Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religion is the Root of All Evil

I've been seeing around social media (ugh) so many people decrying the evils of all religion. There are claims that religion is the number one reason for war. There are claims that religions were made up to control the masses. And there are claims that religions are the biggest money making scams out there. Let's review these claims.
Now, this being a religious blog, I know that there will probably be some who will say that I am biased in my opinions. I will try to be as unbiased as I can be in what follows.

Let us look at the first claim: religion is the number one reason for war/killing. Here is a quote from the Huffington Post (I know, I know, it's HuffPo).

In his hilarious analysis of The 10 Commandments, George Carlin said to loud applause, “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason,” and many take this idea as an historical fact. When I hear someone state that religion has caused most wars, though, I will often and ask the person to name these wars. The response is typically, “Come on! The Crusades, The Inquisition, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, 9/11. Need I name more?”

Well, yes, we do need to name more, because while clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone. (Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars)

The Encyclopedia of War was published in 2004, and as you can see from the quote, the authors documented 1,763 wars. Of those over 1700 wars only 123 were religious in nature. And those 123 only account for less than 2% of all people killed since 3,500 BC.

I also repeatedly read and hear about how the Crusades were so evil, and the mean ole Christians just stormed into the Middle East, swords a swinging, ready to hew down any that stood in their way, just because there were Muslims in the Holy Land.

No, sorry. The Crusades were in response to over 400 years of Islamic conquest and killing of Christians in the Middle East in what was then the Eastern part of the Roman (now called Byzantine) Empire. The emperor actually asked the Pope to help him out (you know this was a desperate request seeing as how the Eastern Christians didn't really get along with the Western Christians at this point in time). The Crusades happened to drive out invaders. Did atrocities happen? Yes. Were relations between Rome and the rest of the Pentarchy (the quatarchy?) strained as a result of what happened during the Crusades? Absolutely. But the Crusades were not some big evil war that happened just because Christians hated Muslims for believing differently; they were a series  of wars that happened in response to centuries of aggression in which many atrocities happened. I'm not excusing the atrocities that took place, not in the least, but the popular narrative of the Crusades is just plain wrong.

Even the Inquisition - which has been widely accused of being most heinous - has been so utterly misconstrued.

Modern historical research has uncovered facts that dismantle many of these centuries-old falsehoods. Here are some quick corrections concerning popular misunderstandings:
  • The Inquisition was originally welcomed to bring order to Europe because states saw an attack on the state’s faith as an attack on the state as well.
  • The Inquisition technically had jurisdiction only over those professing to be Christians.
  • The courts of the Inquisition were extremely fair compared to their secular counterparts at the time.
  • The Inquisition was responsible for less than 100 witch-hunt deaths, and was the first judicial body to denounce the trials in Europe.
  • Though torture was commonly used in all the courts of Europe at the time, the Inquisition used torture very infrequently.
  • During the 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition, between 3,000-5,000 people were sentenced to death (about 1 per month).
If you read more of the above-quoted article the author mentions that they have heard deaths as high as 95 million people. I've not heard that one before, but I have heard of some pretty huge numbers often in the millions. But we see that 3,000-5,000 deaths happened during 350 years, and the Church (being the Roman one) executed no one. 

And if you read more of that article you will also see that the Inquisition was started to combat a heretical sect known as the Cathars - among a number of beliefs they held one was no oaths. Oath taking was extremely important to the secular and religious authorities of the day, and having those who would take no oaths could have been a danger to society.

It seems wrong to us today, but Europe was a tumultuous place during the Middle Ages, and the Church (being the Roman one) was often seen as the bastion of Western Civilization. 

Now, were there atrocities committed? Yes, by the secular government. The Pope (being the Roman one) condemned and complained about these things to no avail, much like the Pope (being the...) had during the Crusades.

