At my day job (actually my night job), I was talking to a nice young lady who had a pretty open mind about religious freedom. She emphasized her belief in personal spirituality being a private thing-- a relationship between a person and the divine on that person's own terms which has greater importance than any one church, doctrine, or holy book. I explained to her that her particular view would be considered Christian Gnosticism. Then she asked me a question that exemplified the typical Westerner's misconceptions: "Why do Muslims think it's O.K. to kill Christians and Jews?" She seemed surprised but satisfied with my answer...
"Maybe some Muslims do feel that way. And don't you think some people might ask why Christians have felt it's O.K. to kill Muslims and Jews for over a thousand years, as well..?"
Judaism... Christianity... Islam... Three monotheistic religious groups, each divided by differing sects, sub-cults, and regional perspectives; nearly all of which have been warring and/or committing genocide against each other or among themselves since the B.C./A.D. changeover. In some cases, they have even destroyed members of their own respective groups for reasons of greed and philosophical disagreement. These monotheistic religions, or "The Big Three," as I like to call them, have also been attempting to exterminate all forms of polytheism and their followers since the beginning of recorded history. The Israelites vs. the Phillistines; the Christians destroyed or converted the pagans of Europe and the Americas; and so on, into the more modern times of Gandhi, who tried to stop the Hindus and Muslims of India from pointlessly brutalizing each other. The Big Three religions are based on ancient concepts of creationism and miracle mysteries which are impossible to prove and relatively unlikely when compared to the natural processes of the world around us. Similarly the pagan religions preceding them drew heavily on oral recitations of legends of nature-dwelling intelligences and deities that have never left behind any tangible evidence of their existence. And there are the Atheists, who, also without evidence, faithfully BELIEVE that there are no gods or supernatural powers and face constant persecution and condemnation for their faith, which is often a fervently zealous anti-religion.
Further down this river, you have the pseudo-religious concepts of Capitalism and Communism. I consider these to be rather like the tales of creation and religious laws, in the sense that they are life-directing doctrines based on concepts and principles that often don't apply well to the real world around us. Communism has failed, in that it couldn't make all citizens equal. There still existed an aristocracy and a class system marked by groups and individuals who had or were given special treatment or resources above others. Capitalism has failed, and continues to fail, as it promotes a class system also marked by groups and individuals who have, buy, or are given special treatment or resources above others. Worse, those who possess the higher status in capitalistic societies (aside from the astronomically corrupt or lucky) usually have some sort of familial lineage that is connected to feudal monarchism or imperialism of the past. Both systems are based on ideologies flawed in logic or ethical philosophy and are proven impossible to execute into a long-term, successful, egalitarian human future; yet they've been prominent enough doctrines for societies to war over them for around a century or so.
The Holy Bible and the Holy Koran are two of the most misquoted and variably interpreted documents the world over. Their very origins are a source of mass disagreement, with some believing one or the other to be the infallible word of God handed down to his faithful servants, while others view them as a collection of stories and accounts diluted and edited through centuries of oral tradition, mistranslation, and political censorship.
I think most rational people should agree that fighting wars over abstract religious principles and economic views is absurd, pointless, and pathetic. The problem is that the world doesn't seem to be populated with a majority of well-educated, free-thinking, and logical people. Throughout the centuries, driven leaders with specific agendas have found ways to use emotionally charged rhetoric and the layperson's limited understanding of scripture to twist it to fit their own needs.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, professor of Islamic law, University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed the religious references used in interviews with Osama bin Laden broadcast on Arab TV. He says bin Laden predominantly focuses on the verses about fighting oppression, and asks, "What greater oppression is there than the American imperialist forces within driving distance of the Holy Shrines?" Bin Laden told the Al Jazeera interviewer that Holy Shrines were under occupation by infidel forces who were spreading AIDS in the Holy Land, and cited Koranic verses conveying God's permission for victims of injustice to throw off the yoke of oppression. The extremist leader appears to have memorized many verses from the Koran. He cites them selectively and incompletely. In the interview, bin Laden sidesteps the Islamic tradition that the most important jihad is a personal struggle to purify the soul, not a fight against unbelievers. When presented with Muslim jurists' opinions against killing noncombatants, he implied they had been co-opted by corrupt governments, Abou El Fadl said. When bin Laden cited a verse about fighting infidels, he left out the part admonishing Muslims to seek peace if opponents do. Abou El Fadl said all Islamic scriptures on waging war are regulated by detailed rules of engagement prohibiting killing of noncombatants or committing suicide and requiring honorable notice before attacking, but terrorists/extremists ignore it.
"Unless you know the Koran, you will not be able to say, `Wait a minute, where's the rest?' " Abou El Fadl said. "Bin Laden speaks in a way that if you're not already steeped in the tradition you would not think that there was any other possible interpretation..."
