Jay Snelson spent many years compiling material and marshaling his ideas for a book which has just been published: Taming the Violence of Faith: Win-Win Solutions for Our World in Crisis (2011). Although the copyright date is 2011, actual printing and distribution occurred only in mid-2012. The book may be purchased from Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com
After termination of Jay’s association with Andrew Galambos’ Free Enterprise Institute in 1978, Jay developed lectures of his own creation in which he examined with an originality all his own the idea of building a social structure free of coercion and war. This book is the fruit of Jay’s independent study, lecturing and writing over a period of more than sixty years, since he was an eighth grade junior high school student.
The book starts with the following verses written by Jay on July 24, 1950 (at age 14) for a Creative Writing Class at Audubon Junior High School in Los Angeles.
A Losing Fight
The world today is not so gay,
Fighting and bickering all the way.
Who knows when war may start
And tear this mad old world apart.
Some men fight to show their might;
Others still for the want to kill.
If countries shall make war again,
I promise you, no one will win.
The Introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book, as follows:
“For thousands of years, spiritual leaders have praised a creed that has ignited more organized violence, more systematized terror, more legalized murder, than any other other idea in religious history. This ancient tenet makes a promise to every believer: ‘Our faith is the one true belief in the one true god.'”
Snelson also identifies a different idea that is an essential part of many major religions–namely what is known in Judeo-Christian tradition as the biblical Golden Rule. In the Jewish bible it is stated as follows in Leviticus: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” The same thought was carried over into the Christian “New Testament” as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This idea appears in the Islamic Koran and the texts of other religions in various forms that present essentially the same concept.
Jay examines how the second of these two very different ideas has been eclipsed by what he calls the “win-lose paradigm: For us to gain, they must lose.”
He explains his purpose in writing this book as follows:
“To avoid the demise of our species, faith in the merit of win-lose religion must be superseded by faith in the merit of win-win religion for nonviolent gain. Whether this is possible or impossible, practical or impractical, are crucial questions that will be addressed by this treatise. . . The social and spiritual gains of moving from win-lose to win-win religion are priceless. Canons of win-win theology offer an alluring path toward moral and kindly behavior. . . The main focus of this writing is on taming the violence of religious faith. However, the violence of political faith will not be ignored.”
The ideas set forth above are investigated in thirteen chapters and 436 pages of well-referenced text. Jay concludes that the religious Golden Rule has a crucial role in advancing a paradigm shift away from win-lose toward win-win religion. “This is the key to taming the violence of faith. . . In the long run . . . the alternative for humans is to flourish or perish. Where humans flourish, they know what they are doing–and they can prove it by eliminating violence from their faith . . .” In other words, if you don’t know for a fact what is the cause of something, find out, don’t act on superstition or beliefs that cannot be verified by anything other than “faith” in religious authorities. Instead, act on the Golden Rule.
A key factor identified by Snelson is the need for humans to “know what they are doing,” that is, to use observation–the basis of the scientific method–to understand cause and effect, rather than using metaphysical concepts and superstitions to explain things. For example, Jay points to the false explanation that “witches” in league with the devil were the cause of human misfortunes such as the plague that is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% percent of the population of Europe in the 14th century.
Those identified as witches were punished with torture and execution by burning alive. It became known much later, too late for the unfortunate “witches,” that the plague was a bacterial infection, transmitted by fleas carried on rats. “After centuries of executing thousands (possibly 100,000 to 500,0000) so-called witches by fire . . . it was finally realized . . . that these accused women were innocent. . . Some authorities [estimate] . . . the number executed for the alleged practice of witchcraft to be as high as nine million.”
Snelson has found a quotation from a religious authority that if the church says black is white it is the religious duty of true adherents of the religion to believe it. That is the reason that not only witchcraft but heresy–for example questioning any doctrines of the church–was punishable by torture and execution by burning alive.
Concern about an accusation of heresy troubled the great scientist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) even as late as the 18th century in England, where the Enlightenment found its most favorable home. Newton considered himself a Christian, but did not believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that God consisted of three entities, the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit (an ill-defined term). Newton thought the Holy Trinity concept was totally false, a fiction, and a perversion of true Christianity. He spent an enormous amount of time and energy writing essays to prove the falsity of the doctrine. However, he kept his ideas to himself, not publishing, and sharing his opinion only with the most trusted of friends as he did not want to run the risk of criticism and even religious persecution by falsifying the idea of the Holy Trinity.
Snelson’s book is well worth reading not only as a treatise on the pursuit of human peace, freedom and prosperity, but also as a fascinating history of the errors in human thinking that have caused so much misery. A message, and not the only one, of this book, is that the most horrible manifestations of religion in western civilization could have been avoided if religious “leaders” had treated the Golden Rule as the centerpiece of their religion.That was the message of the rabbi Hillel, when he was asked by a Roman soldier some 2,000 years ago to explain his religion “while standing on one foot.” Hillel is reputed to have replied: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah [bible]; the rest is the explanation.”
For more about the work of Jay Snelson, see The Sustainable Civilization Institute, www.suscivinst.com