Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Killing for God

Murderous mob in Pakistan
Amid the chaos of daily life and the international crises that are now grabbing our attention, small events get overlooked, especially ones in distant lands.

However, they often contain kernels of truth that shouldn’t be shunted aside.

For example, in Pakistan, three people who were members of a Muslim sect that follows an Islamic prophet other than Muhammad were killed recently by an angry mob who accused them of heresy.

Apparently, a woman and her two granddaughters were victimized after a young man in the Ahmadi sect posted something on Facebook that aroused the crowd of faithful Muslims.  The young man was not injured, but the woman, a seven-year old and her babysitter were murdered.

A neighbor described the scene.  "The attackers were looting and plundering, taking away fans and whatever valuables they could get hold of and dragging furniture into the road and setting fire to it... Some were continuously firing into the air," he said.

"A lot of policemen arrived, but they stayed on the sidelines and didn't intervene," he said.

The real reason for the attack was buried at the bottom of the story:  “Human rights workers say the accusations are increasingly used to settle personal vendettas or to grab the property of the accused.”

There was nothing religious in the deadly assault, just greed.

The murderous Pakistanis are in good company.

Christians reacted the same way when their religion was legalized by Constantine in the 4th century.  They burned and looted homes of members of other faiths; they killed anyone who tried to stop them.  Their efforts increased when Christianity became the only legal religion in the Roman Empire about 50 years later.

It wasn’t the meek who were trying to inherit the Earth.

In fact, Christians invented the idea of heresy to have a deadly weapon for use against people who follow a separate path from orthodoxy.  Raging mobs made sure to enforce the rules and loot the wealth of their target.

“There is no crime for those who have Christ,” one zealot in the 5th century insisted.

The Inquisition which terrorized much of Europe continued the process in the Middle Ages.  “Ethnic cleansing” of our time is more of the same thing, just under a euphemism, as is the Israeli version of “Mow the lawn.”

A recent study by American scholar Mark Juergensmeyer titled Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence identified a rising number of hate crimes tied to religion.  “Increasingly,” he wrote, “global society must confront religious violence on a routine basis.”

His findings were supported by a new survey by the Pew Research Center.  That study found that “violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new highs in all regions of the world except the Americas.”

Religion creates that situation, according to a study by University of Washington Professor James Wellman Jr. and Senior Lecturer in the Jackson School of International Studies Kyoko Tokuna.  They concluded that “the symbolic and social boundaries of religion (no matter how fluid or porous) mobilize individuals and group identity in conflict, and sometimes violence, within and between groups.”

Added Sociology Professor Charles Selengut in his book Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence, “…religion has another side; A sense that its truth is so correct and so divinely ordered and universal that all people must follow it.”

As a result, violence is worse in countries with limited religious diversity.  That’s because there are few people there of different faiths, whose mere presence challenges the hierarchy. It’s also easier for looters to take advantage of the few outsiders who live among them.

There’s no solution to any of this.  Residents of countries in the Middle East dominated by Islam are not going to suddenly become open minded.  Pakistanis aren’t going to glad hand the Ahmadis in their midst. Religions insisting that they are the only true faith aren’t going to back down from that stance.

Of course, as long as such attacks lead to power and money, no one is going to step aside.
War in Gaza

The violence will continue unabated in religions that tout their “peaceful” intentions.  Islam derives from the word “peace,” while Christianity prays to its “prince of peace.” One of the significant Jewish blessings concludes “may God lift up His countenance on you and grant you peace” from Number 6:26.

Obviously, hypocrisy isn’t going to disappear anytime soon either.

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 www.williamplazarus.net.  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 Amazon.com, 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 http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

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