaching of Jesus made him ask that Servetus be beheaded rather than go through the torture of being burned at the stake. But his Christian brethren disagreed, and burned Servetus in a slow, green fire. But Farrell was present to represent Calvin, and he offered prayer before they began the ghastly proceedings of burning the good medical doctor alive. Summing it all up, the greatest mythologist of our age, Joseph Campbell says, “We have been bred to one of the most brutal war mythologies of all time.” (Myths to Live By, p. 175).
The women of Israel sang of their hero, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” How many have been slain in the name of the mythical son of David?
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest killer of them all?
And what’s this statement: “We didn’t enter their lands and forcibly convert them to anything.” Oh come on. What about the Spanish and priestly conquest of South America? Sometimes the natives were given the choice of conversion or the sword. The Muslim radicals in Iraq are not the first to give people the choice to convert to Islam or die. As Campbell puts it, “From the period of the victories of Constantine, fourth century A.D., the Church founded on the rock of that same good Peter’s name was advanced very largely by swordsmanship.” (Ibid. p. 189)
Did not the Christian missionaries follow the colony-making conquests of the British Empire? An African put it this way: “Before you Christians came to Africa, you had the Bible and we had the land. Now that you have come to Africa, we have the Bible and you have the land.” How did Christian America justify the early slave trade? It was said that the Africans who were transported in chains to America were given the chance to hear the Gospel and be saved. Enough said. I rest my case. Robert Brinsmead.
(The comment below is not intended to cover all the possible non-violent approaches or causes of violence. It is just to focus on some important issues related to violence. Someone stated that there are 198 different methods of nonviolence- e.g. Gene Sharp, The Politics of Non-violent Action)
There is a dense complexity to consider when trying to solve the problem of violence in human existence, and when trying to apply principles of non-violence, or unconditional treatment of others, to the messy reality of life. People note, for instance, that Gandhi’s particular non-violent approach worked because he was dealing with the British who maintained some sense of “decency” when dealing with insurgencies such as Gandhi’s. There was a background “conscience” or sense of humanity/morality that could be appealed to. So also, with Mandela in South Africa. There was still some white sensitivity to world opinion and the impact of sanctions. Even the US, when dealing with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, could count on some element of rationality from the Russian side during that era of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction).
But when dealing with religious extremists (or other extremist ideologues), who glory in killing and death and embrace martyrdom, you are not dealing with rational people. They may strike some deal with you at times to gain an advantage, but then, when opportunity arises, they will gleefully hack your head off, screaming praise to their God while doing so. You cannot reason, negotiate, or bargain with such people. You are forced to take defensive action, however you may. And so it has been throughout history. One young jihadist (recently on CNN) said he would consider it a great blessing from God to be able to cut off someone’s head, such as the US journalists.
This is all part of the dense complexity to explore when applying ideals like unconditional, or nonviolence, to our contemporary world situations.
But a different approach may be taken with the larger populations that support extremist movements. These people may still be reasoned with. And this is where a long term solution is critical. While also extremist in outlook, this population may refuse to actually engage the violence that they support for others. However, this population will be sensitive to any retaliation and will maintain perceived offenses in long term historical memory that will fester and fuel violent activists among them. Nonetheless, a nonviolent approach may still resonate with this larger population, and appeal to their still present sense of humanity. This is where it is critical to focus on changing minds over the long term (i.e. challenging and changing the religious beliefs and attitudes that affect human mood and action).
Note also that to cultivate support for nonviolent solutions, many peaceful people in the general human population need the reassurance that embracing unconditional treatment of all does not leave them vulnerable to unrestrained violence, such as from psychopaths, or jihadists. These people need assurance that action will be taken to protect them. Nonviolent approaches, if adhered to dogmatically (i.e. strict pacifism), often do not properly deal with the need to protect innocent victims from violence.
Trying to apply nonviolence, or the unconditional treatment of all, is not about a demand to feel fuzzy or warm toward a violent offender, toward someone who acts like a monster. But it is about maintaining one’s own humanity in the worst of situations. It is about avoiding the tendency to express the same base motivations of violent offenders that are governed by hate, rage, vengeance, and the drive to destroy. It is about maintaining mercy and restraint towards the very worst, believing that they too share a human spirit and consciousness no matter how deformed they appear to be in the present. Maintaining our humanity will keep us oriented to long term solutions to violence. What may also help here is the realization that violent offenders are ruining their own lives more than that of their victims. The offender is missing the very point of human existence- to learn something of love while on Earth. The deformity of spirit or consciousness that occurs in a violent person is far worse than any deformity of body that they may cause to others through violence.
Some of the more critical issues to resolving violence for the long-term include the effort to get people beyond things like primitive tribalism, the “us versus them” mindset, us versus our “enemies”. This requires moving beyond the dividing, excluding boundaries of nationalism, ethnicity/race, social status, politics/ideology, religion, and anything else that is used to divide people from one another. We need a fresh appreciation and expression of the unity of humanity in one common family. We are all in this life experience together on this planet.
Critical to resolving violence for the long term is to change how people think. We can win military battles but lose wars if we do not deal with the underlying ideas, beliefs, or perspectives of the parties on all sides of various conflicts. The real battle is in the mind and spirits of the combatants. If people still harbor beliefs that validate exclusion, domination, separation, and vengeful action toward others, then winning a battle here or there will not ultimately deter further violent action in the future. When people continue to hold the foundational beliefs that validate violence, those ideas will continue to fester and negatively impact mood and action in the future.
Further, keep in mind that statistics reveal that extremely violent people are only a small minority of the overall human population, though they cause damage far out of proportion to their actual numbers. And even in the larger sections of the population that may support violent extremists, we have to believe that there is still a human consciousness and spirit among those people. Any appeal to the humanity of such people (i.e. reasoning with them according to commonly accepted humane ideals) will resonate with their human consciousness. Humanity may be almost entirely quashed in the most committed religious zealots and ideologues, but not so in the larger populations that are apparent supporters of fanaticism.
Acts of violence enrage us and they should. But we must be careful that our anger does not lead to abandoning our humanity and falling back into the same old, same old endless cycles of retaliation. We do not progress over the long term if we continue to respond like that. We need to channel our rage at committed acts of violence toward finding long term solutions.
Just an aside: Preventing personal violence- NCI
The Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NCI) approach offers some interesting insights similar to those of the Chinese sage (The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong). NCI illustrates how things like attitude expressed while helping prevent violence is important to long term resolution of violence (i.e. not humiliating offenders but seeking to rehabilitate). Defensive action is not about a brute force display to cower an enemy and teach a lesson. It is not about humiliating and crushing someone. It is more about keeping in mind the need to restore people after restraining their outbursts of violence. This is critical to long term solutions to violence.
The NCI approach focuses on initial communication to de-escalate situations before moving to last resort physical restraints. It notes that such things as one’s tone of voice can help defuse anger. One’s body posture and language can also communicate non-threat.
Here are some details of the NCI stages of de-escalation and, and if necessary, restraint:
Expressed anxiety (initial escalation) is met with supportive response (empathic, nonjudgmental), and questioning to find out what is wrong.
A defensive stance by someone ready to act out (loss of rationality) is met with someone taking control of the escalating situation and setting limits.
Acting out (total loss of rational control, physical acting out) is met with safe, non-harmful restraint to control the acting out person till they can regain control of their own behavior. This is a last resort measure.
Tension reduction after an outburst (decrease in physical and emotional energy in the acting out person) is met with therapeutic rapport, re-establishing communication and rebuilding trust.
Regarding the supportive action at the beginning of escalation toward violent acting out, importance is given to physical communication such as facial expression, eye contact, body stance (non-threatening), posture, gestures, movement. Verbal communication is critical to de-escalation- i.e. tone of voice, volume, cadence (rate and rhythm of speech).
While this approach is employed at a personal level, common sense can see potential useful application to larger scales of human violence. NCI speaks to such issues as exercising the utmost caution before using force. It encourages people to try to de-escalate tension and only resort to force as a last ditch protective measure. And it urges that we take care not to humiliate the violent person, but take steps after an outburst to restore the acting out person (i.e. rehabilitate).
Here is the advice of the Chinese sage which also focuses on the critically important attitude of the people that are trying to stop violence: “He (the sage) uses weapons only when he cannot do otherwise…If he was forced to fight, the sage must always take up his weapons with regret. There must be no egotistic triumphalism, no cruel chauvinism, no facile patriotism. The sage must not intimidate the world with a show of arms, because this belligerence would almost certainly recoil on him. The sage must always try to bring a military expedition to an end. ‘Bring it to a conclusion, but do not boast; bring it to a conclusion but do not brag; bring it to a conclusion but do not be arrogant;… bring it to a conclusion but do not intimidate’…(non-violence) did not mean a total abstinence from action, but an unaggressive, unassertive attitude that prevented the escalation of hatred…’the good leader is not warlike….the man who gets the most out of men is the one who treats them with humility’…It was our attitude, not our action, that determined the outcome of what we did. People were always able to sense the feeling and motivation that lay behind our words and deeds…The sage must learn to absorb hostility; if he retaliated to an atrocity there would certainly be a fresh attack. Challenges must be ignored…the sage must ask whether hatred was breeding more hatred, or whether it was weakening in response to compassion” (quoted from Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation).
The sage has argued well that when we take defensive action to stop violence (i.e. using force) the attitude that we express is critically important. Our non-violent attitude will temper our defensive action (moderating the manner in which we employ force) and communicate to a violent offender that we are acting with utmost restraint (carefully limiting our force to a minimum required to restore peace), and also that we are acting in the best interests of all involved. There should be no over-the-top force (excess), or humiliation of our opponents, or gloating in victory. Triumphalist gloating only causes resentment which will lead to future episodes of back and forth retaliation.
What drives violence?
Many drivers of violence have been suggested- such as the excitement of engaging violence (due to psychopathic tendencies?), the desire to be accepted in a group, the impulse to do something meaningful or heroic, the drive to belong to a cause (e.g. seeking some form of justice), and the zealotry or loyalty to something above humanity (a god, an ideology, a mythology, a principle, a law that takes precedence over real people). So much violence toward people has come from loyalty to some other “good” than people. Loyalty to gods above humanity, or holy books, systems of supposedly divine law, and other ideals or authorities. If such ideals and authorities embody themes of violence (i.e. divine wrath, vengeance, punishment and destruction) then they will stir and validate similar violent action among the people devoted to such themes. They will re-enforce base human impulses to act inhumanely toward others.
Another driver of violence: The sense of being special insiders, the chosen people of God with some special mission to accomplish. The belief that one is a member of a group that is specially favored by God has also led to devaluing other people that are outside of one’s group. This has even led to devaluing others as less than human, less than equal members of the human family. We saw this devaluing of others in situations like Nazi Germany where Jews were labeled as vermin, or in Rwanda where opposing tribes were labeled as cockroaches, pests that needed to be destroyed or exterminated. It is critical to counter this primitive thinking with a clear affirmation that we are all equal members of the same human family, all fully human and deserving of the same respect.
Also, the felt need to appease or please some threat can incite people to act violently toward others (i.e. the felt need to obey an angry deity, or the desire to gain salvation from the threatening deity by fulfilling the deity’s will to destroy others). This is the motivation of fear (e.g. evident in the terror at threats of things like hell). Psychology notes this relationship between fear and violence. Think, for example, of the threatened animal snarling in terror at some threat and ready to attack.
And there is the sense of victimhood. People feel that their group has been abused by some other group and believe that group threatens to harm them so they must fight back, they must fight for their survival before they are destroyed by the others. This sense of victimhood was engaged by Serbian leaders and used to incite their populations to murderous destruction of former friends and neighbors. Landes notes this sense of victimhood in Islam’s felt humiliation at the hands of tiny Israel (the army of a nation of a few million defeated the armies of nations of hundreds of millions), and also Islamic embarrassment before the success of the West. This has to do with the primitive belief in offended honor and the right to retaliate (the sense of obligatory revenge in order to restore one’s honor).
And there is, of course, the use of brutal deity/theology (noted above) to validate residual animal drives to dominate, exclude, and to destroy outsiders. People project base features onto God and then use that self-created God as their highest ideal or authority to validate their own expression of the same harsh features.
