Steven Pinker, in The Better Angles of Our Nature
, explores the history and psychology of human violence, and how violence has radically declined in recent human history. In one section, he covers the Christian persecution of apostates and heretics:
The belief that one may escape from an eternity in hell only by accepting Jesus as a savior makes it a moral imperative to coerce people into accepting that belief and to silence anyone who might sow doubt about it.
A broader danger of unverifiable beliefs is the temptation to defend them by violent means. People become wedded to their beliefs, because the validity of those beliefs reflects on their competence, commends them as authorities, and rationalizes their mandate to lead. Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.
One can see this state of mind quite clearly in the field of Mormon apologetics. It is not a given that all religious people will share this mindset. Believers with a more mature faith and sophisticated world view are not threatened by divergent belief. Indeed, some of the up and coming apologists are not threatened at all by "anti-Mormonism," but instead seek to defend their faith with reason and empathy.
But the classic NAMIRS school of apologetics shares much in common with the Pre-Enlightenment school of thought. Since they cannot break apostates on the wheel or the Judas cradle, they seek to destroy their reputations through character attack. Any work that contradicts their faith is seen as a threat, and an affront to the egos of the apologists. It must be crushed by any means necessary - usually slander. And just as voices calling for moderation and mercy in the Pre-Enlightenment age were silenced with violence, so too apologists turn on their own when they call for moderation and understanding.
I don't doubt, however, that this primitive mindset will eventually die out. As Mormonism begins to mature as a faith, so too will the instinct to lash out with verbal violence against apostates and heretics die out. This seems to be the unavoidable trajectory of human culture, within and without religion.
Parley P. Pratt wrote:
We must lie to support brother Joseph, it is our duty to do so.
B.R. McConkie, © Intellectual Reserve wrote:
There are those who say that revealed religion and organic evolution can be harmonized. This is both false and devilish.