Religions as Effective Propaganda for Evil
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
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.’ 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.
 Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Free Press, 2005:23,35