The Tyranny of Religion

Recent events involving the Islamic State’s barbaric, subhuman beheadings and immolation of men and women compels me to look at faith and religion in general. ISIS, as it is known, regards as the “infidels” all who do not bow to the whim and will of Islam.
As a boy, I grew up on a small farm in rural Maryland. Surrounding our small farm were very large farms, still worked for income. My mother and father worked full time in their own professions. Ours was not a “working” farm, although we had livestock and grew large amounts of produce during the summer months that were canned or frozen for delicious winter meals.
Within easy walking distance from home was a small country church that I joined at the persuading of my parents. That was the 1950s. I joined the church at age ten, attending Sunday school each Sunday. I joined the Boy Scouts, youth leadership and eventually the church choir. Our small white country chapel grew into a modern, large brick parish because our membership was increasing. It also afforded us a nice air-conditioned sanctuary for those extremely hot and humid Maryland summers. Our “little” church had few such amenities, including no indoor plumbing – so to speak.
I joined the United States Air Force one month after high school graduation. I did not attend any church services during my four year stint. Upon returning home, I opted not to return to my home church. My mother was quite dismayed over this. One day, bemoaning the fact that I had not returned to church services, I remarked that I could be closer to God walking through the fields behind our home than most of those folk sitting in the pews on Sunday. To my great surprise, my father concurred. My “embrace” of God had taken place years before as I walked through the fields to evade the alcoholic battles my mother and father waged every weekend. In my young evolving mind, I “knew” there was something better. “Faith” had been imbued upon me at an early age.
It was another twenty years before I again started regular church attendance; this time with a different denomination. A decade later I entered graduate study at a school of theology (seminary) where I was conferred my Master’s degree in 1996. Seven years thereafter I became ordained. Having spent several decades in senior executive management in the private business sector, I have remained in the private sector. Taking the position of priest in a local parish was not what God had designed for me.
As time passed, I came to realize that I am faith and spirit driven; not driven by doctrine or religiosity. My multi-decade journey has brought me to this point, the point where I observe with disciplined focus just how dangerous and hideous religion is, has been and has become.
The Islamic State has introduced a new terror to the world’s religious arena, claiming how “their” God, “Allah” and “their” doctrine and dogma have authorized their violent, barbaric assault on those who do not follow their religion and its dictates. The Islamic State, known by its acronym ISIS, has shocked the world with its hideous acts of slaughter of the innocents; the non-compliant.
The modern world has recoiled in shock by acts that are beyond inhuman. Their religion, driven by barbarity, is surpassed only by their zeal to be violently cruel and brutal. Most of Islam is stunned along with the rest of the world, yet few Muslims are speaking out against ISIS. One must ask if this is out of fear; or, out of Islamic indifference to what many in the West consider acts against God; not in the name of God.
As a follower of the Christian faith I must remind myself how such God-less acts were committed by Christians from the West under the authority of the Roman Church. Those atrocities against the world of Islam and the Eastern Orthodox Christians are treated by many contemporary Christians as, “bygones.” But, wait! Later there was the Inquisition, another period of Christian “cleansing” in the Name of God and Christ. The Puritans then arrived in Colonial America and drowned women suspected of being witches. More recently, black American males (men, mostly) were hanged and burned by white men in hoods proclaiming “God.”
When President Barack Obama recently reminded Americans of our own sordid “Christian” history, Obama was vilified and excoriated by right wing conservative Republicans. They attempted to paint Obama as “soft” on this new Islamist atrocity. In fairness to Obama, he was not diminishing or minimizing the horror of ISIS. Obama was attempting to bring perspective; not endorsement or approval of ISIS’ barbarity.
Meanwhile, the fact is how many American Christians who define themselves as “conservative” are in fact agents of hate. They spew out raging hate toward homosexuals. Some of their comments are as sinister, vile and pernicious as one can imagine. Their hysterical commentary is meant to gin up widespread hate of gays and lesbians, all the while holding themselves up as taking the moral high road; setting gays and lesbians upon the immoral low road. In a different setting at a different time it is easy to see those “moral” Christians resorting to beheading homosexuals and burning them alive, ala ISIS. The Ku Klux Klan [KKK] continues to be a cauldron of vicious and venomous hatred, whose acts until roughly half a century ago were just as God-less as the current- day acts of ISIS.
