In my readings of genocides, massacres and other injustices that humans mete out on one another from time to time, I have noticed an interesting and paradoxical phenomenon. It is this. In those times of persecutions there have always been small numbers of the persecuting group who have put their lives at risk to render aid to members of the persecuted group.
Here are some examples. During the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide by Turkish Muslims against Armenian Christians, many Christians were helped by Muslims to escape to safety. In the Jewish Holocaust, many Jews escaped the death camps through the help of Germans and other Christians. During the 1947 partition of British India into India and Pakistan, while thousands of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered one another, a minority helped one another to escape to safety. Hutu moderates paid with their lives to assist many Tutsis to escape the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In our own ethnic conflicts in Guyana, members of the two belligerent groups have always assisted and protected each other in times of violence. Throughout the history of conflicts, some members of warring factions have transcended hate and showed love to those declared to be enemies.
The question is this: Why, in spite of religious, ethnic and political teachings to harm the other, do some people still reach out to help and protect the other? Why can some persons be not only their brother’s keeper, but also their enemy’s keeper? I believe it is because such people have had nurturing and happy childhoods in which they were taught to love and not to hate, to help and not to harm, by both precept and example. Abusive and unhappy childhood experiences, regardless of one’s religious teachings to love one’s enemies, can lead to a violent adulthood, while a nurturing and happy childhood, again regardless of religious teachings to hate one’s enemies, can lead to a peaceful and non-violent adulthood. Violent parenting practices can lead to children growing up to become violent persons, for example, the foundational and irrational act of violence: “I beat you because I love you.” Love, like hate, has to be taught by both words and matching deeds. Gandhi’s words are perennially relevant, “If we are to attain real peace in this world, we will have to begin with the children.”
On a personal note, I must say that in my most fundamentalist Christian days I have never believed in, condoned or practiced any form of discrimination or violence against non-Christians. In fact, I had to leave my former fundamentalist church mainly for my “too-liberal” attitude towards non-Christians and Christians of other denominations. I was merely being human and humane, as I still am, and as all humans should be. To be my brother’s keeper is not enough; I must also be my enemy’s keeper.
I am well aware that some verses in religious scriptures do certainly enjoin violence against non-believers. In the times the writers of those scriptures lived, dreams, visions, trances and other supra-normal states of human consciousness were accepted as the unquestionable intentions of supernatural beings concerned about the believers’ welfare. Today, it is now accepted by knowledgeable people that the states of human consciousness that inspired the writing of scriptures were due to the human brain functioning in different modes and not the voices of any supernatural outer-worldly beings.
My hope, with strong observable reasons, is that religion will one day revert to its original evolutionary purpose when our species first became human, that is, a psychological defence against our existential fear of inevitable death and a boost to our immunological system, not a reason to snuff out another person’s life or to deny him his natural human rights in the name of scriptural fundamentalism. Then shall swords be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks.
Michael Lester Xiu Quan-Balgobind-