Thursday, 15 January 2015

What Does it Mean: To Hurt a Religious Feeling?

What is a religious feeling? 

Religious feelings can be e.g. the experience of being loved by God, joy about resurrection and forgiven guilt or the experience of the vastness of creation etc. These are experiences of inner liberation, which get connected to religious ideas. There can also be feelings of shame and guilt, fears of a revengeful or punishing God etc., described by the Austrian psychotherapist Erwin Ringel as "ecclesiogenic neuroses" (=neuroses created by the church). With a closer look, the so-called religious feelings are various expansive or restrictive feelings, which anyone can have, and which become religious, when they are associated with religious content. Only by adding the cognitive connotation, which ties the feeling to a religious context, any given feeling can be turned into a religious one.

What does it mean: To hurt a religious feeling?

By being mindless, we can easily hurt someone, and it is always a person, who is hurt, and not a feeling. By behaving in a certain way, we trigger a feeling of hurt in the other person. When talking about "hurting religious feelings", we actually talk about a person being hurt by us, e.g. when we blaspheme God. The other person does not feel respected in her faith. We can set this straight by descriminating between the object of faith, to which we can have our own attitude and opinion, and the faith of the person, which we have to respect. There is no need to share our critics in words that snub the other person (for by that we would disrespect and blaspheme the other person), but we can say that we have a right to have our opinion and viewpoint alike the other person and anyone else. And we trust the other person to have the maturity to endure differing opinions.

So the phrase "nobody should not hurt religious feelings" serves to camouflage the person behind a mysterious feeling. The person with the feeling does not have to justify or explain her way of feeling, but demands a right to being respected unconditionally, while sparing any effort of respecting the critical person. Instead, by putting out the absolute validity of their feeling, they superimpose it over anything else, be it the feelings of other persons or the reason. So they avoid to take responsibility for their feelings and to confront them with their thinking and reason.

Nietzsche, a ruthless persuer of any kind of hypocrisy, pointed out: "A kind of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and the likes of them: They have never made a matter of conscience of knowledge out of their experiences: 'What is it really I have experienced? At that time, what has happened in me and around me? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will directed against any fraudulence of the senses and brave in the defense against fantasies?' None of them asked like that..." (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book 4)

Public Criticism and Blasphemy

Religious criticism or blasphemy shared in public is part of the freedom of opinion. Who feels hurt by that, should not blame the critic, but instead clarify for himself that his own faith cannot be harmed by what other people think or speak, and even less the object of the dispraise. By attacking the author of an unpleasant opinion personally instead of confronting him with his own opinion, transfers the argument to a personal level, where it does not belong. Public debates should not be personalized. Classical rhethoric has unveiled it as an unfair trick in debate to use an argumentum ad hominem (to argue against the person instead against the matter). This trick is used when one's own position on the matter seems to weak to win the debate.

By this, an unnecessary quarrel is unleashed, which indicates that an identification is in play: The person feeling hurt has identified himself with the religious content by unconsciously assuming e.g. "I am the God who is dispraised, so I am dispraised" or "I have to defend God against blasphemy". He acts as if this God would be in danger, although just his faith is threatened. So by attacking the offender he defends his faith against his own uncertainty. By silencing the critical person, he hopes to secure his faith.

As soon as someone reacts like that, it means that his faith has not passed the test, is too weak to stand up against the critical attack. A counter-attack is started, which is no longer about the content of the criticism but about the prohibition of questioning the faith of someone. Faith is considered as basically fragil and prone to misguidance, so it has to be protected against criticism at any cost. A strong faith would not need any protection as it can face any challenge. Even under the most severe violence, noone can be forced to relinquish his faith.

In some countries, religious feelings are protected by law. As argued above, religious feelings cannot be hurt, but only persons. To protect people from hurting their integrity by treating them disrespectfully is part of any democracy and civil society. So most countries protect their citizens against insult, defamation and verbal injury. This is enough to safeguard respectful and civilized behavior among the participants of the public debate. But to have a special category of "religious injury" is not comprehensible. After all, there is no special protection against hurting philosophical, esthetical or spiritual feelings, let alone economic, sportive, educational or political feelings. This special position of religion seems like a relict from predemocratic times of the enmeshment of state and church. 

Public criticism full of hatred and disrespect against whatever, is marginalizing itself. It does not need to be taken seriously let alone personally. What has to be considered is the emotional background fuelling the hatred, and this is what should be addressed by the public. Religious critisism full of hatred does not need to be fought because of hurting religious feelings, but because of the destructive impulses contained in hatred. Civil societies and democratic states have to condemn and control any form of hatred and have to protect people from actions driven by destructive emotions. Intolerance from whatever side has to be replaced by tolerance in a society based on the integrity of all citizens and their feelings.

What does it mean: Insulting a religion?

