For a long time I’ve thought about and have been ambivalent about writing this article. People are very sensitive about religion and their freedom to worship and I wasn’t certain how it would be received. I want to state now that I respect people’s right to worship their God in any way they choose. That is not what this article is about. It’s really about the imposition of organized religion and religious dogma into the political, economic, and social lives of a worldwide multi-ethnic reality; the imposition of beliefs that can deprive others of their rights.
For example, religion’s effect on the delivery of health care for women, or the use and availability of contraception, or the rights of gay men and women to live their lives in peace and without harassment or shame, or insistence on the teaching of creationism in our public schools, or the litmus test for politicians regarding their religious participation. Have we ever voted or could we ever vote an atheist into public office?
Each religion claims to be God’s chosen and, as a result, has felt justified in committing crimes against humanity in his/her name.
There is a song, written and sung by Holly Near, which summarizes the problem. “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Yahwey, I Ain’t Afraid of Your Allah, I Ain’t Afraid of You Jesus, I’m Afraid of What You Do in the Name of Your Lord.”
Let us look at the history of man beginning in the 11th century with the Crusades. The Crusades were military campaigns sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages through to the end of the Late Middle Ages. In 1095, Pope Urban II proclaimed the first crusade, with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. Following the first crusade there was an intermittent 200-year struggle for control of the Holy Land.
The European wars of religion were a series of religious wars waged in Europe from 1524 to 1648, following the onset of the Protestant Reformation in Western and Northern Europe. Although sometimes unconnected, all of these wars were strongly influenced by the religious change of the period, and the conflict and rivalry that it produced.
Conflicts immediately connected with the Reformation of the 1520s to 1540s:
- The German Peasants’ War (1524–1525)
- The battle of Kappel in Switzerland (1531)
- The Schmalkaldic War (1546–1547) in the Holy Roman Empire
- The Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) in the Low Countries
- The French Wars of Religion (1562–1598)
- The Thirty Years War (1618–1648), affecting the Holy Roman Empire including Habsburg Austria and Bohemia, France, Denmark and Sweden
- The Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–1651), affecting England, Scotland and Ireland.
Although there are many other references to be made that illustrate the violence and killing in the name of religion, I’d like to turn to more modern events.
During WW11, Nazi Germany assumed the responsibility of exterminating all Jews. As a result, close to 6 million Jewish men, women, and children died for no other reason than their religious affiliation. This occurred while the Vatican stood by quietly accepting these horrendous acts. Meanwhile, the U.S. refused to offer Jews, who were looking to escape Europe, any refuge.
We have the formation of a Jewish State, Israel, a state where any Jew can enter and automatically assume citizenship but where non-Jews are not welcome. In order to maintain Israel’s Jewishness, Palestinians, who have lived in the territory for many generations, have been violently thrown out of their homes and rendered without a homeland. Jewish children are taught to hate and fear them which results in arbitrary violence by Jews against Palestinians.
In Iraq, we have the deadly struggles between the Sunni and Shia populations. Other violence occurring globally which have a foundation of ethnic rivalry include:
- 1978—present: War in Afghanistan
- 1991—present: Somali Civil War
- 2001—present: Islamist Insurgency in Nigeria
- 2011—present: Egyptian Crisis
- 2011—present: Syrian Civil War
The above is not a complete list but signifies the role of religious and/or ethnic differences in man’s inhumanity to man.
I am the first to admit to the value of religion in coping with the insecurities and fears of life and death. When I had coronary by-pass surgery 30 years ago, I realized how much easier it would be to face my mortality if I could believe. I understand a person’s desire to find solace any way he/she can when facing a crisis. But the issue is not any one person’s personal beliefs, it is the amount of hate and intolerance organized religion has generated through many generations which have allowed people to feel justified in committing acts of violence against the other. All in the name of your God. If God is truly good, would he/she support such behavior?
Religious dogma effects us in many subtle ways. At the end of every speech, President Obama says, as all presidents before him stated, “God bless America.” It might be more meaningful if our president said, “I will discontinue sending drones into foreign countries because our missiles are killing too many innocent people. And, I will also refrain from meeting with my advisors every Tuesday to draw up a kill list.”
I would assume that my God would expect that from me.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.