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Religion can become psychosis

Posted: November 14, 2009 1:34 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Hillel the Elder, the first-century BCE rabbi, summed up the legal and ethical foundation of Judaism with the command, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." Luke 6:31 preaches: "Treat others as you want them to treat you." The Koran instructs: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."

But "others," "neighbor" and "brother" have a parochial meaning that, history has shown, signifies "those of our own kind - us, not them."

This paradox was astutely dissected in 2007 by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour in "God's Warriors: The Clash Between Piety and Politics." The award-winning documentary offers a disturbing rendering of the three major religions' penchant for violence in the service of deity. It also lays bare their unceasing effort to manipulate civil society through indoctrination, intimidation, civil disobedience and, all else failing, bloodshed.

Carried to its extremes, God's Warriors shows, religion is a dangerous eccentricity that will render men insane.

Only religious delirium could inspire a Muslim to plot the "honor killing" of his own daughter, to bomb a disco filled with Jewish youths or to crash airplanes into buildings.

Only mystical rapture will prompt a self-styled Christian to murder doctors performing legal abortions.

Only a Jewish zealot could violate the Torah, slaughter Muslims gathered in prayer in their mosque, torch cars on the Sabbath or assault members of a peaceful Gay Pride parade and threaten "violence" if the Jerusalem police chief allowed the pageant to proceed.

What God's Warriors did not say is that the unspeakable is often preceded by the deceptive stillness of complacency.

So on Nov. 5, a lone gunman opened fire in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people and wounding 10 others. The gunman, U.S.-born Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, had appeared on the radar of federal authorities at least six months before the deadly assault.

Internet postings by Hasan spoke of his frustration with the military establishment, his opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and hinted at his deepening devotion to Islam.

He likened suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save their comrades and sacrifice their lives for a "more noble cause."

He declared that Muslims must stand up and fight against the "aggressor." The aggressor, it turned out, is the U.S., not the insurgency that rose in response to U.S. military action.

Then he boasted: "I'm a Muslim first and an American second." Abstraction turned to paranoia when he asked "whether the war on terror is a war against Islam."

None of these tell-tale warning signs elicited more than passing curiosity. No one had the imagination or instinct to decipher the clues Hasan left behind. He was in the throes of a gripping spiritual dilemma but no one had the courage to acknowledge that
religion can transform men into crucibles of hatred, societies into citadels of bigotry.

By viewing "heretics" as tools of Satan, religious fanatics seize the rhetorical high ground and shift the focus from embracing one's fellow man to the escapist option of eradicating an imaginary but prescriptive source of evil.

This catch-22 was the preeminent rationale for a succession of horrific bloodbaths: the Crusades, the St. Bartholomew massacre, the "Holy" Inquisition, the 30 Years War, the centuries-old strife in Northern Ireland, the Armenian and Jewish holocausts, the Hindu-Moslem-Sikh massacres in India and Kashmir and the cyclic carnage between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

What remains unsaid at this writing is that Hasan's dastardly act was the predictable result of religion carried to its aberrant extreme; that history is peppered with gruesome instances of bestiality perpetrated for the glory of God. Somehow, no one dares qualify the Fort Hood incident, this latest manifestation of insanity, as being the offspring of religious intolerance and fanaticism.

What is tragic about Hasan, a psychiatrist, is that he was unable to diagnose, let alone forestall, his own long-simmering psychosis.
Shamefully, despite glaring evidence of his conflicted loyalties, no one around him, not the military, not his fellow physicians, not his neighbors had the presence of mind to sound the alarm.

Engaged in inane conjectures, Americans are now wringing their hands yet again asking "Why" instead of pointing fingers at the real culprit: A love of God so intense and so all-consuming it can inspire the slaughter of God's own "creation."

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist who has covered politics, the military, human rights and assorted socio-economic issues. He lives in Rosamond. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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