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The Growing Conflict in America

Muslim Americans Living in a Secular Democracy and a Predominately Christian Country

 [A five-part series]

Part II

In Part II, I will answer the questions of what it means to be an American, and how well do Muslim Americans identify with being an American? The majority of Muslim Americans are moderates—as the Pew research data will show. However, it is also true from their survey data that a small minority of particularly younger Muslims and native-born African Muslims may put the country at risk by adopting an extremist jihadist viewpoint.

These latter groups may need to be under local, state and national surveillance in order to prevent another Paris or San Bernardino violent attack. Under normal circumstances, such surveillance might be characterized as racial, ethnic, or religious profiling.

However, we are no longer living under normal circumstances. The threats that have been perpetrated on the home front are too many. The nation cannot and will not ignore these threats. There will always be a need to balance civil or legal rights on the one hand, with the need to protect our citizens from harm on the other.

Now we move on to answering the first question above. A good starting point in answering the first question is to discuss what it means to be an American. One standard that’s been around for 109 years comes from our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.

What it means to be an American

In 1907, one of our greatest presidents laid out what it means for immigrants of any origin to come to America and be an American. Nothing less than that will suffice. The standard set by Teddy Roosevelt was indeed high, as it should be.

Whether most groups of immigrants coming to America today are meeting this standard has yet to be determined. So what is this high standard set by President Theodore Roosevelt? In my estimation it is all about value judgments and that translates to where one’s sincere loyalty lies.

The Standard for Being an American

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”                                                                                    Theodore Roosevelt, 1907

In one of the previous Republican debates Senator Rick Santorum made the statement that “not all Muslims are jihadist, but all jihadists are Muslim.” Because of the open-ended suspicion generated by that statement, fear of Muslims overseas and Muslims here at home is causing increased tension between the Muslim world and those of non-Muslim populations worldwide. At the same time on the Home front, Islamophobia is running rampant here in the United States. This is very similar to the reaction against Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. That, of course, led to the round-up and incarceration of Japanese American citizens in internment camps based on nothing more than race. Individuality, loyalty, or proven disloyal conduct were never part of the equation to incarcerate American citizens who were presumably as protected by the U.S. Constitution as any other citizen. History has showed that such hypocrisy subsequently brought shame and dishonor to the country that presumably ignored what Theodore had said about immigrants coming to this country. But these were not immigrants—they were American citizens.

Muslims in America

What is needed is a fresh factual look at the Muslim community, particularly a comprehensive review of their demographic characteristics, religious beliefs and practices, education and income levels, identity, assimilation and community, political and social values, attitudes toward foreign policy, terrorism and concerns about extremism.

First up is a summary from Pew Research’s 2007 study. Here are their findings: In a 2007 survey titled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans to be “largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”

However, forty-seven percent of respondents said they considered themselves Muslims first and Americans second. However, this was compared to 81% of British Muslims and 69% of German Muslims, when asked the equivalent question. A similar disparity exists in income; the percentage of American Muslims living in poverty is 2% higher than the general population, compared to an 18% disparity for French Muslims and 29% difference for Spanish Muslims.

Interestingly, Pew Research in 2007 found that 42% of Christians see themselves as Christians first, and as Americans second. An additional 7% of Christians see themselves as both equally.

Politically, American Muslims were both pro-larger government and socially conservative. For example, 70% of respondents preferred a bigger government providing more services, while 61% stated that homosexuality should be discouraged by society. Despite their social conservatism, 71% of American Muslims expressed a preference for the Democratic Party. The Pew Research survey also showed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed that American society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background.

The same poll also reported that 40% of U.S. Muslims believe that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks. Another 28% didn’t believe it, and 32% said they had no opinion. Among 28% who doubted that Arab Muslims were behind the conspiracy, one-fourth of that claim the U.S. government or President George W. Bush was responsible. Only 26% of American Muslims believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to root out international terrorism. Only 5% of those surveyed had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Only 35% of American Muslims stated that the decision for military action in Afghanistan was the right one and just 12% supported the use of military force in Iraq.

In 2011, a Gallop poll found that 93% of Muslim Americans considered themselves loyal to the United States.

The 2011 Pew Research Survey

Like Christians and non-Christians alike, religious and secular populations are very diverse. Between groups and within groups people are quite different. The Pew research below demonstrates such diversity among American Muslims. The following (It was written by Michael Lipka) is a precise and detailed summary of the Pew Research from 2011. Below are its major findings:

Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the World

By Michael Lipka

“Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries.

Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.

Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years:

How many Muslims are there? Where do they live?

There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010 – roughly 23% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.

Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region where the religion originated in the seventh century are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s single largest Muslim population. With more than 300 million Muslims, Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s single largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050.

The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; it is projected that 10% of all Europeans will be Muslims by 2050.

How many Muslims are there in the United States?

According to estimates, Muslims make up just less than 1% of the U.S. adult population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study (conducted in English and Spanish) found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identifies as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.

Pew research estimates that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish, on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).

A recent Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.

Why is the global Muslim population growing?

There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups. Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, compared with 2.3 for all other groups combined.

Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 23 years old in 2010) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already is, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.

While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.

What do Muslims around the world believe?

Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. But Muslims around the world are almost universally united by a belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad, and the practice of certain religious rituals such as fasting during Ramadan, is widespread.

In other areas, however, there is less unity. For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely.

Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support Sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of Sharia law.

How do Muslims feel about groups like ISIS?

Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.

Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.

More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq.

In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say that such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% says suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% says they are often justified in these circumstances.

In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say that these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.

In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said earlier this year they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.

What do American Muslims believe?

Our 2011 survey of Muslim Americans found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims (48%) say their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.

Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other nations to have many non-Muslim friends. Only about half (48%) of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries we surveyed.

Roughly seven-in-ten U.S. Muslims (69%) say religion is very important in their lives. Virtually all (96%) say they believe in God, nearly two-thirds (65%) report praying at least daily and nearly half (47%) say they attend religious services at least weekly. By all of these traditional measures, Muslims in the U.S. are roughly as religious as U.S. Christians, although they are less religious than Muslims in many other nations.

When it comes to political and social views, Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (70%) than the Republican Party (11%) and to say they prefer a bigger government providing more services (68%) over a smaller government providing fewer services (21%).

As of 2011, U.S. Muslims were somewhat split between those who said homosexuality should be accepted by society (39%) and those who said it should be discouraged (45%), although the group had grown considerably more accepting of homosexuality since a similar survey was conducted in 2007.

What is the difference between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims?

Sunnis and Shias are two subgroups of Islam, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. While the two groups agree on some core tenets of Islam, there are differences in belief or practices, and in some cases Sunnis do not consider Shias to be Muslims.

With the exception of a few countries, including Iran (which is majority Shia) as well as Iraq and Lebanon (which are split), most nations with a large number of Muslims have more Sunnis than Shias. In the U.S., 65% identify as Sunnis and 11% as Shias (with the rest identifying with neither group, including some who say they are “just a Muslim”).

How do Americans and Europeans perceive Muslims?

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 asked Americans to rate members of eight religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Overall, Americans rated Muslims rather coolly – an average of 40, which was comparable to the average rating they gave atheists (41). Americans view the six other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons) more warmly.

Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party gave Muslims an average rating of 33, considerably cooler than Democrats’ rating toward Muslims (47).

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say they are very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world (83% vs. 53%) and in the U.S. (65% vs. 38%), according to a December 2015 survey. That survey also found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers (68% vs. 30% of Democrats) and that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions (49% vs. 20%). Overall, most Americans (61%) say Muslims should not be subject to additional scrutiny solely because of their religion, while U.S. adults are closely divided on the question of whether Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. (Note: This paragraph was updated Dec. 17 to reflect a new survey.)

In spring 2015, we asked residents of some European countries a different question– whether they view Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Perceptions at that time varied across European nations, from a largely favorable view in France (76%) and the United Kingdom (72%) to a less favorable view in Italy (31%) and Poland (30%).

How do Muslims and Westerners perceive each other?

In a 2011 survey, majorities of respondents in a few Western European countries, including 62% in France and 61% in Germany, said that relations between Muslims and Westerners were bad, while about half of Americans (48%) agreed. Similarly, most Muslims in several Muslim-majority nations – including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan – agreed that relations were bad, although fewer Muslims in Pakistan (45%) and Indonesia (41%) had this view.

The same survey also asked about characteristics the two groups may associate with one another. Across the seven Muslim-majority countries and territories surveyed, a median of 68% of Muslims said they view Westerners as selfish. Considerable shares also called Westerners other negative adjectives, including violent (median of 66%), greedy (64%) and immoral (61%), while fewer attributed positive characteristics like “respectful of women” (44%), honest (33%) and tolerant (31%) to Westerners.

Westerners’ views of Muslims were more mixed. A median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%).

Do American Muslims meet the Standard for American Citizenship?

This actually is a complicated question. If one uses the standard set in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt, then it’s very clear American Muslims do not meet the American standard for citizenship. Forty-seven percent of Muslims surveyed see themselves as a Muslim first before identifying themselves as an American. However, the Pew Research Center found that in 2011 that 93% of Muslims considered themselves loyal to the United States. It appears from the Pew data that the lion’s shares of American Muslims (approximately 93% if we extrapolate from a sample to the entire population of Muslims) is not a threat to the country, and are supportive of the United States.

The data also showed that Muslim Americans by and large are no friend of either al-Qaeda or ISIS. People who target Muslims in general are engaging in Islamophobia of the worst kind, actual discrimination. The picture that emerges from the Pew data is that, by and large, Muslim Americans are a diverse group within the religion of Islam and identify with being an American reasonably well considering acts of mistreatment by the general public. The most poignant findings of the 2011 Pew research data are as follows.

Muslim Americans appear to be highly assimilated into American society and they are largely content with their lives. More than six-in-ten do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, and a similar number say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. today want to adopt an American way of life rather than remain distinctive from the larger society.

By overwhelming margins, Muslim Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives and rate their local communities as good places to live. And Muslim Americans are far more likely than the general public to express satisfaction with national conditions.

Assimilation and Identity

     A majority of Muslim Americans (56%) say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. today want to adopt American customs and ways of life. Far fewer (20%) say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. want to be distinct from the larger American society, with a similar number (16%) volunteering that Muslim immigrants want to do both. Native-born and foreign-born Muslims give similar answers to this question.

The U.S. public as a whole is less convinced that immigrant Muslims seek to assimilate. An April 2011 Pew research survey finds that just a third of American adults (33%) think that most Muslim immigrants want to adopt American ways, while about half (51%) think that Muslim immigrants mostly want to remain distinct from the larger culture.

National Identity

     When asked whether they think of themselves first as an American or first as a Muslim, about half of Muslims (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, compared with 26% who think of themselves first as American. Nearly one-in-five (18%) volunteer that they think of themselves as both Muslim and American.

A May survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that 46% of Christians in the United States think of themselves first as a Christian, while the same percentage says they consider them first as an American.

Among both Muslims and Christians, people who say religion is very important in their lives are far more likely to view themselves primarily as a member of their religion.

     Among Muslims who say that religion is very important in their lives, 59% say they think of themselves first as Muslims. Among those for whom religion is less important, only 28% identify first as Muslim. Similarly, among Christians who place great personal importance on religion, 62% say they are Christians first, compared with 19% among those who view religion as less important.

Pew Global Attitudes Project surveys conducted this year found substantial differences in views of national identity across Muslim communities. Nearly all Pakistanis (94%) consider themselves first as Muslims rather than as Pakistanis. By contrast, just 28% of Muslims in Lebanon say they consider themselves Muslim first – far fewer than the number of U.S. Muslims expressing this view (49%).

Many Muslims report having friendship networks that extends beyond the Muslim community. About half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are Muslim; about as many say that some (36%), hardly any (14%) or none (1%) of their close friends are Muslim.

More women than men have a close circle of friends consisting mostly or entirely of other Muslims. And Muslim Americans who are highly committed to their religion are much more likely than those with medium or low commitment to say that all or most of their close friends are Muslims.

More than six-in-ten American Muslims (63%) see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, twice the number who do see such a conflict (31%).

A 2006 Pew Research survey found a nearly identical pattern among American Christians who were asked about a possible conflict between modernity and their own faith. Nearly two-thirds of Christians (64%) said there is no conflict between being a devout Christian and living in a modern society, compared with 31% who did perceive a conflict.

Muslims of all ages express similar views on this question. Similarly, there are only small differences between native-born Muslims and immigrants, as well as between those who are personally religiously observant and those who are less religious.

There are, however, sizable differences between men and women in views on this question. More than seven-in-ten men (71%) say there is no conflict between Islam and modernity, but fewer women (54%) agree. The view that there is no conflict between Islam and modernity is also much more common among college graduates than among those with less education.

 

Final Comments

The Pew Research organization has provided a valuable service to everyone in terms of good social research. There was lots of interesting data on Muslims living abroad and those living here in the United States.

Nevertheless, I detected many unanswered questions from the data they presented from their 2011 study that should be looked into. Such questions relate to degree of assimilation, legal questions regarding religious belief from religious practice, and finally, prejudice and discrimination among Muslim Americans.

Questions about Assimilation

The first question is what percentage of Muslim Americans wants Sharia Law in the United States rather than following our legal system of a U.S. Constitution as well as state constitutions and all other federal, state and local laws and regulations?

Related to this is the question of whether Muslim Americans prefer sending their children to Muslim schools instead of integrating them into the general educational system in the United States? While those who follow Catholicism have church schools in the U.S., by and large, the children from these schools are nonetheless highly integrated into a secular society. To what extent is this true for the Muslim American child population?

Another unanswered question not asked in the Pew data relates to inter-faith marriages and marriage itself. What proportion of Muslim Americans marries non-Muslims? Are such marriages forbidden by Islamic law, culture, or the scriptures of Islam as well? It has been reported that anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 of the American Muslim population (2008 estimate) engage in polygamy. Women under Islamic law are forbidden to have multiple husbands, but men are permitted to have two, three or four wives.

Questions about Religious Belief versus Religious Practice    

Another area for questions has to do with general differences between religious belief and religious practice. In the future will a legal brief dealing with Sharia Law be brought before United States Supreme Court as a violation of separation of church from state? Since Sharia Law is an integral part of Islam’s scriptures, will there be a separation of religious belief from its practice?

For example, the Mormon practice of having more than one spouse did separate belief from practice. Today, neither in Utah nor elsewhere in the United States is bigamy or polygamy allowed under the law. Was religious practice separated from religious belief in this case? Another example is where religious cults engage in human sacrifice. There is no doubt that belief is separated from practice in that case. Anyone can believe whatever they want; however, once belief crosses the line into actual behavior, American Law has something to say about that. Human sacrifice is viewed as murder, and is prohibited under all U.S. law.

The acceptability of foreign law (religious or otherwise) in the United States has yet to be decided by the United States Supreme Court. To my knowledge the U.S. Congress has yet to act against Sharia Law. Less clear is why?  Sixteen states have already passed state laws to forbid Sharia Law or foreign law. The legal issue, whether Muslims can be allowed to impose Sharia Law within the United States, a law that violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution that are concerned with the separation of church and State, is one the high court needs to address.

Questions about Prejudice and Discrimination

Islamophobia is real and has caused many Muslim Americans to complain about it. But what isn’t known are the racial, ethnic and religious prejudices held by Muslim Americans.

No group in society is immune from this aspect of life. Sociologists back in the 1950s found that there was as much prejudice and discrimination caused by minorities as there was among majorities in U.S. society. Its character was sometimes different, such as minorities’ prejudice and discrimination against other members of minorities. As then as it is now—nobody wants to confront this type of social phenomena.

