Everyone sees the world through filters. We all have our biases. The most sane realize that they don’t have all the answers, don’t have the final say about what is real and good. They know that they are surrounded by others who are living their versions of reality based on their cultures, upbringing and individual sets of experiences. The wise ones are sure of one thing: they don’t have the right to impose their limited beliefs on others. (Who are they to judge? Who can encompass all knowledge and make infallible pronouncements?) These people have a sense of humor and are humble. They are able to listen and enjoy when others share a piece of their lives. I love these saints. They’re fairly rare.
The folks who scare me are the true believers, the ones who are sure that everything they know to be true is absolutely true. They are unwilling to listen to other opinions, to tolerate another point of view about religion and politics. They tend to band together with people who share their narrow viewpoint and who enforce conformity within their group. They only feel comfortable living in an echo chamber in which their creed is repeated continuously.
But even these folks are bearable as long as they leave the final judgment up to their God in some after life. They can look with pity on the nonbelievers around them and feel some satisfaction that their cult, their anointed group will be seated front row and center in their version of Valhalla. These true believers try to recruit others, but are willing to leave the nonbelievers alone once they’ve done their duty by telling them “The Truth”. Their status as one of the elect is confirmed by the presence of sinners and lowly scumbags who have not been admitted. The contrast is comforting and necessary to the select few.
The terrifying segment of the true believers are the ones who demand that the whole world conform to their creed. Their vision of reality requires complete and evident justification. Their filtered version of what is good and great must come into being by the exclusion of everything else that does not conform. No action can be wrong if it is done to support the goal of purification.
These folks are idealists who set themselves up as the embodiment of their beliefs. They are jealous gods who will have none other before them even if they claim to be servants of a Higher Power. Adolph Hitler is a prime example of this megalomania. He saw himself as both the prophet and god of a super race. He sought to recreate the world in his image, and in a sense he was successful. The craterscape of bombed out Berlin was an accurate reflection of the wasteland of Hitler’s mind. The ultimate barrenness of his inner vision became embodied in the destruction surrounding his charred remains. He made his own memorial.
Every generation seems to have its own model of this plague of scorched earth purification. The Inquisition was an extended version of this hellish, self-generating behavior. No country, no culture, no religion is immune from the possibility of becoming the source of yet another nightmare.
I long for the day when the world is dominated by people who can cheerfully say, “I don’t agree with you completely, but that’s an interesting idea. Tell me more.” And with individuals who are comfortable with doubt and can freely say, “I don’t know. What do you think?” (I am still working to become this sort of person.)
Perhaps my true belief is that any God worthy of worship doesn’t need defending, has a sense of humor and loves his sometimes ridiculous human creations despite their viciousness, stubbornness, pride and stupidity. This God doesn’t demand martyrs and the sacrifice of blood, innocent or not. This God isn’t a fanatic.
But if you see me erecting monuments to this deity, writing out a creed and condemning folks who disagree with me, I can give you only one piece of advice: run the other way.