My girlfriend recently enrolled in a sign language class at an area community college in hopes that she will be better able to communicate with some of her disabled members. You see, she works at Cal’s Recreational Sports Facility as the director of the disabled program – better known as the Cal Star program. Anyway, she needed a particular text book for said class, and it happened to be selling at a Deaf Community center near my day-job. So I volunteered to pick it up, though I had no idea what I was really getting into.
It probably only lasted about 5 minutes, but my time at the Deaf Community Center was well spent. I walked in to find the bookstore completely devoid of sound. No annoying elevator music, no murmuring amongst the others there. Yet there were full-blown conversations taking place. I know what you are thinking, “Of course there was no talking, these people are deaf!” But I just wasn’t prepared to walk into that particular room on that particular day.
I felt much the same way I did on my first day living in Spain – only I at least knew how to ask for a bathroom in Spanish. Immediately, the lady working the register begins signing to me. I smile and nod. No idea what she is “saying” to me.
I show her the paper that has the name of the book I need, and she smiles real big. I can read her lips telling me “Good for you!”, thinking that I was taking the class. I didn’t want to take the credit, but didn’t know how to tell her that she was mistaken. So I just smiled back.
Just then I turned to “eavesdrop” on the other conversations going on. It was very different to see information flowing between people so effortlessly, without words. The most interesting thing to me was that I didn’t find myself feeling sorry for these “disabled” people, because there was nothing to feel sorry about. Without meeting any of my fellow patrons, I was sure that each and every one of them would tell you that they were proud of their deafness. They have a culture not unlike the cultures of foreign language speaking people. (Later I found out from my girlfriend that there is a procedure that more or less gives hearing back to many deaf people, but it is sort of frowned upon in the deaf community as “selling-out”.)
By the time that I left the bookstore, I had met the proud mother of the textbook’s author. She told me that the book was really good, of course. And I got all of this info by reading lips, body language, and her smile. Kind of funny how you can pick up on alternative forms of communication in just 5 minutes. And in just 5 minutes I was able to take a look into a deaf person’s world and realize that life wouldn’t end if I couldn’t hear. I would just have to rely on more than my middle finger to “be heard” in everyday life.
In my mind, there are three reasons for “murder” in the natural world: Defense, Conquer, and Sustenance. Take a wild dog, for example. He will kill if threatened. He will also kill to gain the right to a female. And of course, he will kill to feed himself.
As Darwin himself might have put it, we are not too far removed from these happenings in nature. Murder in our society stems from one of these three base desires in a majority of cases (I do think that severe psychological ailments make up a fourth cause, separate from the three mentioned). And the Sustenance angle can be down-played because the killing does not occur in order that the killer be able to eat his prey, rather it occurs to obtain food of some other sort. A case can then be made that the murder was committed in order to survive, or in Defense of one’s life.
This is the background that I want to use to explore religious turmoil in the world and why, in my mind, organized religion is one of the biggest causes of cold-blooded murder in society. Now, before going any further, I want to submit that this is not an anti-Religion writing. On the contrary, this is a writing of how human nature interferes with the intentions of religion to produce a dangerous reaction – the likes of which humanity has witnessed since the beginning of recorded history. Furthermore, this piece is only designed to address the concept of Self Defense in religious belief, leaving the Conquering half aside in reverence for brevity.
The Defense Theory
Though I haven’t read these thoughts elsewhere, I posit that they may be old hat to historians and theologians alike. Nevertheless, many of the killings in the name of religion are more appropriately categorized into the Self Defense bin. In most major religions, followers have a notion of existence after death, whether it is reincarnation, life in heaven, or final enlightenment. The individual’s view of these events is a safeguard or reassurance against death – the very outcome against which his/her human body is programmed to fight. Our primary biological goal as human beings is self-preservation, and as we all understand our own mortality, the idea of life beyond this life eases our tensions both mentally and biologically.
Now imagine that your neighbor tells you that your beliefs are wrong. He thinks that it is OK to disagree, people do so all of the time. The only problem is that he has, in an indirect way, threatened your life. The believer’s entire foundation for survival into the future has been attacked. This kind of attack in nature nearly always produces a violent reaction. In humans the reaction is often a very sharp and stubborn anger towards the offending party. In the extreme cases, the reaction is murder.
I admit it is a leap to connect self defense with differentiation of opinion, but most religious arguments and that I have observed bear the distinctively evil anger saved only for the most desperate of circumstances. If you try to disprove my religion, I retort with an error in yours. The problem is that in regions such as the Middle East, it has become routine to permanently silence the opposition through murder. As if somehow, by taking away the dissenting voice, the individual regains confidence in his/her beliefs, and thus a renewed sense of security in his/her future survival.
Unfortunately, I do not have the time necessary to develop this thought further in this particular article. However, I have drawn one conclusion from my thought process, a conclusion that is a bit on the fatalistic side: I don’t think that turmoil and the Middle East and between other warring religious factions can be solved. Though there are many other political issues wrapped up in these regional struggles, the initial hatred was born and fostered by religious tension. Humans on both sides of the battle cannot quit themselves of the basic need to preserve themselves and to see themselves existing into the future. To do so would contradict their very own biological programming. Of course there are political measures that can and should be applied to the individual situations to help ease tensions. Unfortunately, the political solutions are only fingers plugging holes in the dam.