December 2015: When Does a Belief System Become Toxic?

December 2015 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

When Does a Belief System Become Toxic?

Monday, December 21, 2015
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

After the Paris attacks and other atrocities of ISIL, can we conclude that religion fuels hatred? Or do such acts of violence stem from something else? What about other belief systems such as communism which have led to death camps and mass executions? Does “My country, right or wrong” give a license to kill citizens of all other nations? Does even science in the guise of eugenics and social Darwinism have the capacity to punish the “unfit” or unfortunate? Do our beliefs or possibly just being human endanger us?

Atrocities such as beheading captives, turning women into sexual slaves, burning prisoners alive, and demolishing world heritage monuments appall those not sharing the religious vision which sanctions them. Is this the natural consequence of Islam and the Qur’an or a perversion of those teachings? When crusaders shouted “God wills it!” were they speaking truth? Did the Jesus who cautioned a woman’s accusers not to throw the first stone desire the Spanish Inquisition? When Muslims are killed by Hindus in India or Buddhists in Myanmar, is religion the problem? Were atheists Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens correct to blame religion for violence in the world? When do we know a line has been crossed?

Communism distains religion as the “opium of the masses” and strives for a utopian workers’ paradise. But haven’t the greatest mass murderers of the Twentieth Century been Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot? How can a quest for economic equality turn into the Gulag? Perhaps a revolution cannot be achieved without breaking eggs but are the killing fields necessary? Can we write off communism as actually a “religion” even with an atheist ideology? Or does this show all idealistic quests to transform the world contain possible evil when opposition, real or paranoid fantasy, is met?

Is patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel? Is American exceptionalism justification to meddle in other countries? Should we instead strive to be world citizens who see neighbors not foreigners? Is ethnic heritage a source of pride or a justification for exterminating the other? How could people who lived side by side in peace massacre each other in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda? Did German nationalism give us Hitler? Are nations and ethnicities just tribes writ large with no rationale beyond accidents of birth and fear of outsiders? Who ultimately is our brother or sister?

Science, reason, and mathematics are truth? Won’t the truth set us free? But scientists once claimed one race superior to others and measured skulls to prove it. Did the “feeble minded” sterilized by eugenicists appreciate Darwin’s theories? And what of their execution under the Nazis? For the sake of science in the Milgram experiment at Yale, test subjects were persuaded by men in white lab coats to administer to others what were believed to be substantial electrical shocks. In ancient Italy followers of mathematician Pythagoras in Croton massacred their more hedonistic neighbors in Sybaris for the greater good. Does thinking make us better people?

On December 21, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to discover where it all goes wrong. The agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality should have no bad side effects. For the non-toxic and maybe the rest, treats will be served!

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