So many of the news headlines today reflect both — another aid worker beheaded; hundreds of villagers of a different faith beheaded; kidnapped schoolgirls forced into marriage because women shouldn’t be educated; Republicans decry President’s amnesty executive orders, but refuse to pass legislation that isn’t 100% of what they want; and pretty much the vast majority of elected officials ignore anything they don’t want to believe, regardless of the amount of evidence to the contrary.
The sad part of this is that so little of it is new. Five hundred years ago, in England and across Europe Catholics were burning Protestants as heretics, and Protestants were killing Catholics in various ways because each was absolutely certain of the supremacy of its faith, and the evil of the other guy’s faith, and it was guys, because women didn’t count for much back then.
Not only that, but all of the various religious beliefs, past and present, are based on the teachings of men, and one woman, who have attempted to assure their followers that they knew, absolutely, the will of the Deity… and that in all too many cases, the will of that Deity was to slaughter and/or enslave all who did not share their beliefs. Despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence of such a Deity, and the fact that a great number of beliefs based on such teachings have been found to be totally inaccurate, if not completely baseless, tens of millions of people are ruled by such absolutist believers, and U.S. history has its share of such.
Four hundred years ago, European colonists began a two-century campaign to conquer North America, and in the process to displace the native American peoples because they were “inferior.” Slightly more than a hundred and fifty years ago, the leaders of the Confederacy began a civil war because they believed their way of life, based on slavery and “states’ rights,” was superior to a federal government had the temerity to suggest that perhaps enslaving other people might not be such a good idea – and at that time the federal government had only restricted the extension of slavery to new states. We still have those people who believe in the unlimited right to have and bear arms, despite the fact that the United States has one of the highest rates of civilian deaths by firearms – and certainly the greatest absolute number of such deaths.
The consequences of such absolutist beliefs have always been deadly, and usually terrifying, and that hasn’t changed, either. That was a lesson the Founding Fathers understood, and understood well. Because they didn’t want an absolutist government, they did their best to come up with a system that required a certain amount of compromise to work.
Well… now no one wants to compromise, and guess what… the system doesn’t work. What about that, exactly, is so hard to understand?
Recent archaeological discoveries in Central America have revealed a great deal about the fall of the great Mayan culture. That culture flourished in an area where the rains only fell from May to October. To keep the gods happy and the rains coming, the Mayans offered human sacrifices to the gods. Then in the late ninth century, the weather changed, and there was almost no rain – anytime. The Mayans began to increase their sacrifices, but the rains still didn’t return. Then came the wars… and more sacrifices… and finally the collapse. Sad to say, all that true belief didn’t matter at all, but the mindset of true believers is to claim that that is because the other guy believed in the wrong god and faith. That’s the all-too-human reaction – the other guy is wrong. Add to that the problem that very seldom do most people understand that following a belief that doesn’t have a grounding in facts is likely to cause problems, if not lead to disaster.
Americans have progressed… slightly. We now follow politicians whose views comfort us the most and give us the reassurance that the other guys and gals are wrong… and we can’t really understand how people can kill for religion… even as close to seventy thousand Americans die every year because of our belief in the freedom to drive automobiles at high speeds even while drinking, distracted, and texting and for virtually everyone to bear firearms, regardless of their capacity to use them wisely.