Hillary Branyik, of Boston, kneels at the site where the first bomb detonated on April 15 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, on Wednesday, April 24. Traffic was allowed to flow all the way down Boylston Street on Wednesday morning for the first time since the bombing. (photo credit: AP/Michael Dwyer)
GUEST VOICES | Was it religion that drove the Tsarnaev brothers, suspecting of killing and maiming hundreds of people on a beautiful spring day in Boston? No. It was a sick form of religion that had mutated into a murderous mockery of true religion.
We can’t say that religion itself motivated the murder and maiming because there are far more religious people who do not commit terrorist outrages. Conversely, there are many non-religious people who have been guilty of genocide, terror, tyranny and torture. Religion, therefore, is not the cause.
The cause of such horrible events is not religion, but religion twisted into ideology, and by ideology I mean that particular form of human behavior which begins with self-righteous absolutism and ends in violence.
Self-righteous absolutism is the conviction of the ideologue that his beliefs and code of behavior are not only right, but everyone else’s are wrong. From this self-righteous absolutism grows the airtight belief that the world would be a better place if everyone else held the ideologue’s beliefs and observed his code of conduct. When this conviction is taken to the next stage, everyone else needs to be forced to hold those beliefs and behaviors. The next dangerous phase is when those who refuse to embrace the beliefs and behaviors are regarded as “the enemy.” The final stage of the sickness is when the ideologue decides that the enemy needs to be destroyed.
The dynamic of this sickness is clearly not limited to Muslim extremists. Virtually all religions have their fanatical fringe where the sick progression from dogmatism to some form of violence takes place. Furthermore, history shows that it is just as possible for followers of a philosophical, economic, or political belief system to begin with self-righteous absolutism and end in violence. Religious fanatics from many faiths have tortured and killed to enforce their beliefs, but so have atheistic dictators and devotees of quasi-religious nationalistic regimes like Nazism. The problem therefore, is not religion, but any form of self-righteous absolutism.
It would seem that the religious self-righteous absolutist would have the edge on the political or economic ideologue because he professes to have God on his side. However, one only needs to consider the genocidal impulses of atheistic tyrants to remember that having divine approval for one’s ideology does not necessarily ensure a higher body count.
The common sense solution to the problem might seem to be the sort of kindly, secular tolerance one sees exhibited in the “Coexist” bumper stickers. “Can’t we all just get along?” That’s certainly okay as far as it goes, but it is hardly a robust enough response in the face of fanaticism and terror. The reason tolerance on its own is not sufficient is that it is a bland and passive response.
In addition to tolerance, a positive and proactive course needs to be taken. A false and twisted religion is not countered by mere tolerance. It is countered by a true, positive and life giving religion, and the more people who take responsibility to find and practice a true, positive and life giving religion, the more the world will be freed from the twisted and deformed ideologies that maim and murder innocent people on a spring afternoon.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC. Browse his books, visit his blog and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com