We humans are silly little creatures, and abstract beliefs rule our lives. On a routine basis, we destroy ourselves over ideas that exist only in our minds. Perhaps no incident illustrates this point better than the case of a 15-year-old Pakistani boy who cut off his own hand due to a misunderstanding.

Anwar Ali, the teenage son of a poor laborer, was attending evening prayers. That’s when Shabbir Ahmad, the Imam leading the prayers, asked for a show of hands as to those who did not love the prophet Muhammad. Anwar, thinking the man had asked who did love the prophet (which would seem to be the more logical statement), raised his hand.

The Imam shouted out “Blasphemer!” in front of the whole congregation, branding him a non believer. So Anwar, fashioning himself a loyal follower of Islam, left and cut off his own hand with a scythe for the crime of having accidentally committed blasphemy. He returned to the imam later that day, presenting the gift of his severed right hand and asking for repentance.

Authorities in Pakistan’s Punjab province have charged the cleric with using hate speech to incite violence. In yet another twist of insanity, the boy’s family says they are actually proud of what he did.

This may seem like an extreme example of beliefs gone wrong, but only because we’re not accustomed to people lopping off their own hand. Yet I could point to just as many instances in this country in which a similarly absurd belief has driven someone to suicide.

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