When Keepin’ It Religious Goes Wrong

Recent revelation that, right before the start of the Iraq massacre, George W. Bush sought to seduce former French president Jacques Chirac into war against the Iraqi people by invoking biblical text, particularly the demonic tales of Gog and Magog, should provide uncontestable proof that religious extremism is not some antiquated practice relegated to the 15th century, but rather an intricate part of the very nature of our present political paradigm. Why else did President Obama have to prove a million times his devotion to Christianity, before many voters felt comfortable enough to accept him as anything but a secret Al Qaeda operative?

In a recent interview, President Chirac recounted an experience that left him deeply troubled. Through a secret phone call, placed in early 2003, George Bush tried to explain how his plans for war were in direct correlation with biblical prophecy: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

All this, coming on the heels of new allegations that former Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, purposefully operated his disgraced private mercenary machine as a modern-day crusade battalion against the evil forces of Islam—found dominant in the middle-eastern region. And just a few months after the release of tapes showing soldiers in Afghanistan being told to “hunt people for Jesus” and to “get them into the kingdom.”

Of course, this is hardly surprising for those who watched closely the unfolding and aftermath of the Iraq war. A great number of reasons to justify its moral imperative were put forth, but none took repugnance to a new low more than those provided by the former President, such as claims, on countless occasions, and to countless foreign leaders, that “God” was the driver of his war ship, that “God” had instructed him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq,” that his 2003 war was, essentially, “the lord’s will.”

Many reports have also detailed private conversations Bush had with foreign Head of States about the “love” of God. And with GQ magazine’s exposé, published March this year, of the biblical quotes former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regularly laced his top-secret memos with (“Open the Gates that the Righteous Nation May Enter,” “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him to deliver their soul from death”), the implications couldn’t be more startling.

Is it any wonder that those most eager to talk about their love for “God” are often the ones most likely to do the devil’s bidding?

Raised in a firm, Judeo-Christian home, I appreciate the roles spirituality and morality play in providing a young child with much needed structure against the many impurities this world contains; but “religion mis-overstood,” as the rap artist Nas once put it, is “poison.” And religious extremists, who’ve convinced themselves that the only true path to the afterlife is that which they’ve chosen to follow, are no less dangerous than the man who led the whole world into war based on conversations he imagined to be having with his “God.”

Conservative Christianity is chief culprit for a lot of the twisted pathologies our society partakes in today, but bigotry isn’t exclusive to the right only. Books by Sarah Posner (God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters), Bill Press (How the Republicans Stole Christmas: Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Faith & Politics and What We Can Do to Make it Right), and Frank Schaeffer (Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back) have outlined poignantly the right-wing’s co-optation of Christianity for commercial political causes, but not enough has been written on the fundamentalism of religion, and how easy it is for even the most well-meaning of liberals, leftists, or progressives to contribute to the chaotic conditions humanity remains subject to.

In 2009, no one is still left unsure whether religion, and its struggle for supremacy, has been the greatest dividing factor this world has entertained. The results—millions of lives lost (and counting)—is plenty proof. Innocent blood has been shed, and will continue to be shed, for as long as religion remains a deciding factor in the public spaces that govern our everyday concerns and careers.

My faith (small f) is private and I hope it remains that way. And though I believe I’m doing right by my maker, I’m not so arrogant as to proselytize it to everyone who comes my way. I don’t hold anyone to a lesser standard for refusing to commit to the same religion-based belief system I’ve adopted. I chose the prophetic route of theology, which puts at center the burdens of the disenfranchised above all other entities, but I’m not so quick to denounce atheists or agnostics as heathens whose special place in hell awaits them—if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways some time soon.

With the increase in church shootings, mosque bombings, and synagogue attacks, the need for inter-faith dialogue is more critical than it’s ever been. Pastors, Imams, Monks, Rabbis, Priests, Atheism Scholars, and all other religious/non-religious leaders must make a commitment, within the next decade, to broaden the discourse of faith, that it may include all those who find inequality distasteful enough to engage it in a way that frees the yoke of the oppressed and brings to justice the oppressors.

