Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Is Religion a Bad Thing?

Throughout human history, mankind and its addiction to religions have spawned intolerance, wars, genocide and oppression.  Is 'god' a bad thing?  'God' or belief in a deity isn't necessarily a bad thing but when self-anointed prophets claim to have an absolute monopoly on the will of 'god' as a totalitarian mandate that must be imposed on all of humanity, whatever the cost, the situation quickly turns dangerous, inhumane, bloody and deadly.

Despite its lofty guarantee of everlasting redemptive bliss for devout believers as well as fire, brimstone and eternal hell for those who refuse to 'believe' and 'submit', religion has the uncanny ability to churn human beings into murderous psychopaths because folks absolutely will kill in the name of their preferred deity.

Religious skeptics will frequently argue that religions are and never have been anything more than tools of the state to impose tyranny and whip folks into a psychological frenzy to support the king, empire or government.  This theory is easily proven when one considers the ability of the Republican Party to mobilize America's religious right into an army of Warvangelicals.  Of course, many Christians reject such horrors as incompatible with the teachings of Jesus and Christianity. Still, many religious nuts dominate the Republican Party.

As we bear witness to the horrifying spectacle recently played out in Egypt where the secular Egyptian military is ruthlessly crushing the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its fanatical Sunni Salafist Whabbist adherents who are burning churches and murdering Christians as well as Muslims deemed not sufficiently pious in their faith, we are codifying into history yet another chapter of religious intolerance and brutality.  The Egyptian military is hardly on sainted ground either and its ruthless suppression of Egypt's religious wacko's has shocked the world.  Wherever religion roots, the blood seems to flow.

If anything, the great failure of religions is their abject rejection of natural rights.  Human liberty, peace and tolerance absolutely evolve around the concept of natural rights for all human beings regardless of race or religious beliefs.  Yet, natural rights are the missing ingredient in just about every religion. Brotherly love, peaceful co-existence, respect for fellow human beings and tolerance are not components of organized religions, although the Christian world has has progressed, regressed and reinvented itself many times, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad and ugly.

The Christian world benefited enormously from its infamous and notorious religious schisms starting with the split between east-west Christianity or the rift between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Christianity that continues to this day with the official schism date being 1054 but was brewing for centuries.  Martin Luther ignited a firestorm in 1517 with his written attacks against the Catholic Church that birthed the Lutheran sect of Christianity.  Henry VIII of England birthed the Church of England when he got royally miffed over a papal refusal to grant him a divorce from his first wife (Catherine of Aragon) so he could marry his mistress (Ann Boleyn) who he later beheaded. Henry's daughter with Catherine turned into Bloody Mary as she attempted to restore Catholicism in England as the religious blood flowed yet again. To this day, the Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants despise each other. Across Europe there were schisms upon schisms and more and more Christian sects were birthed.

While Europe was a bloodbath off and on for nearly a millennium as it engaged in horrific religious wars, the end result was ultimately a more secular and tolerant Christian west.  A history of Europe's bloody religious wars:

Religious Wars in Europe

Still, European religious fervor and persecution persisted and many folks sailed across the pond to America where they fully intended to create their own theocracy.  But since many of these sects had the same idea, America was forced to become tolerant or engage in precisely the same religious wars that drenched European soil with blood. The American heritage of religious tolerance is one of the best in human history, even if flawed by slavery and subject to nasty religious attacks by one sect of believers against another sect of believers. Overall, it worked and probably begrudgingly because the alternative to religious tolerance is chronic religious warfare.

Thomas Jefferson said he only wanted to be remembered for 2 things 1. writing the Declaration of Independence and 2. writing the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty.  It was not unusual in colonial America for dominant churches to forcibly tax the non-believing minority population to support the church.  This galled religious liberty folks like Jefferson and he along with others worked to end the power of churches to tax.  Religions are very much like governments - give them a little power and they want more and more powers, powers that are used to oppress and plunder.  Somehow plunder is considered a much loftier goal when a deity is invoked.

In any event, the Protestant Reformation served to free the western world from theocracy even if to the chagrin of many.  But the demise of western ecclesiastical power also spawned the birth of human liberty and natural rights. Unfortunately, no such significant reformation has occurred in the Muslim world and largely because the Muslim world has been backwards, lived under tyranny and religious debate is generally banned.  Except for the well documented Sunni-Shia rift, Muslims don't typically debate religion or even challenge their religion.

