Paul Von Ward Adds to David Brooks' New York Times 11/10/09 Op-Ed
(David and I share the sense of horror of last week's, Ft. Hood killings of 13 people by a U.S. Army soldier of the Islamic faith. Tragedies of this kind wrench the souls of practically all humans, regardless of faith, or not. We both seek to understand the cause of such psychological distortions that result in a member of our species slaughtering his own kind.)
David's article below is well written, but lacks the historical depth necessary to understand the psychological power of extreme interpretations of the egocentric "narratives" of supernatural religions. History has demonstrated that all world religions have at one time or the other sanctioned "divinely guided" killings. Unfortunately, the "war on the infidel" theme now significantly (but by no means universally) present in Islam is not unlike "death-to-non-believer" themes characterizing Judaism and Christianity at different periods in their history.
Given the tit-for-tat nature of human emotions, the Judeo-Christian cultures now experience the victim side of their own "we-are God's-chosen" genocide campaigns in the past. This tradition started with YHVH's first charge to the Israelites to slaughter those who stood in the way of their claim to Canaan en route from Egypt. Christian Europeans decimated large populations of lesser developed societies in their push to "civilize" the world.
We only have to look at the history of the colonization of the Americas, Africa, and other fragments of the globe to refresh our memories. Every world power to date has been built on the zeal of cults animating "true believers" in their gods who preclude the other person's right to worship another god or pristine ideal. Tragically, sub-groups in all three religions still share that "we are the right - to the death" psychology.
David's use of the word "story" unfortunately diminishes the deep and powerful forces that are unleashed by all three supernatural worldviews. Each of the Abrahamic religions is founded on the fanciful assumption that it is the "select" or "chosen" group among all humans by The One True God, who happens to be as each group's members define him. These deep-seated belief systems are not subject to easy, rational changes of mind. It is almost impossible, particular when reinforced by authority figures, to admit that your faith may have a false premise.
David is correct in that humans at some level of development can revise their story or cultural narrative, but most people cannot modify their core worldview (the assumptions that control how we select and interpret external reality) without great help. If we ignore the long history of psychological conditioning by all supernatural religions, we will continue to treat the symptoms of "divine killings" as an unexplained "evil" or "doing God's will," depending on which side you're on.
Unfortunately, in today's struggle between religious cultures, few above-the-fray institutions exist that offer natural and more realistic insights into non-physical realms that can diminish the power of the psychology generated by we-have-the-only-truth religions. While each religion has over time moderated its zeal to kill all the heathen if they don't convert, all still hang onto their notion of being "divinely" right.
Only when all cultures rid themselves of the notion of being God's chosen can we negotiate as humans to humans on how to live as equal beings in peace on this planet.
OP-ED COLUMNIST The Rush to Therapy By DAVID BROOKS Published: November 9, 2009
We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.
But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.
Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.
The stories we select help us, in turn, to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore other things. They lead us to see certain things as sacred and other things as disgusting. They are the frameworks that shape our desires and goals. So while story selection may seem vague and intellectual, it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.
Most people select stories that lead toward cooperation and goodness. But over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.
That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.
This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.
When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.
So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.
Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own. A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.
There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors. This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.
Worse, it absolved Hasan — before the real evidence was in — of his responsibility. He didn’t have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.
The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.
It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.