Given that Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East have never been fond of the citizens of Israel, would such attitudes be prevalent among Muslim Americans living in the United States? Are there attitudes among the Muslim population that promote anti-Semitism and discriminatory behavior against people of the Jewish faith, or directed against Jews living here or abroad?

What’s needed is a comprehensive sociological study of racial, ethnic and religious attitudes (prejudices and discrimination) by Muslim Americans.

As one can see, many questions remain unanswered.

In Part III, I will discuss Sharia Law in more detail, and discuss if there is a plot underway to replace American Law with Sharia Law.

The most troubling aspect of all is that Sharia Law, as a religious practice, is a 7th Century set of religious rules that are barbaric, discriminatory, homophobic, misogynist, and intolerant of all non-believers, as well as those from other religions.

Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan had the dream of world domination. World domination by any group in the past failed, and will fail in the future. Any group that intends, surreptitiously or otherwise, to dominate the United States and convert it to a non-democratic country will ultimately experience the wrath of the American people. Any real threats from abroad will also experience the wrath of the most awesome military power on the face of the earth. We will be all over such threats “like a fly on you know what.”

Our values here in the United States reject Sharia Law as it is a serious threat to all civil and human rights. It is an extremist set of religious laws that are currently practiced in many (but not all) Muslim countries around the world. Stay tuned for Part III.

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The Growing Conflict in America

Muslim Americans Living in a Secular Democracy and a Predominately Christian Country

 [A five-part series]

Part I

To be totally upfront with my cyberspace audience, it is important that you know where I stand politically. First, I am an ultra-liberal on civil rights and human rights. And, I am a card carrying member of Amnesty International. Second, when it comes to homeland security, national defense and the military, I am, by all measures, quite conservative. Part of the reason I suppose, is that I have a military background as a Vietnam combat war veteran. Nonetheless, as a social scientist I have a professional responsibility to present the facts that are data-driven, not bombastic rhetoric, political clichés, personal biases or hyperbole.

Every psychology book that talks about human needs (for example Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) describes the need to survive as our most important human need.

Right after Pearl Harbor, folks living in California, Oregon and Washington were very worried and anxious that Japan would invade the West Coast of the United States. Tremendous fear encompassed Americans throughout the nation. Reason and calm were in very short supply (as they are now) as Americans recoiled in the days and weeks that followed the attack on the U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet, army and air bases stationed in Hawaii.

Today we have a similar situation with Islamic Jihadist attacks; on 9-1-1 that killed 3000 people and injured scores of others; the Boston Marathon Jihadist attack that killed 4 people and injured many others; the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood that killed 13 soldiers and wounded 30 others; the July 15, 2015 attack by a Jihadist at a military recruiting facility and naval center killing four marines and one sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the carnage that occurred with the death of 14 citizens and many more wounded, in San Bernardino, California; and, as recently as January 7, 2016, a professed jihadist tried to murder a Philadelphia police officer shooting the officer 11 times. Fortunately, the officer chased him, and then fired back wounding the assailant.

And, internationally, all of this was preceded in 2015 by Jihadist attacks in Paris, France that killed 130 people; Beirut Lebanon where 40 were killed and 200 others injured at a university; a hotel in Mali where 20 were killed; and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai desert that murdered 224 passengers.

With all these attacks by radical jihadist Muslim extremists, fear has once again gripped the entire nation. But, so have anger and finally the willingness of a nation to put itself on a war-footing with our declared enemies, whether there is a formal declaration of war or not. If there was a formal declaration of war made by the United States Congress, the country would give the President the powers to engage the enemy with all its might, including strategic nuclear weapons.

Americans are not weaklings; Americans are tough, extremely resilient, persistent and strong-willed. As a nation we are protective of our people, our laws, institutions, and the supreme law of the land—the United States Constitution.

As Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “all we have done is awake a sleeping giant and fill him with a great resolve.” Guess what folks, the sleeping giant is awake again and angry as hell over the onslaught of murders and barbaric acts committed by ISIS and Jihadists everywhere.

Human rights and civil rights are not protected under Islamic law. Consequently, the world has condemned the brutality, torture, rape, slavery of women, gratuitous cruelty, beheadings, incineration and drowning of prisoners carried out by Islamic jihadists and terrorists who have committed war crimes.

It is incumbent upon all the nations to collectively re-institute a war crimes tribunal like the Nuremberg Trials in Germany in 1945-46. As presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently said, “She now believes the Islamic State group’s persecution of Christians, the Yazidi minority and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East should be defined as ‘genocide.’ ”

This is the background for what is happening. The questions Americans want answered and the things they want done are evaluated and reviewed below. However, only facts can guide the way to fully understand just what is going on, and what could be or should be done about it.

Conflict of Values

Right now there appears to be a growing conflict in the United States between Muslims and non-Muslims. Consequently, there are a number of questions that need to be answered that relate to this conflict. Such questions include: (1) historically, why is there a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide? How did we get to this day and age where radical jihadists want to dominate the entire world? (2) What does it means to be an American, and how well do Muslim Americans identify as Americans? (3) Do Muslim Americans promote, foster and support, albeit as a hidden agenda, the replacement of American laws and the United States Constitution with Sharia law that is intimately interwoven within the religion of Islam? (4) Has the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated America with the goal of transforming the United States into an Islamic State, and (5) if so, what can be done about it? Each question above will correspond to each part of the five-part series.

Background of Religious Conflict

The conflict between Muslims and Christians is nothing new.  It dates back 1,400 years ago. The purpose of Part I is to give my cyber-space audience some historical perspective on the clash between Muslims and Christians.

The war against ISIS today gives the impression of a continuation of a religious war that is still unsettled, even after 1,400 years. There are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world today. By comparison, there are now approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Together, both religions comprise almost half the people on the planet. Christianity is more than 2,000 years old while Islam didn’t come into existence until the 7th Century A.D. What both religions have in common is that both possess moderates and extremists. While moderates can live in harmony, extremists cannot.

In Part I of this series I will describe the historical basis of the conflict between Muslims and Christians.

In Part II, I will compare the standard established in 1907 for American citizenship set by our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt and see if Muslim Americans achieve that goal.

In Part III, I will address whether there is a plot underway whereby the Muslim world (here and abroad) is moving to replace American Laws (The United States Constitution and all federal, state and local laws) with a foreign set of Muslim religious laws known as Sharia Law. I personally don’t like conspiracy theories, but there is, unfortunately, some critical evidence to support this notion or idea that certain Muslim organizations have tried to do this.

In Part IV I will discuss whether the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to secretly infiltrate and replace the American government, our values of freedom and democracy, our legal system, our educational and cultural institutions, with an Islamic State that promotes only Islam and its religious-based legal system known as Sharia Law.

In Part V I will discuss what can be done about it, both on the Homefront and abroad.

All five parts comprise the nexus of concerns that non-Muslim Americans have today, including many moderate Muslim Americans as well. If America was ever taken over by the Islamic State, make no mistake about it—moderate Muslim Americans would be the first to die at the hand of jihadists.

Early History of Islam

The history of Islam concerns the political, economic, social, and cultural developments in the territories ruled by Muslims or otherwise substantially influenced by the religion of Islam.

Despite concerns about reliability of early sources, most historians believe that Islam originated in Mecca and Medina at the start of the 7th century. A century later, the Islamic empire extended from Iberia in the west to the Indus in the east.

Polities such as those ruled by the Umayyads (in the Middle East and later in Iberia), Abbasids, Fatimids, and Mamluks were among the most influential powers in the world. The Islamic civilization gave rise to many centers of culture and science and produced notable astronomers, mathematicians, doctors and philosophers during the Golden Age of Islam. Technology flourished; there was investment in economic infrastructure such as irrigation systems and canals; and the importance of reading the Qur’an produced a comparatively high level of literacy in the general populace.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, destructive Mongol invasions from the East, along with the loss of population in the Black Death, greatly weakened the traditional centers of the Islamic world, stretching from Persia to Egypt, but in the Early Modern period, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals were able to create new world powers again.

During the modern era, most parts of the Muslim world fell under influence or direct control of European great powers. Their efforts to win independence and build modern nation states over the course of the last two centuries continue to reverberate to the present day.

Historical Impact of the Crusades

From a sociological and historical point of view, the Christian Crusades had both intended and unintended consequences that could be either positive or negative. On the positive side, by the 14th Century the Papacy, which was once powerful, had become fragmented. But, in many ways, the development of modern nation states was well on its way in France, England, Burgundy, Portugal, Castile, and Aragon partly as a result of the dominance of the church at the beginning of the Crusading Era.

There was also an expansion of trade throughout Europe as a result of the Crusades. This occurred because there was a need to raise, transport, and supply large armies. Roads that had been unused since the days of Rome saw significant increases in traffic as local merchants began to expand their horizons. Much Islamic culture and thought, such as science, medicine, and architecture was transferred to the west during the crusades. “This also aided the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, as various Italian-city states from the very beginning had important and profitable trading colonies in the crusader states, both in the Holy Land and later in captured Byzantine territory.”

On the negative side, Muslims found the Crusades to be cruel and savage onslaughts by European Christians. “In the 21st century, some in the Arab world, such as the Arab independence movement and Pan-Islamism movement, continue to call Western involvement in the Middle East a ‘Crusade.’”

However, early Islamic and Muslim forces from the ancient world can’t claim that they didn’t invade and plunder other nation states. There really was justification for wanting to rid Islamic Muslim armies from territories they, in fact, had invaded. And much of the violence perpetrated against innocent Christian and non-Christian peoples of the ancient world was the result of such invasions by Islamic invaders.

A true account of world history shows that Islam repeatedly attacked Christian lands, desecrated sanctuaries and tortured Christians who fought back without desecrating Mecca in return.  Jerusalem changed hands many times over the centuries.

During the seventh century this was particularly tumultuous when pagan Persians stormed the city in 614 A.D. Later the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius led Eastern Christians to reclaim it by 630 A.D.

However, within a few years Islamic forces had broken the Byzantine military and chased them out of Palestine. Jerusalem surrendered to a Muslim army in 638 A.D., and construction began soon thereafter on a mosque at the Temple Mount.

Accordingly, “After capturing Jerusalem, the Muslim armies poured through the eastern and southern provinces of the reeling Byzantine Empire. In the 640s Armenia in the north and Egypt in the south fell to Islam. In 655 A.D. the Muslims won a naval battle with the Byzantines and very nearly captured the Byzantine emperor.”

In 711 A.D. Muslims controlled all of northern Africa, and in 712 A.D. Muslims had penetrated deep into Christian Spain. At the battle of Toledo they defeated the Spanish and killed their king. Spain promptly collapsed.

Attempts were made by Muslims in the Middle East to push further into the Byzantine Empire. In 717 A.D. they landed in Southeastern Europe, and they besieged the Byzantine Capital, Constantinople. “In 846 A.D. Muslim raiders attacked the outlying areas of Rome, the center of western civilization. This act would be comparable to Christians sacking Mecca or Medina, something they have never done.”

Near the end of the ninth century, Muslim pirate havens were established along the coast of Southern France and northern Italy. These pirates threatened commerce, communication, and pilgrim traffic for a hundred years or more.

During the tenth century, however, the tide began to turn. In the East in the 950s and 960s, the Byzantines mounted a series of counterattacks. They eventually recovered the islands of Crete and Cyprus and a good bit of the territory in Asia Minor and northern Syria, including Antioch. They lacked the strength to retake Jerusalem, though they might have struggled harder had they known the terrors the city would soon face.

In 1000 A.D. much or most of the Holy Land was still populated by Christians. However, a local Muslim leader named Hakim persecuted Christians and Jews. In 1009 A.D. he ordered the destruction of the rebuilt church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. As a result, the Christian population began to shrink under Hakim’s tyrannical rule.

The Middle East was in for major changes that would change the balance of power of all the faiths. The major change was the invasion into the Middle East by the Seljuk Turks. These were pagan nomads who made steady inroads into the Muslim Arab world. In 1055 A.D. they invaded Baghdad and disrupted the stability of the Middle East.

The invasion of the Muslim Turks might well be thought of as the straw that broke the camels back as far as Western Christendom was concerned.

In 1071 A.D. Byzantine Emperor Diogenes confronted a Turkish invasion force in the far eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. The two armies met at the village of Manzikert, near Lake Van, and the Byzantines were utterly destroyed.  As a result of this disaster, the Byzantines lost all the territory that they had recovered, painstakingly, in the ninth and tenth centuries. This included the entirety of Asia Minor, the breadbasket and recruiting ground of the empire.

What followed was a response to Muslim and Arab invasions of Christian holy sites, lands and property in the Middle East. Succeeding Byzantine emperors sent frantic calls to the West for aid, directing them primarily at the popes, who were generally seen as protectors of Western Christendom. Pope Gregory VII received these appeals first, and in 1074 A.D. he discussed leading a relief expedition to Byzantium himself. But this proved impractical, and no aid was offered. The Byzantines continued sending appeals, however, eventually finding an audience with Pope Urban II.

The rest as they say is history. In 1095 A.D. the West responded to the plight of Eastern Christians by mounting the First Crusade. In 1099 A.D. crusaders stormed Jerusalem.

It wasn’t long before a series of Muslim rulers wanted to retake Christian Holy lands. These rulers included Zengi, Nur-al Din, and the famous Saladin. They fought to reunite parts of the Islamic Middle East. These leaders initiated a jihad, a counter-crusade against the Christians of Jerusalem and the surrounding regions. A desire to reconquer the city figured more and more notably into Muslim writings. “By the end of the twelfth century, Saladin had re-conquered Jerusalem more or less permanently. The entire Holy Land was back under Islamic control by 1291.”

While many take the perspective that the crusades were their darkest hour, others might say that to a large extent there was much justification given the centuries of persecution of Christians and Jews by the Muslim world. It all points to the never-ending futility of nations at war over land and the willingness of many peoples of the world to fight in the name of (and to kill for) God.

Here we are in the 21st century and a Muslim Jihadist Holy War still exists and is casting its ominous threats over the entire world, including America.

Current Status of Religions Worldwide

Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.

The demographic study – based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.

At the same time, the new study by the Pew Forum also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.

A New Estimate of the U.S. Muslim Population

By Besheer  Mohamad

“Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015. This means that Muslims made up about 1% of the total U.S. population (about 322 million people in 2015), and we estimate that that share will double by 2050.

Our new estimate of Muslims and other faiths is based on a demographic projection that models growth in the American Muslim population since our 2011 estimate and includes both adults and children. The projection uses data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching drawn from multiple sources, including the 2011 survey of Muslim Americans.

According to our current estimate, there are fewer Muslims of all ages in the U.S. than there are Jews by religion (5.7 million) but more than there are Hindus (2.1 million) and many more than there are Sikhs.

In some cities Muslims comprise significantly more than 1% of the community. And even at the state level Muslims are not evenly distributed: Certain states, such as New Jersey, have two or three times as many Muslim adults per capita as the national average.

Recent political debates in the U.S. over Muslim immigration and related issues have prompted many to ask how many Muslims actually live in the United States. But coming up with an answer is not easy, in part because the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask questions about religion, meaning that there is no official government count of the U.S. Muslim population.

Since our first estimate of the size of the Muslim American population in 2007, we have seen a steady growth in both the number of Muslims in the U.S. and the percentage of the U.S. population that is Muslim.

In addition, our projections suggest the U.S. Muslim population will grow faster than the Hindu population, and much faster than the Jewish population in the coming decades. Indeed, even before 2040, Muslims are projected to become the second-largest religious group in the U.S., after Christians. By 2050, the American Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million people, or 2.1% of the total population.

