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July 18, 2013 5:48 am

Killing in the Name of God

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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Muslims praying in a Mosque in Syria. Wikipedia.

Notwithstanding the cultural and interpretive differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the God worshiped by Muhammad is the same God that communicated with Abraham and to which Jesus prayed.

This one God, it is believed, revealed sublime values which were then disseminated by the three largest monotheistic religions. It is therefore easy to wholeheartedly support these religions for giving voice to ethical injunctions for centuries.

Despite a myriad of conflicts, religion at its core was created to foster peace, compassion, and brotherhood while providing ethical guidance and nurturing the inherent good in humanity, reflecting a generous and loving Supreme Being.

Giving voice to this truth, Einstein said that without religion, science was lame. Science, he argued, can measure and predict events but cannot directly provide advice concerning what is right or wrong, whereas religion can offer guidance in ethical conduct.

Considering the ever-present challenge for human survival in a hostile world, it is understandable that religions would occasionally remain silent on the verdict of war or fail in their missions to promote peace and amity.

The World Wars of the twentieth century are historically considered secular wars fought over political, geographic, and economic interests. Yet in Europe, six million Jews were exterminated as a result of centuries of anti-Semitic teachings brewing in the heart of medieval Christendom.

From the time of Muhammad and for nearly thirteen hundred years after, Islam waged religious wars against whole populations, forcing conversion to Islam (excluding Jews and Christians, known as “the people of the book”) as a means by which to spread its faith.

The major Christian response to the spread of Islam manifested itself as the Crusades, which spanned the 11th to 13th centuries.

The European wars of religion between rivaling Christian sects encompassed roughly 125 years of conflict in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Arab-Israeli conflict, though ostensibly fought over territory, contains a powerful religious component, especially in connection with Jerusalem, for which thousands have been killed and many more might die if it is not resolved peacefully.

In all cases, religious conviction, which was repeatedly invoked, amplified a sense of entitlement to the lands and wealth of others.

This begs the question: of what stuff is religion truly made? For in all the conflicts in the history of the world, the violence and atrocities incited by religious fervor comprise some of the worst violations of human dignity.

Historically speaking, a religious war is a conflict exclusively incited and fueled by diversity in religious identity. While technically less than 10% of all the wars ever fought were wars of religion, only a few did not encompass or embody some religious component or sentiment.

By the same token that we support the ethical teachings of religions, we must all the more condemn self-appointed messengers and spokespersons of the divine that foment mass murder in the name of God.

For unless we believe that this all-merciful, fatherly, peace-loving, and ever-beneficent God wills for his believers to kill each other in His name, we must conclude that religions are repeatedly corrupted to pit the children of God against each other.

Ironically, conflict more often occurs within religions than between them. Today we witness the eruption of centuries of enmity between Sunni and Shiites Muslims that has been nurtured by prolonged persecution.

The Sunni-Shiite schism occurred when Muhammad died in 632, causing disagreement over the succession to Muhammad’s religious authority. Following the murder of Hussein (Ali’s son and Muhammad’s grandson), the Muslim community became squarely and eternally divided.

Nevertheless, tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are more often about political persecution than strictly theology, though religious convictions are frequently invoked, fomenting anger and resentment.

During the Safavid era in Persia between the years 1501-1736, forced conversion of Sunnis to Shiites was systematically done to change the demographic balance between the two; those who refused were killed.

The 1979 revolution in Iran that brought the Shiites to power (with regional hegemonic ambitions) further heightened the tension between the two sects.

Further radicalization of Shiites came with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the establishment of the Shiite Hezbollah.

While the average Sunni and Shiite have been relatively able to live in peace, the theological division has allowed despots, like Saddam Hussein, to disempower and dehumanize Shiites.

The 2003 Iraq war, though subsequently bringing the Shiite majority to power, ignited a bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis that continues to this day.

Conflicting interests between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkey have made Syria the battleground between the two sects, deepening the fissure more than at any other time in living memory.

Though Sunni and Shiites agree on the unquestioned authority of the Qur’an, sectarian factionalism has persisted and remains a destabilizing force in the Middle East, leaving a terrible inheritance passed down from generation to generation.

Children, especially of the disenfranchised and poorly educated, have effectively become not the recipients of the necessary ethical teachings of Islam, but the targets of religious extremism, promoting endless sectarian strife.

