9:51pm, 17th November 2015
Fragmented Thoughts for a Fragmented World
Common sense dictates I should refrain from commenting on politics and religion.
Bollocks to that. Politics and religion are central to my thinking, and they'll come out in all my stories. I'm not going to pretend to not be me. Honestly and seriously, though--I don't mean any offence by any of the below. I'm just thinking out loud.
There has, inevitably, been lots of blaming of religion.
That's wrong and sort-of right.
(It is pertinent to this conversation for me to point out that I am an absolute and committed atheist, based on a number of years of introspection. Mine is an atheism derived from my character and my experiences and an awful lot of thought, and not a lazy kind of "haven't got time for God" atheism.)
It's wrong, because these attacks had nothing to do with belief in God. You can believe in God and be an absolutely moral and generous person, and you can believe in God and start firing automatic rifles into a concert hall. You can be both of those as an atheist as well. Clearly faith has nothing to do with it.
But it's sort-of right, because religion is a symptom of the real problem. Religion is, as far as I can tell, only the organisation of faith. It is the paraphernalia of faith given precedence. (I may be channeling the moral lessons of Small Gods here.) It is an earthly power structure and nothing more. It's allowing another person to tell you how to live, how to think, how to believe. Faith should be personal. Don't let others tell you how to love your God.
And that's the real problem: the surrender of independent thought. You see it in religion, certainly, but you also see it in nationalism and politics and any other form of tribalism where authority to speak for a group is given to a figurehead.
Thought is the only true thing we have. Descartes: "Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power."
To surrender even that to authority is to surrender everything we can truly claim to possess. All else may be imagined, the inference of reality where there is only smoke and light, but you know your own thoughts to exist for a fact. Cogito ergo sum.
And so faith is not the problem. Belief in God is not the problem. Religion is not even the problem. If your perception of reality and your experience of life lead you to believe all this is God's glory, more power to you. I am not the sort of atheist to deny you your faith. But please don't ever act unquestioningly. Faith should be a warm and living thing, and allowing religion to calcify it into something cold and unchallenged is to steal all faith's vitality.
Get rid of religion and there would only be another doctrine to subsume independent thought. You must teach people to think for themselves, not to simply accept but to question; then you can break the cycle forever.
The pernicious idea at the heart of all extremism, be it religious or nationalist or racist, is that people should be the same. Once you are working from that foundation, anyone different is no longer people and so you can dehumanise and attack them without guilt or restraint.
Religion can be a dangerous expression of this; a church, a mosque, a synagogue, all can become four walls around Us that keep Them out. But it's possible with anything. Any time people think we should all be the same, trouble starts.
But once you accept that we are all different--should be, and must be!--then you can see all the ways that we're the same.
We're far more alike then we ever could be different. We all just want the world to be a little safer for those we love; even the people fighting in IS are trying to create a world they think is better and safer for the people they love, one that will earn God's favour, one without the threat of "Western barbarism".
I only wish people would realise it's possible to make the world safer for themselves without taking that safety away from others. We could all win! No-one has to lose!
IS aren't idiots. Abhorrent, despicable humans, perhaps, but not idiots. They know full well that the response to their attacks will be an increase in military action, and so they carry out the attacks because they want more bombs falling, more guns firing. They were born out of the Iraq conflict; violence empowers them and fuels their growth and supports their narrative about the West and its evils.
It's no coincidence that this vicious, visible attack comes on the back of Europe accepting so many refugees. That mercy completely undermined the IS world-view, and they needed to get us back on message, as it were. They needed us to start acting like arrogant, violent conquerors again.
We won't ever defeat IS by following their plan for us.
No, you cannot legislate the evil out of the world, as one meme doing the rounds purports; but nor do I think giving good men guns is sufficient. I am not so naïve as to think we can go without a military--this is not that world, not yet. But if violence is the flood, the military can only ever be the sandbags, the temporary defence while we build a higher, stronger wall against the flood waters. That wall must be built of better stuff than violence.
This is the response. This is how the world has to react. Not in hate, vengeance, or division, because that is what IS want. They win if they defeat us and they win if they turn us into them.
The only possible way we can win is to be better than them, to hold our heads higher and show the world what it could be, not what it has been. To recognise we aren't different, we're all just people. The world was made for love, and everything we've ever built has been for love, and to turn to hate is to turn on everything we've ever fought for.
I may well be wrong on all of the above. Nothing I say is ever concrete. Everything I say is up for debate. And most of it is simply my attempt to organise my own thoughts; I think the brain in my fingers is better than the brain in my head.