Astonishing as that question might be, it has been the subject of intense debates among thinkers around the world, given the inescapable fact that among the worst genocides and atrocities in history had been committed in the name of God.
Nobel laureate physicist Stephen Weinberg had succinctly described the “affirmative” side in these debates: “In the ordinary moral universe, the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things, you’ll need religion.”
We are reminded of that question again with the report that the recent horrific Jolo cathedral bombings that killed more than 20 Filipinos were committed by suicide bombers from Indonesia who were members of an Islamic fundamentalist sects. Indeed, only religion can make a man go against his fundamental instinct of self-preservation, the product of millions of years of evolution, to extinguish himself in an explosion.
Christians may sneer that such jihadist suicide bombers do it only because of the selfish expectation, as purportedly taught in their holy book, that a jihadist martyr will be rewarded in the next life, with 72 virgins he would enjoy for eternity. Christians would even snigger at the recent conclusion of several Islamic and Western scholars that it is a colossal lost-in-translation case. The Syriac word the Quran used meant “raisins” — a rare delicacy in the Prophet’s time and in the desert — not “virgins.”
But then how different are those rewards, raisins or virgins, for murdering people, from the prize of living in eternity in Heaven that Pope Urban 2nd promised to the hundreds of thousands of Christians in Europe in the 11th century for them to join the Crusade to capture Jerusalem? Historians estimate the Crusade to have massacred at least 2 million people, not only in Palestine, but also other peoples in Europe, such as the Cathars in Southern France, who did not believe in the Vatican’s teaching of a single God.
The Crusades were, in fact, so horrific that it has been etched in the collective consciousness of Muslims to justify to this day suicide bombings and horrendous acts such as the beheading of hostages done by the Abu Sayyaf. Indeed, in its statement claiming responsibility for the Jolo Cathedral attack, the Islamic State declared that it was bombed during a “gathering of the Crusaders to perform their polytheist
Such massacres of non-Christians in the medieval era, of course, must have been justified by the Bible in the stories in the Old Testament, such as the Israelites’ murder of everyone in Jericho after its walls collapsed for them to easily capture the city; the razing by Yahweh Himself of Sodom and Gomorrah; even the killing of every Egyptian first-born (even those of animals) by the Angel of Death in the Exodus saga. The brutal “Lehi” Zionist paramilitary group (pejoratively called the Stern Gang), which assassinated British officials to force them to leave Palestine and turn it over to an Israeli state, adorned their manifestoes with Old Testament passages.
Bad things certainly were the horrific tortures and burning-by-the-stake of about 300,000 people (other historians estimate 1 million) in the Spanish Inquisition ordered by Pope Sextus 4th in the late 15th century of suspected heretics.
Atrocities and mass murder were not the monopoly of the three religions of the Book. Religious conflict estimated to have had 150,000 casualties were committed both by Muslims and Hindus in the partition of India that created Pakistan in 1947. Even Buddhism had been used to justify the mass murders of Muslims and Hindus in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
We could go and on. The purported teachings for that embodiment of the highest good — the Deity — have been used to justify the vilest behavior of men. What explains this?
In the case of the jihadist suicide bomber, it is obvious: Selfishness, the expectation of an orgy in Paradise, certainly a huge relief for a Muslim living in poverty, who can’t even afford the dowry required of him to get just a single wife.
But why would a version of the Islamic faith promise that in its dogma?
Same reason why the Catholic Church dogma says the sinner would suffer eternity in the fires of hell, while the faithful would enjoy the undescribed delights in a cloud-filled heaven. And who is the sinner? Other than those who violate the Ten Commandments, those who don’t believe in its teachings, and do not profess loyalty to the Holy Mother Church and its ruler, the Pope.
That obviously is a clever means by an organized religion to retain and recruit members, even get them to kill those threatening it.
So tragic, isn’t it, that men tried to extinguish their fear of death, by killing other people, believing that act would give them a wonderful life after this miserable one?
One other question that needs to be answered: Why did such religions with such ridiculous beliefs grow so much that most of mankind are their faithful?
They were state religions of the most powerful empires, states, or groups of states in the world: the Roman Empire and Europe in the case of Christianity, and the Ottoman Empire, and now the oil-rich Middle Eastern states in the case of Islam.
And if you don’t belong to a state religion of an empire you have lived in, either you have been eventually killed, driven out, or are a pariah. The easiest way for a person living in such states with state religions would be to really brainwash oneself that the religion is true.
And why would states adopt state religions? It made it easier for the rulers to rule, since their dogmas said they were anointed by God Himself.