Just over half of the projected growth of the American Muslim population from 2010 to 2015 is due to immigration. Over the last 20 years, there has been an increase in the number of Muslim Immigrants coming to the U.S. The number of Muslim immigrants currently represents about 10% of all legal immigrants arriving in the U.S., and a significantly smaller percentage of unauthorized immigrants.

The other main cause of Islam’s recent growth is natural increase. American Muslims tend to have more children than Americans of other religious faiths. Muslims also tend to be younger than the general public, so a larger share of Muslims will soon be at the point in their lives when people begin having children.

There has been little net change in the size of the American Muslim population in recent years due to conversion. About one-in-five American Muslim adults were raised in a different faith or none at all. At the same time, a similar number of people who were raised Muslim no longer identify with the faith. About as many Americans become Muslim as leave Islam.”

The Great Irony of Religious Wars

The great irony of all the bloodshed that has ever been spilled since the 7th century is that religions’ underpinnings, known as belief, promoted by endless “true Believers in Christianity and Islam,” may all be based on a false premise to begin with, i.e., that some supernatural entity (like the Christian God or Islam’s Allah) actually exists. Religious wars of course are not fought alone for anyone’s scriptures; war is more complicated than that.

Global and political reasons (stealing lands and plundering resources) underlie warring faction’s “real reasons” that lie at the heart of using religious belief as their justification. Nevertheless, people will resort to violence to get their own way and often use religion’s notion of faith in a God to justify their willingness to commit acts of violence and pursue the spoils of war.

All religions use faith as a substitute for reason; it is their justification for behavior including violence and harmful deviant acts. This is despite the fact they have the ultimate burden of proof of supernatural entities like a god.

The Burden of Proof

An agnostic may be defined as a person who believes that the existence of God, or a primal cause, can be neither proven nor unproven. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word meaning “unknown” or “unknowable.” The term agnostic needs to be contrasted with the term “Gnosis” or Gnostic where the later term means knowledge.

Another term used to refer to one’s position on God or primal causes is atheist. Atheists, as a group of nonbelievers, have certain disadvantages in their position taken. The first disadvantage is a verbal assertion about what is unknown, unknowable, supernatural, or invisible. That assertion is–that something does not exist. Such an assertion is patently “unscientific.”

By asserting that something does not exist one immediately clashes with what science has long held as its own limitation. That is, it is impossible to prove a negative hypothesis. Science doesn’t work that way, for what data would one collect (and data is the cornerstone of all science) in order to test one’s hypothesis that something does not exist? Put very simply–it is impossible to do that.

Ironically, to make an assertion about non-existence of a God is strikingly similar to the person who lives by faith that God does exist. Many people don’t realize it, but the religious zealot and the atheist share a common perspective, i.e., they are both trying to make a “leap of faith.” The believer and the nonbeliever share the same podium in that respect. Nevertheless, there is an important difference here that does favor the atheist over the theist or deist. And that difference is the burden of proof.

The burden of proof does not lie with the atheist or the scientist to prove something does not exist. Such proof technically lies with those who make claims of a supernatural nature; otherwise claims are only assertions of belief unsubstantiated and without the benefit of actual proof. What is different between the atheist and scientist on the one hand and the true believer or religious zealot on the other are their tools of measurement, willingness to measure, and the approach taken to such measurement.

Interestingly, the invisibility of the subject matter of religion or science isn’t even the issue. Why? Because even where invisibility of the subject matter is concerned, it is measurement, and a willingness to measure, that does matter. For example molecules, atoms, protons, electrons and even the elusive neutrino are invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they can be measured for their proof of existence. God is alleged to be invisible to the naked eye, yet theologians and fundamentalist “true believers” of all types have yet to provide proof or a shred of evidence of existence through any kind of “measurement.”

Said simply, they have failed to provide the needed proof to substantiate their supernatural claims. It is interesting to note that the 20th century’s (greatest scientist) Albert Einstein never attributed bizarre supernatural forces as an explanation for the fundamental laws of the universe.

Why America is Turning More Secular

The data from the Barna survey done years ago strongly suggested that the slide toward syncretism may be responsible for the decline of Christianity in the 20th century. Evidently, the democratic trend toward freedom of religion and freedom from religion took heart in America. However, the net effect of these changes within and outside Christianity is the move toward a more secular society.

There are three basic reasons American society, in particular, is becoming more secular: (1) The religious right is trying to invade secular society, (2) scandals within the church have lowered its status in the eyes of the public, and (3) simultaneously, science education and technology have come to dominate the social landscape of our culture through laboratory research, and through educational programs on television and in the classroom.

It is also true that alienation produced by fundamentalists gone amuck with their disdain for liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations created an atmosphere where younger potential converts automatically looked askance at religious institutions altogether with contempt. Until mainstream and liberal churches gang up and fight fundamentalists politically and socially, Christianity will continue to lose adherents.

The same thing can be said about Islam, i.e., until moderates in the Islamic faith gang up on Islamic Jihadists extremists and do away with Sharia law, they will continue to lose potentially moderate adherents at home and abroad. Because of this loss they will suffer from the consequences of a right-wing extremist theocracy because of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

 Below is a very poignant article found on Eurweb (electronic Urban Report) that was written by the free-lance writer and blogger—Trevor Brookins. Its title is “The Socialist’s Journal: Theology vs. Theocracy.” It gets to the heart of the differences between a theology and a theocracy. Trevor Brookins is from Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called, This Seems Familiar.

“Theocracy is partly the source of the biggest problem today in that it is a perspective that produces religious fundamentalists. Contrarily theology is the biggest source of hope for ending conflict in the world. Ironically enough these two concepts are closely related and one grows out of the other.

In its most basic form theology is about understanding the nature of God and answering basic question about human existences, two of which tremendously influence our interactions with others. The question of ‘how ought we to behave?’ is the part of any religion that outlines ethics and there are many commonalities between faiths; the question of ‘where are we going’ address what happens after death and its answer contains fewer commonalities and therefore where the potential for conflict arises.

Given enough time a group of people will eventually make contact with another group of people who do not answer the afterlife question the way they do. When this contact is made these two groups can make the ethical question most important in which case they will attempt to live peacefully harmoniously alongside their new neighbors – this is the theological. Or the two groups can make the afterlife question most important in which case both groups perceive the other as heathen and attempt to eliminate the other religious perspective by converting their adversaries if not outright killing them – this is the theocratic response.

Historically we have documented many more cases of the second version of events following contact because of the wars that followed and the exchange of territory. But also of note is the correlation between religious wars and the institution of monarchy. Royal families that rely on hereditary rule and Divining Right to maintain their status are essentially claiming God wants them in charge. It is therefore an easy conclusion to reach that similarly God wants X so we do whatever it takes including war to attain/achieve X.

This path of logic has been used so frequently and with such success that is the reason behind every empire in Western civilization since Rome. And so convinced of this mindset are some in Western civilization that when a nation fails to achieve a goal or expand its territory an explanation offered is that the country must not be following God’s will.

However, in a world where monarchical rule has become obsolete in favor of democracy, the “God wants this” line of reasoning has also fallen out of favor. Religious fundamentalists ultimately are advocating turning back the clock and the adoption of God’s law as the operating principle for a country, but even within any given faith there is much debate on what God’s law is. Furthermore this theocratic perspective on life obscures the theological perspective that allows for groups to live peacefully that under theocracy might be at war.

Democracy can be said to be the opposite of theocracy and because of this it is impossible for a country to operate under both of these forms of government at the same time. On the other hand democracy and theology can coexist, and often do so to the benefit of both.

In the United States we obsess over Muslim fundamentalists and with good reason because there are many who seek to harm us. Equally dangerous though are the Christian fundamentalist principles that guide foreign policy. God wants Americans to have oil like God wanted Caucasians to expand across North America, that is to say not at all. God is being used to justify political and economic decisions.

Most people are moderate and used to making compromises. Even within our religious lives few of us follow all of the rules – ask the most devout Christian you know whether he/she really would not have a woman in leadership. What is at stake in that instance is simply another perspective on a topic. How much more then should we be willing to compromise when what is at stake are thousands of lives? Theocracy yields fundamentalism, conflict and death. Theology yields moderation, understanding and peace. Which will we choose?

As said earlier, in Part II, I will compare the standard established in 1907 for American citizenship set by our 26th president in order to see if Muslim Americans achieve that goal.

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Psychology and Sociology of Religious Fanaticism

A Five Part Series

Part III

 

What is Jihad?

The Arabic word “jihad” is often translated as “holy war,” but in a purely linguistic sense, the word “jihadmeans struggling or striving. The Arabic word for war is: “al-harb.” In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, “jihad” has many meanings.

In the Muslim world as well the non-Muslim world, human behavior can, and often is, based on a mixture of motives. In turn, different motives can and do lead to differences of opinion that account for differences in value judgments about a particular set of religious scriptures.

Scriptures and their meanings in the Holy Bible have also produced a plethora of differing groups espousing different interpretations of what the bible means. If there was unanimity of opinion in Christianity, there wouldn’t be so many divisions (Catholics and the multiple factions found among Protestants). It should not be surprising then that Judaism also has four major factions from the most conservative to the most progressive, including those who are ethnically Jewish but non-religious atheists.

Today, with all the violence, the religious ideology and concept of Jihad is foremost in the spotlight of worldwide attention. Consequently, what follows is a presentation of assessment of opinion as to what Jihad “really” means and also how the Quran and its followers are viewed under the microscope of world opinion.  First up to bat are the moderates.

 

The Voice of Moderation

Top 10 Myths about Islam

By Huda

Islam Expert

Huda is a Muslim educator and writer with over two decades of experience researching and writing about Islam on the Internet. An American woman of European descent, she has been a Muslim for 25 years.

Experience

Huda is an educator, freelance writer and editor. She is the author of The Everything Understanding Islam Book, originally published in 2003, with a 2nd Edition in 2009. She currently teaches elementary school in the Middle East.

“Islam is a widely-misunderstood religion. Those who are unfamiliar with the faith often have misunderstandings about its teachings and practices. Common misconceptions include that Muslims worship a moon-god, that Islam is oppressive against women, or that Islam is a faith that promotes violence. Here we bust these myths and expose the true teachings of Islam.”

1.  Muslims worship a moon-god

“Some non-Muslims mistakenly believe that Allah is an “Arab god,” a “moon god,” or some sort of idol. Allah is the proper name of the One True God, in the Arabic language. The most fundamental belief that a Muslim has is that “There is only One God,” the Creator, the Sustainer — known in the Arabic language and by Muslims as Allah. Arabic-speaking Christians use the same word for the Almighty.”

2.  Muslims don’t believe in Jesus

“In the Qur’an, stories about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (called ‘Isa in Arabic) are abundant. The Qur’an recalls his miraculous birth, his teachings, and the miracles he performed by God’s permission. There is even a chapter of the Qur’an named after his mother, Mary (Miriam in Arabic). However, Muslims believe that Jesus was a fully human prophet and not in any way divine himself.”

3.  Most Muslims are Arabs

“While Islam is often associated with Arabs, they make up only 15% of the world’s Muslim population. The country with the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia. Muslims make up 1/5 of the world’s population, with large numbers found in Asia (69%), Africa (27%), Europe (3%) and other parts of the world.”

4.  Islam oppresses women

“Most of the ill-treatment that women receive in the Muslim world is based on local culture and traditions, without any basis in the faith of Islam. In fact, practices such as forced marriage, spousal abuse, and restricted movement directly contradict Islamic law governing family behavior and personal freedom.”

5.  Muslims are violent, terrorist extremists

“Terrorism cannot be justified under any valid interpretation of the Islamic faith. The entire Qur’an, taken as a complete text, gives a message of hope, faith, and peace to a faith community of one billion people. The overwhelming message is that peace is to be found through faith in God, and justice among fellow human beings. Muslim leaders and scholars do speak out against terrorism in all its forms, and offer explanations of misinterpreted or twisted teachings.”

6.  Islam is intolerant of other faiths

“Throughout the Qur’an, Muslims are reminded that they are not the only ones who worship God. Jews and Christians are called “People of the Book,” meaning people who have received previous revelations from the One Almighty God that we all worship. The Qur’an also commands Muslims to protect from harm not only mosques, but also monasteries, synagogues, and churches — because “God is worshipped therein.”

7.  Islam promotes “jihad” to spread Islam by the sword and kill all unbelievers

“The word Jihad stems from an Arabic word which means “to strive.” Other related words include “effort,” “labor,” and “fatigue.” Essentially Jihad is an effort to practice religion in the face of oppression and persecution. The effort may come in fighting the evil in your own heart, or in standing up to a dictator. Military effort is included as an option, but as a last resort and not “to spread Islam by the sword.”

8.  The Quran was written by Muhammad and copied from Christian and Jewish sources

“The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of two decades, calling people to worship One Almighty God and to live their lives according to this faith. The Qur’an contains stories of Biblical prophets, because these prophets also preached the message of God. Stories are not merely copied, but the oral traditions are referred to in a way that focuses on the examples and teachings that we can learn from them.”

9.  Islamic prayer is just a ritualized performance with no heartfelt meaning

“Prayer is a time to stand before God and express faith, give thanks for blessings, and seek guidance and forgiveness. During Islamic prayer, one is modest, submissive and respectful to God. By bowing and prostrating ourselves to the ground, we express our utmost humility before the Almighty.”

10.  The crescent moon is a universal symbol of Islam

“The early Muslim community did not really have a symbol. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic caravans and armies flew simple solid-colored flags (generally black, green, or white) for identification purposes. The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years, and wasn’t affiliated with Islam at all until the Ottoman Empire placed it on their flag.”

Muslim Scholars to ISIS: You Have Misinterpreted Islam

By Amelia Rosch—Posted on (September 25, 2014)

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Following President Obama’s declaration at the United Nations yesterday  “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace.” Over 120 international Muslim scholars released a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Within the letter, they call ISIS un-Islamic and argue that the group is incorrectly using scripture to support its cause.

The letter said that the group’s claim to a caliphate is illegitimate, arguing that their “attitude is based upon a corrupt circular logic that says: ‘Only we are Muslims, and we decide who the caliph is, we have chosen one and so whoever does not accept our caliph is not a Muslim.’”  The scholars argue in the letter that it “is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims” and that ISIS is “a group of no more than several thousand [that] has appointed itself the ruler of over a billion and a half Muslims.” The scholars also say that ISIS’s claims to jihad are also illegitimate, arguing that they “have killed many innocents who were neither combatants nor armed, just because they disagree with your opinion. There is no such thing as offensive, aggressive jihad just because people have different religions or opinions.”

In the letter which has been released online in both Arabic and English, the scholars outline 24 practices that ISIS has been carrying out that the authors say are forbidden by Islamic scripture, including denying women and children their rights, torturing people and killing “emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats” including aid workers and journalists.

The scholars quote from Islamic scriptures which promise rights to both women and children and lay out the way that ISIS has broken those promises, saying “you treat women like detainees and prisoners…” and by torturing and executing children who “are so young they are not even morally accountable.” The scholars say that ISIS’s practice of enslaving women also breaks a century-long Islamic prohibition on slavery. They argue that mass killings and decapitation, both of which ISIS have been documented doing, are both forbidden under Shari’ah, Islamic law. They also say that journalists are “emissaries of truth” and aid workers “emissaries of mercy and kindness” and that killing them goes against the rule saying not to kill emissaries.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said that the letter purposefully used the “heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” in order to offer a point-by-point argument to the group’s claims. He said that the goal of the letter was to reach out to the Muslim community, not a Western audience.

