Why does religion create fanatics?

There exists a debate today around the world:  Which religion condones atrocities more than the other:  Islam or Christianity?

Both religions–not to mention Judaism as the background to Christianity–have plenty of verses in their scriptures for fanatics and critics alike to latch onto.

The result has been the sweeping condemnation of each religion, and a distaste for religion itself.  Even such a generous, gracious offer as Duke University made, to allow Muslim students to issue the traditional “call to prayer” from from the bell tower–is condemned.  Conservative Christians say the university is giving an inroad to Islam on the campus.  At the same time–in Muslim countries–THEY aren’t giving any breaks to Christians!  Rather, there are beheadings and whippings and church-burnings.

This is an approach whose starting point is:  “Islam is a danger.”  It’s the religion itself that is said to be the problem.

Never mind that the enormous Duke Chapel has already long been used by Muslims.  The chapel is also home to Hindus, Jews and Buddhists.  Only the Muslim practice–the call to prayer–was singled out for objections.   The religion itself is viewed as a problem.

“We can’t let Muslims take over our country.  It’s already happening little by little.  They want to build a mosque right next to the 9/11 Memorial.  They want breaks that they wouldn’t give to others.  They want to impose their ‘sharia’ laws on everybody.”

The problem isn’t Islam.  Even the patriarchal laws–regulating the lives of women under the rule of men–have nothing to do with being Muslim.  The same rules long existed in Christianity.  The rules still DO exist in some sects.  Ladies, try wearing a pants suit to a Southern Baptist worship service.  The ushers will stop you at the door!

There still ARE Christian weddings in which the bride is “given away” by her father.  Sentimental as it may seem, the practice it goes back to the day when the daughter was literally the property of the father as much as a suitcase being handed over.

The rules subjugating women in Islam isn’t about religion.  Nor was it about religion when the rules existed universally in Christendom.

It’s not about religion–it’s about human nature.

Specifically, greed.  Greed is played out as patriarchy.  Patriarchy is greed for power.

In Christianity, the male “me first” mindset has only now since the past few generations been changing.  Women can become ministers, even bishops. (But not yet in Roman Catholicism or the Orthodox churches.)  But the progress isn’t because of religion.  The movement for equal opportunity for women has not been primarily RELIGIOUS;  it has been a SOCIAL movement.  The religious have always been minorities in feminism.

In some heavily Muslim countries, there is movement for more freedom for women (dispensing with the total covering of clothing and daring to drive a vehicle).   These are changes occurring because society is changing–not because the religion is changing.  In Islam and Christianity alike, the verses being cited today upholding equality for women could have been cited in the Bible and the Quran from the very start.  The religions aren’t changing; societies are changing.  The religions have been playing catch-up.

The problem never HAS been religion; rather, human nature.

In societies where being gay or some other gender minority is still a problem, obstacles are being held in place–by these rival religions Islam and Christianity alike!  The hard-line believers of each religion would disavow the other as nothing like their own.  But both are doing the same thing, putting down gender minorities.  Which shows–this isn’t about religion!

The commonality of the believers is not their religion–rather, their human nature.

One of the strongest urges in human nature is:  self-justification.  Coming up with reasons to think one’s self right even when doing wrong–that’s self-justification.

Religion is merely the easiest form of self-justification.  Patriarchy existed before Christianity and Islam came into existence.  The religions simply were used to confirm the cultural power structure.

This is self-justification.  People can find instances in one’s “holy” writings to justify the worst of their human nature.  It took 19 centuries of Christianity before slavery was outlawed in the heavily Christian countries of Western Europe and North America.  It wasn’t Christianity that suddenly changed in the 1800s.  It was society that changed.

Religion was not the problem.  Because  the same awful things which are done in the name of Christianity and Islam–are done by atheists.  Stalin was an atheist.  So was Mao.  Hitler was an opportunist, co-opting whatever helped his grasp on power (whether it be the “German Christian Church” or astrology or German myths).

Believer and atheist alike can do the same awful things.

It isn’t about religion.  What they share in common is:  their human nature.

The deepest urge of human nature is:  survival.  Survival entails self-justification, coming up with reasons for thinking oneself right even when doing wrong.  The easiest method of self-justification is–religion.

That’s why not just BETWEEN religions like Christianity and Islam has there been hostility; but between believers of the SAME religion.  The Roman Catholic Church was primarily the only game in town in Western Europe up to the 1500s.  Catholic authorities would hound the dissenters–Wallensians, Lollards, Albigensians…These were Italians killing Italians, British killing British, French killing French…They were all believers in Jesus.

When Protestantism arose in the 1500s as a vigorous competitor to Roman Catholicism, the killings spiked.  And it wasn’t just Catholics killing Protestants, or Protestants killing Catholics.  It was also Protestants killing Baptists and Mennonites.

These atrocities occur not because of religion–but because of the worst of human nature which is justified by religion.

Above all, the worst trait of human nature is–the fear of difference. Thus, dominant Christians tried killing off smaller sects of Christians in Europe and America for centuries.

The pattern occurs in any and every culture.  In Africa, which has witnessed so many fights between blacks and colonists, today the worst is happening between blacks themselves.  Tribe vs. tribe.  It’s not because of skin color.  It’s because of–difference.  Those who are different make the easiest targets.  Easy targets are the first thing people go after when caving in to the worst of human nature–the fear of difference.

More deeply, the fear of difference is actually the fear for “self” (literally, the fear for “survival”).  This fear is enough of a spur for neighbor to attack neighbor, not merely Shi’a vs. Sunni, but German Catholic vs. Italian Catholic.

It wasn’t that many years ago, in my little hometown of Ellwood City, an hour’s drive northwest of Pittsburgh, the animosity between church members who were Northern European Catholic vs. Italian Catholic was a sight to behold.  The parishes were called St. Agatha’s and BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary).  Some in St. Agatha’s would refer scornfully to the others as “BVMers”.  Some BVM members would look down on St. Agatha’s as the poorer of the two parishes–a smaller building, a smaller membership…

These two churches existed on the same street, merely a few blocks from one another.  The members of both churches were neighbors.  The whole town was neighbors–a small town where most everybody knew one another.

The animosity wasn’t about religion.  It was about jealousy and defensiveness.  Many of the Italians carried a combative attitude because they thought others looked down upon them.  It was–at bottom–fear for “self.”

The flaws of human nature rise up all the more fiercely when people who have fear for “self” come into power.  The decision-makers belong to one group–they don’t want to yield anything to those who belong to a different group (be it party, religion, ethnicity…).  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:  It is not human nature to give up power voluntarily.  The desire to hoard power is the same whether the decision-makers are religious or atheist.

Hoarding of power results from fear for “self.”  Fear for “self” results in self-justification, coming up with reasons.  The easiest form of self-justification is–religion.

But none of this is about religion!

It’s about the worst of human nature:  greed for power, fear of difference, fear for “self.”

Religion is simply the easiest way to justify it all.


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