By: Steve Cook
I got this picture in my head the other day of a street with a Catholic church on it. Next to the Catholic church was a Mosque. Right there in the same street was a HinduTemple, a Sikh temple, a Buddhist meditation centre, a ProtestantChurch, a Mormon temple, a Christian Science reading room and a scientific research centre.
People came and went all day from these religious centres and the scientific research centre. The Christians prayed to their God, the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs prayed to theirs, the Buddhists mediated and the scientific researchers went diligently about seeking their answers for why the universe is here and what we are supposed to do in and with it.
All these people passed one another peacefully in the street as they came and went, exchanged pleasantries and frequented the coffee shop on the corner where they passed the time of day with one another, and exchanged ideas about their view of the world – or not if they were of a mind just to sit quietly, watch their children play and enjoy the coffee.
Each man had his own belief about the nature of the universe and his role in it and each granted the other the right to his own view even whilst sincerely convinced the other man’s view was in error. Many, resolved to do what they considered their duty, sought to engage others in discussion about their beliefs, where those others were willing to be engaged. Yet all recognized the right of every individual not to be engaged in debate if he did not want to and the right of each fellow human being to make up his own mind, come to his own conclusions and live by his decisions.
What was noticeable about this street was that nobody was burning the other guy at the stake, shooting the other guy or blowing up his neighborhood so as to convince him of the heinousness of his folly in believing differently.
This of course was an idealistic daydream – my own personal ideal of how I would like the world to be – but it occurred to me that in a world of sane and reasonable men willing to get along with their fellows there is absolutely no reason why a street like this could not exist. Sane men, left alone, will instinctively and naturally lean towards this kind of existence. Indeed, it has been my privilege to know people from virtually all the persuasions I mentioned above and a few more besides. And virtually all of them, regardless of religion or lack thereof, were perfectly willing to get along with the other fellow and allow him the right to make up his own mind. Not one was a terrorist, crusader, jihadist, or burner of heretics.
I think you would also find that this broad agreement to leave the other guy alone and recognize his right to his own beliefs (and, as Buddha said, to “seek out his own salvation with diligence”) also protects each individual and brings about a safe environment for all. It makes each man safe to go about his religious (or non-religious) practice – and even to change his mind and adopt some other belief system if he so chooses.
Man is NOT insane, his defamers and detractors to the contrary. Most men are capable of reason. But a small minority is less than sane and it is they who instill turmoil into the human community. And the turmoil can become so intense, the environment of human interrelations so turbulent that after a while sane men can start to feel less than sane.
Men are in the majority inherently capable and desirous of reason. The capacity to reason is man’s greatest survival asset. But one way to nullify the reasoning process and thus inhibit survival potential is to corrupt the data upon which the reasoning process is based, to enter, in other words, lies and falsehoods.
Okay, so THEORETICALLY, there is no reason why one could not have a street like the one I imagined. If all men conducted themselves like this, we would all be safe even in a street with all the religions under the sun packed into it side-by-side. One may not necessarily agree with all the other belief systems, one may consider them folly, one may wish that everyone thought the same as oneself but one recognizes that uniformity of belief isn’t going to happen any time soon, that you cannot MAKE someone believe something he simply doesn’t believe, that trying to FORCE someone into a belief system is a sure way to wreck harmony and make everyone unsafe and miserable – and that underlying that is a natural law: that man in affinity with man, survives.
It is my own belief that reasonable men – the majority – would find such a culture a tolerable one. I think they would soon realize that all these disparate groups have common ground in their humanity, in the natural kinship of man with man, in their co-membership of the larger group called Mankind and that it is desirable and even entirely possible for all such groups to co-exist, provided they have sane men of good will at their helm. They CAN find and work together towards the common purpose of creating a safe and prosperous environment for all of us.
So, why don’t we have streets or neighborhoods like this? What gets in the way of this? It does not happen because it is PREVENTED.
Well, take all of these groups in this ideal world of my dreams. They are all getting along just fine and managing to go about their business without chopping one another up and thereby lowering the survival potential of everyone.
What prevents this happening is the presence in one of more of these groups of men who are less than sane. Being less than sane they decide it would be a jolly fine idea if the group they have infiltrated starts giving the other groups a hard time, that perhaps the other groups should be persecuted for their beliefs, berated, bullied burned or bombed into changing their minds. If such criminally-minded persons manage to worm their way into a position of influence over their group, they can dictate its policies or alter or “interpret” its basic scriptures to suit their own ends (wealth, power, or simply the hidden terror of others that drives some men to seek to cow and dismay their fellows). When that happens, that group and all the other groups with which it interacts become to that degree unsafe.
It is quite noticeable that many religious groups that resort to hacking to bits the members of other religious groups and their children, exhorted to do so by men of ill intent now wearing the robes of high priests, have to depart wildly from the original teachings of their founders. “Thou shalt not commit murder” becomes “thou shalt burn heretics or infidels” or “love they neighbor” becomes “love they neighbor unless we can think of a reason to blow up his town”. These are wild and egregious departures in many cases. Even science and materialism which began as an effort to build a civilization based on reason gets prostituted into building atom bombs, napalm, germ warfare and other weapons of unreason that wreck civilizations.
The peaceful street, then, becomes less peaceful and – to cut a long story short – upsets and insecurities, resentments and hatreds begin to set in. This becomes all the more so when men of less than benign disposition towards their fellows begin to influence all the other groups as well. And insane men will resist all efforts of sane men to re-establish the sovereignty of reason and the co-existence of men of good will under the protection of just laws applied without fear or favor. Men who advocate reason and the simple idea that maybe we should all stop messing one another about and allow one another to BE just a little bit will be defamed, slandered, locked up, persecuted or killed and other sane men, perhaps less courageous, who think that maybe the more vociferous ones have a point, too often keep silent and do not help. But by keeping silent they guarantee that in the long run of things there will be neither peace nor security for themselves or their children.
There is another scenario to all this: enter men of less than benign disposition who belong to none of these groups. For reasons of wealth, power or the desire to cow good people, they are perfectly happy to see the street torn apart and the groups in it at one another’s throats. To that end they will foster, encourage and succor the liars, criminals and merchants of hate who suborn the policies of the various groups and do everything they can to keep the conflict among groups going.
And if the men of good will who form the majority in all these groups continue to allow themselves to be suckered into perpetual war with one another, continue to be blinded to that fact that other men of good will are their potential allies in the joint quest for survival, the criminals will continue to win and the rest of us to suffer.
Welcome to Planet Earth.
Steve Cook is a writer and author of several books of fiction and non-fiction. His blog is at http://stevecookwriter.blogspot.co.uk.
His Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/stephencookwriter