Another drive behind violence is the personal identity issue. People place their identity in some object like an occupation (i.e. soldier, businessperson), race/ethnicity, ideology, or religion. If someone challenges that object where people have located their identity, the challenge is then viewed as a threat to their very existence (their very self) and that evokes an animal-like survival response of violent attack toward the challenger. It becomes a survival issue similar to the victimhood perspective. The proposed solution to this identity issue is to remain a person in process- open to change and growth, not tying one’s identity to any object (see Louis Zurcher’s The Mutable Self).
Related to the above is the reaction of primitive people to the modern world as immoral and evil because it violates traditional life. Again, this has to do with people (their identity, lifestyle) feeling threatened by the new thing. So they react by trying to stop or destroy the perceived threat to their traditional identity and way of life.
Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth) also notes how the apocalyptic millennialism belief incites people to violence. When the hoped for and prophesied apocalypse or millennium does not materialize then true believers will sometimes try to force its arrival by engaging violence toward others (see if they can incite God to start the apocalypse).
Note: It must be remembered that media tend to distort the rate and amount of violence occurring over history. The long term trend in humanity has been movement toward decreasing violence (see James Payne’s History of Force, or Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature). This ought to inspire hope that the future will be better and all our efforts at promoting non-violence will bear fruit. But recent media trends are toward reporting more on violence. David Althiede noted this in Creating Fear: News and the Manufacture of Crisis. He noted, for example, that during the 1990s, homicide in the US declined by 20%, but reporting on homicide by news media increased by 600%. That leaves people with the wrong impression that violence is getting worse. The sense of decline can be debilitating and cause resignation and passivity among people. Or the sense that all is sliding toward chaos can incite the urge in some toward nihilistic destruction. So it is vital to present the larger picture that life is actually improving.
And consequent to the fact that life is getting better, violence then has no long term future. It is simply against the entire trajectory of human history and our overall movement away from violence and toward a more humane future. Violence is becoming more and more aberrational as time passes.
Further, on the issue of countering tribalism (us versus them thinking) there is a lot of good research on racial issues that shows that race is a social construct with a weak biological basis. Modern humanity descended from an East African “Eve” some 100,000 years ago (others say it was about 175,000 years ago). The features that we focus on to distinguish race are so peripheral on the genome (human DNA), according to one scientist, that they amount to nothing of any more importance than a sunburn. We are all descendants of a black African Eve. Why then do some of us look so pale? Some of our ancestors migrated out of Africa to the northern regions of Europe where less sunlight led to an altering of expressed melanin distribution in the skin (not required for protection from the sun). This is natural local variation in response to differing environmental pressures. But we are all still the descendants of black Africans.
(Note: Wikipedia and other science sources state that people generally possess the same concentrates of melanocytes in their skin. These produce melanin which gives skin its color. But these melanocytes express differently in varied ethnic groups due to environmental pressures, such as sunlight. Population distribution maps show that over long term history, darker skin has developed in people living in high sunlight areas such as the tropics, while lighter skin has developed in people living in low sunlight areas such as the extreme northern latitudes)
Most critical to resolving violence over the long term is to affirm our oneness as human beings (one human family) with the same human consciousness. We need to downplay all the peripheral things that people latch onto in order to set themselves apart from the rest of humanity- political identities, religious identities, racial/ethnic identities, and so on. We share a common creating Source that is unconditional love and that Source has created us all to learn something of unconditional treatment of one another. We are the one human family.
Finally, once again, ultimate solutions to violence must get at the primitive thinking/beliefs and practices that have long supported the expression of violence toward others. Most importantly, we must change perceptions such as the idea of offended honor and the obligation to take revenge on some offender. Also, the ultimate ideals and authorities that we hold too often validate these primitive ideas and practices of revenge (i.e. gods that exact revenge and punish/destroy offenders). We need to get a hold of the truth that ultimate reality is unconditional love (there is no offense and retaliation in God) and that unconditional love defines our reason for existing on this planet- to learn something of that same love and to express it in our own personal life story. What a tragedy then to miss this central purpose for our existence and lives.
This was the discovery of the historical Jesus (unconditional love defines God) that has so entirely overturned all past understanding of ultimate reality or authority (gods).
Note: the offense and retaliate response is still widespread today in less severe expressions than killing others. You see it in the contemporary practice of people who take offense at all sorts of perceived slights and then go into full-blown social media rage, demanding apologies or firing, or some other form of punishment. And the issues causing such explosions of outrage are often the most minor of misperceived slights (some statement taken out of context or given an extremely negative interpretation). These waves of social media outrage reflect a petty touchiness and sense of victimhood that is at times embarrassing to watch.
Mimetic Mennonites– Illustrating the common Christian approach to moderate the harsher themes of Christianity.
(My argument here: Use unconditional as a baseline from which to understand and evaluate all else. This is critical in order to thoroughly purge all the residual elements of conditions from our foundational beliefs. We need to embrace entirely new wineskins- new frameworks of ideas, new categories of explanation- for the new wine of unconditional reality and existence. And please recognize that I am not “picking on” the Mennonites but rather I am just using them to illustrate the general Christian approach to “make nice”. This make nice effort (i.e. trying to reform or restate Christian belief in more humane ways) denies the foundational themes of Christianity. Any cursory read of the New Testament will show just what writers like Paul were communicating)
Begin comment here…
Some of the Mennonites working on peace theory and practice (i.e. non-violence, restorative justice programs) are appealing to what is known as “mimetic theory” to undergird their peace endeavors. This refers to the theories of anthropologist Rene Girard. His mimetic theory may be summed up as the theory that “human beings imitate each other (desire the same things, which then stirs envy between themselves), and this eventually gives rise to rivalries and violent conflicts. Such conflicts are partially resolved by a scapegoat mechanism, but ultimately, (according to Girard) Christianity is the best antidote to violence”. Girard has explained that the scapegoat mechanism was the means by which a group transferred its collective hostility onto a single victim, discharging anger on that victim, and thereby returning the group to unity. Girard had also stated that sacrificial violence was the dark secret underpinning of all human cultures.
Now it is more than contradictory that he would believe that Christianity was the best antidote to violence. Christianity, more than any other system of belief/practice has been the most prominent promoter of violence in history. It has conceived and given expression to history’s most intense expression of violence. How so?
To explain, here is a brief point summary of core Christian teaching. Watch my emphasis here that Christianity presents history’s “supreme” statement of violence. Paul’s Christ myth is the expression of punishment and destruction in ultimate or divine terms, in transcendent terms.
For starters- apocalypse is the highest pinnacle or apex statement of violence ever conceived by human minds. It is the supreme, final act of divine violence expressed in the destruction of all life and the entire world. This is the original and historical mythological/theological meaning of apocalypse. And the critical link to understand here is that apocalyptic is the overall larger framework of Christianity (James Tabor in Paul and Jesus said that apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did, and Christianity was Paul’s religion).
Paul’s Christ myth is then the embodiment of ultimate violence on two fronts- his Christ is the ultimate violent sacrifice to pay for sin. Christ embodies the divine demand for violent sacrifice as payment, punishment for sin. Christ is also the central agent of the apocalypse, the violent punishment and destruction of all life and the world (see Revelation for graphic detail).
The larger apocalyptic framework of Christianity is evident in the following core themes (this is the entire apocalyptic template of tightly connected beliefs): An original paradise free of sin or impurity/imperfection, the fall of humanity into sin and impurity and the related ruin of paradise, the subsequent decline of life toward a disastrous ending, the violent salvation response or plan (again, demand for violent blood sacrifice to pay for sin- the salvation gospel of Christianity), the actual apocalypse as a great punishment and ending of the world (the violent end-time purging of the world- even Arthur Herman notes the Christian solution is a violent purging of the world), and the new paradise for elect believers in the violent solution. And of course, the eternal violence of Hell for unbelievers. Christian violence never ends.
Hence, my argument that Christianity has been the most prominent promoter of violence across history. To try, as the Mennonites and other Christians do, to reframe and “make nice” basic Christian themes such as atonement (e.g. using the new term “non-violent atonement”) denies the plain historical meaning of core Christian belief.
Here is a brief summary of the basic Christian gospel, set forth in Paul’s main statement of Christian belief- the book of Romans. “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?…You are storing up wrath against yourself…God’s wrath…will be revealed…there will be wrath and anger….God will judge men”. Paul’s solution to appease this angry deity? “All are saved by the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (payment, punishment)…he did this to demonstrate his (eye for eye) justice…Christ died for us…we are saved by his blood….” And so it goes consistently throughout Paul’s Christian gospel (see similar comments all through his other New Testament books). It is clear what Paul means when he speaks of atonement.
Keep in mind, the statement by Christians that the central Christian message is the death of Jesus to pay for human sin, this salvation gospel is a subset theme of the larger violent apocalyptic framework noted above.
Further note: the Mennonites may find Girard attractive because he affirms the need for atonement (i.e. his scapegoat mechanism, sacrificial violence). Thus Girard preserves the core theme of Christianity- the demand for atonement- which the Mennonites also want to preserve, even though they try to defang the violent elements of atonement. The ultimate solution of Girard and the Mennonites is still the great condition of atonement. That concept and its historical meaning continues to cloud and bury the wonder of unconditional as taught by Jesus. The Mennonites ultimately maintain the essence of the gospel of Paul (his Christ myth) in opposition to the gospel of Jesus (unconditional theology and ethic).
Comment (posts) from discussion group on the Mennonite endeavor:
“In dealing with the Christ myth we are dealing with the very foundation, the core, the framework of Christianity (this is why I keep referring to Tabor’s good summary statements on this- apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did, and Christianity is Paul’s religion).”
“This Christ myth cannot be reframed as nice in some way, i.e. as an expression of God’s love and grace. Love does not kill innocents or demand they be killed (the historical meaning of atonement). Love does not promise to destroy all life and the world in a great final bloodbath (apocalypse).”
Another: “The thing to see is how the Christ myth is the supreme, ultimate statement of violence. It embodies both the agent of apocalyptic, and the ultimate sacrifice to deity (god-man). Both are ultimate statements of violence. You cannot get any more ultimate in expressing violence. And Christianity/Paul developed this myth. Therefore as Girard argues, to see Christianity as the antidote to violence, is self-delusion.”
More: “In challenging the Mennonites I am doing what Bob did decades ago. I thought that I had left my religion and was a modern secularized person, though still embracing spiritual reality. Then I engaged Bob over environmental apocalyptic and Bob said that he would have none of it. That sparked a major rethink of my core beliefs and I discovered that at the core of my worldview I was still holding a very religious and very primitive view of reality and life- that of apocalyptic. I was still intensely religious at core. Though modernized and secularized. Quite a discovery and that was the real revolution, it started then. The Mennonites are a great illustration of this problem of tinkering around the edges, patching old leaky wineskins, reforming, reframing, but not really facing the ugly truth at the core- all that profound violence embodied in atonement and apocalyptic thinking. Retaliation, vengeance, payback, punishment, payment, or conditions. It all clouds and buries the wonder of unconditional that Jesus tried to communicate. And no other system of ideas/beliefs has done a more potent job of burying this wonder than Christianity. It is the ultimate statement of violence in its Christ myth. The Mennonites need to face this and quit trying to preserve some elements of the old wineskin. That only distorts and clouds.”
Further: “Julia, I am working on another brief piece- Mimetic Mennonites- that shows how Mennonites illustrate a wider Christian approach or response (i.e. moderate Christianity). Similar to moderate Islam. In this approach people focus on the nicer bits in their religious traditions but leave the larger traditional frameworks in place. This has elements of self-delusion and denial and continues to cloud, distort, and bury the new discovery of unconditional reality. The Mennonites illustrate this and they are well-known in the Western world for their work on reforming justice.”
Also: “Its been interesting to follow and interact with the Mennonite theologians a bit, especially some of the leading ones working on restorative justice and its theoretical underpinnings. They illustrate a more common Christian approach to the nastier side of Christianity, the foundational side. They try to ignore (or reframe, re-define) the harsher side and focus more on the more humane ideals that have been included in their holy book. And they argue that this is really what their religion is about. But this is denial on a grand scale. How can you ignore the very foundations and grand framework of your religion? To counter this I have been re-focusing on some of Paul’s central statements of what he saw his Christian religion as being about. Note his comments in his major statement of his belief system- the book of Romans (i.e. divine wrath, threat of destruction, demand for blood sacrifice)”.
