Is Religion the Root of All Evil?

I don't know who's more ridiculous: "Christian" Islamophobes obsessed with the "threat to civilization" posed by "Islamofacism" or atheist evangelists who think religion is the root of all evil.

Seeing as how most human beings on the planet believe in some kind of divinity, the atheistic evangelism of "intellectuals" like bully leftist-turned-Bush-apologist Christopher Hitchens is essentially an exhibition of utter contempt for most of humanity; an intellectualized I'm-smarter-than-thou (and just about everyone else on earth) argument.

(If you saw, or read, about Hitchens is-there-a-God debate with Chris Hedges, you'll understand I'm being nice when I say Hitchens is a bully).

For the record, most atheists I know are better Christians than most Christians I know. In fact, my sentiments about Christianity, in particular, are pretty well summed by paraphrasing that "evil," "religious," "nut" Gandhi: Christianity is a good idea, someone ought to try it sometime.

The weak point in the religion-is-the-root-of-all-evil argument is that it essentially ignores the likes of religious folks like Sojourner Truth, Tolstoy, Gandhi, the Islamic Gandhi -- Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Frederick Douglass, MLK, Rabbi Joshua Abraham Heschel, Dorothy Day, Bishop Tutu, Archbishop Romero, and the current Dalai Lama, just to name a few. These ethical giants are deluded evil charlatans? Arguably the most significant progressive movement in 20th century America -- the Civil Rights Movement -- was born and nurtured in the black church!

But an even more striking weakness of the atheist argument is that it simply overstates the case.

Bertrand Russell's famous essay was called "Why I am not a Christian;" not Why I am not a Theist? Clearly, Russell was an atheist-leaning agnostic but he had intellectual humility -- a quality in short shrift among Hitchens and company. Even more importantly (and this is why atheist proselytes are verbose fools) you can't argue religion out of people! Religious views change according to lived-experience; not dry, intellectual polemics.

Plus, if you challenge the way a person makes meaning out of their life, without being prepared to show them how to heal their fragmented world-view, they're going to put their fingers in their ears or attack. Fight or flight. A third way is needed.

As for "Islamofacism," let's get real you scardy-cats. Yes, there are sick people in this world who happen to be Muslims and who also want to do harm to Americans -- a truism that Bush seems to think is some kind of amazing insight into human nature. But the truth is: it's impossible for "terrorists," or any military on earth, to take over America.

Can terrorists blow up a nuke in a city and do massive damage? Duh. But that pales in comparison to the global apocalyptic threat Islamophobes lived under for pretty much their entire lives during the Cold War.

One Islamophobe wrote me recently to lecture me on "the true nature of Islam" and jihad and it made me wonder: Why assume the fringe fundamentalist reading of scripture is correct and progressive religious people don't know their own faith better than atheists with only an intellectual interest in the matter?

The latent bigotry can be seen when you consider that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not engaged in terrorism, which begs the question: Why do Islamophobes think a minority of Islamic jihadists are "real Muslims" and the majority of nonviolent adherents are somehow infidels? African-Americans are very familiar with defined-by-the-worst bigotry. There's the "exceptional Negros" and then there's "thugs" and "welfare queens" who are held up as the essence of black culture.

Islamophobes seem to think jihad is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It ain't. So this foolishness that "true Muslims" are required to convert everyone or kill the infidels is pure BS. The Five Pillars are concerned about "right practice," not right belief.

Quick religious pop quiz: Who is the only religious leader to assemble a 100,000-strong nonviolent army? Answer: Muslim Pashtun political and spiritual leader, Ghaffar Khan.

What are the Five Pillars of the Islamic faith? Hint: Don't be fooled by critics who think jihad is one of them.

It would be nice if more folks could distinguish between opiate-of-the-people-religion and prophetic religion.


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