Hamid Dabashi, chairman of the Middle Eastern languages and culture department at Columbia University said, "Nothing in the Koran, Islamic theology or Islamic law in any way, shape or form justifies ramming two airliners into civilian buildings. In every great religious tradition, you can launch the most humanistic, loving ideas, or the most violent terrorist actions." Dabashi and other experts agree that Islamic religious texts are subject to manipulation by extremists because they contain many references to war and encourage the faithful to fight oppression.
In the Koran 9:5 it says to "kill The Pagans wherever you find them. And capture and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them ..." The passage also tells Muslims "if they repent... leave them their way free, for verily Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful." In other verses, Christians and Jews are even specifically exempted from attack, as they are also people of the One God.
Elsewhere (in the Koran 2:190-193) it says, "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but don't transgress limits; for God loves not the transgressor." This, of course, is quite a justification to defend yourself, but you can't go too far. The verse continues on to say "And fight them on until there is no more oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression."
In Exodus 32:25-35, God, through Moses, directs the Levites to "Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor." The Levites slaughter 3,000 golden calf worshipping idolaters whom "Aaron had let... get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies." Then Moses tells the Levites they were blessed for what they'd done for the Lord, who then "struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made."
Edward Flaherty writes that extremists are "...taking selected passages and reading them completely out of context to support whatever argument they wish to make. I can do the same thing with the Bible. Here are some choice passages from the King James Version of the Bible, which, when read in isolation, makes the Bible appear to be a primer for evil:
1) In Leviticus 25:44-46, the Lord tells the Israelites it's OK to own slaves, provided they are strangers or heathens.
2) In Samuel 15:2-3, the Lord orders Saul to kill all the Amalekite men, women and infants.
3) In Exodus 15:3, the Bible tells us the Lord is a man of war.
4) In Numbers 31, the Lord tells Moses to kill all the Midianites, sparing only the virgins.
5) In Deuteronomy 13:6-16, the Lord instructs Israel to kill anyone who worships a different god or worships differently.
6) In Mark 7:9, Jesus is critical of the Jews for not killing their disobedient children as prescribed by Old Testament law.
7) In Luke 19:22-27, Jesus orders killed anyone who refuses to be ruled by him.
Context is important, of course, and many of these seeming cruelties disappear when read as such. However, this would not stop a Christian terrorist from interpreting the Bible in a manner necessary to concoct a religious justification for unspeakable horrors, as Pope Urban II did, for example, when he preached the First Crusade in 1095 or as many American preachers did when they used Leviticus to defend slavery."
Remember a small movement led by David Koresh?
Never mind you that this is the same Lord who drowned all but his favorites in the Flood; orders Abraham to prepare to slaughter his own son; sees Job endure torture and losing everything in a sort of wager with the devil; destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lot's poor wife; and generally commanded people to all sorts of war and genocide throughout the Bible. The Christian New Testament and the Muslim Koran both draw a significant majority of their history and tradition from the Old Testament, the religious text that all of the Big Three have in common. In all three religious traditions, God/Allah alternates frequently between the merciful, fatherly creator and the jealous, wrathful, vengeful, violent bringer of punishment, retribution, and death. This God, who supposedly created every entity and thing in the universe, is rarely hesitant to destroy humans who disobey Him; but he allows Satan, one of his own created angels, to become his greatest enemy and the tormenter of angels, mankind, and the other innocent creatures of the Earth.
To quote Brian Sayler: "The truth is that most people think they know what the Bible says, but very few actually sit down and read it in its entirety. Those that do often find it startling and even shocking for its violent content; it contains violence from beginning to end."
Perhaps more shocking is a good understanding of Christian history.
Scholars somewhat agree that the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament were written between 65 and 100, A.D, after the death of Jesus and the disciples they are named for. Even very small children born in Jesus's time would likely have been dead before their creation. The early Christian movement consisted mostly of different groups of basically Judaic Gnostic adherents who shared all community wealth, resources, and spiritual responsibility. Women were often treated as equals in these groups, with all members of the community taking turns with spiritual leadership. The message was one of personal development, tolerance, and peace. The movement appears to have been influenced by Hindu and Buddhist traditions through Greek trade with the East, but the male-driven powers of Europe failed to embrace these principles.
