I have blogged previously on the idea that the concept of sin causes religious folks to behave in various evil and irrational ways. Thus, I identify the concept of sin as the “enemy” in terms of religion. That is, sin is the part of religion that does the most damage to human society and increases suffering, war, and the like.
In the post, I will examine an interesting discovery that I made recently: Especially when we are talking about a major Western religion (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), a person who lives a perfect, sinless life (from the perspective of that religion) is frequently also found to be a genocidal maniac who commits numerous war crimes.
This seems counter-intuitive because these folks look so good, at least from outward appearances. And there is absolutely no doubt (at least not within their own circle) concerning their sincerity.
A few examples would suffice. I have previously called out good old King Josiah, arguably the first truly monotheistic Jewish king. (I believe that Solomon, for example, was a standard, run-of-the-mill pagan who simply worshiped Yahweh as a pagan god.) Josiah is held up by many Christians as the ideal godly person within the Old Testament canon. He truly worshipped God!
And, again, looking at it from the perspective of either Rabbinic Judaism or Christianity, Josiah looks really good: He did embrace utterly the way of the law of Elohim. And he was revered for this reason during his own time, at least from what we can tell from the biblical record.
That record, as well as extra-biblical sources, also tell a darker story: Josiah was one of the most maniacal mass murderers in ancient times. He was responsible for eradicating massive numbers of his own subjects for the simple (and in our minds unacceptable) reason that they practiced a different religion from his. And he is actually praised in the bible for doing this! (See: 2 Kings 23:4-10).
And, of course, all of this genocidal activity is fully justified, because it was blessed by God. In this respect, Josiah is depressingly similar to other figures of the OT who get treated with great deference by Christians. These include Elijah, who massacred the worshippers of Baal (a very common practice at the time, apparently), and of course Joshua, who wiped out entire tribes of Canaanites, Hittites, etc., during the invasion of the Land of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua. Typically, the tribe of Israel was instructed by Joshua to “kill everything that breaths”, and, again, this was all justified by divine blessing. See for example, this ridiculous excuse for a website in which the slaughter of innocent children is condoned because of the “wicked idolatry” of the people of Canaan. (Isn’t it interesting that in every religious text, pretty much without exception, the practitioners of another faith are referred to as “wicked idolaters” or some other similar fluff, right before we decide that it would be a great idea to kill them?)
Moving into the Christian era, the New Testament is devoid of any genocidal maniacs, which is pleasant to be honest. However, we don’t get too far into the Christian era before we have the rise of despicable creatures like Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was actually declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, despite his genocidal persecution of Jews and pagans, as well as the murder of Hypatia, an innocent prominent woman for the sole reason that she was an agnostic, and led a school of Neo-Platonic philosophy. His shock troops, the notorious Parabalani, were probably the first true terrorists in the world. Certainly, the murder of Hypatia, an innocent civilian by any measure, is the textbook definition of terrorism. The sainthood of Cyril undoubtedly states where the Roman Catholic Church stood on these actions.
Later Christians were no better. Another example from the 15th century would be Tomas de Torquemada, who I have blogged on previously. Torquemada was the original Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Far from the deranged monster that is frequently depicted in film and print, Torquemada was a very charming and admirable person who convinced almost everyone he knew of his utter and complete devotion to God. Why? He truly was sincere! Torquemada simply took literally and idea that many Christians pay lip service to, but do not behave as if they believe: Hell is real and far worse than anything we experience in this life. Thus, to Torquemada, torturing someone to death in an attempt to get them to repent and accept the true religion was not only justifiable: He was actually doing that person a favor!
Yet another would include Sir Thomas More. While More certainly lived an exemplary life, at least within the context of his Roman Catholic religion, he personally imprisoned Protestants for heresy and ordered the execution by burning of six Protestants. Their crime: Heresy due to their being Protestant. In More’s mind, nothing else was required in order to justify their agonizing death. More even regarded their death as being a requirement of God.
Protestants do not fare well either. As this site points out, many Protestants have committed terrible atrocities against Catholics, on the sole cause that they were Catholic. Again, no crime other than practicing a religion other than my own is needed to justify the death sentence for these people.
It boggles the mind. I think I am making an important point here though: Frequently I hear Christians argue in favor of Christianity by stating that the behavior of prominent Christians throughout history is so refined, so representative of the nature and purpose of God. Not. It turns out that Christians are just like everybody else: Christians have behaved in a manner equally as despicable and reprehensible as any other group in human history. Certainly, there are very admirable Christians who are not genocidal maniacs. Mother Teresa comes to mind. Also St. Francis of Asisi. But do not be fooled by these positive examples. A perfect, sinless life within a religious context is sometimes the gateway into something far darker.