Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Religious Wars To Continue

The age of religious wars should have passed by now.  We should have gotten all over that in the Middle Ages when Catholics and Protestants attacked each other.  The 30 Years War depopulated Europe, for example.  It should have ended when Muslims took control of Istanbul and the remnants of the Roman Empire in 1453 and then unsuccessfully invaded Europe.  It should have disappeared after multiple massive wars between Muslims and Jews over Israel finally deteriorated into regular skirmishes after the 1973 stalemate.

Somehow, it hasn’t.  Nor will it ever.

The problem is inherent in the religions themselves.  It’s called monotheism.  By declaring there is only one God -- and only one “true” God – Christianity, Islam and Judaism guarantee a future filled with hate and bloodshed.

Each religion claims to follow the dictates of the lone God.  That God, called Yahweh, is a jealous God who will have “no other gods” before him, according to the Jewish religious text.  Christianity accepts that book, too, but its God is named Jesus.  Muslims, too, believe they follow the correct God, but his name is Allah.

Three Gods, each insisting on sole worship.

Moreover, both Christians and Muslims claim that their God is the only God and that other religions are not only unacceptable, but that their God demands opponents be eliminated.  They both believe that failure to believe in their God guarantees the deity will be angry and punish them.  

Jews, at least, set up a series of laws, based on the story of Noah, who lived prior to Abraham, the father of the religion.  The Bible calls him righteous, so early Jewish sages educed a handful of rules for non-Jews to be acceptable to God.  The Noahide laws include eating the proper food and believing in the Jewish God, but they are not onerous and were very widely followed throughout the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus.
Unfortunately, that idea never caught on with Islam or Christianity.

The antipathy between faiths has been building for more than 3,000 years.  Around the 1300s B.C.E., an Egyptian pharaoh named Amonhotep IV became increasing upset with the priests of Amon, who were dictating to him.  To counter them – and possibly because of sincere religious zeal – he changed to name to Ihknaton and declared the god Aton as the sole deity.

As a result, he is credited with creating monotheism.

His innovation had many benefits.  He swept away the entire hierarchy of priests, became the chief priest himself and wiped out all the mythology that dominated Egyptian life.  Henry VIII of England did much the same thing in the 1500s when he severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church and established the Anglican Church with himself at the head.

There’s only one major drawback.  If there’s only one God, who is at fault when something goes wrong?  Not God, who is perfect.  Therefore, mankind must have angered God.  That kind of thinking is why overenthusiastic religious and political figures insist God sent hurricanes or other natural disasters to “punish” sinful people.

After all, God is good; people are bad.  That concept is enshrined in Catholicism, which insists mankind has been sinful since the supposed first humans were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

Ihknaton’s belief did not survive him, but the monotheistic theory endured. Once humans swallowed such teaching, the path was set for collisions between competing and differing religious sects hell-bent to support their God.

As a result, the conflict between monotheistic faiths is not going to abate anytime soon.  It’s only going to get worse as pollution, overpopulation, climate change and more threaten human extinction and increase belief that God is punishing His respective followers for failing to convert others.

Soon enough, given the natural disasters rapidly encroaching on our lives, we may look back at the horrors of the religious wars of years ago with nostalgia at how meaningless they actually were.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at www.williamplazarus.blogspot.com.

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