Noel Isama Editorial: Religion and Reality

For many the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, by his own bodyguard was another bad omen for Pakistan. According to guard, he murdered the Governor because he dared to defend a woman that was sentenced to death after being accused of ‘speaking against Islam’. He believed, rightly so, that killing someone for a such an accusation was a wrong that went beyond religion, but violated our basic concept of humanity. His death is not a good sign as Pakistan lost another rational voice in a sea of insanity.

An even more menacing omen could be seen on the bodyguard’s face. With chaos surrounding him,  the assassin had a smile of inner satisfaction as he sat cuffed in the back of the police van.  The expression was most grotesque. There was no expression of distress at not getting away. No expression of remorse at the thought of killing another man.  No expression of disdain for those who arrested him.  No expression of worry for impending consequences that may await him (i.e. beatings and torture).  

 What force could suppress the most natural human reactions? What could inspire humans to  devalue life, such that it can wantonly snatch away? Radicalism.  But that is only a trait. In order for one to be a fanatic or radical there must be a source. This source is a belief in something so great that it is worth killing, note not dying, but killing for. In Pakistan and many other countries it is religion, plain and simple. For these countries religion is a destructive force.

 Religion need not come in the form of the divine (i.e. the North Korean state and it surrounding mythology could be considered religious). But one common trait is creation of system of action based on a belief.

When one “believes”, they’re ascribing truth to something that they cannot completely substantiate themselves. Often times this indicates a disconnect at some point with the reality or the world around them. It is in this space or disconnect that the seeds of religion is sowed. It deals with the inner workings the human being that are so mysterious, yet so powerful.

What drives us? What motivates us? What we need that can’t be provided by the “real” material world.  Religion is there to account that which we don’t know. This is often a good thing because it helps identify the feelings in humans that compel is us to act in ways that aren’t obviously beneficial in a personal sense. It keeps us pushing in the face of adversity. It helps us locate compassion and assist our fellow man. It helps us cope with death and despair. No religion is not a bad thing, it is in fact very good. It becomes negative when it leaves this mysterious realm and falls into the hands of those who want to use it to shape their world view.

The point at which religion becomes a destructive force is when you take something which is supposed to account for uncertainty and act as if it is certain. On the basis of this supposed certainty you then try to force the world to conform to your belief. This implies the use of religion as  the motivation in coercive actions against the outside world. Because religion occupies the space of uncertainty, that disconnect with reality, it can ignore it and serve as unextinguishable fire that burns all.

 Religion stands apart from other forms of radicalism, political or otherwise, which can be challenged by reality. However, the most radical believers in religion can choose to ignore realities that would otherwise require them to reconsider thier beliefs.  To illustrate one could look to the rise of communism in Russia, whose most ardent followers passionatly believed in the concepts of equality and fairness in thier society. However, to accomplish the ends of changing societies, the Communists utilized acts of brutal violence that violated all respect for humanity.  The fall of the Soviet empire was a time when reality challanged the communist fanatics because thier governments failed and thier economies couldn’t sustain thier people. The reality for many of these governments and systems could not be ignored, and it was reality that was the impetus for change.

 It is hard to see what role reality plays in fanatic interpertations of religion.  The abject focus on God becomes a tool to blind people to the truth that may exist arround them, to realize the suffering of thier fellow man here on earth. It is the most convenient of masks because unlike politics, the masked figure purporting to act on a higher power’s behest is not held accountable for his actions whereas the politican must face elections or public dissidence. In the fanatics mind, everything is for God to take care of at some point, and man is forever never responsible because  it is not the individual who is acting, but allegedly God acting through him. (A presumption to say the least, unless the individual has a direct line to heaven)

It is difficult to carry on a discourse with a fanatic because they utilize mysterious divine concepts rather than looking to the world around them and rationally explaining a belief. As a result  religion thrives in circumstances where there is a deprivation of knowledge, where mystery rules all things. It is no surprise that the destructive religious force has found its base in one of the poorest regions in the world. It is no surprise that some of the most oppressive countries are religious in nature.

 What the death Salamaan Taseer and sadly the positive reaction of many Pakistanis to it, illustrate is a dissociation from reality caused by religion. This may be our greatest threat as humans. Taken to extremes it has given people the “strength” to engage in needless war (i.e. George Bush) and is surely a path to sure destruction. Look at the threat of nuclear Iran or the possibility of a American president completely entrapped in the armagedon mindset. But the greatest tragedy is the satisfaction people will gain from such actions. In the past reality served as that which brought us down to earth from heaven. Can it save us from the gates of hell and wipe that smirk of the face of the monster who took an innocent man’s life?

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