Part of the problem is that the codification of religious precepts opens it up to all manner of interpretation; indigent and marginalized peoples are particularly vulnerable to the most radical and violence-producing interpretations of Islam.

It is in this way that a precept, for example, to not murder, is literally turned on its head and becomes the precise opposite; where once religion decried violence, now violence and death are associated with martyrdom. Yet the situation in the Middle East is far graver than this.

When true believers habitually use religious language to explain and frame the events of their lives, the heart and emotions, more often than reason and science, are employed as a means of defining one’s place in the world.

Moreover, if the avenue to self-determination is exclusively faith-based, radical responses to extreme situations of disempowerment, as in Iraq post-Saddam Hussein and poverty-stricken Yemen, will be more passionate than tempered.

Herein lies the danger, for this is no longer a world where we can afford to view whole peoples as populations to be conquered and converted, whether to a religious, economic, or political paradigm.

The monotheistic faiths must at once embrace their ethical heritage and disavow their antiquated views of God, acknowledging that humanity has invented thousands of gods. All these gods, without exception, reflect the people who invented them and the conditions under which they lived.

In other words, religions spiritually succeed when they embrace the spirit of God embodied in their very ethical teachings but utterly fail when they become little more than a ruse designed to supplant God with tribal, ethnic, and sectarian divisiveness.

The work of Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) may be of help here. Einstein once said that his God was the God of Spinoza. Pantheism, or understanding God as the cosmos, was already ancient in the East when Spinoza was born.

Yet the idea that God might be conceived by the mind – as in his famous interpretation of natura naturans (“nature nurturing”) – was relatively new in the West.

While denying a personal God “up there,” Spinoza reminds us that we can embrace the idea of an Infinite Being that has passively produced, as part of its very nature, the cosmos.

Although the rabbinic tradition considered this heresy and excommunicated Spinoza, I would argue that, far from lowering God’s status as the clergy believed, it elevated it.

Such an elevated God inspires a more personal religion wherein virtue is internalized, selfishness is nullified, and a sincere jihad against the biological responses to fear, fight or flight, and insecurity is waged within.

Humanity has suffered for too long due to a lowered conception of the infinite that was easily exploited to pit man against man. Increased used of the scientific method and reason, especially among those afforded a high degree of education, may tone down emotional and passionate responses to challenging circumstances.

This is not to say that the intellectual approach has all of the answers, lest we forget Einstein’s reminder regarding science’s ethical limits.

For while the West understandably pays a great deal of attention to the current killing in the name of God in some of the Arab states, the numbers involved do not compare to the fifty million or more slaughtered in World War II alone – mostly Christians against Christians.

Intellectually-bent Western societies may introduce the “civility” of war, complete with Geneva Conventions and other rules by which blood can be spilt. But their wars, to date, encompass a far greater destructive power than do the conflicts of any other peoples, especially in the current conflict of Muslims against Muslims in the Middle East.

So the question remains: how can we cease the religious (in the name of God) and corporate (in the name of Mammon) justification of violence?

Understanding violence in the broadest context, the West may in some respects be actually farther away from realizing this goal. While the death tolls of soldiers are easy to disseminate, the daily suffering of millions of dislocated, dishonored, and stateless lives does not as easily fit into our news diet.

The West also does not live within the scope of history. While for us yesterday is already history, the Arab world lives day in and day out conscious of its histories of divisiveness, colonialism, dictatorships, and arbitrary borders imposed by Western powers that fostered sectarian conflicts and territorial claims and counterclaims.

Nevertheless, the Arab world is left with the challenge to compartmentalize religion and God, just as the West has done; albeit far from perfect, religion in the West remains functional, consistent, and in the spirit of one’s personal choice.

For the Muslim world, Islam is more than a mere belief to embrace, but a way of life and part and parcel of a cultural heritage; as such, it remains a part of the heart and self-identity.

That said, nearly 60 percent of the Arab population (250 million out of 422 million in total) is under the age of 25. They yearn for freedom, education, health care, and the opportunity for a better future.

They are Muslims at heart and mind but they do not wish to be ruled by either secular or religious dictators (albeit ostensibly freely-elected) as demonstrated by Egypt’s second revolution.

They want to be free while adhering to Islamic tradition and culture and draw a balance between secularism and orthodoxy.