The letters’ authors included leading Islamic scholars, including several of whom are Egyptian, members of the United Arab Emirates, and Nigeria’s fatwa councils, and the muftis from Egypt and Jerusalem.

The group of scholars joins many other Muslims speaking out against the Islamic State. Last week, German Muslims held a national day of prayer to “make clear terrorists and criminals do not speak in the name of Islam…and that murderers and criminals have no place in our ranks, in our religion,” according to the head of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek. In England, British Muslims have been using the hashtag #NotInMyName to call out ISIS and distance Islam from the group.

In addition to Obama, other world leaders have made a distinction between Islam and ISIS; in a speech last week, David Cameron said that members of ISIS “are not Muslims, they are monsters,” while France’s foreign minister said that “they are not representative of Muslims.”

The Voice of Criticism

In this segment of Part III I will report on material opposed to Islam and whose criticisms will resonate with many in Cyber-land. These criticisms pertain not to just ISIS inspired violence, but also to the very foundation of Islam itself—the very scriptures found in the Quran.

Due to space limitations in Blog writing, I’ve limited the material to the first five statements found at the site. I recommend interested individuals go to their site and read other evaluative statements. The site can be found at TheReligionofPeace.com Home Page.

     The previous section presented the opinions of moderates; this section looks at the criticisms. It is up to the reader to decide where the truth lies.  

The Myths of Islam

“Muslims often complain of popular ‘misconceptions’ about their religion in the West.

We took a hard look, however, and found that the most prevalent myths of Islam are the ones held by Muslims and Western apologists.  The only glaring exception to this is the misconception that all Muslims are alike (they aren’t, of course), but even Muslims often believe this as well, as evidenced by the various contrary factions insisting that they are the  true Muslims, while those who disagree with them are either infidels, hijackers, or hypocrites.

Don’t be fooled!  Hear the myths, but know the truth.”

Islam Means ‘Peace’

Islam respects Women as Equals

Jihad Means ‘Inner Struggle’

Islam is a Religion of Peace

Islam is Tolerant of Other Religions

 

 

[Islam Means Peace]

The Myth:

Lesser educated Muslims sometimes claim that the root word of Islam is “al-Salaam,” which is “peace” in Arabic.

The Truth:

An Arabic word only has one root.  The root word for Islam is “al-Silm,” which means “submission” or “surrender.”  There is no disagreement about this among Islamic scholars. al-Silm  (submission) does not mean the same thing as al-Salaam (peace), otherwise they would be the same word.

Submission and peace can be very different concepts, even if a form of peace is often brought about through forcing others into submission.  As the modern-day Islamic scholar, Ibrahim Sulaiman puts it, “Jihad is not inhumane, despite its necessary violence and bloodshed, its ultimate desire is peace which is protected and enhanced by the rule of law.”

In truth, the Quran not only calls Muslims to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule.  This has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.

[Islam Respects Women as Equals]

The Myth:

The Quran places men and women on equal foundation before Allah. Each person is judged according to his or her own deeds. Women have equal rights under Islamic law.

The Truth:

Merely stating that individuals will be judged as such by Allah does not mean that they have equal rights and roles, or that they are judged by the same standards.

There is no ambiguity in the Quran, the life of Muhammad, or Islamic law as to the inferiority of women to men despite the efforts of modern-day apologists to salvage Western-style feminism from scraps and fragments of verses that have historically held no such progressive interpretation.

After military conquests, Muhammad would dole out captured women as war prizes to his men.  In at least one case, he advocated that they be raped in front of their husbands.  Captured women were made into sex slaves by the very men who killed their husbands and brothers.  There are four Quranic verses in which “Allah” makes clear that a Muslim master has full sexual access to his female slaves, yet there is not one that prohibits rape.

The Quran gives Muslim men permission to beat their wives for disobedience, but nowhere does it command love in marriage.  It plainly says that husbands are “a degree above” wives.  The Hadith says that women are intellectually inferior, and that they comprise the majority of Hell’s occupants.

Under Islamic law, a man may divorce his wife at his choosing.  If he does this twice, then wishes to remarry her, she must first have sex with another man.  Men are exempt from such degradations.

Muslim women are not free to marry whom they please, as are Muslim men.  Their husband may also bring other wives (and slaves) into the marriage bed.  And she must be sexually available to him at any time (as a field ready to be “tilled,” according to the holy book of Islam).

Muslim women do not inherit property in equal portion to males.  This is somewhat ironic given that Islam owes its existence to the wealth of Muhammad’s first wife, which would not otherwise have been inherited by her given that she had two brothers and her first husband had three sons.

A woman’s testimony in court is considered to be worth only half that of a man’s, according to the Quran.  Unlike a man, she must also cover her head – and often her face.

If a woman wants to prove that she was raped, then there must be four male witnesses to corroborate her account.  Otherwise she can be jailed or stoned to death for confessing to “adultery.”

Given all of this, it is quite a stretch to say that men and women have “equality under Islam” based on obscure theological analogies or comparisons.  This is an entirely new ploy that is designed for modern tastes, and disagrees sharply with the reality of Islamic law and history.

[Jihad Means ‘Inner struggle’]

The Myth:

Islam’s Western apologists sometimes claim that since the Arabic word, Jihad, literally means “fight” or “struggle,” it refers to an “inner struggle” rather than holy war.

The Truth:

In Arabic, “jihad” means struggle.  In Islam, it means holy war.

The Quran specifically exempts the disabled and elderly from Jihad (4:95), which would make no sense if the word is being used merely within the context of spiritual struggle.  It is also unclear why Muhammad and his Quran would use graphic language, such as smiting fingers and heads from the hands and necks of unbelievers if he were speaking merely of character development.

With this in mind, Muslim apologists generally admit that there are two meanings to the word, but insist that “inner struggle” is the “greater Jihad,” whereas “holy war” is the “lesser.”  In fact, this misconception is based only on a single hadith that Islamic scholars generally agreed was fabricated.

By contrast, the most reliable of all Hadith collections is that of Bukhari.  Jihad is mentioned over 200 times in reference to the words of Muhammad and each one carries a clear connotation to holy war, with only a handful of possible exceptions (dealing with a woman’s supporting role during a time of holy war).

[Islam is a Religion of Peace]

The Myth:

Muhammad was a peaceful man who taught his followers to be the same.  Muslims lived peacefully for centuries, fighting only in self-defense, and only when it was necessary.  True Muslims would never act aggressively.

The Truth:

There shouldn’t be any argument over who the “true Muslim” is because the Quran clearly distinguishes the true Muslim from the pretender in Sura 9 and elsewhere.  According to this – one of the last chapters of the Quran – the true believer “strives and fights with their wealth and persons” while the hypocrites are those who “sit at home,” refusing to join the jihad against unbelievers in foreign lands.

In truth, Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last ten years of his life and personally led 27 of them.  The more power that he attained, the smaller the excuse needed to go to battle, until finally he began attacking tribes merely because they were not yet part of his growing empire.

After Muhammad’s death, his successor immediately went to war with former allied tribes which wanted to go their own way.  Abu Bakr called them ‘apostates’ and slaughtered anyone who did not want to remain Muslim.  Eventually, he was successful in holding the empire together through blood and violence.

The prophet of Islam’s most faithful followers and even his own family soon turned on each other as well.  There were four caliphs (leaders) in the first twenty-five years, each of which was a trusted companion of his.  Three of these four were murdered.  The third caliph was murdered by those allied with the son of the first caliph.  The fourth caliph was murdered in the midst of a conflict with the fifth caliph, who began a 100-year dynasty of excess and debauchery that was brought to an end in a gruesome, widespread bloodbath by descendants of Muhammad’s uncle (who was not even a Muslim).

Muhammad’s own daughter, Fatima, and his son-in-law, Ali, who both survived the pagan hardship during the Meccan years safe and sound, did not survive Islam after the death of Muhammad.  Fatima died of stress from persecution within three months, and Ali was later assassinated by Muslim rivals.  Their son (Muhammad’s grandson) was killed in battle with the faction that became today’s Sunnis.  His people became Shias.  The relatives and personal friends of Muhammad were mixed into both warring groups, which then fractured further into hostile sub-divisions as Islam expanded.

Muslim apologists, who like to say that is impossible for today’s terrorists to be Muslim when they kill fellow Muslims, would have a very tough time explaining the war between Fatima’s followers and Aisha to a knowledgeable audience.  Muhammad explicitly held up both his favorite daughter and his favorite wife as model Muslim women, yet they were invoked respectively by each side in the violent civil war that followed his death.  Which one was the prophet of God so horribly wrong about?

Muhammad left his men with instructions to take the battle against Christians, Persians, Jews and polytheists (which came to include millions of unfortunate Hindus).  For the next four centuries, Muslim armies’ steamrolled over unsuspecting neighbors, plundering them of loot and slaves, and forcing the survivors to either convert or pay tribute at the point of a sword.

Companions of Muhammad lived to see Islam declare war on every major religion in the world in just the first few decades following his death – pressing the Jihad against Hindus, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists.

By the time of the Crusades (when the Europeans began fighting back), Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world by sword, from Syria to Spain, and across North Africa.  Millions of Christians were enslaved by Muslims, and tens of millions of Africans.  The Arab slave-trading routes would stay open for 1300 years until pressure from Christian-based countries forced Islamic nations to declare the practice illegal (in theory).  To this day, the Muslim world has never apologized for the victims of Jihad and slavery.

There is not another religion in the world that consistently produces terrorism in the name of God as does Islam.  The most dangerous Muslims are nearly always those who interpret the Quran most transparently.  They are the fundamentalists or purists of the faith, and believe in Muhammad’s mandate to spread Islamic rule by the sword, putting to death those who will not submit.  In the absence of true infidels, they will even turn on each other.

The holy texts of Islam are saturated with verses of violence and hatred toward those outside the faith, as well as the aforementioned “hypocrites” (Muslims who don’t act like Muslims).  In sharp contrast to the Bible, which generally moves from relatively violent episodes to far more peaceful mandates, the Quran travels the exact opposite path (violence is first forbidden, then permitted, then mandatory).

The handfuls of earlier verses that speak of tolerance are overwhelmed by an avalanche of later ones that carry a much different message.  While Old Testament verses of blood and guts are generally bound by historical context within the text itself, Quranic imperatives to violence usually appear open-ended and subject to personal interpretation.

From the history of the faith to its most sacred writings, those who want to believe in “peaceful Islam” have a lot more to ignore than do the terrorists.  By any objective measure, the “Religion of Peace” has been the harshest, bloodiest religion the world has ever known.  In Islam there is no peace unless Muslims have power – and even then…

[Islam is Tolerant of Other Religions]

The Myth:

Religious minorities have flourished under Islam.  Muslims are commanded to protect Jews and Christians (the People of the Book) and do them no harm. The Quran says in Sura 109, “To you, your religion.  To me, mine.”

The Truth:

Religious minorities have not “flourished” under Islam.  In fact, they have dwindled to mere shadows after centuries of persecution and discrimination.  Some were converted from their native religion by brute force, others under the agonizing strain of dhimmitude.

What Muslims call “tolerance,” others correctly identify as institutionalized discrimination.  The consignment of Jews and Christians to dhimmis under Islamic rule means that they are not allowed the same religious rights and freedoms as Muslims.  They cannot share their faith, for example, or build houses of worship without permission.

Historically, dhimmis have often had to wear distinguishing clothing or cut their hair in a particular manner that indicates their position of inferiority and humiliation.  They do not share the same legal rights as Muslims, and must even pay a poll tax (the jizya).  They are to be killed or have their children taken from them if they cannot satisfy the tax collector’s requirements.

For hundreds of years, the Christian population in occupied Europe had their sons taken away and forcibly converted into Muslim warriors (known as Janissaries) by the Ottoman Turks.

It is under this burden of discrimination and third-class status that so many religious minorities converted to Islam over the centuries.  Those who didn’t often faced economic and social hardships that persist to this day and are appalling by Western standards of true religious tolerance and pluralism.

For those who are not “the People of the Book,” such as Hindus and atheists, there is very little tolerance to be found once Islam establishes political superiority.  The Quran tells Muslims to “fight in the way of Allah” until “religion is only for Allah.”  The conquered populations face death if they do not establish regular prayer and charity in the Islamic tradition (i.e. the pillars of Islam).

Tamerlane and other Muslim warriors slaughtered tens of millions of Hindus and Buddhists, and displaced or forcibly converted millions more over the last thousand years.  Islamists in Somalia behead Christians.  In Iran, they are jailed.

One of the great ironies of Islam is that non-Muslims are to be treated according to the very standards by which Muslims themselves would claim the right to violent self-defense was the shoe on the other foot.  Islam is its own justification.  Most Muslims therefore feel no need to explain the ingrained arrogance and double standard.

     There are about 500 verses in the Quran that speak of Allah’s hatred for non-Muslims and the punishment that he has prepared for their unbelief.  There is also a tiny handful that says otherwise, but these are mostly earlier verses that many scholars consider to be abrogated by the later, more violent ones. 

As for Sura 109, any true Quran scholar will point out that the purpose of the verse was to distinguish Islam from the gods of the Quraysh (one of which was named “Allah”) rather than to advocate religious tolerance for non-Muslims.

At the time that he narrated this very early verse, Muhammad did not have any power, and thus no choice but to be “tolerant” of others.  By contrast, there was no true tolerance shown when he returned to Mecca with power many years later and demanded the eviction or death of anyone who would not convert to Islam.  In fact, he physically destroyed the cherished idols of the people to whom he had previously addressed in Sura 109.

If tolerance simply means discouraging the mass slaughter of those of a different faith, then today’s Islam generally meets this standard more often than not.  But, if tolerance means allowing people of other faiths the same religious liberties that Muslims enjoy, then Islam is fundamentally the most intolerant religion under the sun.

Now you have the information, opinion and debate. It’s up to my cyberspace audience to decide for themselves. 

In Part IV ahead  I will provide statistics on three variables I think provides a solid background as to why Islam and Islamic people are very susceptible to religious fanaticism. These variables are: education in the Islamic world, literacy rates, and unemployment.

These variables, in addition to the insightful work of Eric Hoffer in Part V, I believe forms the best explanation to date as to why what has happened in the middle east has produced a growing menace of Islamic Terrorism that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Terrorism is a major threat to the rest of the civilized world including the United States.

 

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Psychology and Sociology of Religious Fanaticism

A Five Part Series

Part II

Michael A. Sheehan stated in 2000, “A number of terrorist groups have portrayed their causes in religious and cultural terms. This is often a transparent tactic designed to conceal political goals, generate popular support and silence opposition.”

Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)

Conflict in Iraq and Syria has seen ISIS seize vast territory. Charting the group’s rise, Peter Welby says that future dangers lie in the appeal to Islamists worldwide of their claims to a caliphate.

The resounding successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the summer of 2014 were shocking. Cities fell to ISIS forces a fraction of the size of their defenders; soldiers were ordered to abandon their posts; and those soldiers who were captured were massacred. Buoyed by its advance, the group declared a caliphate, a move that has split the jihadi world despite long being the aspiration of such organizations.

Reeling from its string of defeats, it took until March 2015 for Iraqi forces to start their counter-attack in earnest. But unprecedented as these advances were in scale, they fit into a pattern that the group has set since its foundation.

ISIS can trace its roots back to 2002, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – a Jordanian who was to gain notoriety in the Iraqi insurgency from 2003-6 – founded a jihadi organization called Tawhid wal-Jihad in the north of Iraq. Zarqawi had been linked with al-Qaeda while in Afghanistan in the late ’90s, but was not a member of the group and disagreed with the tactic of focusing on the ‘far enemy’ (the West) as opposed to the ‘near enemy’ (rulers in the Islamic world).

Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi’s organization grew more active and affiliated itself to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Despite the tactical differences, this made a useful alliance of convenience: Zarqawi’s organisation gained the recruiting and resourcing benefits of being part of a global and credible jihadi organisation, while al-Qaeda gained an affiliate in Iraq, already by that stage the global center of jihad.

Zarqawi’s AQI was an influential actor in Iraq’s descent into chaos between 2003 and 2007. It had an explicit policy of stoking sectarian violence with the aim of rallying the Sunni community around Sunni jihadi groups, a tactic that ISIS is replicating now. This gained criticism from al-Qaeda’s leaders, who felt that the indiscriminate and brutal violence risked alienating their supporters. However, it continued to support Zarqawi in public until he was killed in an airstrike in 2006.

In late 2006 AQI joined with eight other Islamist insurgent groups to form the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), without permission from the al-Qaeda leadership. The name chosen for this new group indicated its ambitions: it was more than a mere jihadi group, but an embryonic caliphate, governed by Islamic law, to which all Muslims within its territory owed allegiance.

As the US surge took hold in 2007 and the so-called ‘Anbar Awakening’ or sahwa – the cooptation of Sunni tribes in Anbar province in the fight against the insurgency – diminished the group’s support base, the notion of the Islamic State’s ‘territory’ was a tenuous one. Successive ISI leaders were killed in airstrikes, and the group’s capacity to launch attacks was severely diminished. But the accession in 2010 of its current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, coincided with a change in the external pressures the group faced. The USA withdrew its forces in 2011 and the promised integration of the Anbar militias into the armed forces was abandoned, removing a significant counter to insurgent activity. Absent American restraint, Prime Minister Maliki gave vent to his more sectarian impulses, creating grievances that the Islamic State was quick to exploit. Moreover, the start of the Syrian civil war created a fertile new cause and battlefield for the group’s recruitment, and molded it into the military force it has become.

The Syrian war also facilitated the Islamic State’s final break with al-Qaeda. Since 2006, the group’s relationship with al-Qaeda had been ambiguous, possibly deliberately so: the mutual benefits that had first prompted Zarqawi to affiliate to the organization remained.

In 2011 Baghdadi created a Syrian subsidiary, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), under Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, in order to gain a toehold in the war. In 2013, with JN showing unwelcome signs of independence, he announced their reabsorption into the expanded Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – ‘al-Sham’ being the Arabic name for Greater Syria, with connotations of earlier caliphates. However, Jolani appealed to al-Qaeda’s central command, which ruled in his favor, ordering Baghdadi to confine his group to Iraq.

The alliance between al-Qaeda and ISIS was no longer convenient. ISIS could now claim a history and a support base that established its credibility, and al-Qaeda’s central leadership was weak. An ISIS spokesman declared that al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was sinful, and Jolani nothing less than a traitor. Shortly afterwards, Zawahiri announced that ISIS had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

In subsequent fighting in Syria, much of it with other rebels including JN and other jihadi groups, ISIS has gained and held significant amounts of territory. It captured the city of Raqqa from other rebels in early 2014, using it since as a base to launch attacks in Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, the group exploited botched Iraqi military operations in Fallujah in January 2014 to gain control of the city. Control of sparsely populated transport corridors allowed them to advance rapidly in the kind of surprise attacks that delivered them Mosul, among other cities, in June of the same year.

However, 2015 has brought setbacks for the group, with Kurdish forces comprising mainly the Popular Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and the Peshmerga in Iraq, emerging as key opponents. A hard-fought four month battle for the city of Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border, culminated in victory for the YPG in January 2015 – though ISIS has maintained a presence nearby. In Iraq, the Peshmerga were able to dislodge ISIS from key areas around Mount Sinjar in December 2014. Furthermore, Iraqi security forces, aided by Shia militias supported by Iran, in March 2015 launched the first major government offensive against ISIS since June 2014, in Tikrit.

Regardless of these defeats, ISIS’ development since 2013 changed the nature of the group. It is no longer a mere terrorist group, but an army that can hold and administer territory. It governs according to harshly interpreted principles of Islamic law, including the imposition of dhimmi pacts on minorities – guaranteeing protection in exchange for the payment of a tax and the acceptance of second-class citizenship. Minorities, including Shia Muslims, have been subject to severe human rights abuses, including massacres and forced conversion, and the persecution of minorities in northern Iraq has been particularly brutal.

ISIS has also provoked shock and condemnation worldwide for its brutal execution of foreign journalists and humanitarian aid workers, as well as captured combatants from opposing forces. While the quality of its governance is questionable – a 2006 paper produced by the group stated that improving the quality of the people’s religion was more important than improving the quality of their lives – it can broadly coerce the consent of the people it governs.

Meanwhile, a further danger lies in the group’s appeal beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria. While other jihadi groups, both in these countries and elsewhere, seek to establish an Islamic caliphate, ISIS claims to be one. Baghdadi has declared himself “Caliph Ibrahim,” and goes by the title “Commander of the Faithful.” In the language of his speeches and in his titles, he lays claim to a form of authority from the earliest days of Islam. This combined with the supposedly just cause of the fight against Assad in Syria has proved to be a powerful draw to young Islamists across the world, spread by means of an adept use of social media, and slickly presented propaganda such as the monthly magazine Dabiq. Some of these recruits will eventually return to their homes, taking with them their experiences as members of the most brutal jihadi group in the conflict.

The danger is not limited to individuals attracted to ISIS’ flag. In November, Baghdadi demanded that all Islamist and jihadi movements across the world be dissolved or absorbed into his ‘caliphate’. Many groups have taken up the call. While some were previously unknown, others, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis in Egypt have long been prominent actors in their own countries’ conflicts.

In September 2014, an international coalition led by the US began a military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, supported by more than a dozen European and Arab states. Extensive airstrikes have supported the operations of Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces in making strategic gains.

A focus on ISIS should not underestimate the unpredictable nature of this conflict: sudden changes in fortune have been a hallmark of the Syrian civil war, and in Iraq the concerted action of Shia militias and the military – not to mention Iranian interests – may yet turn the tide. Moreover, as the development of ISIS shows, jihadi groups can fracture suddenly and dramatically.

However, ISIS is bolstered by state-of-the-art equipment seized from Iraqi bases and resources from oil fields in its territory; it’s also reported that ISIS has extensive assets. The Iraqi army also melted before them in June 2014. Because of these factors ISIS will not be defeated without a hard fight.

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050

Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population

The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050:

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
  • Four out of every ten Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

These are among the global religious trends highlighted in new demographic projections by the Pew Research Center. The projections take into account the current size and geographic distribution of the world’s major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion.

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The Truth Value and Interpretation of the Holy Bible

 

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read [The Apocalypse] and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy or capable of explanation than the incoherence of our own nightly dreams.

Thomas Jefferson (Third President of the United States, 1743-1826)

 

Background

 

This Blog is a modified excerpt from a book I wrote between 2005 and 2009, “titled—Trouble in Paradise: The Decline of Christianity in the 21st Century. For those of you who haven’t read this book, this Blog should provide information and facts that are central to the following question: How was the Holy Bible really created?

There are two ways people generally view the Holy Bible: (1) as the “Received View” based on faith, and (2) as the “Historical View” based on valid historical facts. True Christian believers tend to follow the Received View, while academics and religious scholars tend to support and accept the historical view. Both viewpoints attempt to see “Truth” as supporting their viewpoint. For the true believer facts are irrelevant, only faith and belief matters. For the academic or scholar, facts and data are the only things that matter. This conflicting difference between the two viewpoints automatically begs the question—what is truth?

What is Truth?

So what is truth anyway? Is my truth the same as your truth? Is truth absolute or is it variable, conditional, a product of culture, or depend entirely upon the interpretation of the word itself? Is truth only a matter of faith or are there empirical ways of getting at the truth? Well, it appears that truth is not absolute. Truth is, quite simply, what we agree it is (no more and no less). It is a matter of consensus that can change over time. Scientific truth operates in this conditional sense of everything being subject to change. So, why not any other “type” of truth?

Theologians, when discussing truth, would answer that everything has a cause and that cause is God. In their opening pages to their book, The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, the authors ask a thought provoking question in their own right. If everything has a cause (as theologians assert) then what caused God? Theologians, of course, don’t answer that question and can’t answer the question.

At one level these questions are asking for an answer that is logical, empirical and straightforward, based on reason and facts. Most of us lead lives that are rather pragmatic and ordinary where we tend to answer everyday questions using facts and reason. At another level some questions simply have an underlying dimension of value judgments. The answers to these value-laden, judgmental-type questions also tend to be value-laden, judgmental-type answers.

Answers are not facts or data but statements of value instead. For example, people on both sides of the abortion issue often ask and answer questions that are riddled with value judgments. Another example of a value judgment question (it must be remembered that many cherished beliefs are really cherished values) is–what is the purpose and meaning of one’s life? Since everyone presumably would have a different purpose in life, this question is really asking, “Does my life have value?” Science, of course, is unable to answer judgmental or value-laden questions such as meaning and purpose, including the ultimate value of one’s life. Theologians and ministers ask these types of value-laden questions and provide value-laden answers every day.

At times it is true that scientists also make value judgment statements about the value of research findings, and the delight and joy at making discoveries and unraveling the laws of the universe. People will mostly agree that there is value when science does succeed when cures are found for illness and new medicines are created in the laboratory.

However, that is where the similarity between science and religion ends. Knowledge and methodology separate physical science, medicine, and the social sciences from religion. While the physical sciences (chemistry, biology, physics and medicine) came on strong from the 17th century on, the social sciences of psychology and sociology made their strong entry and debut into the world of science, and scientific methods, during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Knowledge in medicine and the physical and social sciences are contained in books, articles, and academic journals. Such a body of knowledge goes back in time regarding the content of the material. In addition there are over 1500 formal academic journals published around the world each month. Each journal usually covers 10-12 articles on new research findings that have passed muster by a professional peer-review process.

Unlike the quality and quantity of authoritative serious knowledge created and reported upon by scientists today, religions rely almost exclusively on ancient documentation to support their belief systems.

In order to provide religious answers on meaning and purpose, special documentation was needed.  In Judaism, it is the Old Testament accepted as the Hebrew bible. In Christianity it is the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. In Islam it is the Koran. Scriptures are used to teach adherents and to serve as justification for a particular belief system.

This is only speculation, but perhaps the first writers of the Judaic and Christian gospels needed to “market” the material as–you guessed it–“The Word of God.” If God is the real author and architect of the Bible, He would be much better than some nondescript followers of Jesus. Ever wonder why there is so much debate as to who wrote this chapter or that chapter in the Bible?

One must remember that in the timeline for authorship in the Old Testament their mythological stories were created by men centuries before the New Testament. In order to garner support for the New Testament, someone among Jesus’ later adherents to the new religion came up with the bright idea that wouldn’t it be nice to hijack the scriptures of another religion and call it their own. If Judaism’s Old Testament were borrowed, wouldn’t that increase the probability that other non-Christian Jews might throw their support to the fledging Christian religion?

Interpretation of Scriptures

In Christianity one problem that surfaces is that the documentation provided is itself highly problematic and questionable as a source of any kind of authority in its own right. In the case of the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament, interpretation of scriptures is not a straightforward process. Far from it! Differences of opinion are everywhere from biblical experts, scholars, and from biblical archaeologists on the one hand, to practicing priests, ministers, and Christian schools on the other. In fact, even among believers there is great diversity of opinion as to whether scriptures hold any “truth value” for them.

One important reason scriptural interpretation is so varied is that the Bible itself is believed to have had many authors and many scribes to convey its content. Richard Dawkins has commented that, “The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘who wrote it, and when?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that colored their writing?’

Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were then copied and re-copied, through many Chinese Whispers generations by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas.” [1]

If one thinks that these differences are occurring only in the modern era, he or she is poorly informed. Before the orthodox only abbreviated viewpoint of Christian literature was assembled into what we call the Bible today, the rich tapestry of comprehensive writings on Christianity from many different sources were, for the most part, circulating throughout the ancient religious communities of the Middle East.

Diversity of Opinion in Early Christianity

 

There was no New Testament for early Christians. The books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the 2nd century but had not been gathered yet into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture.[2] The best way to determine if early Christians held differing opinions about Christ and Christianity is to know what their beliefs were and how they differed.

For example, according to Erdman, “The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood them to be followers of Jesus.”[3]  Erdman goes on to cite an impressive offering of different beliefs among early Christians of the second and third centuries. Among those Christians, some thought there was just one god, and others believed there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty and some even believed there were 365.[4]

There were Christians that thought God created the world; other Christians thought or believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?). Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.[5]

There were Christians in the second and third centuries who believed that the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. Others believed it was not inspired.[6]

“In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians that argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. (For them, divinity and humanity were incommensurate entities: God can no more be a man than a man can be a rock.) There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and- blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine. There were yet other Christians who claimed that Jesus Christ was two things: a full flesh-and-blood human, Jesus, and a fully divine Christ, who temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death, inspiring his teachings and miracles but avoiding the suffering in its aftermath.” [7]

Finally, there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. Others believed that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who said that Jesus never died.[8]

At the time the New Testament was written, the Gospels (written anonymously and later assigned the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were made a part of it. Other Gospel books (discussed later in this Blog) were becoming available as sacred texts, read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world.[9]

But all these other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses were viewed as heresy by the orthodox religious authorities of the day. As rich and as popular as these books were among early Christians, they were excluded from becoming part of the sacred scriptures or canon of Christianity. What eventually became the 27 books of the New Testament is only a subset of all Christian literature that was once available to all Christians.

At the root of the development of orthodox views only of Christianity–was politics, even in the ancient world. Holding a conservative orthodox view of Christianity today is, as it was in early Christianity, to see only one view of Christianity. Just because it’s a politically derived set of canonized scriptures doesn’t make it any more descriptive of the historical Jesus than if those who were branded the heretics of Christianity instead had succeeded in dominating the sacred texts of Christianity.

 

Modern Day Differences of Opinion

Despite the orthodoxy of winning the battle to control the scriptures of early Christianity, large differences today exist among the world religions and the many denominations within Christianity itself.

Any particular church’s doctrine may be at great variance, not only with other world religions and other denominations within Christianity, but with the very tomb of religious cannon itself that they promote as their source of authority–the Bible. There is wide variation of opinion regarding Christian doctrine espoused by skeptics, the general public, evangelicals, born-again Christians, notional Christians, agnostics and atheists, including differences by age, gender, and race.

Differences of opinion are the rule, not the exception, where the Bible is concerned. One group that has received a lot of media attention is known as the Jesus Seminar. This is a group of academic scholars who question the truth behind the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.

According to Lee Strobel, “The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith: the Jesus Seminar believes there’s a big gulf between the two. In its view the historical Jesus was a bright, witty, countercultural man who never claimed to be the Son of God, while the Jesus of faith is a cluster of feel-good ideas that help people live right but are ultimately based on wishful thinking.”[10]

One of the great apologists for Christianity was C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Many younger generations may more likely remember C.S. Lewis for his creative fictional work, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” C. S. Lewis was one of the great defenders of the Faith since his conversion to Christianity in 1931. There were many Christians at Oxford in the 1940s. Many, like Lewis, felt that both the pros and cons of the Christian religion should be discussed openly. This led to the foundation of the Socratic Club.[11] C.S. Lewis served as its president until 1954 when he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University, England.

