Talking with the young woman who contributed this question, Danielle Chapdelaine, I gathered that she was primarily talking about culture and religion when she referred to ‘their way’. But I suppose that it could be taken to mean any aspect of life that a person has a strong opinion about, from how to make tea to whether a child should be allowed to die rather than to have a blood transfusion. People will argue just as strenuously about how to load the dishwasher as they will about whether there is life after death, but the mundane, such as tea and dishwashers, haven’t resulted in wars and been responsible for the death of millions of people over thousands of years. Religion, on the other hand, has.
So why do people think that their way, their culture, their religion is the only way? I think it’s because of fear. We are brought up as part of a ‘tribe’ and as a result of that ‘tribe’ we learn what to believe and how to behave. Our place in our family, culture, or religion is a core part of our identity, who we are and where we feel we belong in the world. Very few of us are willing to step outside of that safe place and venture into the wilderness alone.
Believe me, I understand this. I grew up as part of a very cultish fundamental Christian religion. This religion is highly skilled in separating its members from the rest of the world. If a member even expresses doubt or questions the doctrine or the leaders, they are excluded from the worldwide congregation and shunned. Potentially they could lose all contact with their parents, siblings, and even their children. They are banished as clearly as if they were tossed out of a walled city and left to wander in a literal wilderness.
Now how could people accept that as okay? By brainwashing. By being taught to believe that their way is the only way and that everyone else is BAD and EVIL. By being taught that as long as they are members in good standing in the religion, they are protected by God and that they are God’s people. By being taught that, sooner rather than later, everyone else is going to be killed when God finally does away with evil. If you’ve been taught that from birth, cutting loose requires more than most people are willing to give.
I know people who, because they succumbed to the temptations of the ‘world’, were shunned like that and committed suicide. Why not? They were going to die anyway, right? A close friend of mine went the other way, deciding that if he was ‘evil’ by their standards, he might as well be well and truly bad and he became a criminal, eventually spending time in a penitentiary.
Religion isn’t the only side of this. In Canada recently we had a court case involving a Muslim honor killing. Three young sisters and their father’s first wife were in a car that was pushed into the Rideau Canal. The father, his wife and the brother of the three girls were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The Muslim community condemned the so-called honor killings but you can’t deny the fact that the family, at the very least, thought that they had the right to judge and condemn those who had chosen not to follow their ‘way’.
There’s an appeal to being part of the ‘in crowd’, part of an exclusive religion, especially one with such clear-cut rules and requirements. After all, you don’t have to think; you just behave yourself. To some extent, it’s only difficult if you have the urge to think or to be yourself rather than a Stepford woman. It’s no surprise that the most likely candidate for their recruitment efforts are those who are depressed, suffering, or not fitting in with the larger ‘tribe’. Being ‘love-bombed’ and welcomed by other outsiders has a curious appeal.
So how would the world be if we all accepted that there was more than one way? I would assume that it would be more inclusive and accepting. People would be less judgemental. There probably would be less depression and suicide. There might be more programs that are supportive of those who have less or who are suffering in some way because we wouldn’t be judging them as ‘less than’ or ‘bad’. But that’s just my daydream.
To some extent, I think we are going through an evolution towards that more accepting view. Atheism is the fastest growing religion in the US. Science is defeating the myths of religion. Investigation is overruling revelation. There is hope.
But really I think all it would mean is that the other cause of exclusivity and ‘better than thou’ attitudes—a need by some people for power and control—would take over as the leading cause of people thinking that their way is the only way. Cynical? Yeah I guess.
I remember when I was a hippie teenager, like every other hippie teenager, I decided that communism was obviously such a great idea that we should all jump on it. My dad quoted Churchill to me. It went something like, “If a man isn’t a communist when he’s 15 he has no heart; if he is a communist at 30, he has no brain.”
For the belief in a single truth is the root cause for all evil in the world…Max Born, physicist