Such elements represent the tyranny of religion, hideous acts perpetrated in the Name of God. Whose God? Which God? What God? Therein resides a daunting theological question; and, a theological challenge. For Christians who are true followers of the Faith in Jesus (there are fewer and fewer), one scratches one’s head asking, “Whose Jesus is this?”
For some of us, at least, who actually studied Christianity at theology school or in semi-nary, the clear, immediate answer is that no one perpetrating and perpetuating such violence, venom and vituperation against any group can claim Jesus. Whatever happened to, “It’s in God’s hands”? The pulpit bullies who thrive on misrepresentation of the Teachings of Jesus are modern day heretics and hypocrites against whom Jesus warns us. They are ISIS lite.
To kill or maim, threaten or marginalize in the name of some strange and obscure “god” is an affront and an insult to the God of my faith. It is blasphemy. To kill in order to force certain religious creeds upon others defies the Kingdom of God here on earth. Those who commit such atrocious acts are not among the faithful. They represent consummate evil, a vile example of brutal and barbaric heretics and blasphemers who can be found in any religion. There is a failed evolution in those people. They are subhuman, Satanic; lesser even than the animals in God’s Kingdom. Animals do not kill out of joy, pleasure or spite. Religious zealots represent the absolute lowest of the species, barbarians without souls or any essence of holiness. They have no human worth at all.
The Jews have been the least among the killers. Yet, it was “their” God that told them to destroy the Canaanites with sweeping decimation. The men, women, children and all the animals in Canaan were slaughtered, annihilated by the Israelites in order that the Israelites might create their own nation. So, this is the God of “love”? Hardly! Today, modern day Israelis slaughter young Palestinian children and women, along with men. “Their” God considers Palestinian lives to be less than the lives of Israelis. Some Jews today lament how they are “hated”. I have life-long Jewish friends. Like many Christians, I do not hate Jews. It was mostly Christian soldier boys who freed and saved the Jews from the Nazi camps.
Jews do not insist on people converting to Judaism, unlike Islam and certain elements within the Christian culture. Jesus said to His disciples as He sent them out to teach and mission, “If these people do not hear my word, leave them. Shake their dust off your feet and move on.” I wonder at times how Jesus would look upon the early Christian settlers who slaughtered thou-sands of Native Americans, women, men, children all in the name of the “God”. Or, how would He look upon today’s pseudo-Christians, “Christian” in name only?
The tyranny of religion results in tragedy through religion. Acts of violence and brutality so heinous and evil that one simply cannot mentally process their atrociousness do not represent the God I believe in. “My” God is that “Great Spirit” so righteously revered by Native Americans; the great Overseer who may bemoan the imperfections of humans but does not involve It-self in the events of human life.
Many Holocaust survivors abandoned their faith in God, Yahweh, because they believed their God had abandoned them. No God of theirs would subject them to such inhumane, ruthless and callus cruelty. It is easy to comprehend the despair those Jews (and, homosexuals) felt. I cannot imagine any “God” allowing such pernicious acts committed by one human against an-other, including the recent atrocities committed by ISIS through their religious furor and frenzy.
The tragic reality of religion is the horror and havoc it wreaks upon others. Each person must assess and evaluate their own faith; their own religion. How does that faith, that religion, interact with the holiness of other people; including those of a different faith, color, ethnicity, nationality and sexual orientation? Jesus of Nazareth, who some scholars believe studied under Buddha during Jesus’ adolescence, preached love; compassion; harmony; equality; non-judgmentalism. ISIS and those who act out in similar ways, including hate-filled right wing fundamentalist Christians and Palestinian who hate Jews and Jews who hate Palestinians are not people of God. They are people of terror, the Dark Knight, the Great Evil. They are a cancer, a toxic and pernicious presence that must be reckoned with. They are devoid of souls; dispirited carcasses of demonism.

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