Burning The Quran is Burning The Heart of Humanity

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     A Texas minister is advocating and planning the burning of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as a gesture to indicate his and his congregation’s intolerance toward what he believes is Muslim violence propagated by this book and Muslim theology.

    I am not a theologian so I’m not representing myself as an expert in terms of the books contents but I did read the Quran last summer as I wanted to understand its meaning rather than being told what in fact it conveys. While I was reading it I was reminded of being in graduate school during the flourishing of the humanistic psychology movement. I heard many disparaging comments about Freud and his writings at that time when psychoanalysis was going out of favor. As a young man idealizing my professors I took their comment to be the truth. Years later when I studied with psychoanalysts and actually read Freud I was astounded to learn that his comments, particularly the German translations, were far from what I had been told.

   The Quran does include passages of violence and it does seem to me to be inconsistent at times, not unlike the Old Testament and other ancient religious texts. It also reads as a book of justice, peace and compassion. It particularly emphasizes the plight of the poor and the need to help all of those who suffer and go unnoticed. It is unquestionable that extremists have used passages in the Koran to justify killing but many Muslims have also pointed out that the Quran condemns suicide, condemns mass murder and advocates protecting the rights of civilians. I refer you to Stephen Prothero’s wonderful book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World-and Why Their Differences Matter” for a more comprehensive perspective.

    Isn’t’ this issue another example that begs the question of what to do to prevent needless violence and terrorism throughout the world? Not just in relation to religious differences but regarding all differences of significance?

               An eye for an eye will cripple the spirit of the world because some group has to be destroyed, creating a rage that will ultimately lead to more violence in retaliation. As General Petraeus and an interfaith summit of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders denounced the plan for a 9/11 burning Pastor Jones persists in his belief that the bible calls for standing up for justice.

    I listened to an interview with Pastor Jones not along on Boston radio. It was obvious to me that he believes he is actually helping to bring about peace by his actions. I did not hear words that indicated, at least in this radio hour, that this minister was cold hearted or sadistic in nature. In fact he and many others often believe that taking aggressive action is a valiant attempt to bring calm and sanity to the world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I believe a critical answer to these types of conflicts is our understanding of the role of empathy in coping with difference and diversity. I have spent years researching the role of empathy in creating understanding and compassion. In The Power of Empathy (Plume) I emphasized how this inherent ability is fact based, never generalizes and helps us focus on objective realities rather than our biases that are often based on emotion and lack of reason.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  In the recently published bestseller “The Empathic Civilization” (Tarcher), author Jeremy Rifkin extensively reviews research from biological and cognitive scientists and concludes that our capacity for empathy may in fact determine whether we survive as a species. Rifkin encourages readers to contemplate what he considers to be the greatest question of our time:  Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the earth?

As I read and reflect on the recent research regarding the concept and practice of empathy, I am convinced that empathy should be a characteristic expected of all individuals in positions of authority (politicians, teachers, theologians, parents etc). How else can we possibly understand, with accuracy, the variables that accompany each and every significant problem we face?

   In recent years research on empathy has exploded.  Scientists have discovered that we possess empathy nerve cells, called mirror neurons, which play a central role in our ability to perceive another person’s intentions and develop the capacity for empathy.  Many researchers believe that mirror neurons are the most significant neuroscientific discovery in recent years.

We know from the research that empathy soothes and calms an agitated brain inhibiting violence and aggression and guiding us to successful negotiation rather than needless confrontation.  Empathy may indeed be the key to stopping the bullying in our schools and the terrorism that exists around the world. Empathy, the capacity to understand and respond to the unique aspects of another, may be the one ability born into our psyches that could end the “eye for an eye” mentality that leads to aggression.  Understanding the in-depth background and motivations of those who we perceive as threatening gives us information that is critical to negotiation and conflict resolution.

Burning a holy book to motivate change is an action based on superficial assumptions that are derived in the absence of empathy and in the absence of a God of peace.

 

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Arthur Ciaramicoli PhD

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