In a previous article I argued that not all of the motives, behind the recent and past attacks upon western embassies and other economic, social or cultural artefacts, have sprung from religious sensibility to criticism. I have suggested [in the blog ‘Spring turns to Autumn’] that the hatred of the west in former colonised and imperially oppressed countries, has much to do with centuries of exploitation and oppression and the contemporary manifestations of this residual problem. However, there is undoubtedly a religious element which is used as focus and justification among some of the 20th and 21st century combatants. This religious justification reveals much about the intimate and fundamental connection between religion and violence.
It is well documented that religion and violence are not strangers, but are profound members of the same family of intolerance. The history of all religions catalogues frequent outbursts of violence. If we only consider the events documented from the European middle ages, we have vicious internal and external crusades by Christians and internal violence and counter violence by Muslim forces. We have the pre and post colonial periods in which European Catholics and Protestants having fought among themselves for at least thirty years, gun-boated themselves around the known world pillaging and confiscating in the name of ’saving’ lost souls for Jesus.
The USA, itself now the target for much Islamic anger, was itself formed by assertive and aggressive Christians, displacing and engaged in genocide against native peoples. African native people and religions were often forcibly captured, sold and suppressed by military forces accompanied by missionaries of considerable religious zeal. And even in modern times we had born again Christians in the guise of Tony Blair and George Bush Junior, leading another crusade against those they considered modern day ‘infidels’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Christian President Obama, regularly issues instructions (or sanctions them) to assassinate suspects, without any pretence of due process. A Mormon Christian, Mitt Romney, is running against him in the coming US presidential elections – would he be any different?.
So religion and killing in the name of God, (or blessed after the event by God’s representatives) still plays a considerable part in justifying, rationalising, promoting and perpetuating violence against the other. Let us not be hypocritical in the West – it does so not only in the East, but also here in Europe and North America. Considering the fact that most religions (including all those listed above) have some articles of faith which speak of love, peace, justice, equality etc., it is hard not to conclude that there are severe and irreconcilable contradictions in the concepts and beliefs of those who adhere to religion. These problems are further revealed in the contradictions in the concept of God – or however the higher power is conceived.
Contradictions in the concept of a higher power.
The concept of a higher power, however, conceptualised or personified, is a common historical recurrence amongst all peoples throughout the ages. Whether it is conceptualised as ‘spirits’ in Zoroastrianism, ‘Nirvana’ in Buddhism, ‘Dao’ in Taoism, ‘Brahman’ in Hinduism or personified in the form of ‘Yahweh‘, ‘God’ or ‘Allah‘ in the case of the Abrahamic religions, a higher, super-human power is a recurring idea. It is perhaps remarkable that all these ‘higher power’ forms are conceptualised as having not only the ultimate power of creation in general, but in particular are viewed as embodying all those characteristics that are beneficial and good – according to the finest human sensibilities.
This is incrementally true, for those religions who consider there is an emissary from, or someone ‘chosen’ who intercedes with this higher power. Thus Jesus, in Christian theology is the embodiment of all that is best in the human personality. Wisdom, justice, love, peace, the alleged qualities of Jesus, are all the best attributes of human beings but made consistent in Jesus, in contrast to their inconsistency in humanity. Essentially the same is true of Mohammad, for Muslims. He too embodies all that is just, humane, loving, respectful, supportive etc. This commonly held view among most religious people has led to the hypothesis, that it is human beings who have projected what is best in humanity onto the notion of a mystical entity who is imagined to be consistent in this regard, rather than this mystical entity creating inconsistent human beings.
On the surface, alternative explanations such as these appear as simple matters of opinion as to the origins of good, community spirit, love, justice, peace etc. The problem arises, however, from the following. In the name of this essentially benign, loving higher spirit or God, (by various names), many of the followers of religions (the Abrahamic ones in particular) feel they are justified in killing in the name of their God. Or alternatively in the name of his son or his prophet. This represents a massive contradiction in the notion of a benign and beneficial higher power. People imagine that ‘goodness’ is what their version of a ‘higher power’ wishes them to do and it is what they want themselves, but then many of them are prepared to do the most ‘bad’ things imaginable in promoting this religious view or in preventing criticism of it.
This phenomena is not only an individual psychosis, restricted to a few, but it is embedded in the collective scriptures of each Abrahamic religion. The pages of the Torah (Old Testament), the New Testament and the Qur’an contain numerous passages (scores of them in fact) advocating violence against non-believers, alternative believers and those who choose to think differently about what is required for humanity to get along peacefully. By not rejecting these violent scriptural verses in each religion and accepting the assertions they are promoted by the higher power, followers of these religions – even those of a peaceful disposition – provide those with violent temperaments a convenient scriptural justification for their violence.
This textual justification, along with self-interest, is perhaps why some – or even many – religious believers stay quiet about, or look the other way, when atrocities are carried out by the members of their own denominations. Is it not the case that many professed Christians do not protest against, or look the other way, in face of the West’s initiated wars of invasion and killing in the middle east and elsewhere? Is it also not the case that many peaceful Muslims stay quiet or look the other way at the killing and atrocities carried out by their own religious brethren?
Further. Is it not the case that many Zionist Jews are justifying their brutal treatment of Palestinians since 1948 by reference to the biblical promised land? Predictably, is it not also true that the Christian Zionists of the USA are the most vigorous advocates and supporters of this Israeli oppression? It would seem from these facts and those above that religion continues to be part of the problem for humanity, not part of the solution. For this reason among others, religions of all denominations need to be seriously criticised openly and frequently.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2012.)