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The threat of isms and mindless dogma.

History is full of orthodoxies and isms--communities that view the rightness of their particular faith or philosophy rigidly. Many of these communities, led by demagogues who use faith as a tool to promote their own agenda, have found it proper to use force to try to impose their belief structure on those with different beliefs.

I am going to use the term "jihad," the original meaning of which, The Greater Jihad, I understand to be the struggle of an individual to conform every aspect of his life and thought to the principles of his chosen set of beliefs.

The meaning of jihad has been corrupted and is used to justify coercing compliance with the dictates of a faith. While the underlying causes of conflict may be economic--or anything else the rationale for conflict is historically couched, by demagogues, in terms that compel the faithful.

Ideally, each of us would consciously select a belief structure after a thorough critical analysis of the world we live in and intense contemplation. But we know that most religious and political beliefs have been accepted not as a conscious decision, but through indoctrination from our earliest years.

I am Jewish by birth and heritage. The Hebrews, slaves in Egypt, freed from bondage by a highly educated member of the royalty, were led into the desert and given two tablets of basic rules. Had they been more intellectually capable, might they have looked more skeptically at the leader who, inspired by a burning bush, told them to wander in the desert for 40 years, come to accept Judaism, then make jihad to conquer their "Promised Land"?

I am going to skip plenty of examples, but the early Christians were persecuted in the worst way because of their evangelistic, heretical view of the Roman world. This changed with time and war. The Crusades were an unsuccessful series of major jihads against Muslim control of Jerusalem. In turn, the Muslims carried their jihad, for conquest and for the way of life acceptable to Islam, to Africa, Europe and Asia.

As the Middle Ages turned into the Renaissance, the rise of Protestantism led to holy wars that broke out across Northern Europe. Repeated pogroms flared up across Eastern Europe. Spain had its Inquisition. In France, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre resulted in the slaughter of many thousands of Protestants. England's King Henry VIII threw out the Catholic Church and persecuted its followers over a refused divorce.

Over the next hundred years, changes back and forth ultimately led to the overthrow of the English royalty by Puritanism. As a reward, the soldiers were sent to Catholic Ireland to take it over. The consequences of debasing the Irish because of their faith have been killing people for three and a half centuries since.

New ideas, without the cachet of religion, arose. The American Revolution created an idea, an ism, about the rights of man. In France, this idea was used as an excuse to make jihad on the known world. Millions died in the epic wars that ensued.

Other ideas followed, like Communism and Nazism. In each case, a leadership developed a set of basic precepts, learned how to propagandize and promote them, enlisting large-scale rabid, dogmatic belief as an excuse to try to impose their ism on the world. The price paid for this was on a scale unimagined in human history.

Now another orthodoxy is taking on the world. Subsumed by dogmatic zealots, it has turned' to terror and war, fought in any and every manner conceivable, regardless of the consequences to innocent life. This war, this so-called jihad, is a struggle to conquer, and to impose one lifestyle oil everyone--a perversion of the Greater Jihad, the individual struggle for understanding one's faith and attempting to be faithful to it.

We hold, in this country, with application everywhere, that "all men are created equal." Each of us can use our inherent or acquired abilities to become something special and unique, contributing to the betterment of the world we all live in. To truly achieve this, we must learn to critically analyze all information, constantly apply that analysis, question our own basic assumptions and move from the conviction that our faith is right, and all others are inferior, to accepting that our faith is right for us--period.

The failure of society to give each individual that kind of education, to prepare each person to encounter conflicting ideas and beliefs, to teach each person to support and promote the idea of universal human equality and tolerance can Only continue to doom us to conflict, anarchy and ultimate destruction.

Ralph Sidore, a Manchester Millyard property manager and a member of the Dean's Advisory Board at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, was the commencement speaker at the college's recent commencement. This article is excerpted from that address.
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Title Annotation:FAITH & SOCIETY
Author:Sidore, Ralph
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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