And: “One last one on mimetic, no need to read all this. Only for any interested…Girard appears to affirm more violence as the solution to violence- a scapegoat sacrifice. An affirmation of violence to release violence. Hence, his argument that Christianity is the most potent solution to violence. But there is anthropological opposition to his theory. Interesting that Mennonites are taking this up…perhaps because it affirms the need for atonement- the ultimate solution being found in some form of atonement- which is what he proposes.”
Finally: “The point about the framework of Christianity is to show that Christian salvation (i.e. Jesus dying to pay for sin- often claimed to be the core Christian message) is a subset theme of the larger apocalyptic framework. It only makes sense (saved from what?) in its larger apocalyptic context. Again Tabor stating that apocalyptic shaped all that Paul said and did. And the other theologian who said, apocalyptic is the mother of all theology.”
And one more further final: “The Mennonite (and general Christian) endeavor to reform, restate, re-define, moderate, or reframe core Christian belief is purposeful confusion of a serious variety. Any cursory reading of the New Testament will show the core Christian themes and what their historical and commonly understood meaning actually is. It is all intensely violent. Themes of divine wrath, divine punishment and destruction. The demand for violent death in blood sacrifice (i.e. divine violence to solve problems). This is about the conditions of paying for sin, punishing sin. And then add in Hell for good measure to intensify and sum up all this focus on violence. The teaching is clear beyond clear. To try to redefine all this as some expression of love or grace is delusional. Love does not punish, kill, or demand that conditions be met before it will forgive. Read the Prodigal Son parable and get some sense of what unconditional love is about.”
“It is self-delusional and outright denial to think that you can make all this violence nice by refocusing on the nice bits scattered among this (the diamonds in the dunghill), by redefining the nasty bits. In all this reforming, reframing, re-defining, restating, and moderating, all you do is cloud and bury the wonder of unconditional. Embrace unconditional just as it really is, as Jesus taught it. It will then blow away all the cobwebs and confusion and thoroughly liberate human consciousness at the deepest levels.”
More on Mennonite solution…
The Mennonites illustrate the central mistake made by Paul, a mistake still made today by many Christians. They embrace only part of Jesus’ great breakthrough- his non-retaliation ethic (i.e. no more eye for eye justice, no more payback or punishment). But they then reject the more important theological breakthrough that Jesus made- that God does not retaliate or punish. It appears that they do not fully understand how theology determines ethics, and how belief shapes behavior. No matter how elevated your ethical ideals are, they can be overwhelmed by the contrary ideas that you hold regarding ultimate realities or authorities.
And yes, admittedly, the Mennonites do some interesting corrective work in changing views of punitive deity. They take the more humane ideals of love, mercy, and grace and employ these to redefine God as kinder and gentler. But they still refuse to let go of the larger Christian atonement framework. Their use of atonement mythology and categories then instinctively reverts people’s thought back to conditional and punitive views of deity.
Embracing only part of the Jesus solution just does not work. The theological breakthrough is critical to support the ethical breakthrough. Paul’s Christian approach is then entirely contrary to Jesus’ solution of combining both a non-punishment ethic and a non-punishment theology. Paul, in an completely contradictory move, accepted non-retaliation as an ethical ideal but then embraced a primitive view of God as retaliatory or punishing (Romans 12).
And yes, it is understood that to embrace the non-punishment theology of Jesus spells the end of atonement mythology, the very foundation of Christianity (i.e. God punishing human sin in Jesus’ death). That is just too frightening an option for most Christians to even envision. So they turn away from the historical Jesus (the actual person who lived) and his gospel, to embrace Paul’s Christ myth.
More on Mennonites (again, the Mennonites illustrate a common Christian approach to reforming their religion by ignoring the nasty bits and trying to refocus on the nicer bits)
The Mennonite endeavor to reframe atonement as something nice is interesting to note. It illustrates the effort of many similarly religious people to bring in more humane ideas in order to humanize their belief systems, to gussy up the core themes of their religions. One sees this especially in Christian reform projects. Part of what drives this reform approach is the felt obligation of religious people to Biblicism, the perspective that their scriptures are inspired by God and so they are obligated to somehow preserve the core body of beliefs in their holy books.
The Mennonites have been promoting a major project to focus more on the nicer bits in their holy book, to emphasize more the ideals of mercy, love, and grace. One finds these ideals scattered throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Mennonites are using these nicer bits to reframe atonement as something kinder and gentler. But this effort ignores the prominent themes in the Bible that consistently and overwhelmingly argue, to the contrary, that Christian atonement is solidly based on divine retaliation and punishment (this is historical and mainstream Christian atonement). The concepts of divine wrath and the demand to appease offended holiness have historically defined Christian atonement. The creator of Christianity- Paul- was very clear on this, no matter how you try to ignore or downplay his central explanations.
Note Paul’s comments in his major statement of his theology in the book of Romans (see also “Paul’s dominant themes” elsewhere). “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment…you are storing up wrath against yourself…God’s wrath…will be revealed…there will be wrath and anger…God will judge men”. Paul’s solution to appease this angry deity? “All are saved by the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement…he did this to demonstrate his (eye for eye) justice…Christ died for us…we are saved by his blood…”. And so it goes throughout Paul’s Christian gospel (see similar comments in his other New Testament books).
Historically, atonement is based on the idea there must be a payment made, a punishment for wrong, a sacrifice made before forgiveness is offered (a supreme condition fulfilled first). One, among many other summarizing statements on this, is found in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. But this is entirely contrary to Jesus’ unconditional gospel. Jesus states the exact opposite… He argues clearly, there should be “No more eye for eye justice”, Matthew 5:38-48. Just forgive, include, and love freely because this is what God does (i.e. do not engage payback but just love enemies and you will be just like God). Nothing is required, no conditions are to be met, and no atonement is demanded. Forgiveness is unconditional, free.
The Mennonites appear unable to fully embrace the great breakthrough of Jesus that there is no punitive threat in deity (and there never was) and consequently there is absolutely no demand for atonement of any kind. There is no need to be saved, no need for a savior, or need to get right with God. Get this stunning breakthrough clear and watch it reverberate out to blow away all the supporting sub-themes of Salvationism (i.e. human sinfulness, Fall, looming judgment, apocalypse, payment/punishment, hell, and so on). Jesus’ radical breakthrough on theology challenges the very foundations of Christianity and all atonement thinking. It overturns such things entirely. There is no need to be redeemed, rescued, or ransomed.
Salvationism is based on a horrific error in early human thought. The Mennonites appear to get something of this (i.e. their questioning punitive wrath in deity) but then mess up on the solution offered by Jesus. So they try to reframe and preserve some shred of salvation/atonement mythology. It doesn’t work. When you continue to argue for some form of atonement (even your nicer version) or salvation, you tie people back to a long history of such thinking and the root meaning behind such a perspective (i.e. punitive deity). And so you only confuse people. You do not really liberate them in the depths of their thinking and consciousness.
Why the felt need to preserve the old framework, the old wineskin, the old categories of some form of salvation? (i.e. another version of ransom theory- another Christus Victor theory). The new wine of unconditional theology is entirely contrary to all such reframing projects. Let all that Salvationism go and embrace fully the liberation that was offered by the historical Jesus in his radical new theology of unconditional ultimate reality and unconditional treatment of all.
The Mennonites still wrestle with patching the leaky old wineskin which is ultimately futile. Atonement thinking- redemption- is irredeemable. Abandon it entirely. Jesus did. Take Jesus seriously.
I have just been reading (Sept. 2014) Harold Ellens’ “The Destructive Power of Religion”, a four volume set on violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ellens makes the same point that I have long argued on this site, that religious ideas (e.g. apocalyptic themes) have been deeply embedded in human consciousness and have powerfully influenced how people think, feel, and respond in life, often for the worse.
Ellens is disappointing, though, by not offering a clear presentation of unconditional as the effective alternative to the violence of life. He mentions unconditional a few times here and there, but that is all. And many of his contributors engage the same old, same old attempts to reform religion, trying to defend religions like Christianity as basically good, but just a bit deformed by some unfortunate “pagan” additions… like the core theme of violence in God.
My conclusion is that it is futile to try to reform the core themes of religion, to come up with Mennonite solutions like “nonviolent atonement” (see comment further above on this page). Why hang on to these central religious categories and metaphors? Why try to redefine them in some less barbaric manner, dressing nasty in nice? Atonement still means payment and punishment. It still involves yielding to the felt need to appease divine threat, and the felt need for salvation. Historically, that has always been most essentially about some form of violent sacrifice. Putting lipstick on these old pigs does not fundamentally reform them in the end. But reformism doggedly continues to employ the old categories of atonement or Salvationism and this only confuses and distorts the reality of unconditional. The religious reformist endeavor to present the new wine of unconditional in terms of the old categories of conditional religion only ends up ruining the new unconditional reality.
(Note other comment below on The Futility of Reformism)
But Ellens is useful for his point that the old violent religious metaphors (core ideas, themes) have long been deeply embedded in human consciousness where they shape human emotion and action for the worse.
And this has been my argument- that to really solve problems like violence in life (comprehensively and for the long term), you must go to the deepest roots, to those deeply embedded themes and ideas that re-enforce our worst drives and replace them with a clear foundation of unconditional. Go to the core themes of human worldviews and replace them at the most foundational level with more humane ideas/themes.
Let me repeat the history behind this once again, offering another angle on the basic story of humanity:
Each one of us has an animal inheritance of base and inhumane drives, a core animal brain. The ideas or beliefs that we hold can incite our worst drives toward harmful expression. Or we can embrace ideas or beliefs that counter our worst impulses, and that inspire us to more humane response and action.
Our animal brain is oriented to a tribal mentality of us versus them, to exclude and dominate our enemies, and to oppose and destroy them. Religious beliefs, long embedded in human consciousness, have affirmed and incited these brutal animal impulses toward harming others. How did this happen? Early people projected their inhuman drives onto their gods, creating primitive views of gods that favored one group (true believers), and that excluded and opposed other groups (unbelievers). Gods that raged at human imperfection, that were dominating kings and tyrants, gods that punished and destroyed outsiders or enemies. Such beliefs have long validated the expression of our worst inherited drives.
Religion, by projecting inhumanity on to deity, and then employing that as our highest ideal and authority, has thereby sacralised our most base drives. It has made them sacred.
We see this projection of base inhumanity onto gods in Zoroastrian dualism, opposition, and destruction of the enemy. That Zoroastrian mindset has been beaten into human consciousness over subsequent millennia, and has moved down through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And even into modern secular versions. Even one of Ellens’ contributors notes that we find this way of thinking still present all through modern story telling- in comics, in video games, in movies, novels, and television stories.
Everywhere today in story telling we find someone portrayed as the good person, then offended or assaulted in some way by a bad person (the enemy). Then the good person resorts to violence in order to destroy the bad person. It is the common story pattern of stasis, disruption, and then resolution, often violent resolution. And so “justice” is done. And everyone leaves feeling satisfied that all is right again with life.
The main theme of this simplistic story telling?…The use of violence to solve all problems. Eye for eye justice. Payback, punishment, and destruction of enemies. The same old, same old solution that keeps violence going in societies. And this theme is drilled into young children’s minds, tens of thousands of times over their early life. Violence as the solution to all problems. The brutal themes of this story telling bring out the worst of our inherited drives.
If we are really going to solve the problem of violence for the long term, then we need to go to these root themes, whether sacred or secular, and make some serious changes at the very foundations of human worldviews, at the deepest levels of our thinking. We need to recognize that our core themes influence our emotions, thinking, response, and actions in life. Ellens is helpful on this issue.
Over our history we have discovered much better ideas or beliefs that counter our worst impulses and inspire us to express a truly human spirit, that inspire us to authentic human response and action. Unconditional, in particular, is the highest ideal that can inspire humanity toward unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, and unconditional generosity toward all. And we rightly project this ideal onto deity, to understand that God is unconditional love to transcendent degree.
Again, the long term solution is to clean out the old ideas that incite our worst drives and replace them with new humane themes that inspire our best impulses. It is about thoroughly changing the foundations of our core perceptions, our way of thinking, and feeling.
