I’m following news about the latest radical Islamist atrocity, this one in Manchester. And I see once again that most ubiquitous term of self-deception by our species: “Oh, the inhumanity…!” Or some variant of that, anyway. After 5,000 years of recorded history, you’d think we know by now that such behavior is nothing if not human. In fact, mass intraspecific murder is probably uniquely human. I certainly can’t think of another species that engages in it. And religion, while not the only cause we kill for, certainly seemed to kick things off.
Presaged by prolific Old Testament slaughter of enemies by Jews (or their god), the Jews (using the Romans) tortured and killed Christ, catalyzing the big BC/AD time change. Over the next two or three hundred years, the Romans tortured and killed Christians. But then Constantine converted around 315 and took all the fun out of it, so Catholics (the home team, now that Constantine had bought them), killed the gnostics. But then Islam turns up three hundred years later and takes over, killing pretty much anybody who didn’t agree with them. They had a good run for a couple hundred years, from China and India, clear across the Middle East to Spain. By the end of the millennium, though, the Catholic Church got its second wind and started killing Muslims. When that got tiresome, it went north and killed pagans (and the occasional Cathar, a throwback to getting rid of gnostics. Old habits die hard). Fortunately, as the crusades wound down, the Church’s marketing department came up with the inquisitions, a convenient excuse to mop up anyone still foolish enough to disagree with it. Then in a new twist, the Protestants came along. So, beginning about 1500, Catholics killed Protestants for a hundred years or so; and, of course, Protestants killed Catholics. But at some point the Protestants got distracted killing one another and spent a couple hundred years doing that.
In truth, this gets old. The deaths even to this point were in the untold hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And yet the killing only became worse when Columbus’ voyages offered New World riches, the French Revolution created the idea of nationalism, and the industrial revolution mechanized mass murder. Spanish slaughter of the Incas and Aztecs and Caribs, destruction by settlers of American Indians, 17 million deaths in WWI, 60 million in WWII, intentional modern day genocides against Jews and Armenians and Cambodians and Serbs and Bangladeshis and Rwandans. And, of course, whatever you call what is going on now in Syria…
It’s tiresome to recount and too sad to think about. But it damn sure will never stop as long as we continue deluding ourselves that it’s not normal.