Religion, like it is today in Israel and to a great extent in Muslim Malaysia and Bangladesh, may be used to reconcile family issues, including marriage, divorce, children and custody issues, death, and coming-of-age rituals.

Beyond this, religion must go no farther. It must have no bearing on medical science, international relations, or national defense, and a host of other international and domestic issues. Other than that religion must foster unconditional peace, amity, love, and compassion in humankind.

Thus in writing new constitutions in the emerging transitional authorities, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and other Arab states must recognize that whereas collaboration between the religious and the secular is necessary, legislatively codifying Sharia law as a source for legislation is a step backward.

For the world today, Arab states that have overwhelming majorities of youth are not so intellectually poor as to require religion for its only source of ethics. Codes of behavior flow from secular humanism, law, and philosophical debate.

Those who look to religion for personal guidance are free to do so and their right must be protected, but they must also abide by the laws that separate church and state. No longer should any religious edict be forced on anyone.

Under these conditions, religious freedom goes hand in hand with personal freedom, which is central in promoting all religions’ fundamental tenets of brotherhood, compassion, amity and peace.

And perhaps this may bring an end to the killing in the name of God that betrays the essence of why and to what end religion was created in the first place.

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  • Noevil9

    Well written article, objective and not loaded to serve Israel. That is the first time I find and read such a posting on this very biased and Israeli firster site. I commend you for that, and encourage more rational articles like this to be in the horizon for all to get some where instead of promoting hate and killing on top of the injustice we see with this Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Alon Ben-Meir, good job, and keep it up.
    You see, one could love Israel ,but yet be objective at the same time, and state the facts without making up lies to incriminate every one else but the Jews and Israel.
    Religions and politics were invented to serve supposedly the human race, but then some of us who were aware of the down faults of our human weaknesses, took advantage of both, to abuse us and our so called Gods,or God ! They even might have created God themselves, so they knew they could abuse him and his followers to their end goals without any serious consequences ? And as some one said; Those ,so called Elites are so cowardly to fight their own wars, that they enlist the young bloods and fools to fight their wars for them.

    • Noevil9

      ….And they found that religion and people who subscribed blindly to it without the privilege of critical thinking will serve them well in their endeavor of hating ,fighting and killing those who are not like them. That goes for all three religions. Tolerance and keeping religious beliefs personnel, is a much better way of having more harmony among us humans to maintain and survive on this earth.

      • edwin

        well written!but I beg to differ,my friend,these are all human cond.kabbalah teaches,this there is only the will to receive:and will to bestow!

  • EGore

    Religion doesn’t f- up people; people f- up religion.

    • edwin

      really? are you that misplaced? u don’t have a clue!!

  • A Proletariat

    Greetings All,
    It is a very well written article, but this is an incomplete article as it has not discussed about the destruction of ethnic-cultural-lingual-religious-social identities and entities of people around the Globe, especially in the Asian continent, Africa, Oceania, North-South Americas where ‘Evanlegical Judeo-Christianity’ systematically destroyed the lives indigenous people and their societies in the name of spreading a ‘far better lifestyle’.

    But what we see economic-commercial-cultural-political-religious-racial and social exploitation in the garb of ‘Culturizing and Civilizing’. Not only this ideologies and philosophies gave birth to the Consumerism-Capitalism, which again is the source of all inequities and injustice that we are still getting continued around the world.

    Will be requesting Mr. Alon Ben Meir to discuss these too in his logical and lucid style.

    Please carry on the impartial and neutral good work.

    With Warmest Regards for the Impartial, Bias less Free and Strong Mind.

  • pinchas

    the author is a leftist secular Israeli professor in NYC who writes regularly for the Jerusalem Post under the phrase Above the Fray. Typically he’s a know-it-all opponent of the Likud position and the retention of Judea and Samaria. Here he’s a knows-it-all re religion and especially Islam. A dubious proposition (on top of his wishful thinking). If readers want to know about Islam, better to read Robert Spencer and R. Abraham on Or the summary by Mr. Rassooli in the talkbacks above.

    • A Proletariat

      Hy Pinchas,

      Can your so called Pseudo references(unreliable and untrustworthy, am confident about it) come to a direct discussion with reliable and trustworthy references and no ‘hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo’used for false propaganda.

      Kept the challenge open for Pseudo ‘Al Rassooli’ (guess it is the correct identity and name he has provided for himself in the comment ‘Iraaqi Arab’)

      Will be happy if this fair and square challenge is accepted.

  • Gerry Conetta

    This article is dealing with the use AND ABUSE of religion to create wars for personal and political gain. The comment by “yoel larry” is advocating precisely such an abuse.

  • Claude Idel

    I think it is a spiritual crime to give G-d a name and an outward appearance as Christendom does. It has triggered many crimes including systematic mass murder. Also it is allowed to Non-Jews to venerate gods that have names and are represented by statues or figures as we learn in last week’s parasha, this concerns only religious beliefs where this is not combined with exclusiveness and the claim of absolute truth (the hinduistic approach should be ok). In my opinion this is the reason why Islam produces less victims and does not tend to extinguish systematically.

  • Having studied the subjects of Muhammad, his Quran, Sunna & Islamic history for over 30 years (Arabic being my mother tongue from Iraq) I have to disagree with Mr Meir regarding his understanding of Islam.
    1. To start with, Allah (the god of Muhammad & Muslims) is most certainly NOT the same as the God of Abraham, Moses & Jesus.
    According to Arab & Islamic records, Allah was the NAME of the supreme god of Pagan Arabia among 360 other deities centuries BEFORE Muhammad and his Quran.
    2. There is not a single Biblical character or story in the Quran that reflect the original in the Bible! NOT ONE!
    3. Furthermore, while the Hebrew & Christian Bibles can separate Secular from Religion, this is completely PROHIBITED in Quran & Hadith.
    Muhammadan Islam is a Theocratic institution that is stuck in the Time Warp of Muhammad’s seventh century Arabia.
    4. The Arabs and their Muslim converts had caused the death and destruction of at least 140 million Africans, 110 million Hindus and 70 million Buddhists, Christians, Jews and others (I am excluding the millions of Muslims slaughtered)
    5. It is NOT correct Mr Meir’s statement that the Muslims did not force the Jews & Christians (ahl al Kitab/ people of the Book) to convert because the Islamic records from the time of Muhammad 620AD till recently, they have been doing exactly this.
    6. Based upon all my studies, Islam is NOT a Religion but the CULT of Muhammad since every Muslim must Emulate Muhammad’s Sunna (his deeds, thoughts and utterances).
    In conclusion, speaking of Islam & Democracy is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms and Sharia is the most Intolerant scripture in human history.
    IQ al Rassooli

    • A Proletariat

      Salaam IQ al Rassooli,
      Greetings and Peace be upon you and praying to Aallaah to increase your Intelligence Quotient(IQ) which has been reduced to become negative by elective selective falsity and hypocrisy. Being an Arab do not give you any, any special reservations and status if Iislaamic ethics-principle-philosophy-morality and teachings are to be followed.
      On a serious academic note please share proper and relevant resources for the claims you are making, in case you can not or your source/resources are proved unreliable/false by way of analytically-practical logical reasoning based upon truths and facts alone–please eat back your own words, if it is anyway possible and tender an unconditional written apology.

      It is true Ilaahaa from which the term/name Aallaah is derived became the name of an idol/deity in idolatrous and corrupt pre-Iislaamic Arabian peninsula, but in the Arabee-Aramaic-Hebrew tongue it had always signified an image-form less most powerful Supreme Being.

      For other false informations provided by you deliberately, hoping that you will accept this challenge fair and square.
      Let Truth and Truth alone prevail.

      With Warm Regards and No Malice and Praying for Your Speedy Psycho-Intellectual Recovery

      • A Proletariat
        You are most definitely a Muhammadan Muslim (using Islamic subterfuge called Taqiyyah) pretending to be objective
        You want references?
        Google ‘al rassooli’ or go to my website or go to and feast yourself upon at least 2000 references from the Islamic scriptures

        Better still, if you are so clever, I have over ONE MILLION Dollars worth of challenges to be picked up if you can prove anything I state as false
        It is impossible for any Muslim to disprove me without trashing your own belief system
        Like all Muhammadan Muslims, you are best at insults but NEVER on substance
        Please! Please! prove me wrong
        IQ al Rassooli