I do appreciate Ellens and others for their effort to understand the deepest root causes of violence over history.
Some quotes from Ellens…
“The problem with metaphors, as Freud and Jung taught us so well, is that they are hatched in the unconscious, accrue their rich and fruitful meaning there, and carry out their function mainly at hidden levels of the psyche, not readily accessible to analysis or discipline…”
“It is my conviction that the main psychosocial and political problem in modern and postmodern culture arises from the apocalyptic worldview willed to us by that ancient ambiguous religion…this ultimate dualism (good versus evil) then becomes the model for explaining the meaning of everything, and this schizophrenia is internalized to the unconscious level in every aspect of Western culture and every Western person…”
“The unconscious dynamics of this metaphor (i.e. atonement as an act of grace) have to do with the image or model of God as being so enraged that the only way he can get his head screwed back on right is to kill somebody, us or Christ…”
He argues that one of the most destructive of all metaphors is the ‘eye for eye’ metaphor or ideal and it has wreaked immense damage over history. He says, “By reason of pathogenic metaphors we continue to recreate destruction, even disaster, in each new generation…”
Further, “The crucifixion of Jesus is an image and a metaphor right at the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2000 years, which radically contradicts the grace ethic it purports to express and cuts its taproot by the dominant model of solving ultimate problems through resort to the worst kind of violence. With that kind of metaphor at our center, and associated with the essential behavior of God, how could we possibly hold, in the deep structure of our own unconscious motivations, any other notion of ultimate solutions to ultimate questions or crises than violence- human solutions that are equivalent to God’s kind of violence?…”
“There is at the core of our collective selves a divine monster, who, when he gets to feeling a little crazy about something like our human frailty, goes out looking for somebody to murder. Are we stuck with a monster god in our inaccessible psyches?…the real tragedy of violence lies in the fact that it is a state of the soul or psyche, conditioned and twisted by specific religious archetypes”.
And then some further material from Ellens on Fundamentalism…
Ellens lists five components of fundamentalism such as Biblicism, apocalyptic myth, Zoroastrian dualism, Salvationism, and the belief in the final end to history (apocalypse and ultimate destiny in heaven or hell).
He says, “Fundamentalism and Orthodoxy are first of all a psychological phenomenon and only secondarily a religious thing”
“(Fundamentalism) is about a lack of flexibility in theory and method…(it is) a rigid structuralist approach that has an obsessive-compulsive flavor to it…it is the mark of those who have a very limited ability to live with the ambiguity inherent to healthy human life…it dogmatically insists that it is the one and only possible formation of the truth…it is a psychopathology that drives its proponents to the construction of orthodoxies in whatever field it is…it refuses to be open to any new insight that might be generated by the ongoing, open-ended human quest for understanding…”
“Fundamentalist psychology is known to produce not only rigid models of thought and worldviews but also rigidity in other aspects of life, such as regulation of home life and views…Evangelical families produce a higher level of physical and sexual abuse of children than the general population…”
“(Fundamentalism) is a proclivity toward rigid thought and life and a pathological lack of openness to more universalizing insights or perspectives on truth and life”.
“(Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Stalin, Ariel Sharon) these are people for whom early resort to massive violence as the ultimate solution to all major problems seems an addiction…”
“Fundamentalism is a psychology that insists addictively that its view of reality and truth is the only authentic one, and is the whole truth. Therefore any other perspective is willfully false, ignorant, and dangerous to the truth. It is for the good of the non-Fundamentalist that the Fundamentalist truth be imposed upon them…”
“(It is) open neither to review nor critique. It is inflexibly closed to any continued acquisition of truth, insight, modification or expansion…”
He then goes into varied versions of fundamentalism…Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and so on.
And this critical point- the Fundamentalist’s sense of feeling threatened (victimhood) and needing to take preventative action….“Frequently led by strong often militant, aggressive, charismatic leaders…they perceive themselves to be variously threatened as individuals, communities or as a nation”.
At the end of this essay Ellens notes…”we find our way without triumphalism or a resort to the arrogance of power. Power properly and humanely applied is one thing. Arrogant power is quite another. Ignorant arrogance is the worst of all”.
One of Ellens’ contributors is Walter Wink (Vol.4, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way). Wink argues for the critical importance of the attitude that we hold when we are obligated to employ force to defend ourselves. This is much like the comment on the Chinese sage that I have listed elsewhere on this page. Wink urges that we take care to maintain our own humanity even in the midst of the most dehumanizing situations in life. While Wink is good on our response to evil, he is still a bit too pacifist, illustrating with examples of oppressors that could still be reasoned with, much like the British in the time of Gandhi. However, his approach would not likely work with ISIS, or something like the Nazi threat, or the Japanese in Nanking (irrational, unreasonable, over-the-top evil).
Quote from Wink (referring to the “turn the other cheek…go the second mile…love your enemies” statements of Matt.5:38-48), “Jesus is not forbidding self-defense, only the use of violence…(and he then explains the Greek word ‘anthistemi’- resist- as in ‘do not resist your oppressor’) It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an insurrection. Jesus is not encouraging submission to evil; that would run counter to everything he did and said. He is, rather, warning against responding to evil in kind, by letting the oppressor set the terms of our opposition. Perhaps most importantly, he cautions us against being made over into the very evil we oppose by adopting its methods and spirit. He is saying, in effect, ‘Do not mirror evil; do not become the very thing you hate’…One could easily misuse Jesus’ advice vindictively; that is why it must not be separated from the command to love enemies (Wink then cautions about using Jesus’ advice in a passive-aggressive manner that demeans the oppressor)…Jesus’ solution was neither utopian nor apocalyptic. It was simple realism…(He) abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates…a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed…(He) reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight. It is a way…of not becoming what we hate. ‘Do not counter evil in kind’”.
The Joke Bin
Some Scottish Theology(Contributed by Avril Spencer)
How to get to heaven from Scotland.
I was testing children in my Glasgow Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into heaven. I asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, hard a big yard sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the garden and kept everything tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, the answer was “No!”.
By now I was starting to smile.
“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave sweets to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, they all answered “No!”.
I was just bursting with pride for them.
I continued, “Then how can I get into heaven?”
A six year old boy shouted, “Yuv got tae be fuckin dead”.
Kinda brings a wee tear tae yir eye…
Some Lighter Theology This may change your mind on re-incarnation.
A couple made a deal that whoever died first would come back and inform the other if there is sex after death.
Their biggest fear was that there was no after-life at all.
After a long life together, the husband was the first to die. True to his word, he made the first contact:
” Marion …. Marion… ”
“Is that you, Bob?”
“Yes, I’ve come back like we agreed.”
“That’s wonderful! What’s it like?”
“Well, I get up in the morning, I have sex. I have breakfast and then it’s off to the golf course.
“Then I have sex again, bathe in the warm sun and then have sex a couple of more times.
“Then I have lunch (you’d be proud – lots of greens). Another romp around the golf course, then pretty much have sex the rest of the afternoon. After supper, it’s back to golf course again.
“Then it’s more sex until late at night. I catch some much needed sleep and then the next day it starts all over again”
“Oh, Bob! Are you in Heaven?”
“No. I’m a rabbit in Kent.”
Some fun for the day
Three dogs were sitting in the waiting room at the vet’s when they struck up a conversation. The Black Labrador turned to the yellow Labrador and said, “So why are you here?” The yellow Lab replied, “I’m a pisser. I piss on everything….the sofa, the curtains, the cat, the kids. But the final straw was last night when I pissed in the middle of my owner’s bed.” The black Lab said, ” So what’s the vet going to do ?” “Gonna cut my nuts off,” came the reply from the yellow Lab. “They reckon it’ll calm me down.”
The Yellow Lab then turned to the Black Lab and asked, “Why are you here?” The Black Lab said, “I’m a digger. I dig under fences, dig up flowers and trees, I dig just for the hell of it. When I’m inside, I dig up the carpets. But I went over the line last night when I dug a great big hole in my owners’ couch.” “So what are they going to do to you?” the Yellow Lab inquired. “Looks like I’m losing my nuts too,” the dejected Black Lab said.
The Black Lab then turned to the Great Dane and asked, “Why are you here? “I’m a humper,” said the Great Dane. “I’ll hump anything. I’ll hump the cat, a pillow, the table, fence posts, whatever. I want to hump everything I see.” Yesterday my owner had just got out of the shower and she was bending down to dry her toes, and I just couldn’t help myself. I hopped on her back and started hammering away.” The Black and the Yellow Labs exchanged a sad glance and said, “So, it’s nuts off for you too, huh?”
The Great Dane said, “No, apparently I’m here to get my nails clipped! ”
Baby Boomer Interlude
Baby boomers were intensely focused on their emerging virility in the 60s and hence the vaunted sexual revolution of that time. But that led to a notable loss of balance over what matters in life. Now as Baby Boomers age, they have maintained this concern over their virility but have again neglected to maintain a sense of balance. So they have invested a lot of their money in discoveries like Viagra in order to maintain sexual prowess but have neglected other important things like dementia research.
The result today is the horrifying spectacle of aging Baby Boomers walking around with huge erections but having no clue what to do with them.
Example…Baby Boomer pleading with wife, “Honey, what is this?”
Exasperated wife responding, “Oh, go take a cold shower and go to bed and leave me alone. I have my bowl of chocolates and I’m busy watching my favorite shows”.
Some fun with accents
An Asian lady frequently went to her money changer to purchase currency. One day she noticed that the rate had changed. She asked the trader why. He replied, “Currency fluctuations”.
The next time the rate had changed again. She again asked why and was told, “Fluctuations”.
This happened repeatedly in the following days and in response to her questions as to why, the trader repeatedly responded, “Fluctuations”.
Finally, one day, exasperated at his responses, the lady fired back, “Well, fluck you white people too”.
Hey, don’t get your politically correct undies all tied in a knot. Lots of people used to laugh at my excessively nasal intonation and other errors as I learned Philippine languages (Tagalog, Cebuano, and Manobo). I’m just enjoying a bit of payback.
Another accent incident(and a true story)
Two Australian men went to South Korea for a visit, arriving on the day that national elections were being held. They were greeted at the airport by a Korean friend who spoke heavily accented English. They asked their Korean friend how he was doing. Grinning broadly, the man responded, “Everybody happy. Everybody having erection today”.
Some aging humor. This one sags a bit at the punch line.
An elderly lady was secretly planning to commit suicide by shooting herself in the heart. But she wanted to make sure that everything went according to plan. So she went to her doctor and asked him, “Where exactly is my heart?”.
Puzzled, the doctor replied, “Just below your left breast”.
She left to return home.
The next day the doctor arrived at the hospital and was told, “The elderly lady you saw yesterday is down in emergency. She shot herself in her left knee”.
New Comment from late 2014
To properly understand any particular thing in life we look at all the evidence that is related to that thing. That is how we understand the true state of any given thing.
But there are also important elements, further in the background, that influence how we understand physical evidence, things that contribute to what is called “confirmation bias”. There is, for instance, the influence of personal ideology that leads people to focus more on evidence that confirms their views about things, and to ignore or dismiss evidence that contradicts their views. This is why you often get two equally bright scientists coming to quite opposite conclusions over the same evidence.
And even further in the background there is the mythology that is often behind ideology. This deeper influence causes distortion at the very foundations of human consciousness. I refer to those ancient themes in human thought that have long structured human perception, emotion/mood, and motivation/response. Those themes were originally mythical themes when first embedded in the foundations of early human worldviews. They have been given a more secular expression over the past few centuries but the core meaning remains the same in the newer secular versions.
Those primitive mythical themes constitute the pathology at the root of human consciousness that continues to darken and enslave minds and spirits even today. The continuing influence of those old themes demands that we confront them, and properly correct what is wrong at that level. There is still too much denial of the ongoing and damaging influence of that ancient mythology on modern minds.
