Monday, June 25, 2012

Science on Human Conflict

The May 18, 2012 edition of the  premiere scientific journal, Science, had a special section on human conflict.  I am still reading it--very interesting.  Of course, I immediately jumped to the paper on page 855 entitled, Religious and Sacred Imperatives in Human Conflict, by S. Atran and J. Ginges.

Their opening thesis states that people will kill and die for the "moral conception they form of themselves, of 'who we are'".  Religion serves to galvanize peoples, especially during times of stress or pending death.  They point out that the belief systems typically override logic or conflicting evidence.

According to their sources religion may have evolved to enable groups to survive in environments of intense competition for resources etc.  Alternatively, religion may have arisen as a sort of byproduct of forces of natural selection, where a sort of angst (my word) is felt and responded to, even if not verifiable because it is "better safe than sorry."

Researchers now see that latter concept developing as part of cultural evolution rather than on a more individualistic level.  They say that evidence suggests that early humans who existed in small clusters didn't develop all-powerful/all-seeing concepts of deities.  Only when humans clustered in larger groups in response to competition did more sophisticated gods and rituals develop.  And the intensity and degree of sacrifice to these gods were proportional to the outside factors threatening the breakup of these communities.

A particularly interesting finding--and contrary to what is commonly asserted by the "New-Atheists"--only a minority of recorded wars can be attributed to religion.  They point out that religion has actually had a humanizing effect on human society.  They point out specifically that Christianity rose to power in the Roman empire because of its sacrifice in caring for the pagans during the several plagues that besot the empire.

It is this last point--now confirmed by secularists--that I wish to briefly consider here.  The early Christians clearly followed Jesus' mandate; they acted as the kingdom dwellers they were.  One thing this article does not say about this is not only did those Christians die along side the diseased pagans they lovingly cared for, but they were also persecuted by the pagans who saw the plagues as punishment from the Roman gods because the Christians stubbornly resisted worshiping them.  The Christians were not sacrificing themselves as a weapon against aggression or as a means of aggression against competitive forces (such as we see today with suicide bombers), but out of devotion to their risen Lord.  This is quite different from the evolutionary motivations suggested in the article.

We should be no different than our early Christian ancestors; nothing has changed; we remain a part of God's kingdom if we truly profess Jesus the Christ as Lord and King.  Yet, today, I see a neglect of the gospel by professing Christians.  I propose this has happened because many have forgotten that they are dwellers of God's kingdom that came into being at the death and resurrection of Christ, and have replaced it with a self-serving Christianity.  As a result they are turning to secular forces in the world to realize what they see as Christian goals.  Taking this tack, they are turning Christianity into another religious force we see described in the above-mentioned article--that is, they are making Christianity a means of protecting their community from other competing communities, instead of wooing other communities through acts of mercy and justice to join the kingdom of God.

The primary difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world is the modus operandi of always responding to evil with good, rather than with evil--to love our enemies instead of hating them.  The early Christians understood this and real justice (order) came to the unjust world because of their obedience to Jesus in this--at least for a time.  We would do well to repent from our current trajectory and return to the gospel of the kingdom of God so that the world can clearly see that God truly had entered the world and dwelled among us and ushered in His kingdom.