DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
A Call for the Renewal of the Theory and Practice of Tolerance
Two thousand years ago it was the custom for free men to attend the forum to provide for war, resolve internal disputes, and to otherwise provide for the welfare of the ruling class, which necessarily entailed making provisions for the welfare of the ruled. The pretext for assembly was peace, from which followed a long history of war, for peace was made in those days, as it is today, by mass murder. Even now it is believed that war brings out the virtue in men, resulting in the biological and moral improvement of the race. A man, then, is not a really a moral man until he kills someone, or so the saying goes.
The awful history of violence seems necessary for survival or self-defense at the time: primitive men fought to take the lives and properties of others lest they lose their own. Although their gods were expected to protect them if ritually appeased, they seldom fought over the gods themselves. Warring factions might implore the same gods for victory. Pagan tribes realized the virtue of unity when they paraded effigies of the local gods through their villages; anyone who did not show respect for the tribal god was killed. And when combined they made no bones about adopting the gods of their conquered enemies, hauling the stone gods to their capital. The tribal god said, “That land and everything on it is your land, so slaughter everyone else on it.” Christians slaughtered or enslaved each other while praying to the same deity, borrowing the name ‘god’ from the pagans.
Religion worshipped absolute power while politics distributed it. Church and state were therefore one. Organized religion was a state religion, while families attended to their ancestor’s spirits privately at their respective hearths in accord with family tradition.
All during the bloody course of history, men religiously murdered each other in “self-defense.” That naturally involved waging “pre-emptive” wars. To be called a thief and murderer is no insult when the very existence of your tribe depends on the resources of other tribes.
Since unorganized men, in full possession of their natural right to survive at all costs, may murder each other for women and property, religion’s basic concern is with organization of murder, that it be directed outwards for the sake of the internal welfare of the community.
An individual soon learns that he must make sacrifices for his own good. He must love his elders, his tribe and the god representing it or else. Hate-based love for one’s familiars is aggravated by the fear and hatred of strangers. So religion, or the worship of the absolute power representing the group, and the concomitant sacrifice of individual power, organizes the individual disposition to rebellion and violence into modes of permissible i.e. moral behavior, regulating basic human drives so that groups may survive and prosper. Wherefore the fundamental concern with the regulation of murder, sexual intercourse, and consumption.
So important were religious ideas for survival, men proceeded to religiously murder each other over religious theories and practices. The historical record of so-called religious wars gives scholars reasons to debate whether the causes of the conflicts were political or religious, and to wonder whether such a distinction even exists in reality.
One thing is clear: men were to some extent murdering each other over ideas, as if ideas were real things essential to survival. That is hardly surprising to us, as we are too familiar with the fact that people who “have words” sometimes kill each other over trifles. It is a question of power, of strength, of feelings of insecurity. One would have the other submit to his ideas or else all hell breaks loose, not to prove the merits of the ideas but to prove who is stronger, whose god is greater: “Oh, my Power, why hast thou forsaken me?” If only everyone would submit to the dogma of one real or ideal person as if it were our own, we might be cringing, but safe and secure in our camp.
It appears to dialectical philosophers who believe in a guiding historical Spirit that our mutual conflict gradually advances mankind as a whole towards a universal order where we will all finally recognize that violence no longer pays, that violence has, in fact, become futile or unnecessary. Man will be as safe and secure, as free from the threat of murder on this earth as was promised in heaven.
I can buy a political right to be safe, purchased with my natural right to kill whomever I please. So we are theoretically advancing to freedom according to the historical Spirit, or so some say while others protest that the price is too high; namely, virtual imprisonment for which the concrete prison is a visible symbol.
In any event, religion, and that includes even the political or ideological religions of devout atheists, could very well lead to the death it proposes to avoid in the long climb to heaven or utopia. Untold millions must be murdered to impose and maintain institutional power. The lonely, fearful convert will find almost unconditional internal love within the institution along with organized hate for the rest of the human race.
Skeptics find tranquility in suspended judgement. They have good reason to doubt the arguments for and against things that cannot be experienced, while dogmatists systematically assent to non-evident things. Religions are dogmatically organized; when those dogmas conflict, intolerant people who depend upon dogma for their security may resort to violence to resolve the symbolic differences. They actually abhor the views they profess to tolerate. In truth, the dogmatist cannot tolerate a heretic, someone who chooses his own religion including a religion of one person.
A heretic chooses his own religion. Heretics were once religiously murdered by organized cowards. Sebatian Castellio, author of ‘De haeritcus,’ made an extensive study of heresy and came up with a definition of a heretic:
“When I reflect on what heresy really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views.” As for the tendency of men to religiously murder each other: “The truths of religion are in their nature mysterious and, after more than a thousand years, are still the field of unending struggle, for which blood will not cease to flow until spiritual love illumines us and is given the last work.”
A great deal of blood has been shed since those words were written in the 16th century. “Uncivilized” or “backwards” “fundamentalists” still kill over religious differences, while the rest of the world is relatively tolerant for the time being.
One religion or the other, whether it worships a god or an ideology, is really not the blame for the violence: the fault is with the human tendency to violence. Thankfully, we have good reason to be tolerant, and tolerance can be cultivated. We find intolerant people among us who use provocative language, and intolerant people who are provoked by it. Hostile exchanges of words over religious beliefs results in physical violence every day, not to mention the mental misery caused, for example, by the religious subjugation of females by males whose main interest in religion is in feeling strong despite the spite of the woman he abuses to that end. In fact, millions of people in the so-called civilized world are suffering from the native tendency to religiously discriminate.
What are we to do, then? Get rid of old-time religion? Or have atheism as our religion? Shall we bring in the armed forces to enforce acceptance? After all, the motive for religion is within each person and shall be impossible to altogether extirpate without extermination campaigns.
At least we should re-examine and practice the philosophy of tolerance and its relation to love. Toleration does not require acceptance of opposing views, but it does require non-violence where thinking is involved. Murder certainly should not be tolerated, not to mention other crimes. Killing a man simply because of what he thinks is certainly intolerant; that does not mean his thoughts must be accepted, say, that all Christians should have the experience they admire and be crucified forthwith.
Everyone might look within for the source of the absurd squabbles instead of accepting the hackneyed phrases of those involved in the senseless fray. Indeed, truly faithful people do not need to argue about religion with anyone at all, for they have nothing to prove.
Listen to the conversations on the street, and wonder why so many people are badmouthing each other, even their friends behind their backs. It is as if human beings are natural born defamers. We constantly apply derogatory labels to others. We are classifiers. That is a virtue and a vice. We too often viciously exclude others when we include ourselves in our virtuous class.
If unadulterated love happens to be the best god, as almost every preacher agrees, then let us better practice what we preach, be more courteous, stop disrespecting and harassing people. In religious terms, which are for many people the ultimate terms, the “foolishness of preaching” is best employed to prevail against the malicious organization of violence, therefore the preaching of love, which almost everyone has some knowledge of in his heart, is called for. Whether deeds will reflect the Word remains to be seen. Fortunately, hope springs eternal.
David Arthur Walters
Honolulu, August 12, 2001