What if Religions had Always Been a Force Against Genocide and For Human Rights?
The more you look into history, the more you realize that rape/pillage/plunder/selling survivors into slavery has been frightfully common, and that only recently has the world begun to stand up to this phenomenon. This article is sort of ADHD Jared Diamond Anthropology, a snapshot of what happened, and what might have happened, if the various religions had offset this phenomenon, the way you’d expect them to, in various historic eras
We should not expect too much from the world’s religions, as after all they are a sort of loose confederation of people mostly wanting to do good, and not always having the power to stand up to despotic rulers with racist intent. However, its when you learn that these despotic rulers have sometimes coopted these religions that you say “Wait! How can you call yourself a religion if you don’t as a minimum stand against genocide and for human rights?” and you would more or less be correct in that assertion. Ironically though, the history of genocide and human rights violation has created a kind of bizarre consolidation and efficiency, gluing all the barely surviving tribes of antiquity into larger, uniform masses called Nations, each with its own justification for its previous plunder (often called “quests for freedom”, “the will of insert deity here”, or the “battle against the evil and heathen insert enemy here”. The ultimate irony might be that horrible as they are, war and pestilence might ultimately save us from a kind of mass-starvation. You’d hope that religions would have thought all this through (and maybe they have) but let’s find out.
First, Jared Diamond speculates that the Cro-Magnons committed genocide on the Neanderthals, but that is too far back to speculate any kind of religious involvement. Now, the year is 1,200 BC, and the Hebrew Bible hasn’t yet been written, as Moses has yet to part the Red Sea. The two leading religious brands are Ra worship in Egypt (polytheistic, but more or less the State religion), and Ba’al worship in the Fertile Crescent (Ba’al worship being a kind of stand-in for various religions there, the way “Christianity” is a stand in for the many current Jesus worshipping churches). Despite their religious pretext of Ba’al (Marduk actually), the Babylonians conquered and enslaved the rest of Mesopotamia around 1,800 BC (Hammurabi applying literal use of the “eye for an eye” method) and Assyria opened up a can of whoop-ass on the other Mesopotamians around 1,600 BC, 1,200 BC, (and just to make sure) again in 800 BC. Egypt may have used a religious pretext to enslave North Africans and occasionally denizens of the Levant from 3,000 BC onward, but besides the stories of Moses and some cuneiform tablets, no one is quite sure. Iron age invaders of around 1,200 BC committed a kind of “payback” genocide on walled cities (Greeks sacking of Troy as an example) and the Hittites, Minoans, Canaanites, Assyrians were weakened as a result (no one knows how many “Helens” were carried off as war prizes). It was all willy-nilly, and no one really wrote down what happened, other than Homer and perhaps Moses. However, if Ba’al and Ra worshippers had been able to form some kind of moral, legal, military defense, perhaps the walled bronze-age people would have survived, and iron-age marauders stayed home.
That said, the Jews of Moses were no strangers to genocide and enslaving people as Joshua and Moses annihilated the Canaanites (1,100 BC?), and Saul destroyed the Amalekites (around 800 BC?) These actions obviously had a religious pretext (against Ba’al worshippers for starters), so it may have been too much to expect restraint here. Next there was the Babylonian captivity (around 600 BC) when the Mesopotamians turned the tables on the Israelites, enslaving and (God knows) what else. But they did manage to convert Nebuchadnezzar, which presumably cut the violence short. Next, there was the Roman’s supposed “reluctant” sacking of Carthage around 200 BC, which you could kind of understand since Hannibal had been trampling Romans with elephants up to that point. It is significant to note that Caesar’s official genocide of Gaul around 50 BC ushered in a period when Roman genocide became cool (pretty much annihilating people just for the fun of it), as one aspiring to be a Roman leader learned to use Rome’s army to kill and plunder neighbors (even if they weren’t threatening Rome) to enrich themselves and gain power. Subsequently, Trajan “protected” Rome against the Dacians (modern Romania) around 100 AD and Constantine I (using Christianity as a pretext) secured power in the East over the dead bodies of Asia Minor residents. To be fair, nationhood was not yet a thing, nor was religion powerful enough to stop much of this, but what if Judeo-Christianity had taken hold sooner and become more powerful? Perhaps Roman Catholicism may have emerged right after the time of Christ, and the evil works of Caesar may have become an anomaly instead of a template. As such, perhaps the European nations of today may have emerged earlier with some kind of genocidal defense?
But wait, we’re just getting started. Around 700 AD, we had the marauding forces of Islam, who killed and enslaved great numbers in the Middle East (in the name of Allah) and starting in 1,200 AD, the forces of Genghis Khan (and later Tamerlane) killed and enslaved into the millions in Eastern Europe and the Near East (it is not clear if the Mongolians had any kind of religious pretext, but they more or less ended up adopting Islam, which conveniently likes genocide when in the name of conversion to…wait for it…Islam). Did this get the attention of the Roman Catholics? Not really, as they were too busy conducting their own Albigensian (Cathars in Southern France) and Waldensian (Northern Italy) massacres, with many hundreds of thousands killed and Lord knows what else, around 1,100 AD. Famously, Islam was just getting started killing Christians, as the Ottoman Empire began ravaging the Balkans, Levant, Fertile Crescent, and Armenia in the 1600s. At this point, we won’t even get into the Colonial era, where competition among European powers for control of the New World, Africa, and Asia resulted in the senseless deaths of millions (by war, disease, or enslavement) starting around 1,500 AD. By now, you’re getting the idea that genocide and human rights abuse happens more BECAUSE of religion and not IN SPITE of religion, but let’s just suppose that Christians and Muslims had decided in the beginning that these things were bad, and thus modern nations (and modern population growth) emerged earlier.
When all is said and done, the eerie possibility is that the absence of all this killing, disease, humiliation, lack of human rights, and suffering would’ve been a world on the brink of starvation and overcrowding, if not an earlier environmental devastation. So that unless the world’s religions and proto-nations had gotten together, let’s say in a Judeo-Christian-Islamic summit around 800 AD, to discuss overcrowding, starvation, and environmentalism (all linked), a bunch of people would’ve died anyway. The only hope at that 800 AD conference, might’ve been an agreement to adopt food rationing, birth control, clean air and water measures, in addition to anti-genocide and human rights, in hopes that the world would neither starve nor kill each other off. In short, this conference in 800 AD would look a whole lot like THE UNITED NATIONS OF TODAY! The net result of genocide intervention might be to make humanity look like farmed animals, spared from starvation or brutal killings but instead living in protected areas where some are “culled” (mostly the males, and the defective females) for the betterment of the ”herd”. It might also look like that Star Trek where computers waged simulated wars, and a “bomb strike” meant a programmed death for x number of citizens (so as to not do harm to the precious infrastructure). In any case we may be doomed to forever form groups that hate each other as for all we know, the Cro-Magnons slaughtered the Neanderthals because they liked the Moon God more than the Sun God. But who am I to know and to judge? I’m simply a hack writer for Medium.