Religious beliefs may be perverted or misinterpreted to fulfill the ambitions of an individual or a group where their ethnocentric beliefs are paramount. The Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857 is one such occasion. Between September 7 and 11 of 1857, an emigrant wagon train was attacked . At the end of the attack, 120 were killed, sparing only 17 children considered too young to talk about it (Andregg, 2011). This historical event is only one example out of thousands throughout the world where such perversions have led to religious terrorism. The awareness of how religious beliefs can be perverted to fulfill personal or group ambitions is necessary in order to prevent religious violence in the future.
Intellectual humility is a factor in beliefs being perverted into violence. Dogmatics is an unfolding, communal, and historically situated attempt at rightly articulating available sources of knowledge into religious categories (Baldwin, 2012). Religious dogma has been stated by atheists and anti-religion activists as a cause of religious violence. However, it is the combination of beliefs with low levels of intellectual humility that causes conflict (Hopkin, Hoyle, & Toner, 2014). This makes sense considering there is a multitude of individuals who hold strong religious beliefs who are fully against the harming of other humans. In all three Abraham-mic religions, people can be relatively organized into two groups. The first being the fundamentalist or radical folks who have a tendency towards intolerance of others. The second group consisting of those who recognize that dogmatic religious belief should be held in a spirit of moral and intellectual humility and that religiously dogmatic persons aim to be humble, teachable and open to correction (Baldwin, 2012). The latter group avoids the naive assumption that they have the whole truth. A study of the Abraham-mic religions had a finding that suggests deficits in at least one component of intellectual humility (manifesting as a desire to convince others) works to create more polarized opinions in religious people. Thus, the aspect of intellectual humility that is seemingly most lacking in many religious leaders and media pundits–whose livelihood depends on sharing their beliefs with others–is also the component most likely to create polarization (Hopkin et al., 2014). Furthermore, Hopkin et al. state that studies have shown that honesty-humility is negatively correlated with vengeful acts and intentions (2014). Therefore, violence may be preventable with the addition of humility into religious activities and worship.
The character of one’s leader is critical to the overall values adopted by an individual or group. Humility is a character trait which should go hand in hand with religious leadership, unfortunately, it is often overlooked. Humility is an ability to see the self and one’s place in the world clearly, with low self-focus, openness, an appreciation for the value of all things, and a willingness to admit mistakes (Hopkin et al., 2014). High levels of humility are not represented by self-absorbent actions or angry responses to criticism. The Mormon leadership at the time were exemplary of leaders with low levels of humility. John D. Lee believed all the Gentiles were to be killed as a war measure, and that the Mormons, as God’s chosen people, were to hold and inhabit the earth and rule and govern the globe (Andregg, 2011). Lee’s belief provides a clear case of group leadership in which there is no tolerance of others’ beliefs and low levels of humility towards all others. Furthermore, Lee stated that if he has sinned and violated the laws of his country, he has done so because he has blindly followed and obeyed the orders of the Church leaders (Andregg, 2011). He, among other leaders and non-leaders alike, were blindly following orders sent from higher channels.
Many religious organizations, including Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, consider any criticism of their leadership to be taboo. Obethence, or the quality of obedience, is seen as a quality of a ‘good’ religious person. This adherence is taught to outweigh rationality and to continue even when the authority is wrong. Obethence in Mormon culture remains ‘the first law of heaven, the cornerstone on which all righteousness and progression rest: demanding complete subjection to God and his commands. Moreover, this obethence is important to the possibility of violence (Andregg, 2011). Militant and/or radical religious groups draw from the concept of obethence as they attempt to convert others through force or coercion to their god and religion. When people blindly follow leaders, they potentially open themselves up to lacking humility (as their leaders do) and harming others under the guise of doing what’s right.
Lack of humility and obethence together present as a dangerously aggressive or violent combination when religion and politics overlap. Mormon devotion and a mix of politics and religion caused numerous conflicts with neighbors. The Saints regarded such opposition as persecution of their righteousness (Andregg, 2011). Brigham Young during this time functioned simultaneously as Utah’s territorial governor and the head of the Mormon church. Young virtually declared Mormon independence from U.S. authority, labeled any interference against the actions of the Mormons as constitutional violations, and secretly called for a gathering of arms to defend the church in Utah against its foes (Owens, 2012). This precise interaction between low humility, obethence, religion and politics has historically created a volatile atmosphere between populations at the hand of a perverted leader.
