In all the commentary on the situation in Israel-Palestine since the horror of the latest Hamas incursion I have seen not a single reference to the one factor that is central to the conflict. Except this one.
Is it that people take it for granted, so obvious that there is no need to mention it? Or is it, as I suspect, that they are scared to say it for fear of the reaction that might ensue? From all sides.
Belief in God makes people do the strangest things, or fail to do what their gut tells them would be the right thing.
Two facts seem significant to me:
Both ‘sides’, in this conflict, as in many others, profess belief in God; and
The very concept of God, as understood throughout Western civilisation, was born in that region.
What follows is admittedly grossly over simplified, but it is based on things that I, like most Christians, learned in infancy.
Some thousands of years ago a charismatic leader had the idea. Make his embattled tribe believe that they had been especially chosen by a deity; that all they had to do was to follow simple rules: stop killing each other, stop steeling other men’s livestock or their wives and instead unite in their determination to escape captivity and find a better life somewhere else.
Because the deity favoured them they would have an invisible hand to guarantee the removal of the current occupants of that land.
Some time later another charismatic man pointed out that there were no ‘chosen people’, that the rules applied across the board, to the whole of humanity. A lot of people saw the sense of that and began following his ideas. It did not take long, however, for those followers to fall out among themselves, a point I’ll come back to in a moment.
A few centuries later yet another charismatic individual put forward a new interpretation of the history and the rules. He, too, gathered a large following that also quickly split into factions disagreeing about the precise meaning of words and the application of the rules.
I can’t say more about Islam because I am not familiar either with the Q’ran or the differences between Shia and Sunni teachings, nor, indeed, if there are other factions than these two within Islam.
My reading of British and, especially, Irish history tells me that, over the centuries since the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth, people who professed belief in God and in Jesus’s interpretation of the rules committed terrible atrocities against each other and against the followers of Islam.
Nor can I overlook past atrocities perpetrated by Islam against both Jews and Christians.
I surely do not need to list them for anyone with even the smallest knowledge of the history of Western civilisation. To do so would fill pages with horrors far worse than those perpetrated by Hamas on the 7th of October this year.
I also know that whenever either Christianity or Islam have come into contact with believers in Eastern philosophies, or those of indigenous people they conquered, the consequences were not pretty.
So, if belief in God is, as I believe, the root of so much of man’s inhumanity to man, what might a world without God look like?
Let’s begin by examining our own nature.
I have no way of knowing the innermost feelings of anyone reading this. I can only speak for myself.
I possess two conflicting instincts. To do what I can to ease the plight of any living creature that appears to be suffering. As a gardener, I extend that beyond the animal kingdom to plants. However, the second that a fellow creature becomes a threat to my own well being, or that of those I love, I won’t hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to counter that threat.
Whether it is a predatory species that threatens the destruction of a crop, or an organism that spreads disease, I have no objection to any action that eliminates, or at the least severely limits the impact of, the responsible creature.
If that threat comes from a fellow human being, whether singly or in a group, something else comes into play.
You can’t reason with a raging bull or a deadly virus.
Human beings, however, have the ability to think rationally. You can reason with them. You can try to ascertain the cause of the other individual or group’s animosity towards you. You can demonstrate how that is rooted in a misunderstanding on their part, or you can undertake to cease the behaviour that you had not realised is harming them.
It often takes compromise on both sides and an enormous quantity of patience and courage. There is, though, one problem with this approach.
The moment God enters the discussion reason goes out the window.
Whether it is someone who says his ‘god’ won’t permit him to use gender neutral pronouns, or a person who believes he has a ‘god given’ right to occupy a particular piece of land, it seems there is no way that reason or common sense can move the brick wall that prevents a breakthrough.
If you need to believe in God in order to encourage you to obey those simple rules, fair enough. I think your humanity should make it obvious that they make sense without that external prod.
Watching the evil displayed in the name of God, not only in Israel-Palestine, but elsewhere, too, reinforces my atheism and makes me wonder how anyone can possibly still believe in God.