Thursday, July 19, 2007
Religious extremism is not confined to fundamentalist terrorists. By its very nature, organized religions are destined to foster division and hatred between competing faiths. A new study commissioned by the EastWest Institute says that, “Violent Muslim, Christian and Jewish extremists invoke the same rhetoric of good and evil” in their efforts to recruit followers to address their perceived social, economic and political inequities. The questions is, “are these extremists actually going against their religious beliefs or are their actions the natural outcome of those beliefs?”
The authors of the report compared fundamentalist movements in the U.S., Britain and Israel with the focus upon Christian, Jews and Muslims. It went on to say that while the current focus has been on Muslim extremists, the other religions also have similar tendencies. The perpetuation of the “us versus them” mentality seems to lie at the root of the problem. In her book, “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill,” keynote speaker and author Jessica Stern said, “it was dangerous for U.S. President George W. Bush to use terms such as "crusade" or "ridding the world of evil.” This raises the question as to whether President Bush would be considered a religious extremist.
The basic problem arises when the “message” turns into an institution. There is little doubt in my mind that that those whose words have been perverted by organized religions to create an “us versus them” mentality would totally disassociate themselves from the modern religions founded in their name. We are all familiar with atrocities committed in the name of religion and with religions turning a blind eye to atrocities.
The notion that religious extremists are on the fringe of their faiths makes me wonder. We have “the chosen people” versus the “born agains” versus the orthodox versus the faithful. When we have the president of this country referring to an “axis of evil” and a Pope bad mouthing Muslims, is there any wonder why zealots and extremists emerge from their infested holes? Extremism is the natural outcome, the consequence of those who have taught violence and hatred in the name of God.
If “terror in the name of God” is the excuse, then the root cause of the terrorism fostered by religious extremists must lie in religious perceptions. Where did those perceptions arise? Who has taught them those perceptions? When you can only get to heaven through Jesus or by martyrdom to Allah, what is the message we are giving to those with differing religious concepts? If there is a “chosen people,” then what about the rest of the world and those who are not chosen?
The Department of Homeland Security was in attendance at the conference where religious extremism was discussed. The goal was to find the common root causes of this phenomena and presumably ways to address those causes. Will the Department take on organized religions who give with one hand while robbing the widow with the other? Very doubtful! Perhaps our hope lies in a simple trend. If you Google “Christianity some 54 million web site are listed. But, if you Google “spirituality” there are 86 million sites. If the world can evolve away from “us versus them” dogma into a higher level of spirituality, there may be hope. Given that “religious extremists in three religions share views,” according to an article by Claudia Parsons of Reuters on 6/13/07, then we must certainly at least explore the notion that the religions are the spawning grounds of that extremism.