Some of us wonder what makes people, appearing to be drunk on religious faith, to kill others in the name of their religion. We wonder how someone starts out their day thinking, “This is the day the Lord hath made, I will rejoice and be glad and in it—and kill infidels.”
It’s easy for Western Christians, particularly Christian Right blowhards here in the United States, to point to Muslims, at least those who terrorize others in the name of Islam, and say there is something inherently wrong with that religious tradition, that its unique Quranic theology endorses, indeed, encourages, violence against both non-Muslims and against those Muslims who deviate from a certain fundamentalist form of Islam. Even decidedly non-Christians like Bill Maher, commenting on the terrorist attacks in Paris, says of Islam:
When there are that many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.
Yes. There is something wrong. There is something wrong with the orchard of Islam. And what is wrong is in the soil.
But the ground from which the Islamic orchard blossomed also produced Judaism, with its murderous excesses chronicled in the Old Testament. And it also produced Christianity, with its murderous excesses recorded in secular history books. The soil in which the roots of these three monotheistic religious orchards have thrived—remember: Islam embraces the Bible, too, calling the Quran “a confirmation of” and “a fuller explanation of the Book”—has been poisoned by the same toxic idea, an idea found first in the Book of Genesis:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.
Every warrior for Yahweh, every soldier for Christ, every jihadist for Allah, could point to the idea found in that passage and, with a certain state of mind, find a justification for killing the wicked, the faithless, and the infidel in the name of God.
Or they could turn to another episode in Genesis where God destroyed two populated cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their imputed sin and wickedness.
Or they could turn to the Book of Exodus and learn how God punished the Egyptians for the sins of their leader. Their punishment, among other things, was the killing of innocents, the firstborn sons of all Egyptians, of their slaves, even of their cattle.
Or they could turn to the Book of Numbers and learn of the slaughter of the Midianites, whose alleged sins amounted to their women having sex with the men of Israel, which then caused those men to worship the “false God” of the Midianites, which then meant the men were disloyal to the One True God. Moses ordered the death of every Midianite—man, woman, and child—and confiscated their wealth.
After that orgy of inspired violence and murder and plunder—there is plenty more, of course—it is rather easy for a zealous and disturbed mind to find a book-based justification for killing in the name of God, or Allah. All that is required is to determine just who are the wicked, the faithless, and the infidels.
Unfortunately for the world today, there are a few groups of armed extremists who have so determined, and thus are endeavoring to carry on a tradition recorded on the pages of an ancient book, the same book that conservative American Christians proudly tote to church with them every Sunday, a book that both Christians and Muslims believe is the Word of God.