Man is a sacred thing to man

In This Article

  1. (the setup): Florida pastor & the chain of responsibility
  2. Cells of a Body with a Singular Mind: is religion just an inert set of tenets, or is it a living thing?
  3. What Appear as Concentric Rings Are the Ribs of a Funnel: How can we let the fringes be what sets policy?

I’m not sure what to think about the Florida pastor’s burning of the Quran or the ensuing riots & murders in Afghanistan.  There are so many things to sort out, my own biases among them.  So, I’m just going to walk through them until something solidifies.

On one hand, maybe — and perhaps giving the pastor, Terry Jones, too much credit — he knew the Muslims would react this way to make his point about Islam not being a peaceful religion of love, in contrast to his own Christianity as a religion of love and peace., and its own book devoid of violence and bellicosity, like burning other people’s holy books.  (Bias showing)

On the other hand, he canceled his previous plans after “pleas from the defense community,” so he knew there would be repercussions that would affect US efforts abroad.  In this way, he grants the underlying causal reasoning:

Gates called Jones between 4 and 4:30 p.m. today, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, and “expressed his grave concerns that going forward with the Koran burning would put the lives of American service members at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he urged him not to proceed with the burning.” (, 9/9/10).

So does his recent action suggest that either:

  1. he does not care about efforts to stabilize volatile areas,
  2. he sees the efforts as useless so long as the volatility is based on belief in the Quran,
  3. he, like the whacko pastor (Fred Phelps), believes the US servicemen deserve to die for the sins tolerated in our country, or
  4. he is simply acting on his own self-righteousness, having tried, convicted, and executed (violence) the Quran based on his own extensive understanding of both the religion and world politics?

If you know that the consequences would be murderous, then doing the inciting act pretty much is acceptance of those consequences.  Isn’t doing something while knowing that the consequences will be evil the same as doing evil? (Ancient Hebrew definition of evil: causing harm and adversity.)

It seems to me that denying that he is responsible for the killings in Afghanistan is like politicians denying that their speech can incite violence while at the same time relying on the fact that words and similar symbolism have meaning that their audiences, if uncritical, absorb and act on.

“The only people responsible for murders are those who commit them, and those who specifically incite them to kill.” (Ed Morrissey on Hot Air).

Where does the chain of incitement end — how far until we dilute responsibility with the increasing distance between the incitement and the resulting actions? Morrissey goes on to say that

“Any other position eventually wipes out free speech, free religious practice, and freedom altogether.  If we held others responsible for the acts of every nutcase whose violent reactions may or may not have connections to something they did or said, we would have no speech at all…”

Or maybe we’d have civil, responsible speech.

But I post the remainder of his statement, not because it is cogent, but rather to point out the fallacy through which he means us to be persuaded (the Slippery Slope fallacy notwithstanding). “…the acts of every nutcase” weighs down the consideration of responsible speech with an extreme that no rational person would allow :  We’re not talking about “every nutcase.”  We’re talking about nutcases whose particular brand of violent reaction is directly attributable or relatable to intemperate, free speech.  We’re also presuming to know what “nutcase” means.  Is a nutcase only a nutcase if he acts on nutcase incitement?

In the same vein, we hear that only the people who commit the crimes are responsible (for their own actions).  I considered that argument before: Can You Advocate Violence and Not Mean It? But responsibility for one’s own actions is not a fundamental truth except in the direct-physical-relationship sense.  It’s only thought of that way to deny that antagonistic and inciting speech has any power when it’s convenient.

People’s minds compel their actions.  Minds are easily manipulated, especially by the willing who have surrendered their cognitive processes to an authority of some type.  And demagogues, politicians, pundits, religious leaders, etc., they already know this.  This is the basis of their power.  So denying that it exists can only be meant for the unaware or weak minded.

Relying on the tenet that we are all “responsible for our actions” utterly ignores or denies what the people propagating the tenet know to be true of both religion, language, and their affects on the masses.  If the affects weren’t real, they would be laughably wasting their breath trying to convince us their perspectives are right and how to react if you agree.

At the same time, I totally abhor the riots and especially the killings of innocent people.  It is, ultimately, humans killing humans.

Cells of a Body with a Singular Mind

I’m still torn on what to think.  Both this pastor and the Muslims are being directed by their beliefs.  So, I’m feeling like it boils down to one religion vs. another religion, where ‘religion’ is actually what is to blame.  But isn’t that like saying a gun is responsible for a murder, not the person who wields an otherwise inert object?

Is religion inert?