At the core of each credible faith is the belief that reciprocity should guide the believer’s actions, reminding him/her that no God is worthy of worship who lets injustice go unpunished or a good deed go unrewarded. For those who truly cherish life over death, peace over war, liberation over imperialism, that should be common ground we can all gather around.

Tolu Olorunda is a writer and cultural critic currently living in Detroit. He is also author of The Substance of Truth (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2011), a collection of essays on education, culture, and society. His writing has appeared widely online and in print. He can be reached at: tolu.olorunda@gmail.com. Read other articles by Tolu.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. balkas b b said on August 12th, 2009 at 4:27pm #

    i’ve said this before: it is OK to believe in a god if it is left undefined; i.e., add one more word to it and one is usurping a god or even denying her/him/it.
    this won’t do for clergy: to retain their elevated status, they make out of a simplicity an enormous complexity that leads to endless hatred, rancour, rage against not only other pious people but also pious people who do not accept any god or only god, period!
    and not accepting any god is also religion! I am also pious!

  2. Sam Simple said on August 12th, 2009 at 5:16pm #

    I consider myself a member of the religious left (yes, there is such a group). I am extremely liberal, but I see that as being consistent with the message of Jesus. He taught peace, tolerance, loving your neighbor, doing good works, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and ministering to the prison. The early Christians lived in a communal way (yes, you could call it communistic), if you don’t believe me, read Acts 4:33-34. In fact, if you followed Christ’s word, you would sell all of your earthly possessions and give your money to the poor.

    I see all of these beliefs as being in direct opposition to modern American conservatism, which advocates war, intolerance, hatred of other cultures (Islam in particular), self-interest, greed and looking out for number one. I wonder how many modern conservatives would be willing to sell all they own and give it to the poor?

  3. B99 said on August 12th, 2009 at 5:41pm #

    Sam – I too think the message of Jesus as presented in the gospels is for the most part a very positive philosophy. However, the gospels were written many generations after Jesus allegedly lived and died – and are very likely a record of what the authors wished Christ had said and done, rather than an actual record. The living Jesus may have been a far more ordinary man. Doesn’t make the message bad, just fanciful. And they of course, were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John who were long dead at the time.

    Bozh – Not accepting god is not a religion any more than not accepting there are banshees in the closet is a religion. If 4 billion people on earth were taught that banshees exist in the closet, then 4 billion people would subscribe to that instead of a god.

  4. balkas b b said on August 13th, 2009 at 6:17am #

    since you are attacking an idea or opinion and not personal ‘faults’, i’ll respond.
    we all have an opinion about ‘god’ or ‘gods’.
    it is of course another matter how each human being expresses in deed and words one’s ‘god’.
    having no opinion or not expressing an opinion is also an opinion or belief.

    perhaps all people evaluate that a banshee doe not exist; i.e., to them it is a fancy. But bns asssert that a `god` exists.
    so, comparing a nonexistent with an entity that exists to bns appears as either baiting or whatÉ.

    and there is no shred of evidence that praying to an owl or god is not of equal value; i.e., waste of time!
    if one believes in a snake or a `god`, one is pious as the other.

  5. balkas b b said on August 13th, 2009 at 6:29am #

    it does seem to me that people may have also put the following in yehud`s mouth:
    1 u shall always have poor among u. This utterance is antihuman.
    2 i came to uphold the laws and prophets. This approbates genocide of the canaanites if it had been carried out to any degree.
    3 treat others as u wld have others treat u. This leads to some trouble!
    4 the meek shall inherit the earth. This being an overgeneralization appears impossible to decypher; u name it, an du cld be right, wrong!
    5 the head of the house is man, etcetc.

