This quote by German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is world-famous. Yet, taken out of context (as in this heading and in deliberate combination with the picture above) it is often wildly misinterpreted. Without getting into a lengthy debate on what he meant, I speak from experience when I say that his words have been used to justify all sorts of things. Similarly, everyday I come across somebody on the internet backing up some ludicrous claim by posting a quote of someone whose status and opinion we ought to respect, often taken out of context and not rarely just wrongly attributed (Learn more from John Oliver. It’s sad and hilarious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx8siugG440)
This post is about religious texts, language and how almost any complex or convoluted text could be used to seemingly justify any action. I’ll add my existential perspective on world piece and conflict resolution and will end in one important question that perhaps you can help answering.
In recent times I’ve increasingly noticed this or that quote from popular texts being used as justification for certain actions (I’m trying deliberately not to add a value judgement here or make it about religion per se. We have similar problems in academia). Thing is, that translations of texts are always tricky. So is the original version and, as a matter of fact, language itself. It is always subject to interpretation. Religious texts from other languages are particularly open to interpretation and anybody with an agenda can succeed to ground their argument in literature. All they need to do is interpret… well … broadly and creatively. The older and more complex the text, the easier. Especially in times where most people don’t go to great lengths to find, check, challenge and ponder on the original source.
For example – and this sparked this spontaneous post – I came across the following “translation” of a verse in the Qur’an:
In comparison, have a look at the many different interpretations on here: http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=8&verse=39 or this one from wikiislam.net:
“And fight them on until there is
no more tumult or oppression [Fitna], and
there prevail justice and faith in Allah
altogether and everywhere.”
The first highlights war and conflict while the other highlights piece through freedom from oppression and tumult. What they all have in common is that Allah should be the only god for all people and the claim is that this will end Fitnah (and therefore assumedly bring peace). Let’s note here that Christianity’s 1st commandment (old testament) states that there should be no other gods besides the one, so in this regard the texts of Islam and Christianity (to only name two) are the same.
And actually, claiming that a single world-religion (basically fundamentally shared belief system) is in essence a good thing and may result in world peace is true I think. If everybody held the same basic beliefs and values (no matter if religious or not), then a lot of conflict wouldn’t exist due to the lack of differences in opinion. Personally I think that it is impossible for us all to have the same or even largely shared belief systems, but I can understand why one would want to believe in this kind of utopia. There’s a lot of hope in it and it seems motivated by a longing for world piece; a noble cause, isn’t it?
To add my two existential cents, I think we need to embrace difference, which is to embrace a certain level of conflict. Sartre said that “Hell is other people”. What he meant (most likely 😉 ) is that no two people are exactly the same and hence other people remind us of our fundamental difference to one another. We can never all be the same, hence we will (existentially) always be in conflict with each other. What we need to learn is to manage its escalation into violence (verbal and physical).
A question that keeps coming up for me is: How is it that so many people seem to struggle to accept that other people have different beliefs, values and worldviews, different ideas about what’s right and wrong?
“We cannot fight being different to one another.
Existential thinkers will agree that this is one
of the fundamental truths about existence.
Let’s celebrate diversity!”