I offer this comment to explain my dealing with the various “spiritual” themes that have shaped human consciousness over the millennia. To illustrate, here is a quote from material just below…
”You could approach the new story from a physical evidence approach as Julian Simon or Stephen Pinker do in their research on the improving human condition and the overall improving trajectory of life. And countering the old story at the level of physical evidence is important. But on this site I also deal with a variety of critical “spiritual” themes in order to fully and properly counter the worst features of the old story, to get more thoroughly to the foundational ideas of the old narrative. I am interested in fully correcting the root pathologies in human thought, things that have long been embedded at the deepest levels of public consciousness, where our supreme beliefs, ideals, authorities, and archetypes are based (and offering unconditional reality as a potent counter to the pathology of ancient mythology)…
“The most damaging idea of all in the old story was the pathological myth that there was some threatening, punishing force or spirit behind life. This became humanity’s greatest error and lie. It metastasized out to infect and shape all the other themes of human mythology and belief. It has darkened, enslaved, and damaged human consciousness as nothing else ever has. It became humanity’s greatest monster, in all its diverse versions, whether religious or secular (i.e. revenge of Gaia or angry planet mythology)…I am offering unconditional reality as the potent counter to all that pathology of the old narrative…”
The long term liberation and advance of humanity depends on correcting those things at the most foundational levels of human consciousness. See new material below on this topic….
Whatever level you choose to engage in your own personal efforts to make the world a better place- in all your exploration and endeavor… make sure you come to grips with the profound reality of human consciousness, and its profound impulses for meaning and purpose.
It all gets better, infinitely better
I have focused repeatedly here on the greatest discovery in all history- that there is unconditional Love behind all reality. That means there are no monster gods, no judging, punishing, or destroying gods. And equally true for more “secular” minds- there is no revenge of Gaia, no angry planet, and no karma (some higher or “divine” intention to punish behind the natural elements of life).
The second greatest, and intensely related discovery, is that we are that very same unconditional love. We are not separate from the core Ultimate Reality. That Unconditional Love is also our essential consciousness and spirit. What a blow this renders to the pathological myth of human sinfulness.
Both of these discoveries respond to the great question of what is the point of human existence. They reveal that we are here to learn something of love. Among all the other creative things that people do in politics, economics, engineering, medicine, and general social life (e.g. art), there is this underlying thing of love and learning what it means to love (which is to say- learning what it means to be human). This responds to those fundamental impulses of human consciousness that orient us to search for meaning and purpose.
The unconditional reality that we are talking about is something incomprehensibly better than the best that any one can imagine. It is entirely different from the confusing and distorting religious use of this term (all religion is conditional in nature and cannot communicate the true nature of unconditional reality).
Mythologist Joseph Campbell got closer to the wonder of this reality when he explained that no words, terms, or categories can communicate the transcendent nature of ultimate realities (i.e. the spiritual). All we can think or say (even the term God) only points to things infinitely beyond, and I would add- infinitely better.
And while there are some useful statements on this reality in the Christian Bible (i.e. the core of the Jesus material), for two millennia Christianity has buried this wonder of unconditional reality with its highly conditional atonement theology. Christianity established the supreme condition that God had to send his son to pay for sin before he could forgive. That supreme divine condition contradicts entirely the claim of Jesus that there should be no more payment or punishment for wrong (no more eye for eye justice- Matthew 5:38-48).
To clearly see the unconditional element in Jesus, you need to separate his teaching on unconditional reality from the rest of the Christian Bible, and especially separate his core statements from the other material that has been attributed to him in the gospels, material that contradicts his central unconditional theme. You need to do just as Thomas Jefferson did. He used his scissors to cut out the nasty conditional parts (the atonement mythology).
The unconditional love that defines ultimate reality is something quite different from the limited and conditional tribal love of most religions (love oriented more toward fellow believers, excluding unbelievers), such as in Christianity.
To more fully appreciate the scandal and full wonder of unconditional reality it helps to contrast it with historical religious definition of ultimate realities. For most of history, ultimate reality (i.e. gods, the spiritual) has been defined by the themes of dualism (good opposing bad, separation and opposition toward enemies), exclusion of the unbeliever, punishment of human imperfection and failure, and violent destruction of an imperfect world (apocalyptic ending of the world). Religious gods have always had an obsessive concern with imperfection and punishing it (see Brinsmead comment just below).
These religious themes have often influenced humanity toward an existence that has been defined by the same features. It has oriented human minds to such things as justice defined in terms of payback and punishment. And, as noted above, these core themes of primitive mythologies have emerged again in more recent secular versions- angry planet, revenge of Gaia, karma, and so on.
These features have produced incalculable fear, guilt, shame, depression and despair in human consciousness. Along the path of history other more humane features were also added to the great religious traditions- ideals such as love, mercy, and generosity. But these more humane ideals have been distorted by the more brutal features. For instance, Christian love is not universal love for all, but is reserved more specially for believing insiders. Unbelievers are to be finally excluded and destroyed in hell. Christian love is therefore a limited and tribal version of love. So again, conditional religion cannot communicate the true nature and wonder of unconditional reality. It doesn’t get anywhere close to the scandal and wonder of unconditional reality.
The human understanding of unconditional reality did not come from theology or from religion but from common humanity. It began with people like the Akkadian father long ago urging his son not to retaliate in kind toward offenders or enemies. And this great insight into authentic humanity continued to develop as people realized that it was the ultimate expression of humane reality, the highest expression of authentic love. People learned to understand that unconditional love meant such things as forgiving all offenses, including all people equally, and loving all (even enemies) as intimate family. It would not retaliate or take revenge. It would not punish. People, over history, have learned to view unconditional love as the supreme ideal of authentic humanity, as the highest good. And then they have rightly projected this reality out onto the spiritual to understand that this was what God was like. Only, infinitely more so. Infinitely better.
Try to get a feel for the wonder and scandal of unconditional reality. It overturns all the harsh themes of past mythology and religion- the pathological beliefs in angry gods, in divine vengeance or punishment of human imperfection, in some great final judgment and destruction (apocalypse). It overturns the narrow-spirited beliefs in dualism- the separation from some enemy, excluding, and destroying the enemy. Unconditional rejects the view of justice as payback or punishment and instead views justice as liberation and restoration. Unconditional liberates entirely from the darkening and enslaving features of the old religious narratives. It tells us there is no threat of judgment, exclusion, or punishment. And there is no inherent sinfulness in humanity. We are not separate from the unconditional love at the core of all reality. We are that same love. It is our essential consciousness and human spirit.
This reality changes everything for the better. It liberates humanity into an open future, and an unlimited future. Explore the wonder and scandal of this amazing reality here with us. It is history’s greatest discovery and it fuels the greatest liberation movement in all history- the liberation of human consciousness at the deepest levels of mind, emotion, and spirit from all the enslaving inhumanity of the past.
It points to something better, infinitely better. It is an ideal that opens life to new possibilities and liberates humanity into a much better existence.
Note: This page, in a related manner, also argues that there are no limits to human creative potential. Our creative ability is, to use Freeman Dyson’s phrase, “infinite in all directions”. And it is infinite in potential because human imagination is infinitely unlimited. But human creative potential has often been held back by fear, despair, and other debilitating emotions that have long been the outcome of threatening mythology or ideology. Unconditional is the truth that unleashes the human consciousness and spirit more fully because it potently responds to all that foundational mythology that has long enslaved the human mind and spirit.
History’s Greatest Liberation Movement
We have watched them emerge and flourish, especially over the past century or so- women’s liberation movements, minority liberation movements, political and economic liberation movements, social liberation movements of all sorts, and more.
But the greatest liberation movement of all is yet to be fully birthed and engaged. It is a profound liberation at the depths of human thought, perception, emotion, and spirit. When it blows fully through public consciousness it will set the human spirit free and change everything for the better as never before. Its impact on human existence has already been profound (e.g. Mandela) but it can be far more liberating and humanizing.
This liberation movement has to do with core human ideas, beliefs, and ideals. The things that inspire and shape perception, emotion, thought, and response. It has to do with the great archetypes or models of the human subconscious.
This liberation movement will be embodied in a new story or narrative that will counter entirely the old story that humanity has lived according to for past millennia. The themes of that old story have dominated, darkened, and enslaved human minds for our entire recorded history (notably the past 7 millennia since the creation of the earliest writing, the Sumerian cuneiform tablets). During the emergence of the scientific era of the past few centuries the old story themes were secularized (given new secular expression). But they have continued essentially unchanged into the new ideological systems of this modern era.
Here is a brief restatement of the main themes of the old story (be clear that these are fundamentally mythical or religious themes):
They include the myth of a better past, some original perfection, the corruption of humanity (a fall into “sinfulness”), corrupt humanity subsequently ruining the original paradise, the consequent decline of life toward something worse, the gods angry at human imperfection and promising to punish with a great violent destruction of life (an apocalypse), and the purging of imperfection in order to restore the lost paradise. Other elements in the old story include the belief in dualism (a good force opposing some enemy) with the divine obligation pushed on people to exclude, fight, and destroy the enemy. Essentially- violence to solve all problems.
The themes of this old story have produced endless guilt, shame, fear, despair, depression, and violence over history.
See Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History for a detailed account of how the basic template of the old story- the primitive religious myth of apocalyptic- was secularized in 19th Century Declinism. And then note how the contemporary environmental religion (Green religion) repeats the very same themes of this primitive apocalyptic mythology. And remember that many moderns claim to be materialists or atheists. Yet they continue to espouse the profoundly religious themes of a better past (original pristine nature), corrupt people ruining paradise, life heading for some great collapse and ending, a purging of the corruption in life so that the original paradise may be restored (i.e. anti-human depopulation activism). The old narrative themes are now secularized but still essentially the same old, same old pathological mythology.
A new story has been emerging that potently counters the old story. This new story liberates thought, emotions, and spirit as nothing else has ever done before in history.
You could approach the new story from a physical evidence approach as Julian Simon or Stephen Pinker do in their research on the improving human condition and the overall improving trajectory of life. And countering the old story at such levels is important. But on this site I deal with a variety of critical “spiritual” elements in order to fully and properly counter the worst features of the old story, to get more thoroughly to the foundational core themes of the old narrative. I am interested in fully correcting the very foundational pathologies in human thought, things that have long been embedded at the deepest levels of public consciousness, where our supreme beliefs, ideals, authorities, and archetypes are rooted.
The most damaging idea of all in the old story was the pathological myth that there was some threatening, punishing force or spirit behind life. This became humanity’s greatest error and lie. It metastasized out to infect and shape all the other themes of human mythology and belief. It has darkened, enslaved, and damaged human consciousness as nothing else ever has. It became humanity’s greatest monster, in all its diverse versions, whether religious or secular. We have suffered it in horrific views of an angry punishing God, vengeful Gaia, and angry planet or angry nature myths, and even in beliefs in karma (greater payback forces).
The myth of some threatening, punishing force or spirit is a lie and a fraud. But it persists at the foundations of consciousness, enslaving people to unnecessary guilt, shame, and fear. Watch how many people walk around apparently politically and socially free in our democracies but still enslaved in their deepest mind and spirit to these primitive ideas of the old religious story.
The core theme of the new story potently counters the worst feature of the old story. And it is the most liberating discovery in all history. At the core of all reality and life there is love. Not love as the human ideal that we have long known- spousal love or family love. Or love of friends and neighbors. The Love at the core of all reality is something magnitudes of order more astounding and liberating. The Love at the core or reality is profoundly scandalous to our consciousness because it is absolutely unconditional. It includes everyone- friends, family, and enemies- in the same scandalous manner.
You can reason to this core reality of unconditional love from varied angles. I’ve argued it from the great trends in reality- the improving trends of the cosmos, life, and civilization and how these reveal goodness behind all things. Others reason to it from humanity and the better features of the human spirit. This reasoning from humanity out to deity has a long history in human spiritual traditions, and even in philosophy. We see the best in ourselves and we project this out to define spiritual reality, but we understand the greater reality as something transcendently better.
Unconditional love at the core of reality challenges and refutes all belief in retaliation, revenge, punishment, justice as payback, judgment, condemnation, and violent apocalyptic destruction of life. It rejects the need for some salvation (i.e. violent blood sacrifice) or divine violence to solve problems (i.e. violent purging of the world- an apocalypse- to restore some original paradise).