It has frequently been said that Christianity and Islam are categorically the two most violent religions in human history.  Both conquered by the sword.  Moreover, the legendary battles between Islam and Christianity have filled history books and the bloody battles between the Muslim world and the Christian world are indeed horrific reminders that their respective versions of a god and his will were anything but peaceful, humanitarian or compassionate.  At some points in history, Islam was the superior military might that rapaciously conquered and Islamized Christian communities.  The Christian world fought back and managed to prevent Europe from being Islamized.

The Christian-Islamic wars have pretty much ceased, but not really nor will they ever end.  However, what has changed in the 20th century is that the superior military might of the West has definitely halted the steamrolling of Muslim armies.  It's now Christian armies that are steamrolling and invading Muslims nations and this is a very bad thing even though the bombings, invasions, dronings and murders of Muslims really have nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

History is complicated and Islam is very complicated especially as it relates to his own history, theology and troubled relationships with the non-Muslim world.

A Cruise Through History: Islam, the West and the Rest of the World

The Making of the Modern Middle East

With Charity Toward None, A History of Israel

The above posts are long research pieces that document a lot of history and they are provided for those who seek a deeper understanding of the Middle East and Islam.

However, this post isn't about history or even Islamic theology.  It's about changing attitudes in the Muslim world.  Could Islam possibly be undergoing a Reformation similar to that experienced by the West?  There are indications that Muslims themselves are rising up against theocracy and dictatorship.  Unfortunately, it's also a bloody tragedy but historically all revolts against theocracy and dictatorship have been bloody.  What is promising is that Muslims are now connected to the outside world and they have access to information, networking and technology.

In Egypt, the forces of a more tolerant secularism rose up to challenge the vile and theocratic Muslim Brotherhood.  In Turkey, the Sunni Islamist Prime Minister suffered a huge blow to his power when Sunni Muslims fought him on various issues including forcing Turkey to become a more rigid Islamic state.  The Turks also oppose war on Syria which Prime Minister Erdogan has endorsed.  In Syria Sunni Muslims have supported the Alewite (A Shia sect) Assad regime over Al Qaeda/Taliban styled rule.

These are all severe blows to Saudi Arabia and it's vile, violent and intolerant interpretation of Islam. Sunni Wahhabist Islam is the Islam of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Saudi petro-dollars have been funding its spread through the Muslim world.  More tragic is that the US and the West in general have supported the House of Saud and also funded radical Islam.  In fact, the US has been arming and funding radical Islam at least since the days of Jimmy Carter who funded and armed the Afghan Mujuhadeen, now the Taliban.

Yet, there are definite signs that Muslims are waking up and challenging their faith and leaders just as the Christian world did a long time ago.  It's a Muslim renaissance in the making that is long overdue. Can it succeed?  I believe it can but it's going to be a long and bloody road if the Christian reformation is any indication of what to expect when ecclesiastic tyranny and power are challenged.

Muslims are no different than other sane folks - when forced theocracy and government tyranny combine to oppress the people and deny them their liberty the people fight back.

Still, mankind has been attached to its preferred deities since the dawn of humanity.  Separating man from his gods is not easy.  But what should or could be easier in a sane, compassionate, respectful and humane world is for religions to stop spawning violence and hatred and step up to acknowledge natural rights and free will.

Ironically, some of the most moral folks I've ever encountered have been atheists and agnostics because they have a tendency to be obsessed with morality, what is right, what is wrong and what is just.  Some of the worst human beings I've encountered were self described 'God fearing' folks who worship the wars and military as if they were the latest version of the Golden Calf.  Yet, I've also encountered many wonderful Christians who oppose the wars and tyranny on the basis that it's anti-Christian.  Moreover, I've witnessed many Christians who have abandoned the Republican Party because they saw the evil that was permeating the GOP and they wanted to distance themselves from the fake Christians and the warmongers.

Finally, 'god' or no 'god', there is always the hope that humanity will somehow discover and embrace its own humanity by rejecting wars, violence and cruelty, as well as its chief perpetrator - government.
With modern military weaponry and nuclear warheads, there is too much at stake for the human race to allow for the horrors of modern warfare.

Meanwhile, the battle of the gods continues as adherents ferociously fight for supremacy and power, and what they plan to do with that power is quite terrifying.. No wonder atheists and agnostics freak-out over religions and gods, and distrust those who believe.  Convincing folks that religions are somehow noble and just is an increasingly uphill battle based on their well documented histories, histories that are drenched in the blood of non-believers and martyrs. 

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