Taking Leave of God

Religions as Effective Propaganda for Evil

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. 

Blaise Pascal

In the world’s religious texts, alongside numerous quotes about love, we find many exhortations of hate. The Christian Bible tells us that Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matthew 5:44) The Bible, however, also recounts that Jesus said, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’ (Luke 19:27)

In the Koran, the Prophet Muhammed tells us, ‘From morning until night and from night until morning keep your heart free from malice towards anyone.’ But the Prophet also says, ‘Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them,’ (Koran, 9:5) and ‘Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites! … Hell shall be their home, an evil fate’ – lines that were used by the September 11 hijackers to prepare for their attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

The Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita tells us, ‘God does not love one living being more than another; he loves all equally. God does not love one religion more than another; he loves all equally.’ However it also says, ‘Killing of a woman, a Shudra or an atheist is not sinful. Woman is an embodiment of the worst desires, hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character. Women should never be given freedom.’ (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147)

The Jewish Torah says, ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.’ (tractate Shabbos 31a), but it also states, ‘Whosoever disobeys the rabbis deserves death.’ (Erubin 21b)

While this mixture of love and hate is not as marked in all the world’s religions – the language of violence is much less prevalent in the Eastern religions of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism – in many religions contradictory beliefs coexist within and between faiths on issues as fundamental as violence, prejudice and inequality.

Love and Hate

There is a simple explanation for this mixture of love and hate. The historical religious legacy that we have inherited was built up over millennia in which pathological minorities ruled societies the world over. The resulting bewildering mix of kindness and venom in the world’s religions today reflects the psychologies of both the psychologically normal majority of the human population and the pathological psychology of the minority who have dangerous personality disorders. The exhortations to peace, love and charity reflect the aspirations of the psychological majority, particularly when economic and social conditions are favourable. These affirmative aspects of religion, however, are alien to those with dangerous personality disorders whose psychology is reflected in the language of hate, vengeance and oppression.

This confusing mix makes any simplistic analysis of religion impossible. Author Sam Harris’s view, for example, that there is ‘much that is wise and consoling and beautiful in our religious books’, can be taken as equally valid as his remark that ‘the Bible and Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish.’[1] Unfortunately this mix gives religion tremendous power as a propaganda tool in the hands of pathological zealots.

Bitter experience has taught us that religion can be a threat to peace and human rights. The lessons that the developed nations have drawn from centuries of religious wars and persecution is that representative democracy, exercised within the context of the separation of church and state, and the protection of individual human rights, can act as safeguards against the destructive power of religion. Where these safeguards are not in place, religion becomes a simple and effective route for the pathological minority to seize power and tyrannise societies.

If you have views on whether religion does or does not help dangerous individuals achieve positions of influence please leave your comment below.

Read excerpts from Chapter 8 here or read my blog post on Humility here.

[1] Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Free Press, 2005:23,35


5 thoughts on “Taking Leave of God

  1. Religion renders its followers obedient and irrational, so they are ready-made for an authority figure to lead them. And they will unquestioningly accept the leader’s interpretation of the admonishments in their holy books. Driving any distance on U.S. highways will put you in range of the radio evangelists spewing non-stop propaganda. All moorings to reality are cut.

  2. Luke 19:27 you’ve taken that out of context of the parable it was part of….Jesus taught a religion of non-violence. Yes, it’s true, corrupt men have taken advantage of religious institutions and religious people. However, generally speaking, all religions promote better relations between family members and support the eventual peace of the world. It’s naive of you to make an either/or argument that religion is either bad or good when in reality religion(s) have their flaws and inconsistencies just as political, economic or scientific institutions have their flaws and inconsistencies. Should we do away with politics because evil men manipulate and gain control of our political institutions? There are many examples of superlative religious leaders such as Gandhi who worked tirelessly to free his country from imperialistic British rule just as there are many examples of great political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela.

    The fault lies with the individual who chooses evil rather than some psychological disease that he is born with…and the fault also lies with our social institutions which allow the evil person to gain access to wealth and power without restraint. And finally, the fault lies with the apathy and ignorance of the unthinking men and women who are indifferent to political, religious or social reality and spend their lives piling up material possessions.

    The leaders you touch on, Stalin and Mao, were anti-religious leaders who destroyed churches, tortured, imprisoned and murdered religious leaders and banned religion from public society. Stalin murdered 300,000 priests by some estimates.

    Wars are generally fought over land and the resources they contain and not over religious ideology. Hitler wanted lebensraum, the Romans expanded their empire just as the British colonized for gold, slaves, opium and spice. The current US/Nato military adventures in the Middle East have nothing to do with religion, they have a lot to do with oil, heroin, geostrategy and the furthering and consolidating of corporate and financial interests.

    Your book is relevant, needed and basically seems a great idea. I whole-heartedly agree with the general premise of your book and I sincerely hope you are right that the tyrants are slowly losing power, being replaced by democratic governments and a better citizenry is emerging. What we need to do is promote, sponsor, encourage and support the best ideas of our religious, political, economic and social institutions and not toss the baby out with the bath water due to some inconsistencies in ancient texts.

    • Hi Richard. Thank you for your comments, none of which I disagree with at all. I agree that it would be naive to make an either/or argument that religion is all bad or all good. The point I am arguing is that, as you say, religions have their flaws and inconsistencies, and that those flaws can be readily exploited by people with dangerous personality disorders for their own purposes. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles, I have experienced directly how sectarianism can fuel violence and hatred. But I dare to hope that once people become more aware of how people with these disorders exploit religion to cause enormous suffering, religions might disown those aspects of their teachings which enable such behaviour. And I fully agree with you that we need to encourage the best ideas of our religious, political, economic and social institutions and not throw the baby out with the bath water. Paul Monette put it much better than I can when he wrote, ‘We need people of God, especially if He isn’t here.’

  3. well I stand corrected if I misread what you were saying…have you read Political Ponerolgy by Andrzej Łobaczewski? I’m sure you must have…and yes I think you are right, that over time, hopefully sooner rather than later, that people of faith might leave behind superstitious, fearful and violent aspects of their faith and embrace a better global model of human behavior based on peace and respect for all. I’ve been reading a lot of Gandhi’s ideas on non-violence lately…I think he was the greatest leader of the last century, able to combine politics and religion with ease, and steadfast about practicing non-violence not only as a personal faith but also as a political force.

    I suppose it’s just where we are at as a race, that we haven’t learned, or at least many of us haven’t learned, that war and violence are a step backward.

  4. First, let me say thank you for your amazing insights.

    Just a minor correction to the info above. The Jewish Torah is the first 5 books of the bible. “What is hateful to you…” is a comment made by Rabbi Hillel, and while rabbinic commentary is important, it does not carry the same weight as the sacred texts.

    When people realize that the struggle to reconcile the duality of good and evil is within, ie the struggle is within, the jihad is within, the apocalypse and revelation is within, tyrants will be unable to twist the message of religion from one of wholeness within one’s soul to one of war for the benefit of the disturbed

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