The power of unconditional to change all for the better resides in its ability to transform primary human ideals- our ultimate ideals and authorities- into unconditional realities. It thereby effects profound change in the foundational areas of human imagination and understanding, in our ultimate ideals and authorities- the gods. Unconditional embedded in these highest ideals then lifts them to entirely new heights of goodness beyond anything ever imagined before. It purifies human understanding of the great ideal of love. It takes it toward supreme humaneness.
A new core ideal of unconditional then takes human existence in the most humane direction possible. Into the greatest liberation possible- liberation from all the dark drives of our animal past that enslaved us to less-than-human forms of relating.
You have to get real extravagant in expression to try to explain this love. Again, as Joseph Campbell noted, words, categories, and definitions all fail to express that which is infinitely beyond. The unconditional Love at the core of all is incomprehensibly better than the best that we can imagine.
Note: one important thing that unconditional love at the core of reality reveals- there is no decline in life toward some looming catastrophe, only rise toward something ever better. There was no fall from perfection and there is no sinfulness, only inherent goodness in humanity (see other comment explaining the animal inheritance and residual imperfection). Most critical- there is no anger or threat of punishment behind life. We are liberated from all fear, guilt, and shame at the deepest levels of human consciousness.
Celebrating more CO2 (just an aside to take a poke at environmental alarmism)
Public consciousness has been assaulted for the past three decades by the unscientific claim that the rising level of atmospheric CO2 is a threat to life.
The pre-industrial levels of CO2 (roughly 250 ppm- parts per million) were not optimal and we should not try to return to such levels even if it were possible to do so. Those low levels stressed plant life (see co2science.org ). They were abnormal in Earth’s history and unhealthy for the planet. So also the cold temperatures of the past were abnormal and unhealthy for life. We are still emerging out of the historically subnormal cold of the Little Ice Age (roughly 1650 to 1715).
Plants prefer CO2 levels of 1000-1500 ppm, as they receive in farmer’s greenhouses. Plant life thrives in such healthy levels. With the small rise in CO2 since 1980 there has been a 14% increase in plant productivity across the planet. The world is now greener and healthier as we return to more normal and healthy historical levels of CO2. Remember that for much of Earth’s history CO2 levels have been much higher and life flourished during such times. Plant life and all life loves more CO2.
Remember also that for most of its history Earth has been entirely ice free (no ice at the poles for 80 percent of Earth’s history). And during such times there was no catastrophic warming or harmful impact on life. In fact, life flourished during those warmer periods (see Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth for detail on paleo-climate research).
We need to reverse entirely the distorting alarmist narrative that rising CO2 and increasing temperatures are a danger to life, and instead we ought to celebrate the higher levels of CO2 and the mildly warmer temperatures that we have experienced over the recent past. These rising trends are a return to a more normal and healthy planet, a greener planet. They signal a return to more normal and healthy conditions for life.
Further, it is absolutely absurd to claim that you can regulate climate by adjusting a CO2 knob. Just as absurd as all the Chicken Little squawking about looming catastrophic warming with rising CO2. CO2, while it has some warming effect (a logarithmically decreasing effect with increased levels), it is not the main driver of climate change. The cosmic ray/sun interaction and the shift in multi-decadal ocean currents show stronger correlations to climate change.
To fully understand our current rising CO2 and warmer climate we need to put this mild change in its larger context and longer term trends. The slight warming over the past few centuries is a natural rebound from the Little Ice Age, part of a return to more normal and healthy conditions for life. It is part of the larger cyclical patterns in always changing climate.
Hitchens on violence
The late Christopher Hitchens once made a provocative statement, captured in a Youtube video, something to the effect that religion was behind all violence over history. At first blush that seems extravagant and exaggerated. Behind “all” violence? Come on. People acting violently in any given situation can point to all sorts of more immediate motives for their violence. For instance, someone may have offended/assaulted them in some way and they just retaliated. It was just there and then. That’s all.
I don’t remember how Hitchens wrapped that comment up but let me suggest that he was pointing to something important to understanding the relationship of religion to violence. And yes, to “all” violence. This has to do with how dominant historical ideas or beliefs influence human emotion and response over the millennia. And that such themes change little over history. They are embedded early on as religious themes and become hardwired in the subconscious as fundamental guides to human perception.
Note carefully- early people thought mythically or religiously. They did not think “secularly” or scientifically as we imagine that we do today. Religion was involved in every area of life whether political, economic, or social. So when early people formed the earliest human worldviews or narratives, they were quite entirely mythical or religious worldviews. So their first grand stories were religious. The central themes were religious.
The ancients believed, for instance, that there were spirits behind all the varied elements of nature and life. So when they shaped their first great worldviews (grand human narratives) they formed them in terms of such spirits or gods. We see this in the earliest human writing, the Sumerian cuneiform tablets and Sumerian mythology. There was an original paradise (original perfection), the city of Dilmun, without disease or disaster. There was an original “fall” into sin (Enki eating forbidden fruit), subsequent punishment from the gods, and the loss of paradise. There were angry gods seeking to punish people for their imperfection. There was the theme of a grand act of violence by the gods to punish human imperfection- i.e. an apocalypse- originally a great flood to purge imperfection and restore the original paradise.
This core theme of divine violence to solve the problem of human imperfection is central to understanding how religion is behind violence over history. In the greatest of human ideals and authorities- the earliest gods- there was embedded this idea that violence was the way to solve problems.
Those ancient themes became the foundational themes of the earliest human worldviews, the earliest belief systems, and they shaped how early people viewed all life. As I noted above, those themes were deeply embedded in human consciousness. They shaped the earliest great narratives of humanity, the way people perceived reality and life, their outlook, how they understood and explained life. And little has changed over subsequent millennia. Those same primitive themes then re-emerged repeatedly in ever new versions in all the great religions with little variation. And even though secularized today, those early great themes are still dominant in human consciousness, in the background stories, in the belief systems, the ideals, the archetypes, and the authorities that people have created. And from the background of the human subconscious they still influence human perception, human emotion and action.
Zoroaster (roughly 1500 BCE) was notable for stating those ancient themes in a more formal theology of apocalyptic mythology. That Zoroastrian system then shaped Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Through Zoroaster the core themes of ancient myth became the most powerful influence on Western consciousness and hence, the modern world.
Zoroaster continued the core idea of violence to solve problems. He set this into a narrative of a great cosmic dualism. There was a good God fighting against an evil Force. And all humanity was obligated to choose the good side and fight against their enemies on the other side. And the good God would finally solve the problem of evil by a grand violent ending of the world in a fiery purging. He would destroy all evil, all the bad people in a grand final act of violent destruction. This would enable him to restore the original perfection that was lost.
Violence to solve problems and restore the good.
We have over the past few centuries gone through a secularizing process. We think more scientifically now, and less mythically. Or at least we think so. But have we really changed our core way of viewing life? Is religion still behind human violence? Was Hitchens perhaps right?
As noted above, those core ancient themes were hardwired in the background of human consciousness, in what people call the subconscious. They are still there at the very foundation of human belief systems, at the core of our great ideals and authorities, our gods, our worldviews. They still influence how we view life, how we feel and respond. They are still the basic archetypes that we model our thinking and acting upon.
The secularizing trend of the modern era did not purge the core religious themes in human worldviews. It changed the way of expressing those themes but the essential themes remained intact. Note Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth) and Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline in Western History) for detail on how so-called secular movements have remained essentially religious.
Notably: that central emphasis remains- violence to solve problems.
One of the contributors to Harold Ellens four volume series on The Destructive Power of Religion (Walter Wink in vol. 3), explains that this theme of violence to solve problems is still rampant all through contemporary story telling. Everywhere in video games, movies, novels, TV shows, and cartoons we find the simplistic story line of some good guy suffering at hands of some bad guy. Then the good guy engages violent revenge to punish and eliminate the bad guy. And all go home feeling better that justice has been served. The problem has been solved with another dose of violence. Things have been made right again. The bad has been purged. The original good situation has been restored. Justice has been meted out.
The emphasis is not on persuasion, negotiation, diplomacy, forgiveness, or compromise, according to Wink. There is no patience for rehabilitation or restoration. No, says Wink, “Better to mete out instant, summary justice than risk the red tape and delays and bumbling of the courts…Rather than shoring up democracy, the strongman methods of the superheroes of popular culture reflect nostalgia for simpler (i.e. violent) solutions” (p.273).
He adds, “This myth of redemptive violence (violence to solve problems) is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known” (p.275). Yet it has long been central to our understanding of justice and how to solve problems in life.
And this story line is fed to our children multiple thousands of times over their early lives. It is a steady diet of vengeful violence. Violence to solve problems. It is the core theme of the earliest human mythology. It is the core theme of religions like Christianity (violent sacrifice or atonement) and Islam. It is still at the heart of most secular story telling today.
It is an ancient mythical or religious theme firmly lodged in human consciousness (in our foundational belief systems, our ideals and authorities, our way of perceiving, our ways of understanding) and powerfully influencing human thought, emotion, and response over our history. It is still in the background influencing human thought, emotion, and response. We may not even be fully aware this theme of violence to solve problems is there as we often just react immediately to present situations in life, according to what we believe are more immediate motivations.
I am trying to outline here the relationship between religion and violence and the historical line of descent. The basic template was set at the beginning (a mythical, religious body of ideas built into the foundations of early human worldviews) and little has changed since, even in contemporary secular versions. We persistently get the same old mythical story with violence at its core.
Here it is again- When someone is asked why they committed some violent act they will often respond that it was due to some immediate provocation from another. Hence, their response had a very immediate motivation. But what about all the subconscious stuff- the ancient religious themes that have shaped the foundations of human perception, thinking, and emotion? The 95% in the background (someone’s estimate) that shapes how we think, feel, and respond to events in life. What about that core theme of violence to solve problems that is beaten into kids minds thousands of times over their early lives? In video games, movies, TV, novels, and cartoons. Good guy is living his life in normality (stasis), then bad guy come along and commits some offense against good guy (disruption), and so good guy gets revenge/justice by violently destroying bad guy (resolution). And everyone goes home happy that justice has been done, and good and order have been restored. A simplistic story line beaten into human consciousness endlessly over history. And where does this basic story template come from? From ancient mythical/religious belief. Especially the apocalypse myth. That the gods will solve all problems finally with a great act of violence to destroy the bad guys and clean up the world and restore order/good.
So yes, in this sense Hitchens was right. Religion is behind all violence over human history. It still is.
The alternative? We need to consciously and intentionally confront the core themes of the old narrative and root them out. This is about radical change at the most fundamental levels of beliefs, ideals, authorities, thought, perception, consciousness, ideology, or religion. The secularizing trend of the modern scientific era did not clear the old core themes out. We still find them expressed in so-called secular versions today- i.e. angry planet, angry nature, revenge of Gaia (to punish imperfect humanity), and so on. Violent vengeance to solve problems.
This is a project to change our basic story entirely. To embed entirely new themes at the core or in the foundation. To go to the roots of violence and replace it with nonviolent, non-retaliatory themes. This page has repeatedly urged that unconditional love must become the core ideal of an entirely new narrative, a new grand narrative for humanity. We must replace entirely the old narrative with a violent God at its core, with a new narrative of a non-violent Ultimate Reality. The solution demands an entirely new story. A radically different story.
Think of how this new core will change the basic themes of the old story. A new humane story will state clearly that there is no punishing god behind life. There is no oppositional dualism of Zoroaster- no us versus them tribalism. No enemy to punish and destroy. We are all members of one human family. There is no need to fight and destroy an enemy. There should be no more justice as revenge, payback, or getting even. There is no looming judgment with a violent ending and destruction of “bad guys”. There ought to be no violence to solve problems.
Note: remember also the primitive animal inheritance behind all this. We have inherited base animal drives to exclude others (small band versus small band), to dominate, to oppose, to retaliate and destroy those outside of our band, our group. This animal-like behavior was projected onto the earliest gods and those gods then became our highest ideals and authorities to validate our behavior. A central theme in this- violence to solve problems. These ancient themes are then used to validate the expression of our worst drives. It has been a feedback loop process. And the core themes of those great ideals change very little over subsequent history. The pattern was set long ago in the earliest human worldviews and that became the foundation in the back of human consciousness. It has changed little whether in religious or secular versions.
