I have always thought religion was a belief in a higher being or a set of principles which guided a person through life. I was raised a Catholic and I was taught to love God and everyone else. I knew people of various Christian sects as well as people of the Jewish faith. From my friendships with these people I learned , that they too were taught to love God and their neighbors. I went to Catholic schools and was familiar with the teachings of helping others, especially the poor, sick and disabled. Sure some of these teachings, looking back, were bigoted and hypocritical, but never were they advocating violence. When I became older I met people who were Buddhists and I learned that they too held similar views and espoused a life of peace, love and charity. So as a child and adolescent, religion to me was, to sum it up, love, peace, charity and harmony.
The older I got I learned that this is not always true. I now know that with some religions, or with some religious people, there is a caveat to what I had always thought. That caveat is that their religion is one of peace, love, charity, and harmony, only if everyone believes as they do. Harboring slightly different beliefs or cultures or lifestyles then not only becomes unacceptable, but dangerous. If anyone seriously studies history they will learn that the multitude of wars were fought over religion, ideologies, politics or land. Some people say that more people have died in religious wars than any other types of war. According to Bookrate approximately 809 million people have died in religious wars while 209 million have died in non-religious wars.
People have died in the name of religion during the Crusades, the spread of the Ottoman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish Conquest of the New World, the colonization of the British Empire, Indian Wars of the US, Northern Ireland and the Irish Rebellion. If we take a closer look at the past we can see that in most cases true religion was never involved in these incidences. Aside from some ignorant and bigoted missionaries there were other reasons for the killing of millions of people. In the New World the Spanish massacred the indigenous peoples of the area, not to spread the word of Christ, but for gold and territory for Spain. This was the case in just about every war which was waged in the name of religion. The Catholic Church was for many years the most powerful institution on earth and the popes did everything they could to retain and extend that power, even if it meant people would die. As the Catholic Church split into many different Christian sects, these new sects continued the violence. The oppression of religious minorities or any minority for that matter, has it’s root causes in greed, power, bigotry, hatred and politics.
And it continues today. If we look at history, disregarding wars involving religion, we can see religion in a different light. At times the Catholic Church even encouraged science and the arts. Islam in the middle ages was noted for advances in science, mathematics and architecture. The mysticism of Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism fostered a new way of dealing with science and self awareness and mental and physical health. What went wrong? Well I think to answer that all I can say is humans went wrong. Religious extremists hijacked what was normally a peaceful and loving creation of man. Today we see the results of a tradition of hatred, fear, and prejudice being passed down to human misfits.
Today we are fighting a “war on terrorism”, which I believe should be called a “war on religious extremists”. Islamic extremists seem to be the most prevalent, but they are by no means alone. Many Muslims still harbor a fear and hatred of Christians for the atrocities of the Crusades and wish to go back to the times when Islam was a powerful political and cultural force. This really has nothing to do with religion, only hate. Religious tensions are again boiling over in Northern Ireland, between Catholics and Protestants. Once again this really has nothing to do with religion, but has everything to do with hatred, fear and politics. Throughout history the Jews have been hated and slaughtered, because they were different or successful. All throughout many of the new African nations Christians and Muslims are fighting for power and supremacy, with many innocent people being killed. In Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan Muslims are killing Muslims, out of age old hatreds and differing views on their religion. Some Christian sects, such as those in the US and Uganda are espousing hatred and even the killing of gays. There have been a number of people who have left their religion to start a new sect of their own, telling their members they have been told by God to to preach a new message to the world. Often these messages include the taking of many wives or what happens too often, the sexual abuse of children. Their followers believe they are following the will of God, instead of allowing a mentally ill pervert live his fantasies.
Old traditions of religious hatred are still alive and well in all areas of the world. Even in England, where hatred and discrimination of Catholics is part of parliamentary law, the monarchy is fighting a change in this tradition. Because King Henry VIII was not allowed, by the Pope to divorce his wife for not bearing a male heir, he split from the Catholic Church and made himself head of the English Church. Catholics were not allowed to ascend to the throne and members of the royal family were forbidden to marry a Catholic. As the British Parliament is ready to change succession laws, which will allow a female to take the throne, Prince Charles, intervened to assure that no Catholic could ever become a member of the British Royal Family. So even members of royalty are still living in the 17th century and continuing a tradition of fear, hate and bigotry.
Religions, for the most part, do not breed hatred, bigotry and violence, but they are sometimes havens for degenerates and just plain evil people to live and act with security and often impunity. If these same people, for instance joined a fraternal organization such as the Lions Club or Elks, their behavior and ideas would cause them to be expelled. But if they are practicing a religion they are protected. In the world’s war on terrorism, countries and armies have taken up the task of defending, those who have become targets of terrorism, the non-believers or certain minority groups. The primary responsibility should not fall on these armies or countries, but should fall on the religions themselves for allowing an atmosphere where this extreme negative behavior and preachings can flourish. Oft times the religions do not even criticize their extremist members, much less actively fight against their views and activities. Some religions feel that is not right to criticize or harm fellow religious members, regardless of how violent or murderous they are. The extremists even enjoy monetary support from their religions.
Just as alcohol, guns, or automobiles, in themselves are not dangerous, they do become dangerous when they are in the hands of mentally ill or evil people. Religion, as a belief in a higher being and a belief that we should love and care for our fellow man, is a beautiful concept. But when people with alterior motives, suffering from mental illness and extreme hatred and bigotry, are allowed to take over a religion and run amok, that religion must be helt accountable and must exert control or punishment on its members.If this doesn’t happen I am afraind mankind will be doomed to destruction from a final war over religions, which think they are the one and only true religion. I believe every member of every religion should ask themselves one question. “What happens if I am wrong and my religion is not the true religion?”