Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 14: The Quest to Find a Greater and Nobler Truth
Just look at the Middle East—the cradle of Abrahamic monotheistic religions, even the hypothetical earthly location of paradise. Oh, paradise, paradiso, surga, firdaus! Paradise derives from the word pairi-daēza in Avestan (Old Farsi), which simply means 'garden', the Garden of Eden, if you will. Scholars have long speculated about the geographical location of the Garden of Eden, and two possible locations are often suggested. First, is the location at some common point of the origin of the Tigris, Euphrates, Blue Nile (or Gihon in the Hebrew Bible) rivers as stated in Genesis 2:10-14. The second possibility derives from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh which describes Dilmun (in modern day Bahrain, near the head of the Persian Gulf) as a paradise garden.
Wherever it was, it's now anything but.
In Iraq—where the Tigris and Euphrates flow—the Sunnis are fighting the Shiites, while the Kurds and the Shiites are fighting the Sunnis/ISIS who are persecuting the Yazidis. In Bahrain—the location of the Dilmun paradise garden—the situation is only a little better. With help from Saudi Arabia, the Bahraini government violently crushed Shiite-inspired pro-democracy protests in 2011. In Turkey, the Sunni Turks are fighting the Kurds. In Syria, the Sunnis are fighting the Alawites who are backed up by the Shiites. Saudi Arabia is supporting the Free Syrian Army in Syria and allies of ISIS in Iraq. Iran is fighting ISIS in Iraq and opposing NATO support for Syrian rebels in Syria. Iran is also fighting ISIS in Syria, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting the allies of ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. The Palestinians are divided between competing Hamas and Fatah camps. In Egypt, where the Nile flows, Sunni extremists and the Muslim Brotherhood have been persecuting Coptic Christians. Fortunately the Lebanese civil war between the Sunnis and Christian Maronites is over, at least for now, but there is still the perpetual Israeli-Arab conflict over illegal settlements in the occupied territories and authority over Jerusalem's status for Jews, Christians and Muslims. In Yemen … well, you got the picture.
One may argue that some of the aforementioned conflicts e.g. between the Turks and the Kurds are more based on tribalism than sectarianism, and that may be true. But overall I agree with TIME essayist Lance Morrow who believes that if you scratch any aggressive tribalism or nationalism, beneath its surface you usually find "a religious core, some older binding energy of belief or superstition that is capable of transforming itself into a death-force, with the peculiar annihilating energies of belief."
With the spectacle of Abrahamic monotheistic believers earnestly fighting and killing each other to death, actually who needs to spread the word on atheism? Indeed pesky unbelievers have always been missing in action, on multiple levels. First, they do not worship a God and follow any holy book. Second, with all the perpetual cruelty and systematic violence on high definition display—from religious persecutions to jihads to decapitations to abortion clinic bombings—unbelievers let believers make the strongest case for them on the futility and absurdity of religions.
Whence come all this evil and violence—in the Middle East and beyond? Sadly, it's the B-word again. As once expressed by British author and actor Peter Ustinov (1921-2004): "Beliefs are what divide people. Doubts unites them." Ustinov is hardly alone. American literary critic Carl Van Doren (1885-1950) once wrote: "The unbelievers have, as I read history, done less harm to the world than believers. They have not filled it with savage wars… with crusades or persecutions, with complacency or ignorance." Now let's compare the futile sectarian violence and holy wars committed by believers with the fruitful scientific collaboration extended by secular scientists who leave their religions behind and are merely united by the quest to find a greater and nobler Truth.
While believers have been busy fighting tooth and nail for 1,380 years over who was the legitimate successor of the Prophet Muhammad after he died in 632, up there at the International Space Station which orbits the earth at an altitude between 205 and 270 miles (330 and 435 km), American, Russian, Canadian, Japanese, European and Brazilian scientists are closely—literally and figuratively—working together to conduct scientific research and support space exploration to reveal the breathtaking magnificence of the universe. While devotees and disciples have been killing each other over Jerusalem's status, somewhere around Geneve, over 2,500 staff members and visiting scientists representing 608 universities and research facilities from 22 different countries are working together at CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), operating the largest particle physics laboratory in the world to understand the origin of the universe—and invented the World Wide Web along the way. Meanwhile, in Antarctica, between 1,000 and 4,000 scientists from 30 countries are working together in numerous field camps on various scientific research projects, all leaving their religions behind.
Which brings us back to our question: Whence come evil and violence? Do they come from within or without? According to spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) who was awarded with the 1984 United Nations Peace Medal, violence derives from individuals who separate themselves from the rest of mankind, then take labels too seriously.
"When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else," Krishnamurti said, "you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind."
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter