What do we learn from history? That we are repeating it.

It’s funny where voluntary work can take you.

Yesterday I was helping someone put together words for inclusion in a United Nations report, responding to Human Rights Council resolution 20/2, proposing conscientious objection to military taxation be considered a form of military service thereby including it under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/77 can then be used to advocate people be permitted to say they want the military part of their tax to be spent on peacebuilding.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is getting around human rights legislation and treaties by recreating the CIA’s secret overseas detention and interrogation centres for unrecorded and untried undesirables.  Their “black site” prisons where they humiliated, tortured, murdered and detained people without trial for years.

It must take an awful lot of volunteers to overcome the work of one powerful man’s pen.

It’s topical because I’ve been learning about the history of the SA, SD, SS, Gestapo, Gefepo and other Nazi tools of security and oppression.  They were granted authority above the law by order of the top executive.  Just like Donald Trump is about to do for the CIA.

Remember what they say about absolute power?  It corrupts absolutely.

Is western philosophy inherently violent?

I’m studying philosophy (“should war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago?”  “what we ought or ought not to do”  “what brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world?”  ought we fight for our country if it is under threat?” “political obligations: can I just opt out? When did I opt in?“) as part of my custom Peace Studies degree.  But sometimes the best material comes not from text books but from unexpected sources.

A favourite web cartoon strip is Dead Philosophers in Heaven.  In the comments below the strip about Machiavelli: immoral sociopath or satirist?, is this:

Machiavelli’s The Prince just describes the fact that there is no state or nation in history that hasn’t been founded on massive violence.  Arguably creating the biggest, fattest, ugliest paradox of western political philosophy.  He also lets us know that any state at least partially dependant on consent, if it’s going to last, is going to have to learn how to deceive its citizenry.

Ouch!

Killing for Christ

Personally, my main concerns over starting wars are the financial and social costs and the subsequent consequences from a desire for revenge.  Lately, I have been spending more time with people who object from a conscientious objective, sometimes from a religious viewpoint.  I have also been exposed to a forum where I regularly hear “people with no religion have no moral compass“.

I do not see there is necessarily a link between a care for humanity and adherence to a religion.  I shall explain.

When gathering evidence that argues against capital punishment, I was surprised at how many American Christian Baptist groups demand the death penalty because “it is God’s will according to the Bible“.  Funny that, because I thought the 6th commandment to not kill, and the subsequent teachings of Jesus in the Gospels to turn the other cheek and forgive, were supposed to take precedence over the Old Testament’s millennia-old verbal story traditions of nomadic desert tribes-people.

That made me contemplate the “you need religion to have morals” claim since some Christians are saying killing people is good, right and proper because it is what God wants.  But other Christians are saying they think the teachings say it is always wrong (which was my interpretation from reading them, too).

But I think learning about a variety of religions and their pros and cons is helpful and informative.  It tells you about the ground they have covered and what to think about.  It also protects one from the more predatory organisations.

If I were writing about political systems and claimed “absolute power corrupts absolutely“, few would disagree and most would sagely nod their heads and agree it has been proven time and time again through history.

But when you have any form of organised religion that says “Do exactly what we say” and “Think what we tell you to think” combined with “It is a sin to read the scriptures of others” and “Only we tell the truth“, it will always go wrong.  Organised religions are run by people and absolute power corrupts absolutely – we know that from history.  Giving them absolute power over your behaviour is naïve or foolish.

This is why I worry about people who operate in such organisations and demand people follow them blindly.  What kind of person wants that kind of power over others, and why do they want it?  Why are they attracted to that role, or create it for themselves, and why enforce it so thoroughly?  Scary people!

Then I worry about those who specifically promote such religions to vulnerable people: the homeless, refugees and students who are living away from home for the first time and who may be spiritually lost, home-sick or lonely.  Why are people who want absolute power over others so keen to target people who are already in turmoil?  Sounds like abusers looking for easy victims to me.

That is why I get so cross with people advertising or promoting the Mormons, the 7th Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and now the Revival Fellowship too.  Relatively new organisations who demand total blind adherence to their teachings and rejection of all other beliefs such that their members are forbidden to even find out about them.  They all typically have ‘scriptures’ that have been amended many, many times, they have false end-of-the-world predictions and a history of turmoil in their leadership as different power nuts fight for control over their followers.  Organisations defending young earth creationism, faith healing, evidence of aliens or that Jesus went to America.

It is also why I would always advocate to someone feeling a need for spiritual guidance to always shop around.  You wouldn’t buy a house or a car without looking at a few first, so why commit your immortal soul (if such a thing exists) to the first Honest John dealer (“Honest John, Honest John, the others are a con!“) who approaches you?  And remember, if they are reaching out to you, it is because you have something they want, not because they have something to give away.  If you are being approached in the street or online to “open your mind” and accept their teachings blindly and reject things that most of the rest of the world believe, then you can be sure you are being conned – all cold callers and spammers are just trying to get something from you and that includes those promoting too-good-to-be-true “religions” too.

Find out about a variety of big religions and faith systems – both with and without gods – what they stand for, their history, what is involved, what the criticisms are.  Get a feel for what is right, honest, decent and true.  Become wise enough to spot the outdated, the inappropriate and, sadly, the liars hiding amongst them.

I did that and came out the other side as a confirmed atheist.  You may come to a different conclusion.  But either way, you’ll have worked out for yourself a pretty good idea of what you think is right or wrong.

More Killing for Christ: bombers, Catholic revenge on Protestants, black-policeman-killing survivalists, their own membership, lynchings, migrants, death penalty and anti-peace!   And sometimes, a religion can be very wrong indeed.