Members of a breakaway Amish group in Ohio are on trial for beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in a feud over church discipline.
The legal defense of 16 Amish people accused of hate crimes and conspiracy in Ohio has asserted that, far from a hate crime, the forcible cutting of the beards and hair of fellow Amish constitutes a love crime.
The accused Amish, goes the defense, acted out of compassion for the spiritual well-being of their brothers and sisters. The accused was merely urging their brethren to repentance and a purer life by holding them down and chopping at their faces with shears.
Hence, religion, here, is the culprit. Because these Amish defendants have accepted certain religious tenets as rote, they have been able to justify what seems to be outrageous behavior as “defending the faith.”
The crimes of which they are accused are not evidence of an extreme perversion of religion, but are actually the expression of particularly fervent religion. Where some Amish might have shown minimal love for their neighbors only by telling them to stop being bad or by shunning them, the defendants in this case showed only greater, more fervent love for their neighbors’ well-being by inflicting pain and humiliation on them.
Basic religious principles, ultimately and inevitably, produce violence.
Violent assault, as the accused demonstrate, is merely de rigueur for religion, a common utility like praying and saying gesundheit, and what we’ve taken to calling “extremists” are, really, only the exemplary examples of religious faith. Faith posits an eternal hell for the wicked. When, therefore, my neighbor acts wickedly, it is my Christian duty to chain him to an elm tree and shave his head. It’s for his own good.
“Religious extremism”, that is, is redundant, as the new atheists point out. Everyone who is religious is an extremist. Because religion is always based on unfalsifiable claims, its ethics always facilitate the grossest of crimes.
Those of us who can see that so-called extremists are only especially devout believers find the Amish defendants’ legal defense encouraging for its admission that religion is at the root of all evil. The defense, if successful, could turn us decisively towards recognizing that we have been too eager to protect the religious of society by setting apart “extremists” as though they were different in degree and quality from normal religious people who wouldn’t think to scowl at their neighbors, let alone chase them down with hedge loppers; while, in reality, the violently religious are only carrying out the logical demands of religion’s unfalsifiable premises.
Like Timothy McVeigh, for instance. He wasn’t an extremist, but only a very devout American. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was not the act of someone who had rejected American ideals. The killing of 168 people did not come from a distinct break between McVeigh and the commonly-held values of American society. This act of terrorism was the reasonable, logical end of fervent reasoning from the unfalsifiable proposition that certain human rights are unalienable. If you try to build an ethical system from something so unprovable, you’re bound to end up with some explosions.
A Swiss court gave Roger Andermatt a life sentence for murdering more than 20 people. The Swiss court, apparently, did not accept Andermatt’s legal defense that, as a medical professional, he was administering mercy killings. But, surely, Andermatt was not a violent sociopath, but an especially dedicated nurse. His crimes affirmed what everyone has suspected: giving someone an intentional overdose of tranquilizers is only devout doctoring.
And consider Pol Pot. Not an extremist. Just a very devout Marxist. Just as a religious fanatic is never divorced from the irrational foundations of religion, so Pot’s reign of death in Cambodia only shows us how fundamentally irrational are the foundations of Marxism, and how Marxist ideology will inevitably lead to the horrific deaths of two million people everywhere it is implemented.
Idi Amin? Devout nationalist. The unfalsifiable notion that such things as “nations” and “peoples” exist will inevitably produce an “economic war”.
Amish leader Samuel Mullet, Sr., and his co-defendants will have their day in court. In the meantime, they have helped cast para-legal judgment on religion. And thank goodness they have. We’ve labored for too long under the delusion that we can dismiss the alarming appropriation of religious ideology for exploitative and destructive purposes as the exception to the rule. What we call “extreme” is only the natural, inevitable consequence of delusion.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Not extreme. Only especially devout oil extraction.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter at @fatsodoctor