The Cause of Religious Persecutions

A cousin of mine and I were discussing religion. I take spirituality seriously and told him that all religious traditions have produced enlightened mystics. “By their fruits shall you know them”, as the Bible says. My cousin countered by pointing out that there have been many wars fought over religion and millions of innocent people persecuted and killed as well.

In my opinion that is not the fault of religion or at least it is not the fault of the saints and mystics who inspired those religion. People have been persecuted by the Nazis (in Germany) and in the erstwhile Soviet Union and China as well. These persecutions were not inspired by any of the traditional faiths.

The fault lies not in what is believed but in the way the opinions are held.

I learned this concept from the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. I’ll let him or rather his quotes take over:

“The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately”

“If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If someone maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.”

“I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”

“The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.”

“One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.”

“If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.”

“Dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; it requires persecution of heretics and hostility to unbelievers; it asks of its disciples that they should inhibit natural kindliness in favour of systematic hatred.”

“When there are rational grounds for an opinion, people are content to set them forth and wait for them to operate. In such cases, people do not hold their opinions with passion; they hold them calmly, and set forth their reasons quietly. The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”

“Opinions that justify cruelty are by cruel impulses.”

“Thought is not “free” when legal penalties are incurred by the holding or not holding of certain opinions, or by giving expression to one’s belief or lack of belief on certain matters… … It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living.”

“I am not myself in any degree ashamed of having changed my opinions.”

Something of the hermit’s temper is an essential element in many forms of excellence, since it enables men to resist the lure of popularity, to pursue important work in spite of general indifference or hostility, and arrive at opinions which are opposed to prevalent errors.”

(Sourced from –  https://www.azquotes.com/author/12791-Bertrand_Russell/tag/opinion )

When I was young, I was a big fan of Bertrand Russell and now having gone through these quotes I can understand and remember why. I find him witty, entertaining and inspiring.

Back to the discussion about opinions:

I would like to make the following points:

  1. First is that nonattachment to concepts is taught in Buddhism and very likely Hinduism as well.
  2. About religious persecutions: Russell in his writings has given the example of some people who were die hard Nazis. Following the defeat of Germany in WW-II these same people took to believing in Communism which was a diametrically opposed doctrine. Both Germany and the Soviet Union have a track record of persecuting non-believers. The only thing common to both doctrines was the way the opinions were held.
  3. Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, explains the psychological causes of opinions being held in extreme ways. We identify with the mind and the concepts we hold passionately. This identification gives rise to the ego and any attack on your cherished concepts is perceived as an attack on the ego. Ultimately it is the fear of death in the believers that causes these extreme reactions.
  4. Since almost all people in the world are not philosophers and are identified with the ego it is to be expected that people in Politics will encourage and use the extreme views held by the majority for their own purposes. This is what is happening in India with both the Hindus and Muslims.

I’ll end here. Please explore this site for more articles on Spirituality, Self Help and Politics and also comment on what you read. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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