The longing for perfection
Richard Landes in “Heaven on Earth” talks about the Millennialist’s “hope for perfection”. This sparks some thoughts on how people have wrestled with this issue of perfection/imperfection over history. The Fall myth was the primitive explanation for how imperfection entered life. And the apocalypse myth explained how imperfection will be punished and then purged from life, so that the original perfection can once again be restored.
All this explanation arises from the human impulse for meaning- to understand and explain life. Why disease, disaster, and death? Ancient people concluded that the horrible elements of life emerged because the earliest people had sinned. They had ruined the original perfection. And now all humanity deserved punishment because of our failure, our sin.
But we also long for perfection again, for some future utopia, a millennial paradise. So how do we respond to all this longing for perfection, and how do we answer the primitive endeavor to explain imperfection in terms of myths of original paradise and Fall into sin? One possible route, from disciplines such as theology, suggests that imperfection is the Creator’s “plan” to create a learning environment for human story. A place where people struggle to be better, to make life better. And in such struggle with imperfection we learn and grow as human. We learn what it means to be human. We develop as human.
As both Julian Simon and Joseph Campbell have noted, our problems push us to find or create solutions and this benefits others. Campbell said that we face monsters, struggle to conquer them and in so doing we learn insights/lessons that we can bring back to benefit others.
We should therefore embrace our imperfection as part of God’s “plan” for our human story. There should then be no shame or guilt over being imperfectly human. There should be no fear of judgment or punishment for being imperfectly human. And certainly, there should be no looking to violence to solve the problem of imperfection. Imperfection is the reality and environment in which we struggle and develop as truly human. It is essential for our growth and learning.
This from Bob Brinsmead on imperfection in life….
The important thing to realize about evolution is that it demolishes the basic narrative on which the Christian religion of Paul in particular and the Church in general has built its theology – that is, a narrative that begins with a perfect humanity in a perfect world — the Fall of man from a perfect state/world, then a redemptive work that makes atonement for the Fall through a violent act of atonement and a final apocalypse in which a remnant of believers escape whilst the rest suffer a divine Holocaust. It is narrative that begins in an act of divine violence against human imperfection or human defection, a violent atonement which demonstrates God’s absolute intolerance of any human imperfection or lack of submission/obedience to his iron-clad authority, and then a final holocaust of violence of Judgment and hell. The idea of an eternal torment of those who displease God entered the narrative with Jewish apocalyptic, it was certainly continued in some NT passages, it was taken up in Islam, and it is central to the final apocalypse. Even the great NT teaching of love can’t dissipate the core theme of violence – which comes through strongly in Paul (Romans 1-5) and the Apocalypse.
Now this entire narrative is utterly demolished by the evolutionary narrative as effectively as Galileo and Copernicus demolished the Flat Earth thinking. The reality is that that the story of humanity began not in the perfection of Eden but in the most inauspicious and unpromising and imperfect way down in Africa about 175,000 years ago as computed by the best Human Genome science, in an earth over 4 billion years old and in a Universe about 13.7 billion years ago. It is clear from genetics that this Homo sapiens was another animal, 98.8% genetic compatibility with chimpanzee and 90% compatibility with a mouse – having the same structure of cells as all forms of life demonstrating what the fossil record points to, namely, that all life on this planet originated from a single source.
If this narrative is in any sense correct, then the Creator behind this emergence of humankind gave to humanity an imperfect inheritance, all the animal drives of predation, hierarchical or pecking order orientation as all animal have, xenophobia, band separation, the tendency to violently respond to threats of danger or competition (retaliation), and altogether as Lyle Watson (Dark Nature) calls it, all the natural tendencies of “the wicked old witch.” The life of early man tended to be short and brutal, dirty and smelly. Yet we look at human history and we see a trajectory of amazing progress, of rising and developing – language, agriculture, writing, art, music, culture, industry, technology and a developing human consciousness that increasingly sees human brutality, discrimination in regard to race or gender, cruelty to even our fellow animals, more and more opposition to war especially what is called “collateral damage”, intolerance, xenophobia, inequality and social conflict as less and less acceptable and contrary to human dignity.
Far from being intolerant regards any imperfection, the Creator of this real world shows an enormous tolerance to the less than perfect. Humankind is even saddled with imperfection – as great as it is, there are serious defects and weakness in the human body. We are saddled with not only an imperfect, but also a very dangerous environment. How long did humans live on this planet before they discovered that the most dangerous animals were not the big ones they could see, but the countless billions of little critters not visible to the naked eye – hordes of pathogens waiting to invade the human organism and kill it?
It is just plain silly to go on with a narrative of God’s anger against any human failure or imperfection, the need to have every such human defect atoned for by some violent blood payment for human sin. The old narrative creates a pre-occupation with guilt, God’s anger, insistence on atonement or payback for every failure, etc. But if the narrative of evolution is in any sense true, then God must surely be focused on this great trajectory of human development and the goal toward becoming all that humanity might become, a destiny that Freeman says is “infinite in all directions.”
The human story is more like the great Exodus story, from darkness, slavery, poverty, smelly dirty conditions to the vision of creating from an unpromising looking environment, a Promised Land where no one is hungry, when the inhabitant will not say “I am sick,” where nation will not lift up sword against nation nor learn war any more, where people will not do to others what they would not desire to be done to themselves, where they will no man teach every man his neighbor saying,” Know the Lord, for they shall all know Me from the least to the greatest.” Here is a vision that does not have a God who is preoccupied with their mistakes, much less guilt, but people who can live with imperfection but become co-creators with God to make a better world, a Promised Land, out of a land that does not appear to be so promising. We are given a lot of raw material, a lot of undeveloped land, unpromising unproductive soil in both human nature and the environment, and thrown in we are given suffering, sickness, grief, setbacks as if all these things are a kind of resistance training in the gym of life, and things to develop patience, fortitude, forgiveness (of ourselves as much as others) compassion for others and hopefully that we will find that the bottom line is that we are here to serve and bless others, and in doing this will see the face of God.
I have not been discouraged to find out that I have been wrong on so many fronts. Heck, I born into an apocalyptic faith stuck with a primitive kind of Sabbath keeping, in a six day creation of a little match box universe only six thousand years old, with a ludicrous interpretation of Daniel 8:14, believing in virgin birth and bodies flying of this planet into space (ascension) and the delusion of an imminent apocalypse, but above all (I can’t stress this too much) what structured my theological thinking was this basic Christian narrative of Paradise Lost to Paradise restored. I began a journey where piece by piece of this edifice was seen as wrong. But here is the point of I want to make. It was never so hard for me to discover I was mistaken. That was the thing that always gave me a great buzz, because at every point this gave me the confidence that things were going to get a whole lot better. It’s like me learning that I have been using the wrong kind of fertilizer, chemical or root stock for so many years in my horticulture. I get a buzz out of finding a better way of moving forward.
My point in all this is that we must see that evolution destroys the old Christian narrative of Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored. We need a whole new story, a narrative that is true to both science and the history of man. RDBrinsmead
I recently spent some time at Facebook doing a series of comments on the religious roots of violence (how theology determines ethics or behavior). That is available at Wendell Krossa on Facebook, on a public timeline. The comment reads from the bottom to the latest at the top. The basic point being made- Christianity brought violent apocalyptic mythology into Western consciousness and society. And that mythology is still a significant root cause of violence in our modern world.
A while back I put up this review of Karen Armstrong’s new book Fields of Blood (on religion and violence)
I have read all of Karen Armstrong’s books and I have appreciated her coverage of the history of religion and attention to historical detail. But Fields of Blood is a substandard piece of research from a supposedly noted historian of religion. If you are going to survey an issue such as the history of human violence then you need to pay attention to basic evidence which clearly reveals that violence has decreased remarkably over history. The forensic archeologists and anthropologists have examined the evidence carefully (i.e. bones found in gravesites). They note that the critical point to focus on is the rate of violent death per unit of population (percentage of deaths from violence, or homicides per 100,000 people). Observing such evidence, it is overwhelmingly clear that rates of violence have declined over human history.
At a minimum you need to engage the research of the specialists on historical violence, people such as James Payne (History of Force), L. Keeley (War before civilization: The myth of the peaceful savage), and Stephen Pinker (Better Angels of Our Nature). Unfortunately, ideological positions lead us to engage confirmation bias (ignoring evidence that is contrary to our beliefs) and the outcome is shoddy science/history.
If you pay proper attention to all the data, then you cannot argue, as Armstrong does, that violence became worse with the shift to agrarian society. To the contrary, during that transition violent death actually decreased five-fold (Pinker). And this historical decline in violence has continued through all the varied phases of human civilization, into the modern era.
Armstrong resuscitates a version of “noble savage” mythology, the distortion that primitive hunter/gatherer peoples (pre-state) were less violent than later civilized people. This now discredited mythology persists in many areas of academe. See also Stephen LeBlanc’s Constant Battles in this regard. The inherited animal, which she recognizes as the source of violent impulses, did not hibernate through the pre-state era and then awake again in agrarian society.
She appears to hold some form of Declinism theory (for detail, see Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History). This is a contemporary secular version of primitive apocalyptic mythology which states there was a golden past, corrupt humans have ruined the original paradise (the fall into civilization), and all is now in decline toward something worse.
There is no better antidote to all this Declinist nonsense (also known as Degeneration theory or Cultural Pessimism) than a good study that covers all the evidence on the major elements of life. This is how we get to the true state of life and civilization. The best science and history looks at the complete picture of any given thing and considers the longest term trends of that thing. The evidence from such basic science and history reveals that life and civilization have been rising toward something ever better than before. Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource has set the standard here for good historical perspective and understanding. We- humanity- have become, not destroyers in civilization, but increasingly creators of good.
Again, the historical evidence is overwhelming. See also Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, and Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist. These researchers amass overwhelming evidence that the basic trajectory of life rises toward something better and does not decline toward something worse. They blow apart entirely the old Fall narrative (better past, fall into sin, decline toward apocalypse). Armstrong promotes the old fall mythology and seems quite unaware of the basic evidence informing the new scientific narrative.
Armstrong is helpful in noting that the motivations behind any given episode of violence are complex. But she does not then clarify how bad religious ideas at the very core of our Western religious traditions have contributed to violence (and what exactly are those bad religious ideas).
The contribution of religion to violence is best understood in terms of the bad ideas that form the core of religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ideas of angry deity, threats of punishment for human imperfection, the predatory demand for bloody human sacrifice (atonement or salvation theology), the Zoroastrian dualism between the good religion and the false religions, the divine demand to exclude and oppose one’s enemies, and notably the threat of a great violent ending to life (apocalypse- the final punishment and destruction of God’s enemies- solving all problems with ultimate violence). These themes embody the core ideal of violence in deity and have long inspired and validated similar violence among the followers of such violent ideals and authorities. Armstrong did little toward clarifying this major religious contribution to violence.
The important issue to grasp in order to fully understand the relationship of religion to violence, is that the features that people project onto their highest ideals (i.e. gods) then become the model that they use to inspire and validate their own behavior. “People become just like the God they worship”. And nothing has embodied violence toward others as much as apocalyptic mythology- a great act of divine violence to destroy one’s enemies and bring in one’s ideal utopia.
And yes, many Christians have moderated the harsher features of their religion, under such influences as Enlightenment rationality. But the core Christian themes still work to inspire and validate less then fully humane treatment of others. Note the comment, for instance, of the Mennonite theologians that Western justice systems- oriented to punishment- are historically founded on the theology of a punishing God. Note then how this core ideal has influenced the imprisonment of human beings at record-breaking rates in the still very Christian US.
I suspect that because Armstrong appears to hold some form of apocalyptic belief (a version of Declinism) then she may not be able to embrace the fact that her own belief system has been a root contributor to historical violence. You will never solve the problem of religious violence properly until you deal with those core themes that express violence in deity. The God of apocalyptic violence (the original Declinist) has been at the heart of much religious violence over history and is still the central ideal and authority of the Christian religion. That master Terrorist still inspires and validates violence today in one of the Western religious traditions (Islam), just as he has done throughout the history of all three Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all descendants of Zoroastrianism).
Historical Jesus cut the tap root of religious violence when he introduced his stunning new theology of a non-violent God (non-retaliating, non-punishing, no more eye for eye). Tragically, Paul rejected that theology and retreated to the primitive violent God of most past mythology/religion (“Vengeance is mine. I will repay”). Christianity is founded on this core ideal of divine violence.
