Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 12: What is God's Religion?
Whether one agrees with Gandhi or not is irrelevant. But to say that Yahweh is a Jew, God a Christian, and Allah a Muslim is to betray and contradict the most sacred principle in Judaism, Christianity and Islam that there is only one God. What have those believers been fighting about all along? The Crusades? The 30-year War? The French Wars of Religion? The Lebanese Civil War? The Second Sudanese Civil War? The Iran-Iraq War? The current Syrian Civil War? Perhaps the underlying root cause of the disconnect between monotheism and the dualism it created is not caused by God, but by … religion itself.
Religion derives from the word religare (Latin) which means 'to bind.' Remember the dreadful situation in which we may be kept as hostages by our own beliefs? Most of us are still bound and hung up by the binary opposites of hell and heaven. "Religion as practiced today deals in punishments and rewards," wrote Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello. "In other words, it breeds fear and greed—the two things most destructive of spirituality."
We tend to associate religion with morality. But why in the world does religion preach homicide, suicide, and genocide—expressed or implied? Violence abound in the Old Testament: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys" (1 Samuel 15:3). Killing infants is one thing, ripping pregnant women open is another. "The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open" (Hosea 13:16). These are from the Old Testament, though such brutality is certainly not a monopoly of Christianity.
The 1947 partition of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan resulted in a horrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, massacres, mass rape, mutilations, genocide, even infanticide among communities that had co-existed for more than 900 years. As of now, proxy wars and sectarian violence between the Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims still rages on in the Middle East after 1,380 years ... all due an unsettled dispute over who was the legitimate successor of Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community after he died in 632. Only twenty years ago (1995), more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys were massacred by Serbian Orthodox Christians in and around Srebrenica. And certain imams still preach treason and sectarian hatred in mosques, going as far as praising Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS, which have committed the most repulsive and despicable acts in the name of Allah.
Juxtapose the aforementioned violence and conflicts among dogmatic monotheist believers, if you will, with the narratives of non-dogmatic paganistic beliefs of some African tribes. The Yao tribe in East Africa called their God Mulungu, who one day left the people to live in the sky definitely due to the "cruelty of men." The Ngombe tribe in Central Africa called their God Akongo. Like Mulungu, Akongo got fed up because the people were quarrelsome and "left them to themselves." Akongo "went and hid in the forest and nobody has seen him since." These simpler narratives convey an unequivocal message to their believers to condemn violence and get along with each other.
Until the Christian missionaries arrived in Africa … As lamented by the first Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta (1892-1978): “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. The missionaries taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we were stuck with the Bible.” Not surprisingly, the land grab in such biblical proportions did not occur only in Africa.
Under the pretext of to spread Christianity among heathens, Christian Europeans committed unspeakable cruelty and genocide on Native Americans. In American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (1992), David E. Stannard writes: "The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world." According to Peter Montague, by 1891 "the native population had been reduced to 2.5% of its original numbers and 97.5% of the aboriginal land base had been expropriated ... Hundreds upon hundreds of native tribes with unique languages, learning, customs, and cultures had simply been erased from the face of the earth, most often without even the pretense of justice or law."
It's hard to say whether those violent 'religious' acts in Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Indian subcontinent occur because of or in spite of religion. Perhaps both. "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil;" said American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, "but for good people to do evil—that takes religion." Just by scanning the news and headlines—one needs not be a historian or statistician—it's crystal clear that beliefs have killed more men than skepticism. Illusion has killed more men than factual truth. Rigidity has killed more men than flexibility.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter