Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Love and Wrath Part II - The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Part Two – The valley of the shadow of death

The other side – somewhere over the rainbow.

Religion has an inherent interest in death. But then, I suppose, don’t we all? It is something we have all thought about - our own death - at one time or another. We all have a burning desire to find out what, if anything lies beyond death. It is the great unknown… the great unanswerable question. What will become of us when we die…?

Well, the likelihood is – nothing. We will rot into the ground and all of our memories and dreams will die with us.

Death plays a major part in religion in many guises. First, there is the concept of death – the idea of heaven and hell, which is used as either a carrot dangled in front of the believer’s face, or a whip at his back, coercing him into doing what his religion believes is right.

What’s the harm, a religious person may argue, in believing in life after death, even if there is absolutely no evidence to support it? Surely it gives us hope? A reason to live our otherwise seemingly irrelevant life…? To that I would reply that whilst, yes, it may bring hope, it is a false hope – and the damaging part is that it devalues life. Many people have devoted their lives to the religions they follow, adhering to every guideline, upholding every value that faith represents, in the hope that they will be granted a place in paradise - their life’s wages.

The concept of Hell is used expertly in religion as a form of terrorism – terrifying children into following their faith’s moral code. But what, when you think about it, could possibly be the purpose of Hell, aside from installing fear? The bible preaches that God is just and merciful – how, then, can he justify Hell? To begin with, if he is omnipotent and he already knows our fates, why put himself and mankind through the whole terrible rigmarole? It can’t possibly serve any purpose other than perhaps his own enjoyment. Furthermore, a human being has a finite lifetime, and so can only possibly commit a finite number of sins; how then can God justify eternal punishment? The punishment grossly outweighs the sins, even when the sins are committed at their maximum potential. Surely these cannot be the actions of a just God?

And so with a longing for Heaven, or a fear of Hell, a lifetime is wasted - a lifetime that could have been filed with creativity, experience and freedom - not prayer and war and servitude.

"Murder, my dear Watson — refined, cold-blooded murder."

Another prominent way in which death features in religion is murder. For centuries, millennia even, people all over the globe have been slaughtered in the name of religious beliefs. Year after year they kill each other over whose beliefs are correct. Had it not been for the commands of a ‘just’ and ‘loving’ God, there would have been no crusades, there would have been no witch hunts in the middle ages, and there would have been no terrorist attack on New York City on September the eleventh two thousand and one.

All of these atrocities, and thousands upon thousands besides, were all acts of murder committed as a direct result of religion.

And the Winner is… - The biggest killer of all.

JER 13:14 – “And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the LORD: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.”

But who is the biggest killer in religious history? Well, if, as the Christians profess, the bible is true, then the runaway winner is God himself.

At his blog, ‘Dwindling in Unbelief’, Steve Wells took a total of God’s kill count in the bible, which comes to a whopping 2,476,636. See the full list here.

And this is only the instances where the bible states the specific number of people killed – this figure doesn’t include, for instance, the countless murders committed in the great flood, or the killing of the first born in Egypt. When he took an estimate of the total kill count, it came to a gigantic 25,000,000. God is love.

Okay, I hear you say, but if God doesn’t exist, then what’s the problem, surely these are just stories and have no bearing on reality? Surely it is no more relevant than say, Hannibal Lector’s kill count? Well, perhaps it is just fiction, but God is a role model to millions of people, young and old alike. When he descended as Jesus, he was supposed to be the perfect example, the ‘spotless lamb’ but what kind of role model is a man who has killed 25 million people? God makes Charlie Manson look like Yogi Bear, and it is from this genocidal, vindictive, jealous being that believers are supposed to take their moral guidance from.

As well as being unjust, God is also a hypocrite. He orders in his commandments that his followers should not kill, and yet he permits himself to commit atrocity after atrocity. It’s little wonder the faithful have been killing each other for thousands of years. If a child grows up in a violent household, he is far more likely to be violent himself in his adulthood.


“The only difference between suicide and martyrdom is press coverage”
Chuck Palahniuk

As well as taking the lives of others, for millennia religious believers have been taking their own lives as well, on holy missions with belief in a fast track to heaven. Unfortunately this often involves taking the lives of innocent people along with them, the clearest, most recent examples of this being, of course, the September 11th attacks in New York, and the 7/7 attacks in London.

What could drive a person to commit such terrible acts, and take their own life in the process? The answer lies, of course, in the profound lack of respect for life taught by religious doctrines. For the entirety of their lives Religious followers are taught that there is something much better yet to come – paradise is awaiting them if only they can shake off the shackles of this crappy life here on earth. It’s little wonder these ‘martyrs’ wanted to die if that’s what they believe. And killing sinners along the way – doing ‘God’s work’, apparently qualifies you instantly for a place in heaven.

Killing in the name of

We now live in a world where it is okay to issue death warrants upon a person for doing the simplest of things like writing a book – Salman Rushdie wrote ‘The Satanic Verses’ in1988 and has been living with a fatwā requiring his execution that was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time ever since.

Some people who have been the subject of religious hatred have not been as lucky as Rushdie, however. In the early morning of November 2nd 2004, Theo Van Gough, Great grandson of Vincent Van Gough’s brother, was shot eight times and stabbed three times, in his home city of Amsterdam as he cycled to work. His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Muslim Dutch-Moroccan citizen, had left a five page note attached to one of the blades which was still in his torso, warning others that Van Gough’s crimes would not be tolerated. So what was Theo Van Gough’s crime? What crime could warrant such a despicable act?

Van Gough had been working on a ten minute film entitled ‘Submission’, which took a critical look at the treatment of women in Islam. A film. The sad truth is, if Mohammed Bouyeri had not been indoctrinated as a child to believe that the fourteen hundred year old ramblings he had been taught were divinely inspired, then he most certainly would not have committed the atrocity he committed.

The most infuriating thing about it all is that religion purports to teach love and peace, it even has a widely accepted reputation for teaching love an peace, and yet it has caused more deaths than any other man-made thing in history. One only needs to leaf through the pages of a holy text to see exactly why religion and violence and death are, and forever will be, inextricably linked.

"I will sweep away everything in all your land," says the LORD. "I will sweep away both people and animals alike. Even the birds of the air and the fish in the sea will die. I will reduce the wicked to heaps of rubble, along with the rest of humanity," says the LORD. "I will crush Judah and Jerusalem with my fist and destroy every last trace of their Baal worship. I will put an end to all the idolatrous priests, so that even the memory of them will disappear. For they go up to their roofs and bow to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the LORD, but then they worship Molech, too. So now I will destroy them! And I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the LORD's guidance or seek my blessings."

(Zephaniah 1:2-6) The Bible (NLT)

“Fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them…"

(9:5) The Qur’an

God is love.

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