Besides this multivariate interaction being present, there likely exists a much larger factor leading to violence from religious believers. Most, if not all, humans including religious believers struggle with negative impulses such as murder, hatred and aggression. These impulses and their resultant energies can be merciless regardless if one is religious or not (Ulanov, 2002). Humanity’s struggle with impulses is a fundamental psychological concept provided for by individuals such as Jung and Freud. Impulsive energy will become action in some form or another since energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed.
There exists a gap between one’s personal image of God and the ultimate truth. For example, a Christian’s personal view or image of God looks like Jesus of the biblical New Testament: A Jewish person’s image of God looks like Yahweh of the Old Testament, a Muslim’s view looks like Allah of the Quran and a child’s image of God might look like a lamb. Believers who identify their personal image of God with the one of a particular religion will likely require others to convert or be considered infidels. Furthermore, if an entire religion or group identifies with an image which is entirely different from other groups religion becomes a weapon (Ulanov, 2002). Most religions recognize spiritual transcendence and the infinite transcendence of their higher power but people forget that this gap exists between their images of God and who their transcendental God truly is.
How impulsive energy develops within a person likely depends on procrastinating function of thought. Procrastinating function of thought stems from the awareness of the image gaps and can manifest itself by causing a believer to hesitate, meditate, and consult with others (Ulanov, 2002). When people operate from a procrastinating function of thought which causes a need to consult with others, they have almost a compulsion to seek out and receive a human king or leader. At times, this compulsion leads to one’s own detriment. For example, the Christian’s God Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17 New King James Version). Other concepts taught by Jesus and mentioned in apocryphal writings is that the Kingdom of God is within the person. Jesus was known to speak in simple layman’s terms which the uneducated could easily understand; yet, so many believers with a procrastinating function of thought hesitate to take the lesson in its simplicity and willingly accept a leader’s perspective on the meaning.
Several factors of religious terrorism have been discussed. Any and all of them may work together to bring about perversion and misinterpretation among religious leaders and their followers. The final idea to mention is the concept of Zion. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all maintain the notion of Zion being a special place for the chosen ones. The Mormon religion recognizes a Zion, as well. The goal was to fulfill Old Testament prophecy by establishing the Kingdom of God on earth and doing so within the Great Basin of Utah and no one who left unless they were sent would have his approbation; an action perilous to their eternal spiritual future (Owens, 2012). Further, the valleys of Utah were taught to be the ‘chambers of the Lord’ and existed for his people. A religion’s belief in a special reserved place can present conflicts with other populations residing in the same area according to game theory.
Game theory emphasizes cautions related to various groups, particularly religious ones. Humans are warned of ‘last move’ scenarios which exist under ‘end times’ or apocalyptic thinking; situations and bad actions which ordinarily people would not do (Andregg, 2011). Other individuals may use the term “end game” actions. In a world saturated with people, populations are tempted to fight over land and resources for the establishing of and maintenance of their special Zions. Leaders lacking a cloak of humility and armed with religious or political obethence can blindly lead people down paths dedicated to the dominating and/or demolishing of other people and their beliefs. Whether or not one maintains apocalyptic thinking, the fact is that all people great and small need to recognize their human fallibility and clothe themselves in intellectual humility towards all of humanity. The populations of the world depend on it.
Andregg, M. (2011). The mountain meadows massacre of 1857: A civilizational encounter with lessons for us all. Comparative Civilizations Review, 64(38).
Baldwin, E. (2012). Religious dogma without religious fundamentalism. Journal of Social Sciences, 8 (1). Retrieved from ProQuest. 13 June 2014. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1288079073?accountid=39473
Hopkin, C., Hoyle, R., & Toner, K. (2014). Intellectual humility and reactions to opinions about religious beliefs. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42(1). Retrieved from Academic OneFile. Web. 13 June 2014.
Owens, K. (2012). Far from zion: the frayed ties between California’s gold rush saints and LDS president Brigham Young. California History, 89(4). Retrieved from Academic OneFile. Web. 13 June 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA306094639&v=2.1&u=lom_gvalleysu&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=76e1cf7374fe668d2fe3e6eb54839987
Ulanov, A. (2002). Terrorism. Journal of Religion and Health, 41(1). Retrieved 13 June 2014. http://link.springer.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1015154021599