How an individual acts on his religion is a matter of interpretation. Religion as a concept is just a concept; but when it animates people, it becomes a force, and its leaders become directors.   Humans naturally organize themselves and operate within boundaries — or communities, if you will — of shared values and principles. So you have more than one individual acting in concert to a set of ideals which forms part of the cherished personal identity.  The group, by extension, carries that identity.

It is logical and consistent with the human way of thinking to consider a religion (the body of adherents) as a human culture unique enough to be identified as a singular personality with its own brand of interacting with the world (example: “Christian worldview”).  And if we consider the dogmas of a religion to be institutionalized, guiding principles, we can rationalize the principles as structuring & directing human thinking and consequent actions.  What we see as a “religion” is bigger than a set of tenets and dogmas.  It’s an animated philosophy with all the weaknesses and strengths of human nature.  Just as a body is made up of cells, so a religion is made up of adherents or believers.

A living religion is a living being.

It does not seem to be a stretch to blame a culture for the results of its constituents’ collective actions. In this way, a religion as a culture and way of thinking is responsible.

Can the singular person be understood apart from his culture?
(~William James?)

Whatever ‘religion’ is, it acts like a catalyst, magnifying glass, or pretext for creating enemies and acting out aggressions by confusing violence and oppression with carrying out God’s will for His reign on earth.  The citizenry of God or Abba or Allah defending and propagating His kingdom for the sake of everyone’s souls and God’s fragile honor, which demands so much violent retribution to restore and for us to look good in His sight.

The pastors or mullahs — whatever you want to call them — serve the principles and defend their station by calling for violence to maintain the belief system that maintains them.  How can we hold Jones harmless and condemn the mullahs?  The chain of incitement is pretty clear.

What Appear as Concentric Rings Are the Ribs of a Funnel

At this point, I think Jones and the mullahs and the followers of both and the religions that direct and animate their thoughts and actions are all murders.  Jones’ role is that of pulling the larger trigger, which ignites the powder, which propels the bullet, which tears through life and kills it.  One process upon another process in a chain of increasingly direct responsibility.

Rings of human personality are formed by the individual human, the collection of humans by affinity, and their self-serving institutions designed and built to be a larger unit of themselves, magnifying human foibles. Homo sacra res homini: Man is a sacred thing to man.  With that, it is any wonder we substitute or confuse our will for that of the Divine, the last rung in the chain of expanding rings?

So maybe it boils down to simple humanity.  We could point to the fringes of humanity and say that really, it’s the fringes — the extremists — that are walling us all in with their fire, intolerance, and resulting turmoil, urging all the while that if the rest of us would simply tow their line, then these problems would simply not exist.  Homogenization.

If the majority of humans are reasonable, tolerant, and intelligent (that’s a huge assumption considering that the majority do not have the luxury of thinking past subsistence), then how can they let the fringes be what sets policy?

Considering the improbability of the assumption, it is more likely that most humans are on an incline which drops to the fringes — some extreme or another — and that the appearance of rationality & reason is an illusion generated by the amount of effort required to keep from slipping toward that which we are, by nature, inclined.

Human nature.  Basic human Us-Against-Them:  a type of selfishness.  Enlarged, magnified and enabled by religion defined and driven by the fringes.  (How depressing.)

Selfishness — the root of all evil — takes many forms, forms that we cannot easily perceive because they are part of our operating system, in our selves, our groups, our communities, on out in the rings of affinity.  What people on Fox News are characterizing as “bowing at the altar of multiculturalism…proving [ourselves] to be fools” may be a major truth considering that multiculturalism requires an enlightenment that comes only by being more conscious and accepting of how differences operate within micro and macro societies.

It is a harder thing to be the “fool” in this case, where actual foolishness and selfishness are the innate norm.  To this “normal,” non-crazy is crazy.  Anything that appears to go against the grain of the norm, requiring unnatural effort to achieve, is laughed at and reviled as “elitist” and “naïve.”

Dialog is a naïve approach — I totally agree with Red State (on Fox). But what do we have left? Violence, more perpetuation of the us-against-them cycle of mindlessness?  It is ‘mindlessness’ because knee-jerk, selfish reaction requires no thought of resolution, mutual respect, or any other concept the development of which we might consider progress in multicultural civility. Or craziness.

Managing populations has always been difficult, and it would be so much easier if everyone just thought and acted like us.  Violence becomes holy war to protect us from them, and to turn them into us…in the name of God and because Homo sacra res homini.

Then again, I believe in the lesson of the song “Coward of the County.”   Sometimes violence is the only language bullies will understand. It’s not necessarily a capitulation to degradation, but rather a reversion to a lower form of communication to meet the level at which the auditor can process meaning. Conditioning as a form of knowledge.

