History – Written in Blood
The history of the world has been written in blood, until recently by dominating religions, intolerant of other faiths or beliefs: from dark-age pogroms, to early Islam’s rampages, to the Crusades, to conquest of the New World, to the Inquisition, and to Stalin and Hitler and genocidal Holocaust. Throughout this gory litany, peace-seeking philosophers, war-weary, have dreamed periodically of a world without conflict. Other than the cultures and countries which worshipped the glory of mortal combat, e.g. the rulers and elite citizenry of ancient Rome, Sparta and more recently Prussia, most philosophers, and certainly at-risk commoners throughout history have dreamed of quiet lives without conflict or violence, safe from both external and internal attacks upon their freedoms and persons, hoping only to be permitted to enjoy their families and accomplishments in peace – and to die in bed at a respectable age.
Early on, wars were fought and peoples murdered to spread religion, coercive conversions forcing acceptance of the God of a dominant power. Dismayed at the carnage, rational humankind philosophized that no true divinity could tolerate, much less demand, such unwarranted cruelty – hence they must all be false – hence an anti-religion philosophy of rule-by-rationality should-be superior. Mankind began searching out a workable approach to peaceful governance – coexistence among peoples of differing faiths and philosophies – without bloodshed. By an “either-or” argument, if God and Religion seemed to be more cause than solution, perhaps durable peace could be achieved between nations – if “faith” would be discarded and replaced with “reason”.
Such daring thinking was envisioned, then espoused – the concept of “enlightened” rule was developed – a peaceful society, governed by fairness in rules of conduct and justice; it was embarked upon and grew, with democratized liberation of countries from prior religious domination. Such optimistic and exciting “Enlightenment” theories took root, conceptually non-tyrannical authority being envisaged – neither rule by royal-lineage nor by divinity figures, instead leaders to be selected from the populace by majority choice, government by rational, impartial laws and justice, replacing religious dogmatism. The theory was implemented with confidence, preamble efforts beginning in (1776 in the US – excluded hereinafter, and) 1794 with the French Revolution. The ringing phrase “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” became the slogan of hope in France .
This expectation of a better approach was, however, short-lived, lasting but two years – ending with a parade of citizens, deemed unworthy of life, escorted to the guillotine – and a flood of blood. Subsequently, perhaps inevitably, the pendulum of non-religions or “enlightened” governance went into “overswing” – the world experiencing (perhaps) the ultimate in authoritarian rule based upon the moral compass of mere men – dictatorships – Communism and Nazi-ism!
Extremism of religious ideology and bigotry in living memory as well as recorded history, cannot be denied. Millions of lives have been taken by hatred as frenzied zealots of one religion held power over others – oft-times given a no-win choice, forced conversion or the sword. Even greater extremism is evident today, the virulence being obvious in the venue selection – where civilians, especially children gather – bloodied body-parts of innocents are shown in lurid photos and described in every newspaper – blown-up in buses, restaurants, marketplaces, houses of worship. Human intolerance of faiths other than their own, especially during outbreaks of mob psychology – particularly when exhorting a divine “commandment” to kill “the infidel” – are spurred on by inflammatory and instantaneous distribution of world news. Such bloodshed is even more commonplace today than in the past. So what is the carnage scorecard?
Undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of helpless human beings have been killed by the excesses of religion in recorded history, inflamed zealots, dark-age pogroms, genocides leading to the Holocaust, and present-day Islamo-terrorists. However, in contrast, when the supreme decision authority for life and death has been placed in human ethical standards of morality and justification, the pursuit of ever-greater powers and conquests are apparently irresistible. Rationalizations and cold assessments of benefits and advantages seem to easily overwhelm restraint – leading to carnage and ferocity – greatly exceeding even inflamed religious bigotry. Instead of the envisaged tolerance and fraternity, the end result of political experiments in “enlightened” human authority has been both unanticipated and uninhibited, the untethering of the worst instincts of human beings.
Over 100 Million Killed
Totaling the score can only be done in round numbers, but despotic rulers have caused over 100 million people being killed – by Communism and Nazi-ism within this past century: China, Soviet Union, North Korea, Cambodia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Nazi Europe. These human beings were killed, not in battle or by faith-based hatreds (“if your god is not my god, then you must die”), but from an ideology that denied “faith” itself (“There is no god, only man is the judge of right and wrong!”). With “political correctness” holding sway, it is religion itself that is targeted.
The history of humankind is a history of killing, not for food as in the animal kingdom, but to increase power, dominance of peoples and for land-mass acquisition. Today, of the world religions, all but one seem to have grown beyond desires to kill or compel conversions of other faiths, only the Muslim religion seems to still justify the sacrifice of not only their own lives but also those of their own children, in order to deny others a desired worship of their own gods.
Clearly, man’s warlike nature is not curbed by devotion to a divinity. But the record shows that governance and morality considerations – which if not restrained by considerations superior to human authority – seems to lead to rationalizations for abuses with much more extreme end-results. Human nature, absent the moral and ethical compass of religion and with authority without limitation, seems to the inevitable justification of the ultimate in extremism, rationalizing away impediments to increasing authority and acquisition – mass murder without conscience.