Religious extremism is killing us – we have to defend ourselves!

Airport security is getting a lot of attention these days but suicide bombers come in many guises and those who program these human weapons are clever. It is time we confronted the root cause of the problem instead of its symptoms.

The road that led to religious terrorism began with the dawn of human intelligence.

Scientists today believe that the invention of oral language was the precursor of abstract thinking. As an experiment, I challenge you, the reader, to try deep thinking or, really, any kind of thinking, without forming words in your mind. Although our brains can react to events, such as a car rushing in our direction, on reflex, we have to silently verbalize our thoughts to process them in our wondering, reasoning, abstract thinking.

With the ability to engage in abstract thinking, Homo sapiens became “wondering man”.

About 50,000 years ago, wondering men in tribal groups all over the world gathered around campfires to contemplate the meaning of life and to entertain themselves with stories and theories. Typically the young men of the tribe were doing the wondering and asking, and the elders were the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

This led to man’s first religions. Most, if not all, of these religions incorporated the concept of a supernatural “something” to explain life. Many theologians and philosophers explain the process by saying that the concept of God arose out of a need to find meaning to life—and to deal with anxiety arising from man’s knowledge of his own certain death.

So the earliest religions came into existence, forged on an anvil of wonder but fashioned with the hammer of ignorance and tribal prejudice. Flawed from the beginning, man’s religions have evolved, like life itself, competing with one another in a struggle to survive in a changing world.

And so we have today’s insanity. Islam competes with Christianity in the major leagues; Judaism, which produced the Old Testament that is the foundation of both, is reviled by both. In the East, Hinduism, which is the oldest of man’s religions, has fathered a family of rivals including Buddhism and Sikhism. And a new religion, atheism, has come into being as the intellectual’s rejection of the lot.

All of this might be merely quaint and amusing if there were no priesthoods that, inevitably, include self-serving “leaders” who seduce their followers with a simple yet supremely effective formula that goes “we are the only true believers – all other gods are false – all who do not believe as we do are infidels”. Add one extra measure of hostile rhetoric and the “leader” is issuing a call to arms. The result is religious extremism.

All forms of extremism are, by definition, antisocial excesses – but religious extremism is the ultimate evil because those who kill in the name of their God believe that the highest court in the universe approves their cowardly acts.

The victims of 9/11 are testimony to the problem, and today they are joined by millions of air travelers suffering from the misguided efforts of governments that refuse to deal with the problem’s roots, preferring, in the name of “democracy”, to deal only with the symptoms of the disease.

Well, I say, “enough is enough”. It is time to put an end to this insanity. It is time for our species to grow up.

Now, I should make it clear that I am not joining the atheists in a disavowal of God. In fact, I believe in a creator God wholeheartedly and I see the amazing sequence of events that connect the dots from the Big Bang that began our universe to our arrival as an (almost) intelligent species as proof. No, what I am arguing for is an end to religion, or, more precisely, institutions that seek to differentiate their belief in God into elitist self-serving camps.

Islam is not being singled out in my attack on organized religion although it is a prime example of the syndrome. Christianity, like Islam, has its extremist, fundamentalist fanatics as well as its liberal followers – and, historically, Christian establishments (such as the Spanish Inquisition) have committed horrific crimes against their fellow men in the name of God. There are no religions of any substance that are exempt from this scourge.

It is time for us to use the intelligence that God gave us to reject the anachronistic concept of a tribalistic God that makes favorites. There is one God, period.

Our governments are doing us a great disservice by refusing to take a rational position on this subject. In the name of democracy they are condoning the enslavement of their constituents by modern-day snake oil salesmen who breed extremist passions in the hearts of the vulnerable. Not only do they permit these anachronisms, they promote them by giving tax exemption and allowing them to cultivate lobbying power to promote their self-interested goals.

Religious extremists have declared war on us. It is time to return the favor – not with suicide bombers but with a campaign of rationalism. Let us unite to tell our governments that we have had enough and that we call on them to end their meek acceptance of the perpetuation of the evils of organized religion with their elitist, divisive strategies.

With 7 billion human beings on our planet, projected to reach 9 billion by 2040, survival dictates that we see one another as a single species – not a patchwork of competing races and religions.

There is one God and God does not play favorites. There are no chosen people. State support for a competition among thousands of religions, denominations and sects that each proclaim themselves “true believers” (and therefore the rest of you are faithless) has to be consigned to the past where it belongs.

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