Perfect Sinless Life = Genocidal Maniac

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.

Sin is the Enemy

I had a bit of a breakthrough today. I now understand who (what) the enemy is. The enemy is not faith. Sorry to disagree with folks like Bill Maher, but the enemy is not religion.

The enemy is sin.

I don’t mean that you should try to live a sinless life, i.e. attempt to eradicate sinful behavior from your lifestyle. Nor should you abandon discretion and common sense and live a dissolute and reckless lifestyle. In other words, give in to sin. No, you should simply abandon the idea of sin, the idea that there is a vindictive, jealous and vengeful God who will wreak judgment upon those He finds displeasing. And that you can somehow please him by living in a particular manner.

Let’s examine that idea closely. Take the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal contained in 1 Kings 18:23-40. As this site indicates, this story is a favorite among Christians. Invariably, Christians spiritualize the story without really examining the events themselves. In the story, Elijah proves that Yahweh was the true God, whereas Baal was a false god. Elijah does so by miraculous means, and the way he does so is quite spectacular and rather amusing, no question. But look what happens afterwards:

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:40 KJV)

Now, assuming you believe in God (which I certainly do much of the time), then you must have some internal concept of the nature of God. You probably believe that God is loving and compassionate. Let’s call this a Loving and Compassionate God, or L&CG.

Now, which of these two scenarios is more likely:

  • Elijah called fire down from heaven, which L&CG obligingly sent, thereby proving His existence and power in graphic terms. Elijah then proceeded to massacre a religious minority, with the explicit approval of L&CG.
  • Elijah orchestrated the massacre of a powerful religious minority for political gain. He then exploited his religious culture to justify his war crimes.

I don’t know about you, but I find the first scenario entirely less likely than the second one. Yes, Elijah may have existed. He even may have called down fire from heaven, although I seriously doubt it. What I do not doubt, however, is that the annihilation of a religious minority within ancient Israel (or anywhere else in history for that matter) is not, never has been, and never will be justified and endorsed by L&CG.

I came up with a hypothesis based upon this idea. The gist is that sin-based religion has caused more religious war, persecution, etc., than non-sin-based religion. It turns out that this is certainly true. Of the major world religions, the number one culprit in terms of causing religious war, persecution, etc., is Christianity, with about 15 million deaths. Islam is next, with between 8 and 9 million, except that most Islam-related religious wars also involved Christians. Thus, much of that has to be credited to Christianity as well. Everything else is noise.

Religions where sin is not a major feature (Hinduism and Buddhism being the two major world religions that fall into this category) do not figure in religious wars very much at all. If they appear, it is in a defensive role. Thus, Buddhists or Hindus will defend themselves, violently if necessary, when they are persecuted by another religion (usually Christians and Muslims). Typically, Christians or Muslims attempt to convert Hindus or Buddhists forcibly. This does result in resistance, understandably. Otherwise, the non-sin-based religions simply do not figure in religious wars very much.

Thus, it appears that my hypothesis is correct: It is not religion that dramatically increases human suffering. It is instead the concept of sin, with the associated idea of a vindictive, judgmental and vengeful God.

This gets played out in daily life of ordinary folks as well. Take this scenario. A small child is killed in some senseless and brutal manner. The parents are understandably devastated. A well-meaning but clueless religious person shows up, sees the pathetic scene, and says something like the following:

We just can’t know God’s plan. Although we don’t understand it, we have to accept that God knows best, and somehow this was the best thing for <fill in child’s name>. I mean, who knows, <fill in child’s name> might have turned away from God. By taking her now, God knew for sure that she would be in his loving embrace for all eternity. Maybe this is God’s perfect will.

I am not exaggerating here. I have been to many funerals that sounded just like this. And what has this religious leader just done? He or she has made God to blame for little <fill in child’s name>’s death, and the suffering of these poor parents, who must now try to worship a God who countenanced this obscene event.

In some cases, the opposite occurs. My cousin Monty was the most egregious example of which I ever heard. That happened fairly soon after I had just become a born-again Christian. Monty was a severe alcoholic who was separated from his wife, having multiple affairs, and died in a drunk driving accident in which he was at fault. In the process, he killed an entire innocent family. At his funeral, which I personally attended, the Baptist preacher said the following, more or less:

We can know for sure that Monty is in heaven today in the loving arms of Jesus. That’s because he came down the aisle in this very church at the age of 12 and accepted Jesus into his heart, and was baptized in this very church.

Now, if anyone ever arguably deserved to burn in Hell, Monty would be up there. He was a cad, no question. Not a lot in Monty’s life to admire. However, for me, given a choice of believing that Monty is burning in Hell or in the embrace of Jesus, I will go with neither.

Monty was broken. I am broken. You are broken. We are all in a terrible state. But that does not mean that there is a vengeful and jealous God who will condemn us when we die.

A few Christians are even beginning to embrace this idea. Take for example Rob Bell, a Christian I have thoroughly enjoyed. Rob seriously pissed off the Evangelical establishment when he announced that he no longer believed in Hell. He later recanted when faced with serious persecution, I suppose. The question that got him: If there is no sin, then why did Jesus die?

Why indeed?