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No solution

April 4th, 2003

In an age where the president of America thinks he was chosen by God to defend freedom and an untold number of people are willing to strap dynamite to themselves and kill in the name of the same God, I think it is safe to say that terrorism is not the biggest (or worst) problem facing the world today — that honor goes to all religion’s extremist followers. Be they Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Hindi or followers of any religion, violence in the guise of faith is growing around the world.

Telling people that their faith is more or less violent than someone else’s is pointless as ALL faiths have followers who cloak their hate and aggression in prayer and penitence. No religion can claim to be free of such people, Christianity has it’s Catholic and Protestant para-militarist in Ireland — as well as it’s crusades, Islam has it’s many well documented extremist, Hindu’s are not so innocent either, even Tibetan Buddhist have had blood on their hands in the past. Religion does not fix the problem it only focuses it against people of ‘other’ faiths, and then blesses it.

The best solutions I have come across in my life are from Peter Singer and his camp — grounded in Utilitarian beliefs and in the ideas of Secular Humanism. The radical and extreme utility which Singer writes about arouses harsh, and loud, criticism from many religious camps (and quite a few others!) but secular humanism is an idea which has been mostly quiet. The biggest proponent of I which I have encountered is Salman Rushdie, a man with some experience dealing with religious extremism.

Rushdie is described by Michelle Goldberg, in this article [salon.com], as:

… A defender of an idea even less fashionable, at the moment, than moral relativism — secular humanism. It’s a cause some of our best thinkers, such as Hitchens and Martin Amis, are increasingly taking up. Though hardly politically expedient, the fight against religion’s tyranny makes intellectual and emotional sense right now. It could even replace the struggle against first-world imperialism as the organizing principle of radical thought, encompassing as it does the fight against the lunatics of al-Qaida, the butchers in Gujarat, the hard-line settlers in the West Bank, the rapists in the Catholic Church, the bombers of abortion clinics and, of course, our own attorney general.

That article was the fist time I had heard it called secular humanism, but the ideas permeate Rushdie’s none fiction writings — especially Step Across this Line. Googling on ‘Secular Humanism’ brings up the Council for Secular Humanism who define their idea this way:

  • A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

Sounds like a good idea… problem is, the rest of the web page for the Council on Secular Humanism reads more like a religion, and has a anti-faith ring to it. Now I consider myself an athiest– mostly I could not care less if there is or is not a god out there, whether is it only one God or many gods. I am here and I value my life, my relationships (with people of many faiths,) and I understand that by doing things to help those around me and those with bigger problems than mine, I can make my world a better place — an inherently selfish idea. If there is/are a/some higher authorit(y|ies) than pure chance and my life does not get me into a good position for any possible afterlife then I guess I am screwed… C’est la vie. I just don’t believe it. I don’t buy into Pascal’s Wager [wikipedia.org].

Anyway, in the end the only real use of any of this would be if all people value others lives, accept others religious beliefs, and learn to take responsibility for their own actions and situations — stop blaming them on fate, others faith, your ancestors, my ancestors or anyone else and fix what you can and accept what you can’t.

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