Who needs Religion?

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Would any rational person conclude that Canada is a bad country if every year it produces 30 violent criminals (one for every one million Canadians)?

Would anyone assume that all university professors in this country are potential sex-offenders because a handfull (literally) are charged annually with sexual harassment?

And would anyone blame “nationalism” for the millions of civilians who lost their lives during World Wars I and II? Or for the millions more who survived U.S. nuclear attacks only to see their offspring inherit a legacy of physical and mental illness?

Would any one conclude that the Roman Catholic Church belongs to the Axis of Evil because some priests have sexually abused boys?

Would anyone believe without question that a Toronto man with a beard, long hair and blue eyes, claiming to be Jesus Christ, really is Jesus, just because he might look like the traditional artists’ images? (In reality, Jesus probably looked more like a present-day Palestinian anyway!)

Any rational adult would recognize all of the above speculations as blatant chopped logic and would respond with a resounding “no” even if the term itself might be unfamiliar.

But chopped logic is nevertheless alive and well in our culture. It can be used to conclude that, because someone says they are killing “in the name of God,” they must be telling the truth.

People who use such fear-based reasoning are apt to point fingers saying “I told you so,” and proclaim that it makes more sense to believe in no divinity than to follow a God who commands humans to do terrible things to each other.

So the finger-pointers will say, for example, “all religion is bad, especially (fill in the one being vilified at the moment). See what trouble it causes? Humanity is better off without it. We can show you a better way, the only way.”

Yet those who point fingers at the deficiencies of any religion are in fact propagating their own brand of faith — although they don’t call it that. Of course they have the right to express their beliefs, but if they proselytize to the public, it is only fair that their methods of chopped logic be challenged.

One of the lessons my mother drilled into me was this unforgettable warning: “If anyone tells you, ‘I am committing murder in the name of God,’ he is a liar. Liar, liar, liar!”

But I wonder how many will believe any self-declarations from today’s Jews, Christians, Muslims or Hindus, that any of their despicable deeds of killings were done “in the name of God?”

Tragically, those who would pervert or distort scripture to support their killings “in the name of God” are not exclusive to any one religion.

Following the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an unrepentant, even exultant, Yigdal Amir faced a judge and proclaimed; “According to Jewish law, you can kill the enemy.” The confessed killer then added; “My whole life, I learned Jewish law.” Fourteen years earlier, Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by a Muslim who also claimed to be doing the will of God.

In recent years, such crimes committed by self-proclaimed Muslims and Jews have been matched by Hindu attacks on mosques and Muslims in India, a Japanese cult’s poison-gas murders in the Tokyo subway, Christian vigilante assaults on abortion clinics in the U.S., and Algerian Muslims killing one another — all in the name of religion.

In 1994, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill took shotgun in hand to a Florida abortion center, where he killed Dr. John Briton, together with the doctor’s 74-year-old bodyguard. In the same year, Alabama priest Fr. David Trosch sent a letter to 1,000 people saying the time would soon come when “we will see the beginning of massive killing of abortionists and their staffs.”

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but that didn’t stop European Christian crusaders of 1100 C.E. who travelled to the Holy Land, where they slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims in a single week — nearly 7 million people in relation to today’s world population.

The sad part of all the above incidents is that too many people are exploiting them to advance their own political and religious agendas.

While anti-immigrant “crusaders” and Muslim-bashers are emerging in Canada, old and terrible enmities continue abroad — the British against the IRA, Israelis against Palestinians, the Spanish against Basque separatists, East Indians against Kashmiris, Russians against Chechens… and the list goes on.

In every case, political exploitation is perpetuating the human tragedy, while the governments in charge claim to be “fighting terrorism.” And people seeking to convert others to their own religion, or to no religion at all, are doing the same.

An ancient Roman proverb warns, “Beware the man of one book.” In today’s world, it seems the “one book” is sometimes religious scripture, and at others, a political or a religious agenda. But in the end, the result is tragically the same — thousands of innocent people lose their lives, and most of them hold no books at all.

I remember once again my wise mother’s teaching about the poisonous lie behind “killing for God.” And I think how sad it is that this lie is still believed and used as a tool for terror, or for advancing individual political and religious agendas.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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