What is needed when religious extremism wages a global 'holy war' of extermination of those who think hold a different worldview.
"All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist” -- Joseph Soloveichik
If you are like me, who grew up in the late 1960s, well we were supposed to be a bit of a nerd: we dreamt of a brighter future, and loved all those science fiction thingy! In those days, we liked the movies on TV, like ‘Time Tunnel’, ‘Fugitive’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, and, yes, ‘Star Trek’ series… You can say I was a sort of a Star Trek fan. So, you may remember an episode titled "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"! The story features two antagonists: one named Lokai, and the other Bele. Now both these species have been at war for eons on their shared planet, Sharon. They resemble like humans in physique, but their pigmentation (skin) is very different: half white and half black, split vertically down the middle of their faces.
Bele tries to explain his reasons of this war to Mr. Spock, "It is obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed”.
"The obvious visual evidence is that he is of the same breed as yourself," Spock objectively replies.
"Are you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me!"
"You're black on one side and white on the other."
"I am black on the right side."
"I fail to see the significant difference."
"Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side," Bele says in indignation.
The episode ends as Planet Sharon is completely destroyed by this war. Communications Officer Uhura, the voice of compassion, looks at the ruined landscape and says, "It makes no sense." Spock turns to her, and says, "Did you expect sense from men of such extreme viewpoints?"Although this episode is usually seen as an allegory for the insanity of racial prejudice, a deeper message lies just below the surface—the danger of extremism!!!
Both Lokai and Bele are literally black and white thinkers of today: as one sees only rationality, the need for control, and the call of justice; while the other sees only emotions, the need for a change, and the call of freedom!
Both are completely dug-in to their own viewpoints, so common grounds can never be found here. The point of this episode is to tell us that extremists, who believe that they represent opposite viewpoints, are actually the same, except one is "white" on the side while the other is "black".
This dualistic view of our present world as black and white is a very young stage of development that all growing up children go through, but some of these children get stuck at this stage, which they then bring in to adulthood!
All extremism is born in the deep insecurity that comes from such a black and white world view. In general, extremists whether religious fundamentalists or dogmatic atheists; the straight-line Republicans or Democrats, conspiracy theorists, racists, and even neocons or xenophobes, do share several common characteristics and beliefs.
The following description captures these (religious) extremist upbringing characteristics. It is important to recognize that each of us, at one time or another, adopts one or more of these, but in reality it is the combination of all these qualities that create dangerous extremist viewpoints. I have outlined three such main aspects of the extremism characteristics below:-
1. Unquestioned certainty about one's position in Life
2. Demonizing those who disagree to their views.
An extremist is certain a character that his/her position or views of life is absolutely and completely true and that, they will go to great lengths to defend it. The underlying insecurity that accompanies this certainty stems from the fear that any element(s) of doubt would negate this person's self-identification and, therefore, his very existence. As this insecurity drives an extremist to assert that not only is his viewpoint right, but is, in fact, the only view that holds the truth. In the most extreme forms, he/she will silence, and even kill, those who present the possibility that he/she may be wrong, in order to keep from ever exposing the fragility of his/her own positions in life.
A hallmark of an extremist is the often vile language, which he uses to attack those, who disagree or hold different viewpoints and opinions, and blames the other for all the ills of the world. In a gentler form, this takes the form of sarcasm and attacking the other's character, but the real intention is the same. It seems though that, many may crave for this type of language, perhaps, to clarify one's position, which may arouse passion(s), or may even create a "team spirit" in which to belong to. An extremist, though, can't allow himself to see those, who disagree, as fellow human beings, having the same essential needs, desires, and hopes as his own. This may open doors to compassion, which may lead to doubt—something an extremist cannot allow himself to believe in.
3. Desire for a “Final Battle” or "Holy War" for blind beliefs
Most disturbing of all extremist views is the belief in the inevitability of a Final Battle that will, usually very violently, sweep away the unbelievers (i.e. those, holding different viewpoints), ushering in an era of worldwide unity under the banner of ‘Truth’ of one’s own. There seems to be a glee behind all this; one only needs to listen to a "fire and brimstone" sermon of an extremist preacher to feel this strange eager anticipation of chaos. Apocalyptic visions are not the sole property of religion, though! Just listen to the mad ranting of Nazi propaganda, or the cold plotting of the Soviet Union's plans to topple the evils of capitalism and to bring in a worker's paradise or to some of the current voices of extreme atheism that urge the end of any form of religion and spiritual beliefs.
I am not proposing that we adopt a radical post-modern, completely relativistic, position, in which there is no right or wrong or that we should not challenge others and even to defend our position. That is a bland vision of the undifferentiated grey, keeping us from powerfully moving forward in confidence. The choice is not between the absolute convictions and complete moral relativisms, but instead, it involves the willingness to openly examine divergent viewpoints, which clearly determine these merits, and will arrive at a more comprehensive viewpoint that sees the world in its infinite array of vivid colors. This takes mature confidence, knowledge, and compassion, the three positive qualities that are most needed if we are to avoid a destructive confrontation against each other in our own Last Battlefield.