To properly and thoroughly resolve the problem of religious violence you need to fully humanize your views of God, getting rid of any remaining features of violence. The God of the Western religions is still an Idi Amin monster and has terrorized Western consciousness far too long with his demand for ultimate vengeance and destruction of “enemies”. He is the real Terrorist behind many of the terrorist movements over religious history. Don’t be afraid to stand up to this bully, this monster of the metaphysical.
This article just below was submitted to newspapers in varied countries as an Op-Ed piece…
Two lines of argument have emerged from the public discussion of religion and violence. One defends Western religion as basically peaceful, while the other argues that there is a clear advocacy for violence in our Western religions. Michael Smerconish, a while ago on CNN, argued that most Muslims were peaceful and he was right in making that point. But his guest, the radical London cleric, argued back that he and his fellow jihadists were not extremists distorting Islam, but were simply being faithful to the basic teaching of Islam. I think this is what Wood (What ISIS Really Wants- see below), and others, are trying to get at. Here are some thoughts below on this argument that Western religion is violent in its basic orientation.
Understanding the relationship of religion to violence
Graeme Wood’s recent Atlantic article (What ISIS Really Wants) is just one in a growing recognition that religious belief is playing a more significant role in world terrorism than has been previously admitted. It is no longer credible to argue that a fringe few are hijacking and distorting their religious traditions against the main (and assumed peaceful) teaching of these traditions. The violence that repulses most of us is quite representative of the very heart and soul of humanity’s dominant religious books and belief systems.
People interested in the numerical aspects of this, for example, count 527 cruel or violent passages in the Quran’s 6,236 verses, and 1214 cruel or violent passages in the Bible’s 31,173 total verses. These include God advocating, or actually engaging in, the theft of other’s land, slavery, mass rape of captive women and girls, the starvation and murder of children, brutal torture and human sacrifice, genocide of entire populations, and the total annihilation of all humanity and animal life (i.e. flood and apocalypse). Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, along with others, details many of these passages in his books Is Religion Killing Us? and Jesus Against Christianity.
A non-defensive consideration of the core ideas expressed in these religious traditions would help public understanding and better inform debate on this issue of religion and violence. We need to clearly identify what is wrong at the heart of religion, what in religion contributes to violence in human society, and how. Understanding any problem fully and properly is critical to eventually solving the problem.
To calm any defensive outrage from religious people, I would acknowledge that all the great religious traditions hold inspiring human ideals such as love, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity. Unfortunately, these better ideals are overwhelmed by a larger context of themes that are inhumane according to modern sensibilities. And these themes are foundational to religion as we know it.
Note that all three Western faiths- Judaism, Christianity, Islam- are direct descendents of Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster (approximately 1500 BCE) assembled the already existing themes of preceding Sumerian and Babylonian mythology (the earliest human literature) into a more formal theology. The outline of myth that the West inherited from Zoroaster embraces the core themes of a great oppositional dualism (a good God set against an evil Force), the divine demand to join the good religion, and then exclude and destroy the enemy other, the false religion. And we wonder why the human family is divided into opposing factions.
The ultimate statement of this opposition to an “enemy” and obligation to destroy is expressed in the myth of apocalypse- the great final act of violent destruction of the enemy. This is followed by the eternal punishment of enemies in Hell.
What do these themes teach adherents? That God employs violence to solve problems and so may you. God- the ultimate human ideal and authority- resorts to vengeance and destruction to solve problems, so it is OK for you to do likewise. Like Father, like son. History has evidenced repeatedly that theology (what we believe) determines ethics (how we behave).
An example, even though extreme: Remember the Boko Haram leader last year (2014) urging his child soldiers, “We must give God bodies. We must make God happy”, and then proceeding to cut off the heads of three people.
At the very core of all three Western faiths, behind the varied other strands of belief, stands this central religious ideal of violent deity. It is the defining core of much of humanity’s understanding of Ultimate Good. And yes, nicer features have been added to the deity, but again, the nicer features are overwhelmed and defined by the core theme of retaliatory violence. For instance, holiness, with its offended honor and obligatory retaliation, predominates over universal love and forgiveness, as the defining feature of the Western God. And in the oppositional dualism of Western faith, the supreme human ideal of love then becomes a limited tribal version of love, reserved for true insiders and ultimately withdrawn from unbelievers.
Each of the Western faiths has added other features to the Zoroastrian framework of myth. These refinements further support the core ideal of violent deity. The Western religions advocate, for instance, justice as payback and punishment. As noted above, they also promote primitive offense and retaliation response (my honor has been offended and I am obligated to engage vengeance and destroy you the offender and enemy). There is the theme of corrupt and fallen humanity deserving punishment (based on the Eden and Fall of man myth). And, notably in the Christian system, there is the demand for violent atonement (bloody human sacrifice) to appease the divine rage against human imperfection. Now what have any of these primitive beliefs to do with authentic forgiveness or love?
These prominent religious themes have long been embedded in public consciousness as guiding archetypes and have long shaped the foundations of human worldviews, both religious and secular (see for example Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History). They have profoundly influenced human outlook, mood, emotion, motivation, and response/action. They have incited fear that is often behind defensive aggression toward the outsider, the enemy in the differing system. The histories of all three Western religions affirm this fear/aggression linkage in that they have produced rivers of blood to placate the violent gods at the core (for detail see James Payne’s History of Force, or Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature). Add to this litany of misery the consciousness-darkening pathologies of depression, anxiety, and despair.
Much excellent research has carefully examined and detailed the damaging impact of these darker religious beliefs. These include Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s Is Religion Killing Us?, Harold Ellens’ four volumes on The Destructive Power of Religion, or Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God: How Images of God Shape Belief, Attitude, and Outlook, among others. Violent gods incite violence and other personality-deforming pathologies in followers.
Thankfully, Judaism, Christianity, and much of Islam have learned to moderate the damaging influence of their ideals and authorities. But they have not yet fully neutralized the dehumanizing power of the violent core themes. Note, for example, the argument that the Christian view of a punishing God was the historical basis for Western systems of justice. And that a still very Christian nation with a justice system oriented to punishment (the United States) locks up people at historically unheard of rates. The residual influence of those themes still leavens public consciousness and behavior, even today.
Anthropologist Clifford Geertz has noted that people have always patterned their lives and societies according to their views of the divine- the divine or heavenly model, divine law, scripture, or the will of the deity. Religious ideals shape our lives more powerfully than most people are willing to acknowledge. Again, theology determines ethics.
Fortunately for the human family, a potent response to this dark ideal of divine violence and punishment has been emerging and developing over history. It began with the Akkadian Father (roughly 2200 BCE) advocating for unconditional treatment of offenders- “Do not return evil to your adversary, requite with kindness the one who does evil to you…be friendly to your enemy”. Sounds like an early Mandela.
This line of unconditional treatment of all people continued down through Egyptian, Confucian, Taoist, Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and into Hebrew religion. It broke through to a new level of profundity in the Historical Jesus who linked the unconditional treatment of all people (“love even your enemies”) to a stunning new unconditional theology (“because God loves all enemies”- Matt.5:38-48). This view of deity as non-retaliating, non-punishing, and non-destroying was unheard of in all previous mythology and religion. In a few brief statements, and for the first time in history, Jesus eliminated entirely any trace of violence in deity.
The great tragedy for Christianity was that Paul rejected Jesus’ new theology of a non-violent God and based his Christian religion on a reversal to the primitive theology of retaliatory deity (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”- Romans 12). He also argued for a God that demanded full blood payment before he would forgive. This was a shameful retreat from the greatest breakthrough in human thought. Paul reinstated violence at the heart of deity with his atonement and apocalypse theology, in his Christ myth.
And note carefully that Paul, even though advising Christians to not retaliate, when opposed by his fellow apostles, notably Peter and James, he then damned them to perdition (Galatians 1:8-9). He acted just like his angry, vengeful God. Again- like Father, like son.
This raises the question: Why not go after the real Terrorist (the ultimate human ideal and authority- a violent God) that has long been behind the many outbursts of religious cruelty and violence across history?
What then might be the solution to the long history of pathological myth and religious belief inspiring and validating violence toward others? Quite simple: Replace the core themes of Western religion with this new humane ideal of no conditions theology. Take Jesus seriously. This will involve a radical gutting of the core theology, a full humanization of the Western God at the core of Western religion, removing any and all features that are less than fully humane. An unconditional theology will then provide the proper validating basis for an unconditional ethic. One last time- theology determines ethics.
We have all witnessed the power of unconditional treatment of all to resolve potential violence and change life for the better. Look at the example of Nelson Mandela. He used unconditional treatment of enemies to defuse potential civil war in South Africa, while at the same time Bosnia and Rwanda descended into another tragic cycle of retaliatory violence.
Any full understanding of the problem of religion and violence will require a model that includes all the above basic elements and how they relate to one another. Additionally, there is the source of violence in our inherited animal impulses to small band existence, domination of others, and destruction of competing enemies. These impulses are emoted from the inherited core animal brain (reptilian core, amygdala and limbic system). There is the recognition that ancient people projected their worst features onto the spiritual, creating vicious tribal gods oriented to oppositional dualism (small band mentality) and bent on excluding and destroying enemies. There is the acknowledgement that such ideals became foundational to human worldviews (archetypes of the subconscious) and have long influenced human thought, mood, and action, often for the worst (inciting, inspiring, validation our worst impulses). This is about the tight relationship between the inherited animal and the sacred validation of that animal inheritance.
Resolution of this problem is all about the fact that emerging human consciousness has given us the great liberating discovery of unconditional reality to inspire our better side in new directions. Unconditional motivates us to humanize all of life, and most especially our guiding ideals and authorities, whether religious or secular.
Love and freedom– “Where there is no authentic freedom there is no authentic love”
There is nothing remotely comparable, in all history, that has caused more distress and confusion to people than the accident, disaster, evil and accompanying suffering that is all too common throughout life. And endless effort has been expended to try to reconcile this misery with belief in ultimate goodness (i.e. that God is love). The problem is often summarized in the triad of statements “God is omnipotent. God is good. There is evil”. The result of engaging this limiting triad of assumptions is usually some denial of either omnipotence (God is impotent) or divine goodness. But such constricted reasoning misses other far more important issues.
The above limiting triad is not the most helpful approach to finding some resolution to the problem of evil and suffering. I would offer that a more helpful way forward may be found in understanding the inseparable relationship between love and freedom. At the core of reality and life there is a profound love and also a profound freedom and respect for free individual choice. And when we move in the direction of the transcendent and scandalous nature of divine love and divine respect for freedom then we may get closer to more satisfying answers to the great mysteries of life.
Over history people have tended to play around with subhuman and primitive understanding of these realities of love and freedom. For instance, some people have argued that divine goodness and power will overwhelm the laws of life and the bad choices of others in order to prevent bad outcomes. But this is to engage primitive views of deity that view power and goodness in terms of the obligation of God to ignore freedom and intervene to prevent evil and promote good. Such views do not embrace the fact that it is a fully human responsibility to prevent evil and to promote good.
Alvin Platinga offers a start on this theodicy issue (defending God’s goodness and power in the face of evil) with his often quoted summary of this relationship between love and freedom. Love values highly the free individual choice to do good and protects the freedom to make such choices, even if the outcome of such freedom is sometimes choice for evil.
”A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness, for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good” (from “God, Freedom, and Evil”).
There will always be an element of profound mystery around evil and suffering. But we are driven to know better, to understand more, and to come up with better explanations, better answers. The tight bonding between love and freedom points in more helpful directions than the old limiting triad of power, goodness, and evil.
As Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer states so well, God is non-violent and can not act violently, not even to save. His power is non-coercive. It is only invitational or persuasive. The Bible with its dominant theme of a violent God who acts with overwhelming power to intervene in life, to save, or to punish in the events of life, this is a complete distortion of the power and love of God. See Jesus Against Christianity by Pallmeyer for a good treatment of the non-intervening power of God.
Copyright @ Wendell Krossa
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Everything Is Going To Be All Right
Posted on May 27, 2011 by Wendell Krossa
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged environmental, everything gets better, hope, human spirit, human story, new narrative, progress | 2 Comments