Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Pop-Christianity Reaps What ISIS Sows

Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” but that “violence and intimidation” can be used in more ways than one.  While those who commit acts of violence on innocent victims use terrorism directly, those who exploit the climate of fear that such “violence and intimidation” produce use terrorism indirectly.  Radical groups like ISIS, for example, use terrorism to scare people into believing in the God of Islam, but others use the fear of terrorism to scare people into believing in the God of Christianity. Both constitute forms of manipulation used by religious extremists who seek to turn our fear into a dependence on a deity, regardless of what name we call it. 

By using other people’s violence to peddle their own religious beliefs, Christians like Mike Huckabee and John Stonestreet become surrogates for the very terrorists they condemn by willingly advancing the message that such terrorists seek to convey through their violence – believe in God, or die. Although they in no way legitimize the use of violence in doing so, by using fear to convert people to their religion, these Christians help to legitimize the climate of fear such violence creates.

Using fear to convert people to Christianity in the face of violence and intimidation, however, is like Gandhi using the Amritsar massacre, not to encourage people to oppose British rule, but to scare them into becoming Hindu.  It further suggests that anyone who fails to convert is somehow complicit in the violence being committed.  

Both of these ideas are not only lies, but acts of shameless manipulation that use the violence committed in the name of one religion to recruit for another that is equally red in tooth and claw. If one tries to advance Islam by using violence to instill fear, in other words, the other condemns that violence while utilizing the very fear it instills to advance Christianity. Doing so implies that only a Christian morality can save humanity from the evils of groups like ISIS, despite the overwhelming similarities between the morality of Christianity in the past – which includes everything from genocide to slavery - and the morality of ISIS today.  

Even in 1690, the Enlightenment philosopher Pierre Bayle understood how religion, far from supporting ideas about morality, posed a danger to it instead.  As a result, he advocated for a separation between the spheres of faith and reason because, as he put it, religion "is neither necessary nor sufficient for morality." Nor, according to some studies, is there necessarily a positive correlation between the two. Indeed, evidence suggests that religion and belief in God tends to make people less moral rather than more. In Society without God, for example, published in 2008, Phil Zuckerman notes that Denmark and Sweden “which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world", enjoy "among the lowest violent crime rates in the world [as well as] the lowest levels of corruption in the world".  

As the philosopher David Hume observed, "the greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, to be compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion; Hence it is justly regarded as unsafe to draw any inference in favor of a man's morals, from the fervor or strictness of his religious exercises, even though he himself believe them sincere." Hence religion, which many believe to be the basis for humanity’s moral code, can often produce actions and beliefs that are anything but moral.  

Religion was so immoral to the Roman poet Lucretius, in fact, that it prompted him in 50 B.C.E. to write the famous phrase “tantum religio potuit suadere malorum “– to such heights of evil are men driven by religion. The evil Lucretius was referring to in his work De Rerum Natura, was the sort that drove the “hammer of heretics” Tomas de Torquemada to burn some 2,000 Christians at the stake in the service of a merciful God. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Christianizing of Native Americans, and the European witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, all inspired an ungodly amount of bloodshed out of an unwavering devotion to the blood of Christ. 

What all of this means is that the belief that religion and God are necessary for making the world a better place may, in effect, only be contributing to making it worse.  And the pop-Christian who uses the terrorism of fanatics to recruit the fearful into Christianity may be no better than the Roman procurator who, although reluctant to execute Christ initially, did so because of the threats of religious extremists.

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