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In the Name of Religion

By Alexander Monday ~

In the partial phrase "in the name of religion" we can see that what is implied is first, a belief that one has taken on as empirical fact and cannot be argued, and second that some action has been taken in support or execution of that belief.

Fear GodImage by danny.hammontree via Flickr
Monotheistic religions of which there are only three major ones in the world, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, share the belief that their god is the one and true god, therefore those who do not believe are somehow lost, fallible or damned.

When action is taken by extremists in the name of a belief, (particularly by those who subscribe to a monotheistic system) the products of it are often fear and death as we see demonstrated often in the media.

When I use the term "extremists" to describe people who hurt or kill others in the name of a belief, it actually redirects the blame for the behavior on a sect of a particular group and does not focus on the religion as a whole. I think that we make an error by not looking at the belief system and holding it accountable for the behavior of those few. In doing so we deal with a symptom of a problem and not the actual problem. The core of what these so-called “extremist” believe is not, on many accounts, a distortion of the teachings of the religion from which their convictions are derived. The actions however violent or extreme are indeed based on what the religion teaches.

Widely known are many of the punishments inflicted in Muslim counties for what they count as sinful behavior like adultery, homosexual acts or declaring a belief in another god other than Allah. In a country like the United States, these punishments are rightly regarded as extreme, inhumane and horrific. But is the religion held accountable to the world for those core beliefs that condone it?

From a civilized point of view in countries where violent, public punishments of citizens are not performed or condoned, it may be more prevalent to hear words of condemnation for it, yet in an attempt to be fair and politically correct, we attribute the unsavory behavior to "extremists" while, in the spirit of religions tolerance we ignore the fact that the extremists didn't create their convictions and form them into action out of thin air. These acts of violence can actually be justified within the context of scripture. So what then do we do with the religion when it says blatantly to destroy its enemies and people actually do it? How should the religion be regarded by society as a whole? As noble and virtuous as it sounds to be tolerant, is tolerance actually the appropriate position for the world to take toward these religions that do exactly the opposite and tolerate nothing outside of their beliefs?

Since the 911 attacks the media has been very interested in the beliefs and practices of the nation of Islam and a new dialog has begun about extremists in religion. While much of the so-called extremist behavior is focused on Muslims, the Israeli military stage attacks with Pakistan regularly. Though the conflict in Gaza is over control of land in the region, the reasons for those conflicts is based on what both sides believe to be holy land. Hebrew texts such as the Torah declare possession of the holy land to be ordained by YHVH and killing to fulfill the prophesy of that possession is believed to be a holy act.

Christianity at least in the west, no longer tortures or burns people at the stake for not swearing allegiance to the church. But many churches in the United States support political interests in favor of escalating violence in the middle east in support of Israel. Being less violently overt is in contrast to a time when four Christian crusades swept through the middle east killing and torturing whole populations of people with the help of the Armenian army. Today’s new and improved brand of Christianity might cause many believers to feel justified in standing in judgment of its monotheistic counterparts. Yet the holy bible contains ample texts condoning the mistreatment of women, homosexuals and adulterers with explicit and violent means of punishing them.

When we look closely at monotheistic beliefs and their exclusionary premises, especially in light of the escalation of violence on a global scale with religion largely at the root of it, at what point do we admit that basic human decency plays too small of a role where religion is concerned? And contained in that question is the point I want to make. Sanity and human decency are in many respects in opposition to these religions the evidence contained within their own sacred texts.

This is why even a moderate approach to beliefs that condone violence should be brought into question, scrutinized and shunned as uncivilized and destructive belief systems.

Moderates believe they should be left alone and not questioned because they don't condone the acts of their extremist brothers and sisters. Yet when many so called moderates are confronted with whether or not they believe every word of their respective holy books, you'd be hard pressed to find one that will admit that they do not. In fact the scriptures of all three monotheistic religions clearly state that every word written in the texts is the inspired, ordained words of god. And a lack of belief in those claims excludes you from heaven. So it does beg the question, shouldn't moderates be held to the same scrutiny for the horrific and inhumane teachings to which they declare allegiance the same as would be applied to say, that of a suicide bomber?

Because so much of religion's dirty little secrets are being brought to the surface since the attacks of 911, we now have an opportunity to view the world more sanely. By realizing that we are all just people trying to find meaning in the world and in our lives and that we have more in common than we have differences. The prevalent "us versus them" mentality is a recipe for divisiveness and war. We have cut a deep trench in that direction and unfortunately the ones in the world wielding very large guns are the ones who can't see another track.

While on one hand I had hoped to point out what desperate need there is in the world to find a new way to deal with each other, I realize that it is more likely that what I've described here is an explanation of how humankind has not evolved and how unlikely it is that it ever will because in the name of religion, self-destruction is most likely eminent.