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Striking the Root of Religious Extremism
Column by Robert Johnson.
Exclusive to STR
We are all appalled and disgusted when we hear about Islamic courts sentencing people to be whipped or beheaded for blasphemy against Islam or Mohammed.
We wonder how injustices can be justified by their perpetrators when we see images of Muslims being forced from their homes by Israeli settlers or hear Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu justify Israel's illegal and violent occupation of Jerusalem by saying, “[Jerusalem] is not a settlement. It is the sovereign capital of the State of Israel. We have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years.”
When we see a news report on an innocent child who died because their Christian parents refused to give them life saving medical attention due to their faith, we can't grasp how any loving parent could do such a thing.
These and other forms of religious extremism all have a common source: holy scripture. If we are serious about wanting to stem the tide of these atrocities against humanity and God-given reason, we must objectively address the source. If we do not address the source, we cannot correct the problem.
The three Abrahamic “revealed” religions of Judaism and its two offshoots, Christianity and Islam, all have holy scriptures which they are based upon. Judaism has the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Christianity has the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament. Islam has the Koran and Sharia/God's law.
The clergy of these Abrahamic religions all claim that these different ancient books are the word of God. This belief in their divine origins is what prevents many sincere believers from objectively questioning the holy scriptures of their religion. They falsely believe that if they question and reject their particular holy book and “revealed” religion, they are questioning and rejecting God. If we are to break the cycle of religious violence and extremism, we must educate the sincere followers to the fact that their holy books did not originate with God and that they are, in fact, denigrating to God.
Starting with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, we see it is primarily a form of psychological warfare designed to put fear in Gentiles and confidence in Hebrews/Jews. And, of course, it attempts to put fear in any Hebrews/Jews who may question it. The reason it is designed this way is so Israel will be “on high above all nations of the earth” and “all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.” (Deuteronomy 28:1 & 10)
When Israeli fighter pilots drop American-made cluster bombs on civilians or Israeli troops shoot Palestinian women and children, they are following closely the example of their sacred scriptures and Hebrew/Jewish holy men. Reading this account of Moses instructing the Israeli army in Numbers 31:14-18, we see war crimes, genocide and the raping of children are a bedrock of the Hebrew/Jewish scriptures. Moses instructed his troops, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” Verse 35 informs us the number of “women children” kept alive for the troops' own pleasure was 32,000!
To condition the minds of the Israeli troops to act in such a despicable and horrendous way, the Hebrew/Jewish clergy painted a picture of God that is in line with merciless brutality. The famous/infamous Passover story has God personally killing the first born of the Egyptians. Exodus 12:12 has God saying, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast.” Many Jews and Christians would say God had to slaughter the first born because Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel leave Egypt. However, Exodus 10:20 makes it very clear that the Bible god made it impossible for Pharaoh to free the Hebrews/Jews. It reads, “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.” And there are at least ten other examples in the Bible which claim God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he would not free the Hebrews/Jews. As the American founder and Deist Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, (for the Kindle version click here) “Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”
When we look at Christians and Christianity, we see they are not shy about using violence whenever they are able to in order to enforce their dogmas on humanity. A great example is the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which was fought between warring Christian factions, the Catholics against the Protestants. It was so destructive it killed off 30 percent of the population of Germany! It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the clergy who brought about the Thirty Years War used Matthew 10:34 to rally their troops. This verse says that Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
The Inquisition is another glaring example of Christian intolerance and violence. It is responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent people. Many of the people who fell victim to the Inquisition were only guilty of using their God-given reason. For example, Giordano Bruno was a Catholic friar. However, he applied his God-given reason to the Bible and Christian dogma and found that his reason rejected them both. He was charged with and found guilty of, among other charges, not believing that Jesus was the son of God, not believing the Earth is the stationary center of the Universe and holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers. On February 17, 1600, the Catholic Church had him burned alive for using his God-given reason. In an act which shows the Catholic Church would still use violence against dissenters, in 2000 Pope John Paul declared through two cardinals, Angelo Sodano and Paul Poupard, that Bruno had deviated too far from Christian doctrine to be granted a Christian pardon!1
Another scriptural source of Christian extremism is the Bible promise of healing through faith. Mark 16:17-18 says that Jesus said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak in new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Belief in this Bible promise along with several others that promote faith healing is responsible for the deaths of innocent children every month in the United States alone. As Shawn Francis Peters points out in his book, When Prayer Fails – Faith Healing, Children and the Law, due to the desire of many Christian groups to remain secluded from “the world,” there are many more children who die due to religious-based medical neglect than are reported.
In Islam, the Koran is considered the word of God and Sharia law is believed to be God's law.
Muslims believe that the Koran is the final word of God. It contains many verses and teachings that promote violence and religious extremism. Verses such as Surah 9:5 instructs, “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” With this “holy” scripture in mind, it's not difficult to understand how a believer in Islam could ambush idolaters and blasphemers like the Dutchman Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim for religious reasons. The Islamic killer's religious motivation for the murder was so strong he even left a written testimony of the religious reasons stuck to van Gogh's chest with a knife!
Sharia law is what allows Islamic clergy to issue fatwas. Not all fatwas call for the murder of someone an Islamic clergyman believes has insulted Islam or one of its teachings or leaders. However, fatwas are issued to bring about the murder of people who are seen as a threat to the religion and clergy. A famous example of this is the case of Salman Rushie. His book, Satanic Verses, was offensive to many Muslims. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa for the murder of Mr. Rushdie for writing Satanic Verses. And just last August Islamists issued a fatwa for the death of comedian David Letterman for telling jokes about jihadists.
If we really do want a world with less violence and more progress, we need to objectively address the violence-promoting and harmful scriptures. We need to educate sincere believers that by following the teachings of the holy books and scriptures, they are not following God. They can determine the truth to this by realizing that God gave them reason and the scriptures violate that gift to them from God. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “A man cannot serve two masters: so it is either reason or the scriptures.”
1Giordano Bruno Philosopher Heretic, Ingrid D. Rowland, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p.