But if dialog stays there, so does our mind.  Thus we degrade ourselves.  Who’s “better”?  Who’s “right”?  Doesn’t matter — it’s us.   Bellum iustum.


So here I am.  I don’t believe in starting with Homo sacra res homini. I believe Jones knew there would be violence resulting from his actions that would jeopardize lives and foul up US foreign policy.  I believe that the Islamic perpetrators of the murder and riots are mindless beasts, every bit as primitive as Jones in his utter selfishness and narrow perspective of the world and human interrelationships.

He should be held accountable for the deaths in Afghanistan.  And the Muslims should be held accountable for their murders.  But we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The freedoms are at odds from the perspectives where they are not native.

It’s the sacredness of selfishness we humans hold so dear.  Amen.


8 Responses

  1. Great article by Christopher Hitchens of

  2. […] the prescription from the “Coward of the County” is the right […]

  3. It occurs to me, after writing this post, that the meaning “man is a sacred thing to man” (homo homini sacra res) isn’t clear. The way I use it here is an extension or extrapolation of historical usage, or how it boils down.

    What it means is that anything that we elevate, esteem or value — or even abhor — has its basis in ourselves: To help man is man’s true God. (Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via => God is a mortal that helps another mortal, and this is the path to everlasting glory.) Another way of translating it: Whenever one human being helps another – that is God. Humanitas.

    The most important thing to mankind is mankind. Against all other value is this measured. We might say that God’s values certainly transcend our concept of humanity for us to aim for divinity, whether to be in the presence of God or to become holy like God. Most often, even when we strive to live within divine measures, it is not for God’s glory, but our own sanctity.

    Assuming there are (divine) measures mankind did not create, the problem lies in how mankind interprets the measures. It is all too easy for us to use mankind as the measure of itself. Selfishness is deeply human.

    When that happens, God is merely an extension of our perceived holiness. It’s like creating a straw man, anthropomorphizing it, then deifying the anthropomorphization, and then counting ourselves holy based on it’s apparent characteristics. With the existence of God, and since we are sanctified by Him, then our cause is just.

    It’s a type of Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy…on a grand scale.

    • Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy which is committed when differences in data are ignored, but similarities are stressed. From this reasoning, a false conclusion is inferred.

  4. From some Facebook exchange:
    …those who do things to others in the name of God are doing so within a belief system where one’s _motivation_ makes those actions sin/not-sin. At the root of this belief system is not thinking about whether something is “right” but rather whether you’re doing it as an emanation of your soul that has its gaze fixed on the divine, the most sanct delusion of all.

    let’s say is a fundamental tenant of religion. In this religion, it is your duty. Doing so is not a guideline, but a command. But when you execute a specific command, you participate in formula, one where the sum total of your actions add up to a degree of sanctity to earn you points. You can internalize the command to the point where it becomes a motivation, but the fact of its transformation does not likewise transform the seed of its motivation.

  5. Participating in deception: ‘Narrative can become fact’

    Those people, in turn, spread the rumor to others, not in an attempt to deceive those others but rather, as I wrote, as an invitation to participate in mutual deception. “Come play with me.” This is from that earlier post:

    Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.

    Joseph Laycock’s description of the “corrupt play” dynamics that fueled the Slender Man stabbing seem accurate to me.

  6. The Salon has a great article about the part religion plays in violence and peace. “Why religion unleashes humanity’s most violent impulses

    Some quotes:

    The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuum. Happy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace. Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.

    Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role. It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.

    I would argue that, like alcohol, religion disinhibits violence rather than causing it, and that it does so only when other factors have created conditions favorable toward aggression. I might also argue that under better circumstances religion disinhibits generosity and compassion, increasing giving and helping behaviors. Religion often is centered around authority and text worship (aka “bibliolatry”). Because of this, it has the power to lower the threshold on any behavior sanctioned by either a sacred text or a trusted religious leader and is at its most powerful when one is echoed by the other.

    Despite the fact that violence is repeatedly endorsed in sacred texts, most Christians, Muslims and Jews never commit acts of violence in the service of their religion. Similarly, millions of people consume alcohol without insulting, hitting, kicking, stabbing or shooting anyone. Most of us are peaceful drinkers and peaceful believers. Yet, statistically we know that without alcohol assaults would be less common. So too, we all know that when suicide bombings happen, or blasphemers and apostates are condemned to die, or a rape victim is stoned to death, Islam is likely to be involved. And when we hear that an obstetrics doctor has been shot or a gay teen beaten and left for dead, or a U.S. president has announced a “crusade”, we know that Christianity was likely a part of the mix.

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