The odd thing about us humans is that we actually do learn from history. But too often, what we learn are surface lessons. We consistently look to the past and see actions that went awry. We recognize errors and take steps to rectify the situation, and yet often fail to see the underlying factors involved. And thus, we doom ourselves to repeat history–not because we didn’t learn, but precisely because we did learn. We learned, patted ourselves on the back, and then assumed we had arrived. And in the end, all this does is build up an immunity to the real issues.
Take, for example, the hot topic of religion in Western nations. Let’s start with the public voice of modern atheists. To clarify, I mention the public voice, because the atheists I know aren’t the same, and I wouldn’t assume that the majority are either. But this public voice of the collective atheist grows louder and more vehement with each passing year. There’s ridicule, vitriol, and even threats to varying degrees–and the intensity grows almost daily. The ones they target are theists in general, with an emphasis on Christians. And many feel that they have good reason because of the oppression these atheists have felt at the hands of Christians in the U.S. over the last sixty years or so.
And they’re not wrong at having felt oppression. History tells me (and memory might serve some of you) that American Christians pushed hard against atheism in a number of forms. Americans felt that Christianity was a part of their way of life (for a vast majority, it was), and they felt threatened at anything seeking to oppose that way. So these people created committees and formed groups, all with the aim of ridding their land of these enemies, with the chief foe being communism. But this too was deemed reasonable at the time–a backlash against the explosion of communism and persecution of Christians in a number of nations across the globe in decades prior.
And they weren’t wrong in their view of persecution. A number of nations overthrown by communist governments in the first half of the twentieth century went on to persecute mounds of individuals for their religious beliefs. One of the more popular cases was that of the Soviet Union. They had an iron grip that slaughtered astonishing numbers of people for their faiths, many of which were Christians. And they too claimed a higher reasoning–the Russian Empire had been an oppressive one, with close ties to the church of their day, thus keeping people impoverished through the dual arms of government and religion.
And they too had an accurate view of the atrocities perpetrated not only in Russia, but throughout Europe. The Christian church held a tight grip on the people in conjunction with the royals of their day. They had a history of rooting out dissenters by means of imprisonment, torture, and brutal execution. Chief among their rivals were any who might pose a threat to their Christian belief system. And once again, they felt they were justified in this, considering that scores of Christians had died at the hands of those who believed differently, especially the Roman Empire.
And I could probably go on, but for lack of time to write and time to thoroughly study ancient history. And I imagine I could easily follow a number of other threads back in the same fashion, but Christian and Western history are more familiar subjects for me. Regardless, you could just as easily take the time to follow a thread yourself and see the same pattern unfolding. By identifying this pattern, I hope you can see my point.
I don’t believe much of a case can be made to state that religion (or even fundamentalist religion for that matter) has been the culprit in these situations. No, what seems to have occurred has been the result of a corrupt human nature. And that nature, in turn, has a habit of polluting everything it touches. And so those beliefs, or that government, or those people are where we focus our energy. And thus we keep the problem alive, but give it a new face. So the real problem here is humanity itself. But to follow the pattern of history, it would seem that our natural course of action would be to stamp out humanity. If we’re such a problem, after all, then why keep us around to spoil it for everyone else?
But therein lies the problem–we look to wipe out the troublemaker. We look to give a pill, force a law, or otherwise make the people do what’s right–at least according to our mass opinion at the time. But that only leads to more backlash, more misery. But we do have a way out of that cycle. We can break free if each of us makes a personal stand to commit each moment to a greater cause. This is the cause of humanity–to put aside the hatred, the intolerance, the vendettas. The cause of living free–truly free, where we aren’t looking to be rid of the yoke of others, but rather the yoke of our own nature. The nature that rebels against oppression, no matter how small. The nature that, once it tastes power, eventually turns us into them.