Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 30: The Source of Violence in Religion
"Oh, praise the Lord,” the nun replied. “I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant."
The joke may make us laugh, but sectarianism is surely no laughing matter. Among Christians, Catholics and Protestants had killed each other (at least) in the European Wars of Religion (1524-1648), the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969-2002), and in the Rwandan genocide (1994). It was reported that a Rwandan Roman Catholic bishop once said, "(t)he best catechists, those who filled our churches on Sundays, were the first to go with machetes in their hands." Although the genocide itself was ethnically motivated, the Human Rights Watch reported that a number of Roman Catholic leaders in Rwanda failed to condemn the genocide publicly at the time. In fact, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted several Rwandan Roman Catholic priests and nuns as well as a Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor for their roles in the genocide. So much for following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Among Muslims, sectarian violence has been as old as Islam itself. As illustrated in The Sunni-Shia Divide - A CFR InfoGuide Presentation published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Islam’s schism has simmered for fourteen centuries, not long after Mohammed's death in 632. It all started over a disagreement about who should be his legitimate successor. The Sunnis, who argued that leadership should be awarded to qualified individuals, elected Abu Bakr, a companion of Mohammed, as the first caliph. Not so, said the Shias, who argued that the legitimate leaders must come through Mohammed’s bloodline, namely the sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima, (Mohammed’s daughter). As they say, the rest is history.
The history of Islam has been defined by perpetual bloodbath among Sunnis and Shias. Even today, rivalry, proxy wars and mutual hatred between Sunnis (led by Saudi Arabia) and Shias (led by Iran) have triggered innumerable civil wars, bloody persecution, and sectarian violence in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, and beyond. Millions have died and will die because of violence, cruelty, idiotic bigotry and suicidal nihilism committed in the name of Allah—all due to a disagreement that occurred almost 1,400 years ago. Suicide bombings, decapitations and mass shootings on innocent civilians are the products of this perpetual schism. (In addition, other sects in Islam, particularly Ahmadiyya and Sufism, have also been considered as "heretics and non-Muslim" by the Sunnis. Thousands of Ahmadis and Sufis in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, have been subjected to persecution and systematic oppression, even public stoning.)
Aren't religions supposed to provide compassion, grace, tolerance, and spirituality for believers, instead of making them violent, cruel, and murderous? In Christianity, the significance of the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5-7) cannot be overstated: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, … Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, … Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." In Arabic, the word "Islam" may mean submission or surrender, but also peace and safety. Bluntly speaking, what is the X factor which may explain this paradox? Why pious, devout and holier-than-thou believers tend to be cruel and violent? Why do they act in contrary to what they claim to believe?
Oxford defines eschatology as "(t)he part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind." The concept of eschatology is present in all organized religions, except Buddhism. Thanks to eschatology, believers in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are constantly bombarded—consciously and subconsciously—with the notions of last day judgment, Battle of Armageddon, heaven and hell, and perhaps martyrdom in its most perverted form: screaming Allahu Akbar then blowing oneself (and others involuntarily) up to pieces. In Judaism and Christianity, according to the Book of Revelation, Armageddon will be "the site of a gathering of armies for a battle during the end times." In Islam, Muslims believe in Yawm al-Qiyāmah (Resurrection Day) or Yawm ad-Dīn (Judgment Day) which is believed to be "the final assessment of humanity by Allah, consisting of the annihilation of all life, resurrection and judgment." A polytheist religion, eschatology in Hinduism is more cyclical than the linear Abrahamic monotheist religions.
Buddhism, unlike other organized religions, is a nontheist religion. Thus it does not promise an afterlife like others do. The closest eschatological notion in Buddhism may be outlined in Sutta Pitaka, which states that "Gautama Buddha's teachings would disappear after 5,000 years," but does not include any reference to anything like the Battle of Armageddon. As we'll discover soon, the subtle eschatological difference between nontheistic Buddhism and other theistic religions—i.e. the Battle of Armageddon and any form of judgment, or the lack thereof—may reveal the source of violence in most organized religions.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter