Terrorists aren’t Religious?

On February 18th, 2015, President Obama spoke at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.  You can find his words here.

First off I want to echo his words offering love and support to Muslim Americans in response to the Chapel Hill murders.  There is no excuse for such actions.

I also want to make sure I point out that I agree wholeheartedly with the majority of the President’s speech.  Specifically the parts where he calls for frank conversations on the ideologies of terrorist organizations, as well as addressing economic and political grievances. I also agree that we need to remain welcoming of people of all or no faiths. I will point out, however, that addressing grievances likely would not be enough to stop radicalization by religions.  This is evidenced by people leaving the US and other economically and politically stable regions to travel to and join radical organizations.  But it appears to be true that instability and lack of other alternatives can make it easier for people to be radicalized.

But enough with agreement, that’s boring, right? Let’s talk about the parts of the President’s speech that I take issue with. Here’s some excerpts:

Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.”

Hmm.  So it’s a betrayal of all faiths to commit such violence. How does he decide which acts of violence are inexcusable.  The Bible has numerous examples of awful violence committed in the name of and apparently endorsed by God.

The President went on:

They [Al Qaeda and ISIL] are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

Notice how it is written as if it is an either/or option.  Can’t they be both religious leaders and terrorists?  And how does the Christian president of a nation based on a secular constitution gets to decide who has perverted another the religion of Islam? Here’s some more:

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

I do agree that people are responsible for their actions.  I also agree that there are lots of Muslims who disagree with suicide bombing, to take one part of extremism.  (In fact it appears that everywhere a majority of Muslims do not agree with suicide bombing. Pew Study) But I don’t see how President Obama is able to draw the line between religion and madmen.  In his statement he says that no religion is responsible for terrorism.  He seems to be implying that if someone does do violence in the name of a god that that is an indication that  they are mad. This completely overlooks the fact that in both Christian and Muslim faith traditions violence was done and justified by religion.  Look at the gleeful reports of mass murder by Jews in the Old Testament for an example.  I guess these people were just madmen?

Here’s one last bit for you:

They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.

Honestly, I’m glad that there are Islamic scholars calling for peace, justice, and tolerance.  But there is a minority that doesn’t.  They also have quotes from the Koran to back up what they want to do.  Before non-Muslims get too high and mighty, the same things happens with Christianity.  How can one say that Westboro Baptist Church is not real Christianity and that loving, caring, and tolerant people are real Christians?  The same thing can happen with violent Christian groups. This imaginary dividing line and belief that there is clearly a right and wrong way to do each religion seems like nothing more than just wishful thinking. It assumes that people that agree with you are right and that the other people that you don’t like are doing it wrong.

The belief that religions across the world join hands in an inclusive kumbaya kind of way is a recent development.  The historical record is clear that most major religions believed that they were the exclusive correct way and they everyone else was at best wrong, and generally damned.  For centuries nearly every Christian believed that “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.”  That is only, the Church could save.  Sorry, rest of humanity, enjoy burning in a lake of fire.  This stance pulls from the Bible, where it is written that Jesus said that no one could get to God except through him. Only recently have people started reinterpreting their texts and philosophies to try to find a way to coexist and allow for multiple beliefs.

So how in the world do people, including our President, justify saying that only people with this new, inclusive, modern view are “real” religions and the rest are madmen and perversions?  Aren’t those with the better historical record have a much better stance to call the new inclusive view a perversion? The honest truth is that all the so called Holy Books are so full of enough contradictions and ambiguous language that just about any position can be justified by them.  With enough reinterpretation and theological yoga they can bend to provide justification for any stance.  For historical examples see how both sides of the US civil war justified their position from the same Bible.

I put forth that there is no way to decide what is the true version of any of these religions.  The problem with religion is that all positions are equally valid.  After all, when people such as Mohammed or Paul decide they have personal revelations from God that they get to share, how does one decide if they are true or full of crap?  Religion is based on people just asserting things to be true without any outside evidence. Religion fails because it doesn’t have such a system to separate the good and true assertions from the bad.  That is why religions continue to splinter and diverge, while on the other hand scientific knowledge, which is pursued using mechanisms that allow corrections and discernment of truth, keeps progressing and adding to a combined single body of knowledge.

The problem with religious terrorism isn’t that they are doing their religion the wrong way.  The problem is that they shouldn’t be basing their actions and decisions on the faulty reasoning that is the cornerstone of religion in the first place.  The sooner that we recognize that religions are inherently flawed and divisive the better. We should move past them and learn to coexist based on what we can learn about our shared world and existence, not by declaring by fiat our position to be the one true way. Only by doing this can we as a species move out of the dark ages and start realizing our limitless potential.

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