Thursday, August 9, 2012

Religious Fighting Overshadows Belief

EMTs wheel away a Sikh Temple shooting victim.
It’s been hard to stomach the news this week:
             Six murdered at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.

·            Gunmen in Gaza kill more than a dozen people.

·             Mosque burned down in Missouri.

To heighten the nausea, the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church – whose members regularly picket the funerals of American soldiers killed in the Middle East – tweeted that God had caused the murders at the Sikh Temple.  

Fred Phelps, who leads the congregation, called the murders “punishment” for the treatment his church had received in its Wisconsin home.

Such irrational claims, and the wanton shootings themselves, are symptoms of a serious misunderstanding that has plagued mankind for millennia: the confusion between religion and belief.  They have nothing in common.

Belief is the willingness to accept something as truth without a single fact.  Virtually all beliefs are similar, dealing with ways for people to function in this world for the betterment of themselves and humanity.   

Religions are something else.

Religion is an organized system, often with various props such as “sacred” books and clothing.  It often includes teachers, identified by various titles, and a usually mythological history along with pretentious claims about afterlife and morality.  It needs money to survive and yearns for power.

A belief may be connected to a religion, but doesn’t have to be.  After all, a true believer can insist a particular soccer player is the best in the world, regardless of facts mustered by someone who disagrees.  Beliefs are eternal.  Earliest humans, for example, seemed to have beliefs about an afterlife, just as we do today.

A religion on the other hand may have no beliefs.  Unitarians, for example, have none.  Religion is merely an artificial framework that beliefs can be hung on for a relatively brief time period.

Religions come and go.  No one worships Osiris anymore, or Baal, Marduk or a myriad other once-esteemed, imaginary deities.  In the distant future, the same will be true for the cherished gods of today.  Religions have a lifespan, just like everything else, including the universe.

Beliefs don’t need defending, since they require no facts.  You can believe anything you want.  As Thomas Jefferson asked, “Why should I care what my neighbor believes?”

Belief affects no one but the individual who believes it. It has no meaning outside of believers.  If you don’t believe that your late uncle can be reborn as a cow, then a cow is merely another animal.  Heaven doesn’t exist to a non-believer and is ardently real to a believer.

On the other hand, religion seeks power and control, to dictates thinking and behavior.  It needs weapons and followers to use those weapons on its behalf.  Religion will happily kill anyone who professes alternative ideas in order to maintain its status in society.

Arsonists torched this mosque in Missouri.
That’s why vicious members of any religion are apt to pick up a gun and shoot members of other religions.  No religion is exempt.  Even normally peaceful Buddhists have gotten in battles with Hindus.  We all know about the fights between Sunnis and Shi’ites, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims etc.

As long as people continue to confuse religion and belief, that carnage will not cease until either everyone is dead or completely sickened by it enough to stop.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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