Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Irresistible appeal for fanatics
These records contain countless contradictions. Both the Koran and the Bible's Old and New Testaments bear witness to a good and merciful God. They urge humans to live in peace and harmony. This is reflected most clearly in the instruction attributed to Jesus in the Hebrew Bible: "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
But these messages of brotherhood clash with sentiments that condone intolerance and violence: "For I came to set a son against his father, a daughter against her mother ..."; "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me"; "Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." The prophet Mohammed also delivered harsh threats from Allah: "Fear the fire prepared for the infidels."
Throughout history, the Abrahamic religions' claim of absolute authority has exerted an irresistible appeal on fanatics, encouraging them to impose their own faith on nonbelievers and dissidents alike - if need be by using fire and the sword. To this day, nearly all religions supply the kindling that fuels wars and acts of persecution, sparks torture and murder, and inflames ethnic hatred. Examples abound: the bloody wars between Hindus and Muslims in India, or the enmity between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.
For centuries, it seemed that the Abrahamic religions had come to terms with - and discarded - extremism. In the case of Christianity, this dates back to the Enlightenment, when the symbiosis between church and state collapsed and a new system of ethics emerged - one that was independent of faith in God and derived solely from social consensus.