Many scholars today probably would dismiss Lewis’ logic as nothing more than Socratic debate double-talk, or that his underlying assumptions about the relationship of natural to supernatural things or events made no sense at all. There was one statement in the Preface to Lewis’ book that did make a lot of sense. That is, Walter Hooper wrote, in the preface to Lewis’ book, God in the Dock, “Regardless of one’s education, it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.”[12] The methodology, of course, of knowing what something is about, should be based on observation, knowledge, and interpretation of the facts and assumptions made.

Interpretation of the Bible itself is made further difficult by the conflicts between various texts. There are texts within the New Testament that conflict with one another as well as conflict with those sacred texts that were rejected by the Orthodox Church. These rejected texts may have been more representative of who Jesus was and what Christianity was about than those texts that eventually became the “Orthodox view” of the Bible people read today.

For example Elaine Pagels reports in, Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas, “Christian mystics, like their Jewish and Muslim counterparts, have always been careful not to identify themselves with God. But the gospel of Thomas teaches that recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.”[13] Pagels goes on to say that, “Orthodox Jews and Christians, of course, have never wholly denied affinity between God and us. But their leaders have tended to discourage or, at least, to circumscribe the process through which people may seek God on their own. This may be why some people raised as Christians and Jews today are looking elsewhere to supplement what they have not found in Western tradition.”[14]

Where Does the Old Testament Come From?

It is important for people to understand that “the stories of the Bible evolved slowly over centuries before the existence of orthodox religions. Many belief cults spread stories and myths handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation long before people wrote them down. Many of the stories originally came from Egyptian and Sumerian cults.

All of these early religions practiced polytheism, including the early Hebrews. Some of the oldest records of the stories that later entered the Old Testament came from thousands of small cylinder seals depicting creation stories, excavated from the Mesopotamia period. These early artifacts and artworks (dated as early as 2500 B.C. E.) established the basis for the Garden of Eden stories at least a thousand years before it impacted Hebrew mythology.”[15]

How eventually were these stories written? It depended upon different languages. According to Martin Manser, “The two main original languages of the Bible were Hebrew and Greek. The Old Testament was mostly written in Aramaic. The entire New Testament was written in Greek, the language commonly spoken and written throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.”[16]

Today original writings of the Old Testament do not exist. What does exist are hundreds of fragments from copies that became the Old Testament. The original material of the Old Testament was handed down as mythological stories via oral tradition. When scribes got into the act of writing the Old Testament they began to use Cuneiform tablets, papyrus paper, leather etchings and the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.[17]

 The writers or scribes of the Old Testament, as mentioned wrote in classical Hebrew except for some portions written in Aramaic.[18]  “The traditional Hebrew scribes wrote the texts with consonants but the Rabbis later added vowels for verbal pronouncing…In the second century C.E., or even earlier, the Rabbis compiled a text from the manuscripts as had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E…This text incorporated the mistakes of generations of copyists, and in spite of the care bestowed on it, many errors of later copyists also found their way into it. The earliest surviving manuscripts of this text date from the ninth to eleventh centuries C.E. It comes mostly from these texts which religionists have used for the present Old Testament translations.”[19]

Where Does the New Testament Come From?

In a nutshell, “Scholars have long debated whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John actually penned the Gospels. Because John and Matthew were thought to be original disciples and Mark and Luke were companions of Paul, their names may have been used to add credibility to the account. Many scholars argue that the gospel writers were disciples of disciples or members of communities who were influenced by Paul or the disciples.”[20]

Pastor William R. Grimbol regards the Gospel writers as editors. According to Grimbol, “Although the primary sources for the story of Jesus are the Gospels, the Gospels are not firsthand accounts. The writers of these books were not reporters. The Gospels were recorded several decades after the events of the life of Christ. They were written from the perspective of looking back upon Christ’s life and forward in anticipation of his return. The Gospels were not your average history books. The gospel writers gathered many patches of oral tradition concerning the life of Jesus. Each gospel writer received several of the same patches, some that were slightly different, and a few that were unique. Each gospel writer then weaved these patches together with the thread of his personal faith standpoint.”[21]

There is great discontinuity in the bibles that were created. First, the material of the Bible came from many unknown authors spread over a great expanse of time. One thousand two hundred fifty years separates the beginning of the writings on the Old Testament to the end of such writings (1450 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.).[22]

It is believed that any New Testament writings didn’t begin to be written until more than 30 to 95 years after the death of Christ.[23] It is believed that Christ died in 30 C.E.[24]  “The Gospels cannot really be dated, nor are the real authors known. It is based on speculation that Mark was the first, written between 60 and 70 A.D., Matthew second, between 70 and 80 A.D., Luke (and Acts) third, between 80 and 90 A.D., and John last, between 90 and 100 A.D.”[25]  The Epistles were written by the Apostle Paul long before the first Gospels were created. These Epistles were written between 48 and 58 C.E.[26]

“All of the Gospels except John contain possible allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., and thus it is likely they were all written after that date.” [27]  Also, there appears nothing in Paul’s letters that either hints at the existence of the Gospels or even of a need for such memoirs of Jesus Christ.[28]

Some scholars believe that in 90 C.E. Old Testament books called, “The Writings,” were created as part of the Christian Canon. The Writings included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles.[29]

It is also reported that, “The oldest copy of the New Testament yet found consists of a tiny fragment from the Gospel of John. Scholars dated the little flakes of papyrus from the period style of its handwriting to around the first half of the 2nd Century C.E. The language of most of the New Testament consists of old Greek.”[30] In 150 C.E. two important events occurred: (1) the four Gospels were collected and put together, and (2) The School of Alexandria was founded in Egypt, quickly becoming a major center for both Christian Theology and Greek Philosophy.

What many Christians fail to understand is that, in addition to the four Gospels of the New Testament, there were many other texts created by the early Christian religion. But these texts were suppressed [These texts will be discussed in detail in the next section]. They were known as the Agnostic texts, and were very important to early Christianity.[31]

The first recorded use of the term “Christian” occurred at Antioch, Syria, home of one of the first Christian Churches.      

The backdrop of the path of how today’s Bible became what it is, is based on modifications over the last 2000 years. According to the history of the Dark Bible, “There has existed over a hundred different versions of the Bible, written in most of the languages of the time including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Some versions left out certain biblical stories and others added stories.

The completed versions of the Old and New Testaments probably got finished at around 200-300 C.E. although many disputed the authenticity of some books which later ended up as Apocrypha (un-canonical or of questionable authorship). For example, the book of Ecclesiastics appears in the Catholic Bible but not in Protestant versions.”[32]

A Bogus Christianity Based on an Incomplete Bible

 

On December 25th, 2005, and later during the spring of 2006, the History Channel presented an outstanding 2-hour world premiere documentary called, “Banned from the Bible.” The reader must understand that many Christian documents and gospels on Christ and Christianity may have been destroyed or lost during the last 2000 years. However, many gospels and related documents were not lost or destroyed. They were simply banned from the Bible. What makes the extant Bible the Word of God? Why wouldn’t the volumes of excluded documents also be the Word of God? And if so, who appointed whom to be the editor of God’s word? Could it be then that the existing bogus Bible really had nothing to do with giving voice to God’s word if men decided what was and was not the Word of God?

It is obvious to religious scholars that these books were in some way objectionable and threatening to the leaders of the orthodox Christian churches. Anything that did not meet with their approval was branded as heresy. Many of the books that were available as possible candidates for inclusion in the New Testament were, in fact, very popular with early Christians.

Like today early Christians hungered for any information about Christ. The extant Bible today is a bogus version representing the life of Christ in only an incomplete and limited way. Other Christian beliefs, such as those of the Agnostics never saw the light of day, even though many might argue better represented the true nature of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Interpretation and the derivation of meaning from any scriptures are patently unintelligible if the original sources of literary importance were excluded.

“One hundred and fifty years after the birth of Jesus, a man named Marcion decided that a Christian Bible was needed to replace the Hebrew Bible. Church leaders opposed Marcion’s banning of the Hebrew books, but they did agree that Christians should have a Bible of their own.

After Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in the 4th century, a serious effort was made to compile a Christian Bible, one that included both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and Christian manuscripts (the New Testament). It took another 40 years before a final list of New Testament books was officially canonized by the church. Many of the most popular were excluded. Upon examination today, many of these writings attempt to resolve inconsistencies and questions raised from reading the bible.”[33]

As pointed out, more gospels and documents were left out than were included. To say that the Bible is the word of God is to miss the mark in a big way. The Bible was the political creation of conservative, Orthodox Church leaders in the 4th century that determined what was included, and what wasn’t included in the Bible.

It is interesting to note in Bart D. Ehrman’s book, Lost Christianities when he points out, “It is striking that, for centuries, virtually everyone who studied the history of early Christianity simply accepted the version of the early conflicts written by the orthodox victors. This all began to change in a significant way in the nineteenth century as some scholars began to question the ‘objectivity’ of such early Christian writers as the fourth-century orthodox author Eusebius, the so-called Father of Church History, who reproduced for us the earliest account of the conflict. This initial query into Eusebius’s accuracy eventually became, in some circles, a virtual onslaught on his character, as twentieth-century scholars began to subject his work to an ideological critique that exposed his biases and their role in his presentation. The reevaluation of Eusebius was prompted, in part, by the discovery of additional ancient books, uncovered by trained archaeologists looking for them and by Bedouin, who came across them by chance, other gospels, for examples, that also claimed to be written in the names of apostles.”[34]

Banned Sacred Texts

 

A short synopsis of some of the banned sacred texts follows. Each of the books was excluded from the canons of Christianity:

  • The Life of Adam and Eve: A more detailed story of creation than what is found in Genesis, this book  includes jealous angels, a more devious serpent, and more information      about Eve’s fall from grace from her point of view.[35]
  • The Book of Jubilees: This obscure Hebrew text offers an answer to a question that has vexed Christians for centuries – if Adam and Eve only had sons and if no other humans existed,  who gave birth to humanity? This text reveals that Adam and Eve had nine children and that Cain’s younger sister Awan became his wife. The idea that humanity was born of incest would have been radical – and heretical.[36]
  • The Book of Enoch: This scripture reads like a modern day action film, telling of fallen angels, bloodthirsty giants, an earth that had become home to an increasingly flawed humanity and a divine judgment to be rendered. Though denied a place in most Western Bibles it has been used for centuries by Ethiopian Christians. Large portions of this book were found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.[37]
  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: The only book that deals with young Jesus, it indicates that Jesus was a strong-willed child who one historian describes as “Dennis the Menace as      God.” The book reveals that at age five, Jesus may have killed a boy by pushing him off a roof and then resurrected him. Perhaps too disturbing for inclusion in the Bible, this book seems to contain traditions, also known to the Koran.[38]
  • The Protovangelion of James: This book offers details of the life of the Virgin Mary, her parents, her birth and her youth; stories not found in the New Testament Gospels but was      beloved by many early Christians.
  • The Gospel of Mary: This Agnostic Text reveals that Mary Magdalene may have been an apostle, perhaps even a leading apostle, not a prostitute. While some texts in the Bible seem to deny women a voice in the Christian community, this text helps spark the debate about the role of women in the church.[39]
  • The Gospel of Nicodemus: This is the story of Jesus’ trial and execution and descent into hell. According to this gospel, the Savior asserts his power over Satan by freeing      patriarchs such as Adam, Isaiah and Abraham from Hell.[40]
  • The Apocalypse of Peter: Peter’s apocalypse suggests that there is a way out of punishment for evildoers and implies that the threat of the apocalypse is a way for God to scare      people into living a moral life, and committing fewer sins.[41]

“These books are just a sampling of the hundreds that were never included in the Holy Bible. Perhaps there are more to be found. Whether one believes these alternative stories or not, they do provide an interesting perspective of the religious culture and propensities of the time.”[42]

On April 7, 2006 a bombshell rocked the world of modern day Christianity. Another book that had never made its way into the “official Bible” was discovered and found to be, through carbon dating, authentic. After 1700 years The Gospel of Judas was rediscovered. “Judas Iscariot, long reviled as history’s quintessential betrayer, was actually the best friend of Jesus and turned him over to authorities only because Jesus asked him to, according to the Gospel of Judas.”[43] The long-lost document was revealed by the National Geographic Society. The document is considered by some to be the most important archaeological find in the last 60 years. It “purports to record conversations between Jesus and Judas in the last week of their lives–conversations in which Jesus shared religious secrets not known by the other disciples.”[44]

This particular gospel, like many others above, was ruled heretical by early church leaders because of its disagreement with the conventionally accepted Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. According to Thomas H. Maugh II, writer for the Los Angeles Times, “Biblical scholars, however, hailed the new text because of the insight it will provide into the exceptionally turbulent period when competing ideologies sought to stake their own claims to the Jesus story, battling in oral stories and written texts until a single, faction eventually won out.”[45]

This writer’s article, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee, also reported that, “Scholars said the 26-page document was written on 13 sheets of papyrus leaf in ancient Egyptian, or Coptic, and was bound as a book, known as a codex. It is one of dozens of sacred texts from the Christian Gnostics, who believed that salvation came through secret knowledge conveyed by Jesus.”[46]

 

The Great Problem of Biblical Interpretation

One of the greatest problems for Christian believers and non-believers alike is interpretation of biblical scriptures. Historically, this is shown and demonstrated by the plethora of major denominations and splinter groups in the Protestant movement alone. Different groups reflect different perspectives on Christian practice, theology, and the underlying meaning of scripture. All of this is aside from the many religions worldwide that have very different systems of belief from Christianity.

Fundamentalists in Christianity are more likely to believe in a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Bible. What exactly is a literal interpretation?

According to Donald K. Campbell, “when we interpret the Bible literally we interpret its words and sentences in their natural, normal, and usual sense.”[47] He quotes Merrill F. Unger as saying the literal method is “the method which seeks to arrive at the precise meaning of the language of each of the Bible writers as is required by the laws of grammar and the facts of history.”[48] At the heart of this approach is to derive ‘meaning’ from the scriptures.

The literal method does not preclude figures of speech such as symbols, allegories, metaphors, and similes.[49] The literal method recognizes that sometimes poetical and allegorical language is used to support a literal meaning of the Bible.[50] Natural meaning, rather than literal words, per se, is secondary to natural meaning that provides context to underlying biblical truth.

Campbell further asserts that the more important principles of literal interpretation of the Bible include: (1) grammatical interpretation, (2) contextual interpretation, and (3) passages in the Bible have one meaning that should be determined prior to any moral application of the passage.[51]

However, A.R. Bernard, Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn New York, says “interpretation of the bible is more than literal.” That is, he describes the interpretation of the Bible as literal, figurative, and symbolic.[52] According to Campbell and Bell, coming to agreement about what the Bible means has been quite a difficult task.[53] Both authors attribute difficulty to three factors: (1) a changing culture, (2) different and changing religions, and (3) different ways of understanding sacred writing. Within the Christian faith alone there is a plethora of opinions on what scriptures mean.[54]

Whether something is told as a parable or that appears to be hyperbole, the words themselves always need to have their meaning deciphered. Campbell and Bell generally agreed (also an opinion) that the Bible provides God’s truth for our lives, but how to interpret that truth is another matter. These authors also say, “One reason you need to check out the bible on your own, rather than limiting your knowledge to what we tell you, is that people vary in their opinion of what is to be taken literally and what is figurative or symbolic.”[55]

According to Christian scriptures, only God possesses absolute truth, not man. However, it is still man who must interpret scriptures. If this were not so there wouldn’t be so many religions and so many different denominations within Christianity itself. “We all tend to draw those lines in different places, and it’s no simple matter to say that one person is right and another wrong.”[56]How right one is ought to follow some degree of logic and reason, two things fundamentalists reject, ironically, even when defending their own positions.