Religions are not persons, so they cannot be insulted. In some countries, they are legal personalities and can defend themselves against unfair or disrespectful treatment. Whoever feels insulted as a member or supporter of a religion, when there is disrespectful criticism against the own religion, is identified with his religion. In the sense of all religions, this is a sacrilege, religious megalomania. The religiously hurt person sins against his own religion. Noone is allowed to identify with his religion.

This is why e.g. Jesus was sentenced to death by the jews. By claiming to be God he violated basic rules of the Hebrew religious laws. No man is allowed to identify himself with God. In the Muslimic world, not even images of Allah are made as he is so far from any human imagination. So it is a sin to compare, let alone identify oneself with Allah. So anyone who feels insulted because of an insult of a part or the whole of one's own religion has already committed a sin in terms of his own religion.

When someone dispraises all members of a religion, e.g. all jews by spreading antisemitic slogans, then a single jew can feel insulted only when he claims to represent all jews. This is arrogant as well. By using communicative reason it is immediately clear that the dispraise is based on missing reasonable thinking. "All jews" cannot have the exactly same attributes   So the offender has made a meaningless statement that cannot affect anyone personally and that has not to be taken seriously.

Yet, the intention has to be taken seriously, as unreasonable statements are driven by aggressive emotions. As aggressive statements (based on aggressive thoughts based on humiliating experiences) can lead to aggressive actions, such statement have to meet objection.When someone is complaining about his "religious feelings" being violated, it is about the violation of an inflated ego, which is in the worst case identified with a God, a religion or the members of a religion. Tragically people with this form of religious megalomania want to set especially "great deeds" by killing as many other people as possible. It is just about confirming the exorbitance of their ego. Before even setting off to their action, they have already sinned against their religion.

In some countries, where religion acts as basic ideology of the state, any criticism of religion is prosecuted as it threatens the fundaments of the regime. The common term of the crime is insult of religion. As pointed out above, religions cannot be insulted as they are not persons. So this "crime" is used arbitrarily to punish enemies of the ruling regime. 

Some examples: Saudi-Arabia: Blogger Raif Badawi who fights for equal rights of different religions, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. Egypt:
Student Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Bann, who declared himself as atheist, got three years in prison for "insulting the Islam". Turkey: Star pianist Fazil Say, who is atheist and critic of the government, got a suspended sentence of 10 months "for violating the religious values of a part of the people."

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Is Terror Islamic?

Many people tend to get seduced to a fallacy. Terror attacks in Paris, massacres in North Nigeria, civil wars in Syria and Jemen, assaults in Irak, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and everywhere we see Muslims as violent perpredators. So is terror Islamic?

The other image: Among the victims of terror in Paris a Muslim, one among the hostages who saved some other people, among the helpers Muslims etc. Muslims are affected by terrorism (as victims or emotionally) and work against terrorism like non-Muslims. Terror is terror, and "religionization", linking terror with a religion, is another thing, which is promoted by parts of the society for different reasons. And it has to be seen critically and its validity has to be checked with scrutiny.

For even though criminals commit crimes in the name of religion ("God wants it" was the slogan cruisaders marked on their flags and shields), this is not linked directly with the respective religion. There is no religion with violence in the centre of its teaching. Religions mainly preach human love, caring for the underprivileged, turning away from greed and hatred etc.

In marginal areas, they also deal with questions on violence and discuss cases, in which violence might be justified. There is a distance to the centre of teaching with these questions, as the answers are often ambiguous. Should one always offer the other cheek after a slap on the one, as recommended by Jesus and practiced by Gandhi? Should one tolerate the suppression of one's own religion and massacring of its members? These are questions without univocal and obliging answers as compared to more general ones like loving our neighbours.

Religion and Nonviolence

When criminals commit crimes in the name of religion, this is an excuse not covered by any religion. There is no religion, which approves of or orders crimes. There are ambiguous statements in the scriptures (e.g. Jesus: "I came not to bring peace but to bring a sword"). To derive a justification for violent deeds, is a matter or personal responsibility and cannot be derived from a religion, which contains strong arguments for nonviolence.

On the contrary, the ideas about nonviolence come to the larger extend from the pool of religions. Many enunciators of nonviolence have based their insights on religion. There is a certain logic to that: Over time, only movements can survive, which have chosen nonviolence as central value. Movements with violence as central value perish sooner or later by what they practice, like the crusades in the Middle Ages.

The Educational Societies and Prejudices

Even though, due to the events more knowledge about Islam flows into the public discourse, prejudices grow on the other hand. Those with little information about Islam may have gained more knowledge inbetween, as there is an educated discussion on Islam, its teachings and the role of violence (jihad) in this context. Those who did not know anything or hardly anything, may have adopted new prejudices offered in big numbers and with increasing publicity. This is the background of the increase of islamophobia, which interestingly does not correspond with the percentage of Muslims in society (it is comparably lower in France with the highest number of Muslims), but is stronger where there are less Muslims (e.g. in Eastern Germany).