There are claims that religions were made to control the masses. One can probably conjure a vision of the Pope (being... I'll stop) stepping out, looking over St. Peter's Square, and having the throngs of Catholics practically worshipping him. Or perhaps one can imagine tales of parish Bibles being chained to the altar to keep the people from reading what was really written therein - not that it would have mattered since it was all in Latin anyway!

Unfortunately, it just isn't true. If one takes a purely atheistic view of religion then the most probable cause of religion was not some secret rituals performed by the likes of Egyptian priests to keep the masses under control, but it was most likely due to primitive man's misunderstanding of nature and assigning deity to everything. And if you take a religious view of the matter (particularly Christian or perhaps other monotheistic religions) then religions came about because of a corruption of God's revelations to mankind and man's fallen nature. Control just doesn't come into it.

Why would Bibles be chained to altars then? Well, Bibles were often covered in precious gems and metals (as are many other items in a parish) and people had this thing about stealing the sacred volumes and hawking them for coin and what not. Bibles were in Latin (in the West) because that was the Liturgical language - though the homily (sermons) were in the vernacular. In the East, the Liturgy and the Bibles were translated into the vernacular. Not like it matters, because most people couldn't read anyway. The Church, instead of suppressing information, readily spread it where they could; monasteries were well known (especially in Ireland) for having great teachers and being fortresses of knowledge. But back in the day, the common man had many things to do - not many of which had to deal with reading and other things.

But churches and religion as a whole ask for money to line their pockets while not returning hardly anything back to the needy whom they claim to love and take care of! Also false.

Disregarding the likes of Joel Osteen and other prosperity gospel types, it just simply isn't true. Yes, some parishes can be quite ornate and large - which is a good and proper way to worship God. But just because these places have spent a pretty penny on the inside does not mean that they are not also doing so on the outside. When I went to Baptist churches most of them had some kind of community outreach program that involved a food closet and other amenities for those in need. In the ornate Orthodox parishes I have attended they are always having canned food drives or taking part in Meaningful Gleanings, as well as other community outreach programs, not to mention sending money and supplies to foreign places after tragedy strikes.

But, if religion is really giving away money and charity why is there still poverty? Why are there so many hungry people in Africa and other places throughout the world?

Because of the fallen nature of man. Because of war. Because of greed. Because we are not perfect. The events that kicked off what inspired the book and movie "Black Hawk Down" happened because a warlord was taking supplies and things meant for the people of Somalia for himself. Humanitarian aid was being given to the people of Somalia, but the greed of a violent man took it away from them. Many countries in Africa are still war-torn with constant rebellions and government coups happening all of the time. Aid is given, but oft times it is taken away by evil people. War has been raging in Syria and the Middle East for some time now; sending charity to these places is very hard to do. Because of the greed of corporations and the constant fluctuation of the economy we have homeless and many people living in poverty; the Church is giving to these people on a daily basis, but the Church can only do so much in this world to combat man's fallen nature. Man has to correct himself as well.

This brings up the problem of evil, though, doesn't it? If God is good then why does He allow evil? If He is omnipotent why doesn't He erase evil? If He does neither then He is neither good or omnipotent.

Freewill. We have freewill. We have the ability to disobey God and live as we please. I have children; I could sit there and make sure that my children never make wrong choices and do everything perfectly as I want them to, but then they would never learn. I certainly couldn't claim to really love my children if I only allowed them to be who I wanted them to be instead of letting them be themselves and discover life for themselves. In the same way, God as our Father, allows us to make our own choices. He loves us, and He wants us to do right to the point that He basically spelled it out for us. But it is up to us to decide if we are going to follow Him or not. Why does He allow evil? Because we choose evil for ourselves. Why does He not prevent evil? Because then we would never learn from our mistakes and we would just be empty shells - automatons with no will of our own. So war exists, greed exists, poverty exists because collectively as a species it's what we keep choosing in spite of all of the religions that are trying to lead us away from such.

It isn't religion that is evil.

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