  6. Peace Is Coming For You said on August 13th, 2009 at 10:31am #

    A Note to Individuals Who Think that Their Religion is OK

    You are wrong.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking — everyone does it, a billion chinese can’t be wrong, it makes us be humble and care about our neighbor, and sure, there are people out there doing shitty things in the name of their religions, but their religions are different from yours, and, it’s worth mentioning, worse than yours.

    The problem, the one that you may not see, is not what your religion says, in particular — although most likely, you believe in some pretty horrible things, like stoning adulterers or killing the children of your enemies or hating homosexuals or jews or not touching menstruating women or having as many babies as possible.  And if you don’t it’s probably only because you’ve decided which parts of God’s word are good enough for you, and which parts aren’t to be taken seriously, since they bother you personally, and that they can therefore be considered to have been mistakes on His part.

    The problem is not what your religion tells you to believe, but how it tells you to believe — that is, it tells you that you can — no must believe in the absence of the type of evidence that you’re used to demanding out of life.  In fact, your salvation depends on believing without evidence — skepticism will actually damn you to hell for all eternity.

    You: “Well, it looks like a dog and it barks.”
    Your Religion: “It’s a cat.”
    You: “Are you sure?  I think it’s a dog.”
    Your Religion: “Do you want to burn for all eternity, smarty-pants?”
    You: “Oh, right.  It’s a cat.”

    Now, let’s not get into the fact that this is really, really undignified — the fact that, if humans are different from, say, squid in any meaningful way (thinking-wise) it’s in our capacity to think abstractly enough to perform complicated logical comparison and deductions.  But you’re going to chuck out what makes you human.  That’s fine.  Whatever.

    And let’s not get into the fact that all the crappy stuff it tells you is pretty crappy, or that it’s all internally contradictory, or that most people aren’t very meek or poor or any of those things, in spite of what their particular Book says.

    The point is that you believe it’s a cat now.  So what?  Well, the ‘so what’ isn’t that you’re going to look like an idiot trying to make a golden retriever shit in a box, although you are.  The ‘so what’ is that once you decide that it’s OK to believe in the absence of evidence (or in the fact of contradictory evidence) you’ve endorsed two related points of view:

    No one in society has any responsibility to anyone else with regards to thinking things through.  I believe my car’s brakes don’t need to be checked, even though I don’t know for sure.  Here, borrow the keys, you’ll probably live.  In one grand gesture, you’ve gotten on board with the idea that there is no such thing as negligence.  As long as I believe a thing, even if a cursory look at the facts might convince a reasonable person of the opposite, well, hey, that’s my right.  It’s ethical and reasonable.  There’s no need to look, no need to think.  It’s 10 pm, do you know where your children are?  Nah, but I believe they’re upstairs, and I don’t have any responsibility as a parent to check.
    No belief can be judged against any other.  You believe that God tells you to love, I believe He tells me to fly a hot air balloon around the world.  You’d like to tell me that I’m wrong, but you can’t, because argument is an act of demonstration of facts, or chains of facts, deduced logically from one another or derived directly from experience.  By getting on board with faith, you’ve rejected argument as a meaningful activity, and rejected thinking critically altogether.  You can no longer critically consider or compare ideas, since you believe that it’s OK to have faith in spite of critical evidence.  Got an argument against genital mutilation?  Who cares — you’ve already come out on the side of belief in the face of contradictory evidence.  I agree.  Where’s my knife?  Everything’s OK with you, once you decide that you don’t need to believe your eyes or your brain.
    So there it is.  I don’t care if God tells you to suffer the little children, or feed the poor.  If that’s the only reason you’ve got for doing those things, you’re a shitty person, and your beliefs do more harm than good.  Your existence and your attitude demean you, and, much worse, help weaken two of the most important quantities in any society: our ability to trust that other people are telling us the truth and being responsible in their statements and thoughts, and our capacity as a society to look for answers using our brains and our capacities to reason from evidence.  Those are all we’ve got, and once they’re gone, society isn’t doing anyone any good, since you can’t trust its members to be responsible, and you can’t rely on reason to dictate your course of actions.