The early Roman Catholic Church, from whom nearly all Christian tradition of today comes, edited and omitted from the Gospels available to make the religion palatable to Roman government. Once adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, it gained influence and access to a massive audience and began focusing its efforts to manage the masses. Other early Christian sects were rooted out and labeled heretical in order to impose uniformity and control. Eventually these other groups were mostly persecuted and/or destroyed. It became illegal to disagree with the Catholic (which means "universal") Church. By 435 A.D, laws threatened any heretic in the Roman Empire with death. Pagan temples were pillaged and destroyed. Symbols of pagan worship were reinterpreted as demonic symbols of evil (Neptune's Trident became the Devil's Pitchfork, etc). Jews were isolated and harassed, and eventually the story of the Crucifixion was altered to shift the blame for Jesus's execution away from the Romans and place it on the Jews. Mary Magdalene, originally one of the most influential and vital disciples, was labeled a whore and reviled by the Church to undermine the possibility of feminine divinity and authority in a male-dominated Europe. Hygiene, science, and medical knowledge were considered to be sinful and against the divine. Christians burned down the world's greatest libraries in Alexandria and elsewhere, destroying centuries of irreplaceable knowledge in favor of monastic libraries which held little other than books of Christian theology. Architecture, statues, and art of all kinds were destroyed. The Church sought to become the only source of education available.
With the turn of the First Millenium came the separation between the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church based in Constantinople. The Crusades were begun by Pope Urban II to wrest control of Jerusalem from Islamic and Jewish hands, and they distracted attention from the excesses of Rome. Centuries of brutal wars were begun in order to gain possession of the Holy Land and to unite Christians from all over Europe in one cause. A Byzantine chronicler named Nicetas Choniates wrote, "Even the Saracens (the Muslims) are merciful and kind compared to these men who wear the cross of Christ on their shoulders." Crusaders rejoiced in beheading and maiming the "unbelievers," and the Temple of Solomon was said to have been filled with blood so that one had to wade through it to the knee. Later, Crusaders were sent to Constantinople to rape, pillage, and burn the city in punishment for not submitting to the Roman Catholic Church. Christians were not only killing Muslims and Jews, but also other Christians. Millions were killed in the Crusades, but Jews were persecuted in Europe long after. They were blamed for the Black Plague, debts, mysterious deaths and disappearances, and other problems the Church couldn't solve. Crusades were launched within Europe itself to destroy the Cathars and other heretical communities which tolerated Jews, Muslims, Phoenicians, and other non-Christians. Close to a million people were killed in southern France during the Albigensian Crusade. A commander, when asked how to tell Catholics from Cathars, responded with, "Kill them all, for God will know his own!"
To paraphrase Monty Python, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition! The Christian Inquisition was the largest organized effort by religion in history to control people and their spirituality. Pope Innocent III decreed "that anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God that conflicted with Church dogma must be burned without pity." The accused were imprisoned, water tortured, exiled, burned at the stake, slowly roasted in ovens, racked, fed to hungry animals, and drawn-and-quartered. Their properties were confiscated by the Church, and Inquisitors grew very rich. Pope Leo X, in the early 16th century, wrote, "It has served us well, this myth of Christ." This period also ushered in the Church's willing use of religious justifications for the practice of slavery. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Inquisition spread from the Americas to the far East, enslaving natives, claiming their lands, and warring against those who didn't convert. Despite the Protestant Reformation and several revolutions, the Inquisition continued in some places until the early 1800's, rarely ever consistent with Jesus's message as seen in the Gospels.
Protestants and Catholics alike falsely accused people of witchcraft and devil worship. Women were vilified and labeled as weaker, more given to temptation, vessels of lust, and tainted by the sin of Eve. Women were considered 20 times more likely to engage in witchcraft and sexual deviance than men. Astrologers, diviners, healers, naturalists, and believers in magic became synonymous with evil satanic agents engaged in infanticide, incest, cannibalism, bestiality, orgiastic sex, and hexing. Old, poor women were often the first accused, perverting the ancient pagan value in the wise old crone to something more sinister. Suspected witches were tortured until they confessed to witchcraft, and those who didn't die of torture usually went to be burnt at the stake.
Through the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition and witch hunts, millenia worth of knowledge and healing traditions were lost or forgotten. Man was alienated from nature, knowledge of himself, and personal divinity. The body was viewed as evil, mechanical flesh; and all of the natural world was considered in opposition to man's quest for reward in the afterworld. Racism and slavery were given justification, and logic was abandoned. The after effects are still being felt in our modern world of globalization, pollution, and disconnection from each other and ourselves. In the Western and Muslim worlds alike women are still being abused and degraded, violence and intolerance are taught and retaught, poverty and starvation kill, and terrorism and genocide destroy entire communities.
To put our humanity and prosperity second to descrimination and abstract religious idealism is insanity. To throw stones rather than attempt to reach an understanding is degeneration, not evolution. To believe that either Muslim or Christian families would be more prone to violence or valuing life less than the other side is naive and silly. To assume that you're the one who has it all right is folly.
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." --Luke 6:31
"Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." --Luke 6:41-42
"...And if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and trust in Allah." --Koran, Surah 8:61
"...No reward do I ask of you for this except to be kind to me for my kinship with you. And whoever earns a good righteous deed, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof..." --Koran, Surah 42:23
Clean up your own back yard.
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of the United States Constitution. You can also tell me there what kind of American you think I am.
Copyright 2006, Jonathan Downard
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