It is difficult to understand when humans inflict violence on others. So grasping prejudices is a comfortable possibility to cope with it. We fixate a hostile group, and we feel safer (the enemy is visible) and simultanuously less safer (the enemy is visible). By fixating the enemy stereotype, we fixate our group on hostility. This again provides us with more safety - there are more of us with the same perception, and more unsafety, as the threat has become a part of our identity. This is the achievement of movements like Pegida in Germany or the Austrian Freedom Party. They affirm themselves in their fear-based prejudices and force their supporters to stand together as the only means to fight the imaginary menace.

Similar mechanisms lead to build up terror groups. We can observe similar dynamics, as they are fuelled by similar fears, only the direction is opposed. This is how the fear market is portioned.

We could formulate a nice conspiracy theory: IS and Al Qeida secretly cooperate with the islamophobic rightwing groups in Western countries towards seizing power  - the first in the Muslimic states, the others in the Christian countries. Islamophobics need jihadistic acts of violence to be successful by attracting enough supportes for eventually taking over the positions of power. Jihadists need islamophobics to recruit more frustrated souls with death wish, to collect funds and to justify their atrocities (which over and over again victimize a large number of Muslims) - an alliance which does not and never will exist in reality. But the virtual experiment shows the similarity in goals and means on two opposite ends of a spectrum. (When one thinks historically, he might be reminded of the alliance between Hitler and Stalin of 1939, two extremely hatefilled and powergreedy dictators who overcame their mutual hatred, mistrust and contempt for the sake of expanding their power.) 

Strengthening the Middle of Society

A civil society interested in broadening democracy and tolerance has to pay attention to the following tendency. The extremist edges of the spectrum of tolerance should not be upvalued, neither by media nor by argument. As long as the extremists are tiny compared to the large number of people in the center, not only in "Western", but increasingly in all societies, which open up to more education and distribution of information, they can only cause marginal damage. Even though every assassinated person is too much and is remorsed, it is not possible to overturn a society as such or to take total control of it  by targeted or random acts of violence. 

Even the almost 3000 victims of 9/11 did not cause the US-society to become more islamic or more friendly towards Islam, probably the contrary happened. The negative effects of the assault can be found on the level of the policy ruling at that time, which contracted in a kind of bunker mentality and drifted towards the edge instead of strengthening and expanding the middle of society. The massive militarization of the terror issue by the Bush-administration lead to several wars with hunderts of thousands of victims and the ruin of several states in the Middle East. It also caused the empowerment of the other edge with the result of terroristic activities around the world, but mainly in the regions it came from.

A Risk Society

The latest assaults have shown again, what came to awareness since 9/11. There is no state that is safe from terror and no state that can be made safe. It is impossible to perfectly safeguard society from the craziness and determined destructivity of single persons and small groups. It is impossible to place an anti-terror squad in front of every shop or editorial departement. There will be attacks with people wounded and killed, and probably we are among them. At the same time the strong and broad civil society will prevail, in case it does not allow to be taken over by an edge, taken hostage by an extreme minority. Instead, it grows by keeping up the values, for which generations behind us have fought, with courage and clarity . 

The answer to the increasing feeling of unsafety and riks should not be to move more to the edge and find shelter in prejudices, defamation and outlawing, but in strengthening and expanding the middle. This means to manage complexity instead of simplification. Education and reflection and the free practice of the arts are the authorities, which should play a leading role in the public exchange of opinions so that reason based on humanity can continue to grow till the extremes lose their attraction.

Preventing Violence

The psychogram of terrorists does not vary much. They are mostly personalities with a story of failure, emotional lability and aggressivity and when infected by an ideology, they can become ready for using violence. Usually they are weakly educated in religion and conditioned by their cultural background. Very likely they are traumatized from their own lives and epigenetically by the fate of their anchestors.

Preventing violence requires integration. Every form of exclusion causes more aggressivity as exclusion is aggressive in itself. Integration requires a reduction of fear in the center of society. Their members have to offer an attitude free from fear and prejudices towards those coming in from the periphery. By this, the newcomers can reduce their fears and thus relieve their tendency to aggression.

The Ability of Differentiation

It is a trademark of an enlightened democratic and tolerant society to be able to differentiate. Generalizations, templates and clich├ęs producing prejudices have to be checked again and again. Differentiation means discernment: What is single and what is more general. Which connection is real, and which is fantasy. Many assaults and acts of terror are committed by persons claiming to be Muslims. Many other assaults do not have this background. In cases with this connection, it has to be named and taken into consideration and evaluation, by Muslims and non-Muslims. At the same time, we have to be aware of the fact that compared to 1.8 billions of Muslims in the world, the number of those committing violent crimes is minimal.

Working on one's own ability of differentiation is connected with ongoing education and reflection and requires the reduction of inner fears. Violence is a very simple and short-sighted way of securing one's interests and power. So every step in inner growth, cognitively as well as emotionally, is connected with creating distance to any willingness of using violence and to open up the horizone necessary for the expansion of a rather welcoming than excluding society.

(PS. the term "risk society" was coined by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who died on Jan 1, 2015)