Sunday, September 6, 2009

Terrorism and Religion

The Bigger Picture
Published on April 23rd in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Today I want to discuss the reasons why many of the terrorists I spoke about in last week’s column use religious reasons to justify their cowardly and violent actions. Where and how did these terrorists ever get the idea that there is a religious justification for cold blooded murders or suicide attacks that kill innocent men, women and children?
I believe the genesis of most such terrorists’ misguided religious beliefs actually lies with religious leaders’ propensity to meddle in politics rather than somewhere within the basic tenets of their respective religions. While I am no expert on the Bible, the Quran or any other religious works, I am nonetheless fairly well read and familiar with the core precepts and beliefs of all major religions, but most particularly with Christianity since I am also a practicing member of the Catholic Church. But I have found no religious tenets within any religion that encourage involvement in issues of political governance.
Christianity, within which the Catholic Church is the largest single denomination, is one of the three major world religions which comprise the Abrahamic faiths, which also includes Judaism and Islam. The Abrahamic religions share a common belief in a single God or spirit in the universe and are named for their common patriarch Abraham. Today, more than half of the world’s populations are at least nominally members of Abrahamic religions thanks largely to their ancient religious leaders zest for conquest.
Granted many members of the Abrahamic faiths have also been and still are avid proselytizers for their respective religious beliefs. As a result, they have successfully converted millions of people to their respective religions without resorting to the use of violence and military conquest. Indeed this was the means used by the earliest Christians to spread the practice of Christianity throughout the territories which once made up the Roman Empire. The early Christians were vigorously persecuted and killed by the established political and military powers but they never used violence to convert non-believers or even against those who violently attacked them
No, the reason why the early Christians eventually overcame their violent opponents and succeeded in converting most of the Roman Empire’s citizens was simply because “they practiced what they preached.” The early Christians spread a message of non-violence, forgiveness, love and tolerance for others based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. They believed Jesus was the son of God who had been sent to set an example for how people should live their lives. Jesus also avoided political disputes about obeying Roman laws and paying taxes. Instead, Jesus encouraged his followers to live their lives in accordance with government laws, based on good works, service, and prayer and in a way that brought no credit or money or public attention. Hmmm. What a concept!
But after Constantine took control of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church entered a period of its history where religious beliefs became entwined with political power in the form of state religion and forced conversions to Catholicism became more common. The most prominent of these were the forced conversions through military conquest of Muslims and Eastern Orthodox during the Crusades, of Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition and of America’s Aztecs by Spanish conquistadors.
Islam also has a history of being spread as a state religion from its birthplace in Arabia through a series of military conquests stretching from North Africa to India following the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The spread of Islam to eastern Asia was halted by the defeat of Muslim Arabs by the Hindu Rajput clans in India. The westward spread of Islam was then checked when it came into conflict with Christianity and many wars were fought on Christianity’s southern and eastern European flanks during the Middle Ages.
Three powerful Muslim empires subsequently emerged during the 15th and 16th centuries including; the Ottoman Empire of the Middle East and Europe, the Safavid Empire of Persia and Central Asia, and the Mughal Empire of India. But all of them subsequently fell in the aftermath of military confrontations with the “Christian” colonial powers of Europe. But while the Catholic Church was still the “state religion” in many European countries during this time, it had been replaced in others by a “state church” which was controlled by those countries’ rulers and was an official organ of the state..
The United States has never had a “state church” or “state religion” because the First Amendment to the US Constitution forbids the government from enacting any law respecting a religious establishment, and thus forbids either designating an official church for the United States or interfering with local churches. So following the lead of the US, many governments began to enact new laws which put an end to the use of “state churches” as organs of the political governance. Ironically this process also led to the coining of the longest word in the English language: “antidisestablishmentarianism” to describe political opposition to this process of separating the powers of church and state.
As a result, official “state churches” are now quite rare even though many countries still have designated “state religions” that they support financially but do not control. But while the process of disestablishing “state religions” in those countries which still have them continues, many religious leaders in these and other secularized nations continue to agitate for state laws that adhere to their religious beliefs. I find it ironic that although the separation of church and state originated in Islamic culture, most Muslim countries recognize Islam as their state religion and in those secular counties which don’t practice Sharia Law there are Muslim religious leaders who agitate for their religious laws to become part of their countries’ constitution and the laws of the land.
But this desire by religious leaders to force citizens in their countries to adhere to their particular religious beliefs isn’t just an Islamic phenomenon. I will elaborate on this and how terrorists use this to justify murder in next week’s column.

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