Unfortunately, there are extremes in how scripture is interpreted. Some splinter Christian groups use snakes in their services, and others employ mentally unbalanced oppressive interpretations of God and scripture. Such was the case with charismatic leaders David Koresh of the Branch Dravidians, and Jim Jones of Jonestown.

Freedom of religion is a key freedom in every democracy; but to be really free democracy requires that there also be freedom from religion. Problems of interpreting the morality underlying many stories in the Bible are very significant. Seeing the Bible as a source for moral conduct is not only problematic, but downright immoral.

Using the Bible as any source for moral conduct is not only highly misplaced judgment, but highly dangerous in its implications. Problems of moral interpretation of the Bible reach far beyond the difficulties individuals have with ordinary contradictions and nonsensical or bizarre statements found in the Bible. There are more moral contradictions in the Bible than there are speeders on the nation’s freeways. Rather than address all of them I will concentrate on just a few.

Is God A Loving God or a Murderous Thug? You Decide.

In the Bible, many people, including children, are slaughtered. Does God want children to die as some sort of whim? In Matt 18:14. It reads, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” One might conclude from this passage that God doesn’t want any children to die. However, he often kills children and commands others to do so as well. In Gen.7: 21-22. God drowns all children (except for Noah’s) in a worldwide flood. In Gen.19:24. God kills all of the children of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Gen. 22:2. God tells Abraham to kill his son for a burnt offering. Gee, what a loving God!

One must remember that fundamentalists believe in a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. If one does take a literal view, as fundamentalists tell us we should when reading and interpreting the Bible, one certainly can’t simultaneously take a symbolic or metaphorical interpretation just to be able to deny the acts of violence and mass murder committed by a monotheistic God. Fundamentalists must also accept these acts of murder as the will of God.

In Exodus 21:15; Lev. 20:9 and Deut.21: 18-21. The word of God says, “Children who are disobedient, or who curse or strike their parents are to be killed. In 1 Samuel 15: 2-3. God orders Saul to kill all of the Amalekite children, and in 2 Samuel 12: 15, 18, and 20, to punish David for having Uriah killed, God kills David’s newborn son. In Deut. 20:16. and Joshua 10:40. God orders the Israelites to kill everyone including the children in the cities that they invaded.

Another area of interest is modern day Christian writers. One of the most influential contemporary religious writers is Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel has written several books on Christianity including The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, and The Case for the Creator. In the Case for Faith, as in his other books, he takes the approach of stating objections to Christianity as a kind of intellectually presented “straw man.”

His Objection # 4 (in The Case for Faith) is “God Isn’t Worthy of Worship If He Kills Innocent Children.”[57] Next in the process he conducts interviews of key religious scholars or academic theologians for their answers.

On the surface this appears to be straightforward and objective. One of his interviews was with a religious expert, Norman L. Geisler. In one example, God orders genocide by telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 to totally destroy the Canaanites and six other nations and to show them no mercy. “God orders the execution of every Egyptian firstborn; He flooded the world and killed untold thousands of people; He told the Israelites to now go attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children, and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[58]

Strobel asked a question, “How can people be expected to worship Him if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered? Geisler’s answer was some odd statement about how evil the Amalekites had been, and God’s motive for committing murder. Strobel again asks the question by pressing him, “Why Did Innocent children need to be killed?” Geisler’s answer then took off in the direction of the totally bizarre. He said “that technically nobody is truly innocent because we’re all born in sin.”[59] Here the Christian concept of Original Sin is invoked again.

This ascribed status for all human beings (rather than judgment based on earned status) of being born in sin is presumably one of God’s justifications for murdering children. Classifying children as full of sin is similar to what often happens to victims of violent crime in the criminal justice system in modern day society. That is, the victim is blamed for the acts of the criminal. For example, “She had it coming to her. She got raped because she lured me.” Blaming the victim is to misplace responsibility for the acts of the offender. When children are blamed through some religiously simplistic explanation of original sin, it only reinforces the non-believers perception that people within Christianity are at best, misguided, or at worst, really stupid.

The Key to Salvation: Faith or Good Works?

One of the key doctrines of Christianity is salvation. Some believers of the faith believe salvation is by faith alone. What the Bible says is pure unadulterated contradiction. In Mark16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”[60]

It is said in Acts 16:30-31., “Sirs what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved–you and your household.”[61] However, in Psalm 62:12. “For you render to each according to his works,” and in Jer.17: 10. “I the Lord…give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruits of his doing,”[62]and in Matt. 16: 27. “For the Son of Man will come in his glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to his works.”[63]And in addition there is James 2:17. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, it is dead.”[64]

Contradictions in scripture are one reason why we have some Christian denominations telling their members that salvation is based on faith alone, while other denominations are preaching salvation by works alone, and others may be saying you can’t have one without the other. This emphasis on salvation, either way or both, probably varies from church to church.

An Approach to Overcoming Conflict with Biblical Interpretation

One of the directions in the twenty-first century is toward theistic evolution. This is an effort on the part of some scientists and theologians to bridge the gap between science and religion. Despite the long standing conflict between the two approaches to knowledge and the seeking of “Truth,” there may be a middle ground. Not everyone agrees that there can be a middle ground.

If religion, and in particular Christianity, wants to extricate itself from its losing position in the world today, it will have to take a more reasoned approach (albeit scientific methodology) and play by a different set of rules. In all likelihood this repositioning of the rules of the game will be easier for mainline Protestant groups, already many of whom have no quarrel with science or scientists.

Theologians and fundamentalists who pay lip service to wanting to bridge the gap need to remember the words of Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson in The Dead Pool, “If you want to play in the game love, you better know what the rules are.”[65]

That means take nothing in religion on faith. Test everything according to the rules of scientific inquiry. In other words prove whatever claims are made. Let the chips fall where they may. Let there be no straw men in such testing, but rather the testing of genuine real hypotheses about biblical scripture.

Even if science isn’t brought to bear in the field of religion and theology, it is very likely that conservative fundamentalists, evangelicals, and others who demand a literal translation of biblical scriptures, will continue to experience a losing uphill battle. This is their propensity to view religious dogma in “absolute” terms. This entrenched position, of course, not only flies in the face of, not just scientific knowledge that contradicts scripture, but competition from other major religions and challenges from other denominations within Christianity itself.

In addition, there is absolute widespread ignorance among most Christian church-goers in the United States on the very history of Christianity itself. There is a need to improve the education of Christians themselves. Instead of teaching Christianity from a doctrinal point of view (and doctrine is the “psycho-babble of religion”), churchgoers would be better off initially if they endeavored to learn the actual history of their own religion. Because of this need, education needs to be more detailed as to all of the decision-making points in Christianity.

How the Bible was put together in the first place, and how theological issues were decided at various points in Christian history had a tremendous bearing on what finally came forward from the 4th century on as to the “accepted” content of the Bible Christians use today. Much needs to be learned about 4th Century activities that changed Christianity.

Many questions need to be evaluated and discussed. Why did early Christians high-jack the Torah, the first five books of the Bible from Judaism? Where did the idea of the Trinity come from (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)? What was the conflict of Christ’s status as either man or God, or both, and why wasn’t it officially decided until 325 C.E?

While answers to these questions are available in the academic literature on Christianity, very few church-goers have an interest in developing a deeper understanding of the very religion they lay claim to believe in. Some believers want to maintain a comfort zone of belief independent of any effort to learn the facts of the very religion they believe in. The notion of justification of beliefs and faith was covered in my book, Trouble in Paradise: The Decline of Christianity in the 21st Century. The specific chapter was Chapter XI , Religious Beliefs versus Rationality.

Despite the sometimes antagonistic relationship between science and religion, it must be remembered that some scientists, namely biblical archaeologists, have contributed a great deal toward our understanding of the ancient world of the Middle East. Biblical Archaeology, however, has never been able to affirm the divinity of Christ, his miracles, or even his character. What it has been able to do is connect many of the locations and identify (through artifacts) many of the events, individuals and empires described in the Bible.

 

 


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Boston: (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 92-93.

[2] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities—The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3

[3] Ibid., 2

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 3

[10] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 124

[11] C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 8

[12] Ibid., 9

[13] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief—The Secret Gospel of Thomas, (New York: Random House, 2003), 75

[14] Ibid.

[15] The Dark Bible: A Short History of the Bible  n.d. [online]; accessed 5 Sept. 2005; available from  http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible2.htm

[16] Martin Manser, Bible Stories, (Bath, UK: Miles Kelly Publishing, Ltd., 2000), 8

[17] The Dark Bible.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Pastor William R. Grimbol, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Life of Christ, (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2001), 7

[21] Ibid.

[22] The Dark Bible.

[23] These dates are a matter of conjecture. No one knows for sure when they were written.

[24] Richard Carrier, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000)” [online]; accessed 10 Apr. 2006; available from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Individual books of the Writings occurred much earlier. They were not put together into a collection until 90 C.E.

[30] The Dark Bible

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Banned From the Bible: The Stories That Were Deleted From Biblical History,  25 Dec. 2005 [online]; accessed 19 Mar. 2006; available from http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?Acct=10466story=/www/story/12-19-2003/00

[34] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, (New   York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003), 5

[35] Banned From the Bible.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times “Long Lost Document Casts Judas in new light,” in The Sacramento Bee7 Apr. 2006, A1

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid, A12

[46] Ibid.

[47] Donald K. Campbell, “We believe in literal interpretation,” Pamphlet (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), 4

[48] Ibid, 5

[49] Ibid, 7

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid, 13-17

[52] This quote was obtained while watching A.R. Bernard’s television show during the fall of 2004.

[53] Jim Bell and Stan Campbell, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, (New York: Alpha Books, A Simon & Shuster Macmillan Company, 1999), 15

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid, 17

[56] Ibid.

[57] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith , (Grand   Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 113

[58] Ibid, 118

[59] Ibid, 119

[60] “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,” [online]; accessed 16 Mar. 2005; available from  http://www.skepticsannotated bible.com/contra/faithalone.html.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Clint Eastwood, The Dead Pool, 1988 VHS Tape, A Malpaso Production (15189), 1997 WarnerHome Video.

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Placing Value on Life:

 Case in Point—The Never-ending Abortion Issue

 

     Abortion is one of the most troubling and hotly debated issues of our time. Weighing the social value of life is at the heart of the abortion issue. It remains a permanent fixture of our social landscape because of its unending cultural conflict created by values, politics, and science. The reason for this is that abortion is so intimately intertwined with the social definition of life. Yet, despite the fact many people believe life begins at conception, it is ironic that all life itself is not universally valued. The one underlying universal in all this seems to be that social context (value judgments rendered in different social situations) dictates the relative value placed on life.

Why isn’t life universally valued? Because it all depends upon the differing social contexts related to life itself. Even those who view life as beginning at conception think contextually. This occurs when the life of the mother is at stake, or conception is due to rape or incest. Even with abortion, there is no unconditional universal value placed on all life.

The Value of Life in Different Social Settings

Many issues today have to do with the value that is placed on life in different social settings. Life issues include: abortion, the death penalty, suicide and the right-to-die among the terminally ill, slaughtering animal species so humans can eat and using animals in medical research, stem cell research with human embryos, and killing of enemy combatants during wartime. Lastly, there is murder. In 2010, there were 12,996  murders in the United States.

It is important to know that the value placed on life has always been dictated by social context. That is, conservatives overwhelmingly tend to support the death penalty and willingness for the state to take a human life, yet form the major support group against abortion. Liberals tend to support a ban or moratorium on the death penalty, yet often do not have a problem terminating the life of the unborn. Liberals tend to accept the right to die claims of the terminally ill, and conservatives and the Catholic Church generally see it as wrong or sinful. Both liberals and conservatives buy meat or fish at their local corner grocery store and both have no problem terminating life in the animal kingdom. Both liberals and conservatives serving in a war zone are, if necessary, willing to take the life of an enemy combatant. Even John Q. Citizen will take life in dire situations to protect family members or oneself when threatened.

Any one of the above issues can be explored in more detail as it relates to valuing life. But let’s get back to abortion and social context.

 The Issue

The crux of the abortion issue seems to come down to two opposing sides. They include, “a woman’s right to choose” fostered by liberals and woman’s groups, versus “a right to life” fostered by conservatives and Right-to-Life groups. One of the long-standing groups against abortion has been the Catholic Church. However, many Catholics worldwide, and others, want to overturn the Catholic Church’s long-standing ban on abortion. Abortion nevertheless violates one of the Church’s basic tenets—belief in the sanctity of life. This long-standing stance of the Catholic Church is an appeal to faith, particularly faith in the righteousness of the Church’s position taken.

Regardless of what side one politically comes down on regarding abortion , Right-to-Life groups do have scientific support with their definition of life. And, the best definition of life is a scientific one. That scientific support is more about what constitutes a “life form” than it is as to the precise moment life occurs.   The biological definition of a “life form” is very consistent with the social definition of human life as espoused by Right-to-Life groups.

In the 1940s and 1950s a common social definition of life was life begins at conception. According to scientists six characteristics define what a “life form” is. Not everyone agrees on a social definition of life but there are generally accepted biological manifestations that life exhibits the following phenomena: Organization, Metabolism, Growth, Adaptation, Response to Stimuli, and Reproduction. All six characteristics are required for a population to be considered a life form. Fetuses, in the earliest of their development, manifest all six characteristics.

So why is there such social conflict over the issue of abortion? If biologists have given us a definition of life that is correct, then why is our social definition of life since the 1940s and 1950s so out of whack now? The answer appears to be political, not scientific or data-driven. It’s all about changing social underlying values that often masquerade in political debates as objective argumentation.

The Politics of Abortion

     One of the very strongest forces that contextualizes abortion and other issues where the value of life is concerned, is politics. At the heart of all politics is value judgment. A Women’s right to choose is more than a slogan. Feminists and abortion rights groups reject any political proposals that would seek to protect the unborn. Right-to-Life groups are likewise very political in supporting efforts by Republicans in Congress who put forth anti-abortion legislation.

What makes the abortion issue so beguiling is that the only perceived way groups can assure the rights of their own group is by denying the rights of opposing groups. This entrenchment on both sides of the issue implies that logic and reason are the enemies of both sides; values and value judgment dominate the political debate over abortion. Not surprisingly the biological definition of life carries very little weight in the political debate over abortion. Those for and against abortion prefer to use their own definition of when life begins. It is unfortunately a debate where definition of when life begins continues to produce great division among the public.

     It is for these reasons that the issue of abortion is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. It is very unfortunate that life under all circumstances is not universally valued. But all of these differing social contexts that is our present day reality worldwide, would all fade into dust  if the world ever chooses to engage in war with atomic bombs.

      May that day—never come!  But if that day does arrive, two things are very clear. One, we will no longer have a need to debate whether life begins at conception or birth. And two, on that day, society may finally unconditionally value and appreciate all lifeas it witnesses humanity meet its end in death through a self-inflicted worldwide suicide known as a nuclear annihilation.

 

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This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religions in it.

John Adams (Second President of the United States, 1735-1826)

In Part III of Religious Beliefs in America I report on what I consider to be the most important aspect of this series—Why People Believe.  Also, I do repeat my explanation from Part I regarding the work of Erich Fromm. Of critical importance to understanding religious beliefs is to first understand it’s psychological basis. 

