Most of us, as human beings, tend to feel very strongly about those beliefs that we hold dear. In most places, those strong feelings center on religious faith, sometimes on the family, sometimes on political or social beliefs, and to a lesser degree on other matters, at least for most people, from what I’ve observed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with believing in something strongly, even passionately, but most of human history is replete with violence seemingly triggered by those passionate beliefs. Why do I say “seemingly”? Because, in the overwhelming majority of instances, those seeking power and dominance use those beliefs in causes against others in order to bolster their own position and power.
Henry VIII’s split with Rome and the Catholic faith, and his creation of the Church of England, had little to do with the vast majority of tenets of the Catholic Church, but everything to do with his desire to divorce his queen and remarry in order to have a son to inherit the crown – surely an issue of power and dominance.
Luther’s ninety-five theses nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparked the Protestant Reformation, which was initially far more about reforming abuses of power in the Catholic Church than about changing fundamental beliefs in God and Christ.
The split in Islam, between Shia and Sunni, arose essentially over the issue of who should lead the faith after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 A.D. While other issues separating the two have arisen, the split was basically about power and dominance, and it remains the same today.
While Ireland has seen a long history of Protestant/Catholic conflict and animosity, that conflict is far more rooted in power than doctrine, since the vast majority of those in power in Ireland after the end of the Williamite War in 1691 were, prior to the Irish Revolution of 1916, members of the Protestant Ascendency. After the partition of Ireland and the end of most hostilities in the Republic of Ireland in 1923, the Protestants retained economic and social control in Northern Ireland, and that conflict continued almost unabated until the agreement of 1998, although hostilities still simmer, largely because of economic and political inequalities.
The American Revolution, for all the talk of freedom, was about who controlled the resources and the economy of the then thirteen colonies and about British restrictions on trade and manufactures.
The Taliban and ISIS, while they claim to be Islamic, seem to be far more interested in power and control than in any of the more peaceful aspects of Islam. And certainly, the Crusades were far more about power and plunder than religion, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.
This desire for control, and wanting to have government force people who are different to “do things my way” remains a disturbing aspect of politics in the United States, and elsewhere.
No matter what anyone may say in religious terms about the abortion/anti-abortion conflict in the U.S., that conflict is purely and simply about who has control of a woman’s body – the woman or an outsider, whether that outsider is either a religious belief, her husband, or the government. All the rationalizing and reasoning, all the saying why, doesn’t change that basic fact. It’s about control. So is the issue of who can marry whom.
Yet government has to have laws, and enforce them, or there will be chaos. As a number of politicians and sages have noted, liberty also requires order. Order requires popular support. So any law that enslaves or unnecessarily controls a significant percentage of the population eventually creates unrest and often violence. This rather obvious truth tends to be ignored by those who use beliefs to obtain or maintain power over others.
As far as laws or practices being unnecessarily controlling, there’s a simple question that can resolve many of those questions. Does the law in practice physically or economically harm certain groups of people? It would seem to me, simple man that I am, that believing in a different god or the same god in a different way harms no one. Taking up a gun to force that belief does so.
The bottom line is whether beliefs are used for self-motivation and guidance or whether they’re used to force beliefs on others – or to harm or kill those who believe differently.
Beware those who trumpet beliefs while brandishing laws or weapons and ask who will gain control of what – and how.