How many people have died, are dying now and will continue to die in the name of religion?
Extremely few religions can claim bragging rights that other religions have been more brutal. Look at history, even the tamest of religious followings have historically had their benighted moment of barbaric conquest.
Mark Morford of The San Francisco Chronicle recently spoke to how religion, which is revered by most societies (as long as it is the dominant religion of that nation or social order) will, according to Morford, “be the death of us”:
The main reason we’re on the fun train to self-extermination, and can’t/won’t get off.
It’s not climate change. Not overpopulation. Not war, or disease, or resource abuse. Those are all very real, but they’re also merely the consequence, the end result of centuries of blind, dogmatic adherence to, well, to God.
With this book I thee rule and control. Like, forever.
That’s right, the biggest problem humanity faces – and has faced for just about ever – is religion. Rabid tribalism, delusory moral laws and aggressive, antagonistic superstition that pits us against each other, against nature, against science, against anyone who might have invented a different god (or gods than ours).
Add race, tribalism, economic exploitation and nationality to religion and you’ve got a historical bloodbath that has left bodies in its wake that could probably be piled to the moon. The major form of population control on the earth is war and violence. Innumerable conflicts are based on people feeling superior because they belong to a group that bestows them with an omnipotent belief – or use that belief to justify the conquest of others who are deemed inferior, not chosen by the divine.
Religion tops the list of the basis for bloodshed on a massive scale (although that has slowly been shifting to nationalism, which is often tied to religion: just look at George W. Bush initially referring at the war against Afghanistan and Iraq as a “Crusade”). Yes, there is a great deal of monetary motive and economic dominance related to contemporary wars, but they are usually justified within the context of religion (or nationality in the current historical era).
Morford cogently argues: “Because it’s when you take that personal, existential longing and calcify it, codify it, strip it from its individual moorings and assign it to some ominous, vindictive ‘Almighty,’ then sell it back to the masses as some fixed ‘truth’ that everyone must obey and fight for – or else – that the real trouble begins.”
Uncompromising religious belief, the kind we kill for, appears hot wired into humanity. The essence of the way it works is that one’s life only has meaning if one’s belief in one’s God makes that God supreme, because that God otherwise doesn’t merit faith if another God exists. This is, in part, a legacy of the historical development of monotheism. The outlook is, in essence, “I cannot partake of divine meaning if your God is the real God and my God is a sham; therefore, you must convert or die.”
Just think of the inquisition or the slaughter of the crusades, if you want to get some historical perspective on today’s Judeo-Christian showdown with Islamic fundamentalists (who have their own internal warring religious splits between Islamic factions). The Christians invented mass religious slaughter in the modern era. In the name of Jesus, the “prince of peace,” uncounted non-Christians – primarily Muslims and Jews – were massacred in an effort to attempt to reclaim Jerusalem centuries ago in the name of Christ.
Of course, today’s clash of religious civilizations that has its epicenter in the Middle East is largely a conflict over oil (that is to say, the lubricant of wealth in the developed world), but is masked as a conflict between Judeo-Christian “civilization” (as it is euphemistically called) and Islam.
If one’s religious identity is welded to a faith that the God of one’s religion bestows a meaning to one’s life – without which one would be an empty husk – then the defense of that God amounts to the defense of oneself. Some would argue that God as mammon – as the dispenser of wealth – is now the true religion of the ruling elite who declare wars on behalf of the developed West. That is indeed true for many of the uber rich in developed nations for whom religion is merely a ritual, not a core belief. In this case, religion (Christian values) are a cover for wars that ensure profit (which some would argue has become a perverted modern Christian value; i.e., that the acquisition of wealth is a sign of divine preference, a concept that actually can be traced back to the Puritans).
One of the most baffling aspects of religion is that it is indeed based on faith, not facts. No one who believes in a God can prove the existence of that God. As Joseph Campbell – the brilliant late specialist on the commonality of religions noted – religion wouldn’t require faith if you could scientifically prove the existence of your preferred God.
As a result, one can argue that the history of the world is littered with carnage that resulted from battles waged on behalf of an abstract notion based on fables (or the religion of money, national identity or tribalism). Unfortunately, history doesn’t naturally flow down a river that unites people for the common good, a goal that would have immediate positive consequences – and be palpable, not an abstract belief in the divine.
One shouldn’t have disdain for those who believe in a faith; that would be tantamount to one religion exhibiting contempt for others. However, people without faith and people of all faiths should believe and practice the goal of enhancing the spiritual unity of those of us who share the earth – without regard to faith, background or economic status. They should take steps to ensure the survival of this glorious earth and the brief opportunity that we receive to fully partake of the magnificent privilege of life.
Wars over whose God is the real God are sacrilege to the glory of our being one among many – and many among one.
We do not need to look to sources outside ourselves for the divine; we need to look to the divine in each other.