I define ‘Chasing Sanity’ as the attempt to make sense out of the clutter, disarray, confusion and discord of our modern world. It is a search for evidence and rational argument.
We live in a world that is always on the edge of the next crisis, natural disasters, uprisings, street riots, the threat of war. We are surrounded by extremism, fundamentalism, terrorism, fanaticism, pessimism, apocalyptism, materialism, conspiracism, nationalism, anarchism, cynicism, racism, dogmatism, emotionalism, denialism, defeatism, absolutism. (I've found some 300 isms while writing this post – some I never knew existed).
There is nervousness and un-ease in daily world events - global economic downturn, increasing evidence of an imminent climate crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, ease of access to biological weapons, festering revolution in the Middle East, the disappearance of Arctic ice, species extinction. These are worrying times.
It’s insanity, craziness, madness. If insanity is defined as 'poor health of the mind marked by irrationality and emotionalism', then humanity’s behaviors have become a danger to itself - delusional, unstable and self-threatening.
We've all had the experience of tuning our FM radio to a particular station but getting a lot of static, confusing noise, screeching – just slightly off the exact frequency. I sometimes think humanity is the same, a little to the left or to the right of the proper frequency. One slight adjustment and you find clarity and a mysterious sense of order, logic and balance. Then, one slight move off this frequency and all hell breaks loose into insanity and turmoil. It’s the same in our daily lives. We are forever chasing sanity and trying to hold on to it. But it can easily vanish just like sand slipping through your fingers.
Humanity is in the throes of many destabilizing forces but the most formidable source of instability and threat to our sanity is religion. According to Richard Dawkins, “Only the willfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities in the world today. Without a doubt it is the prime aggravator of the Middle East.” And of all the major religions, none is more extreme than Islam because of its political dimension. But the fundamentalist Christian right dogma emanating from the US, the most powerful nation on Earth, is equally disturbing.
God Bless the United States of America
In The End of Faith, Richard Harris highlights the religious simplicity of Americans:
According to recent polls, 22% of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to earth sometime in the next 50 years. Another 22% believe that he will probably do so.....more than 50% of Americans have a negative or highly negative view of people who do not believe in God and 70% think it important for a presidential candidate to be strongly religious. Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution; 72% believe in angels.
"Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and the belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world" says Harris.
Islamists regard themselves as Muslims rather than members of the Islamist movement. This results in linking a political agenda with a religious view of everything, an enormously explosive worldview devoid of rationalism and fueled by emotionalism.
Islamism is defined as a set of political ideologies derived from various religious views of Muslim fundamentalists, which hold that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic and social imperatives of the state. Islamist movements seek to re-shape the state by implementing a conservative formulation of Sharia.
The clash between religious faith and reason is problematic. “The boundary between mental illness and respectable religious belief can be difficult to discern” says Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape. One can extrapolate from this that there is no boundary between insanity and fundamentalist religious belief. Society’s use of religion to affect political agendas has become the greatest source of unrest in our world.
In 1989, a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie, after he published The Satanic Verses, was issued by the Iranian government. This order was not lifted until 1998. Numerous killings, attempted killings, and bombings resulted from Muslim anger over the novel and Rushdie lived in fear of his life for a decade.
In September 2005, The Jyllands-Posten (Danish newspaper) published 12 editorial cartoons about the prophet Muhammad. Muslims protested across the Islamic world leading to violence with more than 100 reported deaths, including the bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan and setting fire to the Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, storming European buildings and burning the Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, French and German flags in Gaza City. Various groups responded by endorsing Danish policies, including "Buy Danish" campaigns and other displays of support. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.
And the latest incident involving Islamic extremists has been sparked by an American-made film (Innocence of Muslims) mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Protests against America started in Libya and then exploded in over 20 countries. Kirkpatrick reports in the NYT:
the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington... it was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom"....swept up in the colliding crosscurrents of regional politics. From one side came the gale of anger at America’s decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Why the film triggered such wrath is more about the unfulfilled expectations of the Arab Spring movement which swept the Middle East, promising democracy and better economic conditions, neither of which has yet to fully take place. There is a powerful undercurrent of resentment not only against Americans but also internal turmoil between radicals who are jockeying for power in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and beyond.
But, in the midst of the chaos, some still have the courage to speak up, as in this comment in an Egyptian newspaper reported by BBC News “Should we turn into murderers and slaughterers to prove to the world that we love the Prophet?”