    And you, by tolerating religion, have taken a big fat dump on both of these commodities.

    That said, every religion is fundamentalism.

    It’s worth pointing out at this point that a lot of what you hear about how the problem is ‘fundamentalism’ is bullshit.  When people say this, they seem to be talking about something like XXXXTreeeeeme religion, that says completely crazy things.  

    The problem, as I’ve mentioned above is that once you accept religion, in the sense that you’ve decided to tolerate (or even embrace) beliefs in the absence of justifying evidence, you’ve no longer got any rational or ethical basis for judging one doctrine against another.  You’ve decided to take part in an occasionally comforting dance in which reason and evidence can’t be used to judge ideas, and once you’ve done that, you’ve got no ground on which to judge anything to be ‘fundamentalism’, and even if you did, you’d have no grounds to judge that it was a bad idea, and even if you could say that it was a bad idea, you’d have no grounds on which to say that it can’t be tolerated, since you’ve already decided that a rational case against an idea should prevent you from believing it.

    Here’s how the discussion goes:

    Me: “My book says that women who learn to read should be stoned to death.”
    You: “That’s barbaric!  It’s bad for women, who have natural rights guaranteed by my constitution!  It’s unfair!  It’s cruel!  Think about it!”
    Me: “So what?  You believe that Moses talked to an invisible man in space through a burning bush, and you’re telling me that I can’t believe what I want because it doesn’t make sense?  Who are you to tell me I’m nuts?  Go to hell, infidel.”

    The only thing fundamentalist about fundamentalism is that what these people (whoever you decide is a fundamentalist) believe requires that they ignore the evidence of their senses and suspend their ability to reason — it’s not double-think, it’s willful ignorance.  And if you’re a religious person, any religion at all that requires faith in the absence of evidence, you do this to.  You have everything that’s important in common with every other religious person in the world — you believe what you want in spite of evidence for or against your case.  

    You are a fundamentalist.

    To sum up.

    To paraphrase someone who thinks about these things for a living, your immediate reaction to the assertion that your faith is unethical is something along the lines of, “No it’s not.  Some people’s are, because they make you mean, but mine’s about being nice.”  Your religion doesn’t tell these maniacs what to believe.  In the end, however, that doesn’t matter, because your religion, like all others, does tell maniacs how to believe.  It tells them — you tell them, every time you do it, every time you tolerate it — that it’s OK to ignore evidence, it’s OK not to exercise your capacity for logical deduction.

    So the next time someone blows up a building, or shoots an abortion doctor, or prevents young girls from learning to read, in the name of God, I hope that you won’t get too self-righteous about it.  In fact, you and they are peas in a pod.  You enable this person to do what they do.  You promote in society a tolerance and understanding for this behavior.  Your failure is their failure.  Your willing ignorance is their excuse.  Your desecration of society’s respect for the truth, for our responsibility to be intellectually diligent, for judging what might be true against what we can discern with our senses to be true, your faith is the exact same thing that makes what they do OK.  Your guilty pleasure, your insistence on ignoring what your senses and your intellect tell you removes you and helps remove society from any position in which it is sensible to pass moral judgment on anyone else  for believing in the absence of evidence, and then acting on these beliefs, however loony, because you do precisely the same thing they do.
    Your religion is everyone’s religion, because you’ve rejected the validity of rationally judging ideas on the basis of our senses and minds.  You do it.  You OK it.  You bring it on.  Thanks a lot.  

  7. b99 said on August 13th, 2009 at 10:41am #

    But having no opinion on something does not constitute having a religion. Its apples and oranges.

    And by the way, you conduct ad homina attacks on Jews all the time – you won’t even grant them their own name.

