Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Religions of Peace

This posting may be the most controversial that I have ever written, and is probably capable of more misinterpretation than any that I have yet put on paper. It's something that I have been carrying around in my head for quite a while however (there is plenty of unused space up there after all), and realizing that the Wednesday rant this week would be my 600th posting on the site made it seem as good a time as any to trot it out.

Condemn me as an apostate if you will, but I ask that you at least read it through (and carefully) before making any judgment of me. This offering is not intended as denigration of any religious belief including my own, but instead of the acts that have been perpetrated in the name of such belief.      

There are many today using the attacks of Muslim extremists around the world to vilify the Islamic religion. They point out that while the tenets of this religion are ones of peace, those committing these violent attacks on civilian populations today do so in the name of such beliefs. They further make the case that these attacks are not limited to populations of non-believers (those believing in other religions), but that many of the attacks committed are by Shiite Muslims attacking Sunni Muslims, and vice versa (and yes, I do understand that their are differences between the two).     

One can hardly help but notice however that the current crop of terrorism in the world does seem to come from such contradictory beliefs and practices held under the religion of Islam. One can also say that believers in Islam seem to have cornered the market on such actions in recent years. To my knowledge there are no current Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist terrorist groups currently operating on any scale around the world.   

This is not to say however, that the Islamic faith is the only one guilty of such inconsistency, or of acts of unspeakable violence and depravity, and that as a consequence, that many other religions have their share guilt to atone for. Jesus too preached a religion of peace some 2000 years ago, and yet some of the most violent and terrible acts in the time since have been done in His name.   

The Crusades for example, are often romanticized as heroic knightly deeds done in defense of the Holy Land; but the truth is far less appealing. Not only was a great deal of savagery and torture perpetrated by these Christian knights in their looting and pillaging of lands not their own in the name of greed (not their God), but far too often they pillaged their Christian allies as well on the road to what were considered ripe pickings in the lands around Jerusalem. 

No one who has studied history will likewise be able to ignore the acts of barbarism, torture, and murder that were committed during The Inquisition(s). History in fact defines four separate Inquisitions, the first beginning in the 12th century and the last going on until around 1860. One of the most notorious, The Spanish Inquisition, spread this reign of terror from Europe to the new world, torturing and murdering innocent native populations in the Americas who would not accept what these conquerors considered "the true faith"

Even the suffering that occurred in the "Troubles" of Ireland, while attempting to deal with long-standing issues of a brutal occupation and national sovereignty, carried a religious component within the British Isles. 

If we want to look further back, we need only study the Old Testament of the Bible. Here we can read the chronicle of that same God (for members of both the Christian and Jewish faith at least) similarly putting unbelievers to the sword at various times. The Canaanites, the Midianites, and the Philistines all found this original Jewish state more than willing to take up the sword (and pretty successfully according to the accounts) in the name of their Deity when necessary. Those living in many of those same lands today (and still fighting the same battles, according to some) have found the current Jewish state an equally formidable opponent. 

The Old Testament further tells us that these acts were considered both righteous and Godly, and well in keeping with the behavior of a Supreme Being of peace who was not above committing an act of violence in the name of religious retribution Himself (Can you say "The Flood" or "The Tower of Babel"?). So while it must be admitted that believers in Jewish faith have, down through history, far too often been the target of such inexcusably brutal behavior (and continue to be today), their own past is not entirely unblemished. 

Some early civilizations of course, like the Romans and Greeks, simply gave in to the violence in human nature and religion by having a god of war on which they could blame such human activity. In the Americas, the Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayans likewise had no problem reconciling the concept of religion and violence. Their belief system did nothing more to excuse such acts as being justified by religion, but did at least save them from the potential moral schizophrenia inherent in trying to follow a peaceful dogma while committing horribly violent acts. 

None of this of course, is an excuse for the current acts of terror and barbarism going on in the world today, and any moral justification for committing such acts by claiming that they are "the will of God" is little more than a cheap form of self-delusion. These actions are beyond deplorable regardless of any attempted moral justification, and those that commit them deserve no reward in whatever heaven they claim to believe in (or any other for that matter). That being said, it must be admitted that much of the violence perpetrated by one human being on another throughout history has been done in the name of belief in a purportedly peaceful Supreme Being. While there appear to be limited exceptions to this (some of the eastern religions come to mind), few of them can attempt to assume the moral high ground on the subject if they look closely enough at their own past. 

As for those committing these senseless and unsuccessful acts, they cannot even claim credit for being the inventors of violence in the name of such belief, merely the latest in a long line of disreputable perpetrators. (I call them unsuccessful since while they have proved tactically successful, they have consistently failed to achieve the hoped for strategic objectives for which they were committed.) They prove little more than the fact that vestiges of envy, hatred, and barbarism remain part of the what we choose to call the 'human condition'.

History, if it chooses to remember them at all, will hopefully do so as little more than failed villains. It's likewise to be hoped that their acts will have little if any lasting effect on the long course of societal evolution. If history can be said in fact to have taught us anything however, it is that no one has ever been entirely safe from those following religions of peace.


Roland Hansen said...

This is an excellent treatise of yours. It reflects my own sentiments, exactly.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Amigo Tim,

Likewise, I can find no disagreement in what you have written.

It is both logical and well thought out.

And, as Amigo Roland has said, It also reflects my sentiments exactly.

Now how about tackling another controversial subject; The "business" of religion???


Tim Higgins said...

Thanks for the support amigos. As to taking up the subject you suggest Dave, I will certainly consider it.

You know, they say you should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. The three of us (with others, of course) regularly do one, and this now takes on the other. Heaven help us.

Dave said...


Well thought out and I really liked the historical framing of the issue. I could not agree more on the theme.

BTW it's Religion of Peace(TM)

mud_rake said...

I have, in the past, written much about religious hypocrisy and have come to believe that religion is extremely overrated in its 'effectiveness' in bringing both the believer and the society in which they live to 'peace.' In fact, I find religious adherence a deterrent to unity and, therefore tangentially, to peace itself. There is no greater divisive agent created by humans than religion.

As a very small and fairly worthless fact, one might note the lack of racial diversity in Christian churches on a Sunday morning. Further, there are many ethnic churches as well which exclude 'the other' during that worship service.

Spirituality, on the other hand, seems perfectly legitimate and may lead one to both inner as well as external signs of peace.