Which Religion is the Most Violent

Newt Gingrich has been a little late to the Republican fear-parade and he’s struggling to elbow his way in before the 2012 campaign.  His wedge?  Stopping the Islamic takeover of America.  That should be easy to accomplish since it isn’t happening; making it a much more attractive issue to run on than real problems like repairing Social Security or finding a way out of Afghanistan.

Gingrich’s highly visible Islam-bashing has managed to turn this into the summer of turbaned terror, and there has been no shortage of nutjobs riding in his slipstream reminding us how dangerous Islam supposedly is.  Perhaps this is a good time to ask the question – which religion is the most violent?

It’s not an easy question to answer.  Should you rely purely on a body count?  If so you’ll need a whale of a calculator.  Besides, that would only measure which religion was the most efficiently violent, wouldn’t it?  I don’t think effectiveness is really what the dispute is about.

Should grievances count as mitigating factors?  When a Christian Lebanese militia spent two days in a besieged Palestinian refugee camp raping and slaughtering civilians under Israeli supervision, ought they be excused by the previous Muslim slaughter that inspired it?  And should the Muslim slaughter be excused by the Christian slaughter that inspired it?  Who’s guiltier, the chicken or the egg?

You could try looking at different faiths’ holy books for guidance, but they won’t help much.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and so on, they will all point out the ways their religion embraces compassion, humility, and humanity.  They will all be correct.  Their detractors will point out the ways their religions promote violence.  They will also be correct.

The word Islam actually means peace in Arabic.  Game, set, match, right?  But the Qur’an also instructs the believers to “strike off the heads” (Surah 8, verse 12) of the unbelievers.  Not very neighborly.

Judaism emphasizes justice and humanity, inspiring Jews to become advocates of the oppressed in every society where they have influence.  But the Torah (the Old Testament to some of us) also encourages a certain, shall we say, decisiveness in dealing with God’s enemies.  In one notable example, God commands King Saul to deal with a tribe who offended him several generations back: “Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Saul is then cursed for failing to exercise the requisite brutality.  Let that be a lesson to you.

And a potent lesson it remains, along with a host of other violent instructions in Torah.  They are enough to inspire violent Jewish souls today, even some who would advocate hanging Arab children.

As for the Christians sitting smugly by, they have some juicy material to work with too.  First, they have access to the whole panoply of Old Testament gore when they want it, but they can primly disavow it when it suits them.  More importantly though, when it comes to violence Christians have the problem of their two Jesus’.

When Christians want to get righteous about other religions’ violent streaks, they’ll talk about the Hippie Jesus of our Gospels; the guy who’s always turning cheeks and blessing his enemies.  They never mention the other Jesus.

Even Jesus himself knows what happened to that peaceful guy and next time he’s having none of that noise.  Apparently when we see him next we should run for cover.  The Jesus at the end of the book is coming back with “eyes like a flame” wearing a “robe dipped in blood.”  He’s got plans to make a feast for the birds out of “the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” Peace, schmeese.  It’s time to lay it down.  Kill ’em all and let Dad sort ’em out.

Christianity can keep up with anybody in the murder contest.  You can still find Christians today who will passionately defend the slaughters of the Medieval Crusades.  You can use Christianity to kill abortion doctors, massacre Muslims in Bosnia or Kosovo, or launch a preemptive war.  Jesus is more flexible than some people might think.

Go find the most peaceful, passive religious ethic in the world and you will still find violence.  Buddhist teachings are so fanatically pacifist they probably couldn’t stomach football.  Heck, I’d be surprised if they could sit through tennis.  But Sri Lankan Buddhists will rack up piles of dead Tamil civilians like nobody’s business.  Nirvana can wait.

And you atheists have no room to gloat either.  Avowed atheists like Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung tallied tens of millions of kills between them in the 20th Century alone.  The absence of a religion is no more protection against fanatical rampages than blind faith.

Then come the chorus of qualifiers.  “That’s not what [insert religion here] stands for.”   “True believers would never engage in [insert incident of maniacal slaughter here].”   Or my favorite response which is some version of “they had it coming.”

Those who want to defend their own religions’ violent spasms are right in distancing themselves.  A careful, intelligent reading of any of the Big 5 will turn up appeals to consider the needs of others, exhortations to peace, and an insistence on the basic humanity we all share.

We’re all ready to see those values in our own faiths while putting our own more troubling passages into some philosophical perspective.  But for some reason we are incapable of applying that same exercise to other faiths.

In reality, the most violent religion on Earth is any that have people in them.  Muslims have amassed an impressive body count in the name of the “true faith,” but they can’t solidly claim to be out ahead of anybody else.

The people who are trying to win elections or score ratings by telling us scary Muslim stories are playing a dangerous game.  They are putting other peoples’ basic humanity into question, making it easier on our conscience when dole out the hurt on them. They’ll get as far as our ignorance and fear will allow.

It doesn’t seem to matter what a religion teaches, some bloody-minded believers will find a way to either misinterpret or ignore it to allow them run riot.  Religion does what people tell it to do.  There is a definite connect between religion and violence – human beings.

And all of you who disagree with me are gonna burn in hell.  Amen and Hallelujah.


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