Sunday, February 25, 2007

War and State Religion

Very few religions are true to their Founder's teachings about peaceful coexistence and in spite of scriptural admonitions to seek peace there are other passages in their writings that actually encourage and condone bloodshed. I would speculate that the rationale for this is that there are times in history when God is interpreted by clerics that violence must be used to fulfill some purpose that the Deity has omnisciently condoned.
The God of Torah and Israel - "The One True God", the "I AM"
There have been many instances that Moses or the Prophets made it incumbent upon the children of Israel to destroy men, women and children of those pagan nations that God was displeased with, usually for worshipping idols, sexual deviancy or rituals of human sacrifice, but also because the land of these pagans (such as Canaan) were given to the Jews to rule by the writers of the Torah through commandment of God as a promised inheritance. Arguably today, most Jews don't condone aggression against sovereign countries except in self defense and tend to see faith in benign terms, and view themselves as having been the objects of persecutions, since the fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians through the last two millenia. Of course the Jews of modern-day Israel have more than adequately developed their defense systems to prevent most aggressive acts by their hostile neighbors.
The God of Jesus and his followers, the Christians:
The adherents of the many flavors of Christianity have suffered many relatively recent persecutions many of them being of the sect-on-sect variety, in contrast to the Jews' long experience with it. Once the Roman Empire became reconstituted under the symbol of the Cross, the persecuted became the persecutors under the bishops and Constantine's military then proceeded to successfully stamp out non-orthodox belief. From the Middle Ages onward, widening divisions brought on by theological and political differences led to wars and purges that pitted brother against Christian brother.
The Rise of Islam, Allah and Mohammed:
Mohammed in the Qu'ran appropriated much of its teachings from Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity and in its early history united Arabic peoples under the banner of the crescent moon, offering mercy to those who converted but death to those who rebelled against the prophet and his followers. The battles to decide which God would rule, the One of the east or the One of the west, reached its height during the crusades and victories were won and lost many times over in the former lands of the Roman Empire. Later under the unifying control of Ottomans, tolerance grew, attracting many exiles, especially Jews from Christian Europe, Spain and Portugal during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Islamic art and culture grew to great heights as a result of the "brain drain from these countries." Eventually like all empires the Ottomans lost influence and most of their lands were re-conquered by the West.
Present Day:
I think that history today has again come full-circle with millions of disaffected Muslims seeking violent redress through Jihad against the Jews and Christian "crusaders" by re-conquering what they perceive to be originally Muslim lands. Since Islamic nations and ultra-fundamentalist groups haven't the where-with-all to create a modern war machine and to develop their own high-tech weapons, to even the odds, the resourceful jihadists are doing everything in their might, from buying the latest weapons from developed countries to the use of suicide offensives to demoralize the West thereby weakening support for Middle- East wars. This they are doing with great success.

It seems to me in observing the dynamics of the East vs. West conflict that religion has been the key ingredient in the crazy-glue of ideas that galvanizes Muslims (and Judeao-Christians) to support the fight that will lead one of them to victory over the infidels (and heretics.) Governments are very adept nowadays at using mainstream media propaganda machines to manipulate or at least direct public opinion to achieve the desired results in persuading their citizens that their positions are the ones that God has approved and has therefore blessed. Since adherents of many religions, be they Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Christian have references in their holy books that can easily be interpreted to condone holy wars, I believe we must work to re-evaluate the relevance and usefulness of these passages and seek to minimize their importance for the sake of world peace.

If humans are to co-exist, I believe that our leaders must avoid the use of religion as an excuse to wage war and look to other less violent examples within their own spiritual traditions and glean from them the best examples of those who used their faith to affect the spiritual and material healing of world systems.

Make peace! That IS true religion.

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