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On Passion

I wrote this in response to an article that suggested that because of all the evil things people driven by religion have done, religion should be ignored. While Iíll admit that everyone the right to be agnostic or an atheist, it is unfair to blame religion for all of what humanity has done in its name.

Any student of history and human nature can read off examples of times where religion led to bloodshed or worse. Every religion has its share of madmen, but every religion also has its fair share of saints. The difference between the madmen and the saints is difficult to tell at times, and controversial as well. Some would call all religion a mass hysteria and thus anyone who follows it, no matter how saintly his behavior must then be, at least partially, insane. Their proof is the Crusades, the Jihads, and many other examples of religion gone wrong. Yet it should be noted that atheism has not a spotless record, the countless dead of the USSR and Communist China are the most prominent examples of this. Underneath all the slaughters mentioned is a common root. The Crusades were caused by religious passion, the Communist purges were caused by ideological passion, passion is the link. Passion is a powerful emotion, it can prompt a man to disregard his life and the lives of others, it can give people superhuman strength of will, and in certain people and in certain times, passion is massively contagious. And if all that powerful passion is misled, tragedy occurs. Ideologies, philosophies, religions, and all other forms of belief are based on a degree of passion, for all appeal to that very passionate center of the human soul, the search for the truth. Every belief-system offers the truth. The truth is the fundamental bedrock of a personís existence, their view on the world, the way they act, these are simply ways of carrying out the truth. Accepting something as that important and that central to a personís life requires passion. And passion is powerful, immensely powerful, and so it can lead to some spectacular monstrosities.

Some believe that therefore all passion should be abandoned. Nothing should become centrally important, and nothing should be accepted as the truth. This belief has a certain appeal, a believer in this idea will never kill for the truth, nor will he die for the truth, nor will he feel the agonizing pain of losing what he thought was the truth. I can understand the appeal, but I cannot believe in this idea. Passion can cause horrors but it can also cause miracles. Passion is what drives people to great acts, and these acts can be both horrible and beautiful. Passion drove Mother Theresa to care for the poorest of the poor. Passion drove Patrick Henry to offer his life for liberty. Passion drove Mohandas Gandhi to demand that every man be treated with respect. Passion drove Horatio Nelson to die to save his country from Napoleon. Passion drove Shakespeare to craft his magnificent plays. Without passion no one can see anything as truly great or beautiful, for that requires a full-hearted, unconditional belief in the truth of beauty and greatness.

Greatness and monstrosity both hail from passion. The dual-nature of passion mirrors the dual-nature of the human soul. Human beings have the potential to acquire power and use it to do great deeds, human beings also have the potential to use power to destroy, corrupt, and annihilate. That is the nature of humanity. Thus while passion can be seen as the root of great evil it must not be abandoned or abolished. For to destroy passion would be to lose our capability for living a beautiful life, and when mankind loses that, we lose our humanity.

This discussion started with religion, and so before it ends we should return to that topic. Religion is an object of great passion, and this alone can explain what evil has been done in its name. Yet passion also explains the great good that has been accomplished by those driven by religion. It would be unfair to say that all good deeds are committed by religious people, but it would be just as unfair to say that religion has never driven anyone to do a good deed. Great deeds of virtue require a person to overcome their fears, their personal problems, and the problems of society, to overcome this a person needs passion, and religion can provide this for some. To the faithful religion has many other benefits, but at the very least it inspires. What religion inspires can be good or evil, but it can inspire the truest sort of greatness. -John Thomas