  • Yeshayahu Hollander

    The author starts with an analysis with which I concur: “Historically speaking, a religious war is a conflict exclusively incited and fueled by diversity in religious identity. While technically less than 10% of all the wars ever fought were wars of religion, only a few did not encompass or embody some religious component or sentiment.
    By the same token that we support the ethical teachings of religions, we must all the more condemn self-appointed messengers and spokespersons of the divine that foment mass murder in the name of God.
    For unless we believe that this all-merciful, fatherly, peace-loving, and ever-beneficent God wills for his believers to kill each other in His name, we must conclude that religions are repeatedly corrupted to pit the children of God against each other.”
    I’d like to add:
    Basically, religion is a socialization of the phenomenon of people having their individual relation with God. For this relationship alone, perhaps, no religion is necessary – so thought Martin Buber, for instance. The basic element is the “I-Thou” relationship with God, ad a person who lives with a strong awareness of the presence of the Almighty perhaps does not need religion. BUT most people do not have such awareness. To enhance the possibility of such awareness, people must set aside time, in which rituals are performed, prayers are said, etc. These acts are done in a community. Thus religion benefits from the community, and the community benefits from the religion – BUT both the relationship with God and the community are different with religion and without. So YES, to organize a community – including mobilizing for war – religion is often used by community leaders.
    So “religions are repeatedly corrupted to pit the children of God against each other”. Samuel Johnson said “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, perhaps. But religion is one of the first instruments of scoundrels. Peoples of religion must beware of, and castigate, politicians who would try to use religion to foment anger.
    So my summary is different than the author’s: It is not religion which should be put in its place, but warmongering politicians.

    • A Proletariat

      We need more unprejudiced, impartial, practical, logical and sane minded people like in the world today.

      Please keep carrying on maintaining your free thoughts.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Killing in the name of G-d is an oxymoron. Interpretation aside, no one can speak for G-d. Human beings are G-d’s creations, not G-d’s creators. Radical Islam would both offend and insult G-d, for His domain is that of amity and friendship with His creations according to His teaching in Scripture, the Bible and the Qur’an. The most widely respected, venerated, and lauded teaching is living one’s neighbor as oneself. If this is not Divine essence, then the Divine Presence is not anything more than an eidolon. If G-d has human attributes as anthropopathy implies, He has been in spiritual turmoil and vast expanses of isolationist despair with His creation of a human being who, in the name of free will, has chosen to act violently against his fellow human being for either worldly gain or alleged eternal paradise.

  • The Evil genie is out of the Bottle. It all began in 1967 when the Israeli Forces reclaimed all of Jerusalem but in a moment of weakness and misguided secular-Jewish largesse decided to allow the Muslim’s Al Aksa Mosque to remain undisturbed on Temple Mount. Temple Mount is a Spiritual Vortex, given to the Jewish Nation to safeguard by the Holy ONE, the Omnipotent Force of all Forces in the Universe, with strict instructions as to what is allowed and forbidden on this most Awesome and powerful Spiritual Powerplant on planet earth. Since 1967 the cancer of Radical Islam has metastasized world-wide, threatening every civilization with physical and spiritual destruction. The 9-11 attacks, Islamic unrest and Sharia in Europe, everywhere Islam has a presence, the dread and unspeakable menace of two nuclear armed Islamic States, Pakistan and soon Iran just to name a very few nightmares. Is this a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that all three major religions hold Jerusalem as sacred ground to be fought and died for? A coincidence that Jerusalem is never mentioned in Islam’s holiest book, Koran? The truth is that nothing can stop this Cancer from spreading. Not Armed forces, Drone assassinations, Civil laws or security checkpoints. These are nothing but band-aids on soon-to-be terminal cancer. Unless…The Jewish Nation will do what should have been done in 1967. Remove the Al Aksa from Temple Mount. Restore the balance to the Spiritual Vortex as was intended by the Holy ONE. There Is No Other Way. Yes, it will be painful. The region and world will bleed with Muslim fury and world-violence. For a while. And then, the cancer will die as the Genie of Spiritual imbalance is returned to the Bottle. There Is No Other Way. And Time Is Running Out.

    • Pamela Deane Chester

      Thank you!
      For Truth. “There Is No Other Way.”

    • Efram Paul

      Here here!

    • Dan Kreikneros

      I do not believe a compassionate God would reside in a place where human beings kill each other in His name.