  8. balkas b b said on August 13th, 2009 at 11:39am #

    i do not ever attack posters who seem or are ‘jews’. In fact, the word under single quotes denotes a or stands as symbol[to me] for an human.
    that a ‘jew’ rejects the actual value of that symbol and uses the symbol “jew” to identify self, is entirely her/his business.

    there is no law nor precept that compels me not to notice that the label “jew” signifies “jewishness” and not any nationality or ethnicity.

    finding jewishness, koreshness, catholishness as cultish and wrong is not finding s’mthing wrong with a human with ther relative cults.

    in fact, i do not remember when i last responded to a post by a ‘jew’. I avoid like a plague to directly respond to a ‘jew’, save you.
    what i do almost always is posit and adduce own facts, conclusions; rarely even mentioning the poster which i try to refute.
    i seldom label people. tnx

  9. balkas b b said on August 13th, 2009 at 12:16pm #

    religion [any] can be relabeled “thinking” [however, to me, the worst kind].
    we all think. But we do not all think a priori. All cultists or pious people first guess [think, if u will] and then look and look and look on and on; but never ever see.
    sanity requires that one first experiences or sees whatever and only thereafter thinks about it.
    we can only learn about plants or gods if we first have some experience. ‘Gods’ cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt.
    priest, on the other hand can be experienced or heard mostly.
    but if one realizes that a priest had been an innocent tot [tabula rasa] and now one sees him foremost as a human being, it makes no difference what he says. Both are on level ground, equably trusted/ trusting and valuable.
    thus no problem arises what ever.
    so, in conclusion, if human calls own thinking “religion” why cannot another with different thinking call it also “religion”?
    or do away with the damn label and just say, I am thinking about a ‘devil’, ‘god’, ‘angels’, atoms, rain, my wife, etc.

    as a genius had said, To be is to be related! Or be interdependent. A priest wld never allow one to be trusted/trusting, listen and be listened, vlaue and be valued, etc.
    a priest or politico want one to be as much a dependency as it is possible to obtain and then tell one that is ‘god’s doing.
    regarding ad hominem attack. I know i have not used such labels against you. So, you are not justified in attacking a person who may have attacked
    some other person! tnx

  10. b99 said on August 13th, 2009 at 12:32pm #

    Can’t say I’ve ever attacked you. Just what you type. The best one can say about it is that it is non-sensical. And why would you think I am a Jew – or ‘jew’ as you put it? All my ancestors are Irish and Scottish Christians, a point I’ve made here before. It is you who claim Jewish ancestry, so maybe there is some self-hating going on.

  11. balkas b b said on August 13th, 2009 at 12:45pm #

    b99, calling other people’s thinking/writing “nonsensical”, and thinking being part of a person, is attacking a person.
    furtermore, u imply, that all my thinking is nonsensical and all yours sensical.
    can it get worse than this? i see u are continuing your to attack people.
    i gave u on emore chance because in two or three previous posts you were not attacking my perceived faults.
    u will not get ever another chance. And if editors do not erase your continuous insults, i got many other sites.
    you don’t fool me; only a ‘jew’ cld behave the way u do!

  12. Don Hawkins said on August 13th, 2009 at 1:34pm #

    Bozh your insights are at times brilliant and in only six months the witting will be different to say the least the witting from thinkers. Boring it will not be.

  13. mjosef said on August 13th, 2009 at 2:09pm #

    Sorry, this is just more faith/God mush. Nothing in Bush’s “god/Magog” statement is any different in validity the “my maker” and “faith” irrationalism that is contained in this piece. You can have the right to act in proper ways upon your invalid “beliefs,” but religion destroys the intellectual curiosity of the young, aids the terribly destructive power of the insane elite, and wastes so much human initiative and longing. Anybody who speaks of it in terms of “toleration” and “respect” and “moderation” is letting our great prize of collective intellectual capability float down the river into oblivion.

  14. Don Hawkins said on August 13th, 2009 at 2:57pm #

    letting our great prize of collective intellectual capability float down the river into oblivion. Nicely put mjosef

    I saved that one.

  15. beverly said on August 15th, 2009 at 5:30pm #

    A little bit of religion goes a long way.