Although many people filling out questionnaires or responding to telephone surveys say that they believe in God or various aspects of Christianity, very little is known as to why. Is it because of how one is raised and where? Is it simply a matter of geography? Is it because of emotional needs? Or is it all a failure to take responsibility for one’s life? Or is it out of fear and concern for the death we will all face one day and what, if anything, follows that? Or is belief in God deep rooted in the desire of the “ego” to protect the “self” at all costs, including the cost of giving up intellectual honesty?

 Aside from the issue of why people believe, or don’t believe, we also know very little about the degree, bond, or commitment individuals have to their beliefs. Are their beliefs casual and transitory? Do they change every time the wind blows, or are one’s beliefs constant and enduring? For now I will look at the reasons people believe in hopes of generally answering the question, “why” people believe.

Paul Kurtz has identified possible explanations as to why people believe “such as the need for identity, the quest for community, the role of indoctrination, the power of tradition, and ethnicity.”[1] However, he focused on two other explanations. He believes that the first explanation as to why do people believe is that believers have not been exposed to the factual critiques of their faith. These critiques apply to the cognitive basis of their belief and were alternative explanations of the alleged phenomena. This would appeal only to some people who were committed to inquiry but that also many people would use rationalization to intervene to rescue their faith.[2]

Kurtz also provided a second explanation. Accordingly, there are non-cognitive tendencies and impulses that temp believers to accept the unbelievable. He feels the disposition to believe, in spite of insufficient or contrary evidence, has deep roots in our biological and social nature.[3]

Most of us in our daily lives try to exercise common sense and reason as we cope with the many problems of everyday life. Kurtz also asserts that people do exercise common sense, and are cognitive in liberating us from false ideas in everyday life. We constantly, in everyday activities, use reason to refute unwarranted beliefs. However, he describes what he calls a “class of over-beliefs” for which no amount of evidence seems to suffice; at least for some people.[4]

Over-beliefs have a special name; they are known as “transcendental beliefs.” It is with these types of beliefs that faith, or will to believe, intervenes. “Transcendental beliefs are not verifiable and lie beyond normal observation. It is outside rational coherence and is enhanced by mystery and magic.”[5]

Kurtz believes many people accept unverified occult explanations when they are clothed in religious, supernatural, or paranormal guise.[6] Why do people believe in such things? He felt the answer lies in part because such accounts arouse awe and entice the passionate imagination. He labeled this, “the transcendental temptation”–the temptation to believe in things unseen because they satisfy inner needs and desires. More will be said of this last statement when the work of Eric Hoffer is reviewed.

All of us can find many reasons in our lives for things that seem, temporarily or otherwise–events, actions, or objects–that can overwhelm us. If one lives long enough we all encounter such things that make us afraid, to fear the known as well as the unknown. The transcendental temptation that Kurtz describes makes sense. It is a coping mechanism that helps one deal with calamity, disaster, pain, suffering, grief, sorrow, and even death all around us, and all the trials and tribulation of everyday living.

 Said another way, perhaps supernatural belief systems are the hopes and rationalizations we all use to protect ourselves in the face of personal hardship, difficulties, and sometimes tragedy. The transcendental belief is a lure (and fans the flame of unreality) which has the power to make otherwise intelligent people submit to it. It is a delusional characteristic that in other circles might be described as “mental illness.” As Kurtz reports, “It is the mystery and magic of religion, its incantations and rituals, that form the passions of over-belief, and nourish illusion and unreality.”[7]

 It is fair to say that when one person has a delusion, it is called mental illness; when millions of people have a delusion it is called religion. [I highly and enthusiastically recommend people read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins]. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins makes the same point I do about mental illness and religious beliefs. According to Dawkins, “You say you’ve experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn’t impress you. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, directly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction). Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people’s heads. We humor them but don’t take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them. Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous.”8

 Can you imagine what it must have been like for primitive peoples, long before science provided explanations for thunder, lightening, fire and floods? Earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and tornadoes all demonstrated terrifying power. Such natural power must have scared the living daylights out of ancient and primitive people and tribes. How easy it must have been to concoct explanations of unseen gods (The Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were masters of such concoctions) and other things that go bump in the night.[8]

 Humans tend to corrupt their vision of reality in order to survive in a world they cannot fully understand.[9] Modern man finds his troubles no less daunting than primitive man. The fact that he now has so many competing explanations may increase modern man’s desire to escape the very freedom he works so hard to achieve. This is certainly the case as revealed by one of the seminal writers of the 1940s, Erich Fromm.

In Escape from Freedom he writes that man strives for independence and individuality, in essence to be free. History shows that freedom from external domination. According to Fromm, “The history of economic liberation, political democracy, religious autonomy, and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom, and at the same time seemed to bring mankind closer to its realization. One tie after another was severed. Man had overcome the domination of nature and had made himself her master; he had overcome the church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed to be a necessary but also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual.”[10]

But Fromm wondered why it was, despite the long history of wars and fighting to achieve freedom, people (like in Italy and Germany during World War II) were so willing to give up their freedom so easily to a charismatic leader or dictator. He concluded that people tend to want to escape from freedom and that this process is very much psychological. Freedom, while very welcome on the one hand, nevertheless presents the individual with too many choices he must confront in his life. A few can handle this freedom. Many cannot.

The reaction to such choice is often aloneness, isolation, and a desire to escape such freedom. Often the form that it takes is to submit oneself to a higher authority, a religion, or a charismatic leader. If aloneness is the price of individuality, “impulses arise to give up one’s individuality, to overcome the feeling of aloneness and powerlessness by completely submerging oneself in the world outside.”[11] As one submits, one realizes that the price it pays is giving up strength and the integrity of the self. Once again, according to Fromm, “This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, is rooted in, a structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst of all pains–complete aloneness and doubt.”[12]

 Christianity is a mass movement and, as such, provides a level of analysis as to why mass movements are found to be so attractive to the individual. One of the most fertile minds of the 20th Century was that of the late longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer (The True Believer, 1951; The Passionate State of Mind, 1955; The Ordeal of Change, 1963; and The Temper of Our Times, 1967–among others).[13]

In the True Believer he answers the question: Who is the True Believer? According to Hoffer, “he is a guilt-ridden hitchhiker who thumbs a ride on every cause from Christianity to Communism. He’s a fanatic, needing a Stalin (or a Christ) to worship and die for. He’s the mortal enemy of things-as-they-are, and insists on sacrificing himself for a dream impossible to attain (like a heaven and eternal bliss or happiness). He is today everywhere on the march.”[14] [Just consider for a moment the religious right].

 This more aggregate sociological look at what motivates people to become a true believer for some mass movement, ironically perhaps, leads one to the psychological basis for such belief in a cause. While there are vast differences between various mass movements as to purposes and doctrine, they nevertheless share common characteristics such as uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and of self-sacrifice.[15]

 The working hypothesis found in Hoffer’s work on the True Believer is that during the active, revivalist phase of mass movements, the phase is dominated by the true believer–the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause. According to Hoffer the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and they tend to join of their own accord.[16]

 “A mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bettering and advancing a cherished self…Their innermost craving is for a new life–a rebirth or, failing this, a hope, a sense of purpose and worth by identification with a holy cause.”[17]

Hoffer was able to show what seems to connect an ardent follower of a mass movement and his psychological characteristics. For Hoffer, “faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves…The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause…The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life, we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”[18]

The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was a convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist. According to Peter Gay, “In the manner of the eighteenth Philosophes, he argued that religion and science are mortal enemies and that every attempt at bridging the gap between them is bound to be futile…By 1907, when he published Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices, in which he dwelt on the profound affinities between the ceremonies of obsessive neurotics and the ceremonies of religious believers, he had already told Jung proudly that he had got to the heart of religion: it was founded in the child’s sense of helplessness.”[19]

 For Freud man is always in conflict with his culture because of instinctual drives that are suppressed. But in order to deal with dangers outside such as nature, civilization serves a role of defending against nature. Nature never lets man control her through earthquakes, fires, floods, storms, and painfully the riddle of death against which no medicine has been found, nor ever will be. Civilization fights these forces of nature. In addition to nature and the hardship of life, civilization in turn, while being protective through communal action, nevertheless imposes privation on man and other men bring him a measure of suffering, either in spite of precepts of his civilization or because of its imperfections.[20]

Why People Believe in God

The Skeptics Society surveyed two populations for their beliefs (or disbeliefs) in God. In 1995 a survey was conducted among members of this society.[21]  A majority of members were scientists or professionals who were very well educated with a fifth who had a Ph.D. and three quarters who were college graduates. The results were surprising.

Over a third (35 percent) thought it “very likely” or “possible” that there is a God.  Sixty-seven percent said, “Not very likely,” “Very Unlikely,” or “Definitely Not.” Interestingly some 77 percent said they believe religion is “always” or “sometimes” a force for morality and social stability. According to those conducting the survey, while the majority of skeptics and scientists did not believe in God, a surprisingly large minority did.[22]

The question was why does anyone believe in God? These authors reported that a partial answer is based on how our brains and genes are wired. Some scientists believe that genes account for 50 percent of the beliefs in religiosity. However, that still leaves the environment to play a major role as well.[23]

A follow-up survey was conducted by members of the Skeptics Society as to family background, religious beliefs, reasons for belief or disbeliefs, and an essay question asking why people believe (or disbelieve), and why they think other people believe.[24] Some 1,700 responded to the survey, 78 percent men and 22 percent women, with an average age of 49. The following are the results of the survey for the question, why do you believe in God:

Why Skeptics Believe in God

Arguments based on good design/natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe. (29 percent)

  • Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives purpose and meaning to life. (21.3 percent)
  • The experience of God in everyday life / a feeling that God is in us. (14.4 percent)
  • Just because /faith / or need to believe in something. (11.4 percent)
  • Without God there would be no reality. (6.4 percent) [25]

 Why Skeptics Think Other People Believe in God

 Belief in God is comforting / relieving /consoling / and gives meaning and purpose to life. (21.5 percent)

  • The need to believe in an afterlife / the fear of death and the unknown. (17.8 percent)
  • Lack of exposure to science / lack of education / ignorance. (13.5 percent)
  • Raised to believe in God (11.5 percent)
  • Arguments based on good design/ natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe (8.8 percent) [26]

 Why Skeptics Do Not Believe in God

 There is no proof for God’s existence. (37.9 percent)

  • There is no need to believe in God. (13.2 percent)
  • It is absurd to believe in God. (12.1 percent)
  • God is unknowable. (8.3 percent)
  • Science provides all the answers we need (8.3 percent)[27]

 The other survey pertained to the general population. Survey of the general population resulted in 1,000 responses.[28] Average age of respondent was 42. Sixty-two percent of respondents were men and 38 percent were women.

The results were different. A belief in God amounted to 18 percent among the skeptics sample, but 64 percent in the general survey. When they looked at why people believe or do not believe they found that the three strongest predictors supporting religiosity, and belief in God, were being raised religiously, gender (more women are religious than men), and parent’s religiosity.[29]

The three strongest predictors of lower religiosity and disbelief in God are education, age, and parental conflict. In other words being male, educated, and older tends to make people less religious, while being female, possessing less education, and raised by religious parents makes one more religious. The researchers reported that socioeconomic status had no direct influence on beliefs, but political beliefs did. Conservatives were found to be more religious and liberals less so.[30]

“David Wulff, summarizing a sizeable body of literature on the subject, reported that ‘measuring piety’ as a function of religious affiliation, church attendance, doctrinal orthodoxy, and self-rated importance of religion, researchers consistently found positive correlation with ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, social distance, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and specific forms of prejudice, especially against Jews and Blacks. That is to say, greater religiosity was associated with higher scores for these personality traits–traits that are the very antithesis of political liberalism.”[31]

Another way people believe in God (or don’t believe) is related to sociobiology. According to Morton Hunt, “Sociobiology holds that a certain part of human behavior is based on our biology–specifically, by gene-directed tendencies developed in us by evolution…complex interactions among numerous genes give us the capacity and inclination to develop into people who are either more or less violent, more or less altruistic, monogamous or polygamous, Muslim or Catholic, or whatever–depending on how our upbringing, experience, and the myriad of influences on us of the culture we are immersed in elicit the potentialities within those cogeries of genes. That’s how the individual develops.”[32]

Edward O. Wilson of Harvard made popular the new branch of human behavioral science known as sociobiology. Wilson coined the term “gene-culture coevolution.”[33] What does this mean? It means that certain psychologically based preferences charmed the development of culture. He uses the example of the development of family life in every culture in response to the infant’s and mother’s need for continuing sustenance and protection.[34]

“On the other hand, certain cultural influences reciprocally favor the selection and evolution of particular genetic tendencies such as society’s need to inhibit uncontrolled aggression by favoring people with built-in responsiveness to social control of aggression.”[35]

Morton further reports, “The primary needs met by religion, socio-biologists say, were the allaying of fear and the explanation of the world’s many mystifying phenomena. With the development of the brains’ capacity for language, human beings were able to develop concepts and have experiences that had been available to pre-humans, among them the consciousness of risks and of death, of time. The past and the futures of reward and punishment: puzzlement about natural phenomena; the satisfaction of problem solving; and aesthetic pleasure, wonder, and awe.”[36]

While primitive humans developed and experienced a sense of awe at the world around them, modern humans could think with the increased brain size and capacity with language. For early man religion had no competition for explanation. Mysteries of the world for early humans were demystified by religious explanation. Real living by people produced both positive (health returning after sickness, crops harvested, new child birth, the balance of justice among people, and pleasure in beauty and awe in the world around them) and negative experiences (sickness, hardships, crop failures, death and loss of loved ones).[37]

More than 75 percent of the world’s people try to make sense of the negative and positive experience described above by means of religion. If evil exists it is the work of the evil deity such as Satan. Or it is the product of evil desires in human beings. People pray asking the deity to make all turn out well. People seek reassurance after the death of a loved one with the hope that they will live after death in heaven. If life is terrible your reward is in heaven by a loving father. On the other hand, when everything in one’s life goes well, shouldn’t one give thanks to the one who is the supposed source of all good things, i.e., the “sky God who judges you?”

Religious explanations cover the entire myriad of experiences in life, the good and the bad. That is, all the bases are covered. Religious explanations act to bind and cement both our emotional and physical life. Religion meets the need to understand and control life. Through either ancient shamans, or modern-day priests and ministers, one is encouraged to trust in them, and submit in order to live together in harmony. The need to live together is biologically based. Finally, according to Morton, “we require social life to thrive emotionally–and, in fact, physically. Recent evidence shows that people who live alone have less immune resistance to disease than people who live with spouses or ‘significant other’ partners.”[38]

Why People Don’t Believe

In 1900 1% of the American population considered themselves atheists or free-thinkers. In 2000, that percentage had increased to 15-20% of the population. Figures in Europe are much higher. In Australia the figure is even higher, i.e., 25 percent. Given that religion has been described as the opium of the people, and gives order to their lives, why do some people not believe when the majority of people do? Don’t unbelievers, agnostics and atheists ever get caught up with the transcendental temptation?

 Kurtz believes there is a plurality of explanations.

 For those who go through conversion, the conversion is a rather rapid emotional transformation.

 For those who go through de-conversion the process (based on autobiographical accounts) is a slow, cognitive process.

 One could argue that, on average, those who don’t believe are much smarter (or have more education) than the believer. There is research evidence that the more intelligent an individual is the less likely he or she is to believe in God or a religion. Or perhaps non-believers are a much more advanced species of humans. Both believers and non-believers are a product of millions of years of evolution. Both types evolved from a common ancestor a few million years ago. There is a sequence of events that moved our evolution along on the road to modern man. Intelligence increases were possible through a series of interacting events.

We now know that the crucial turning point in our evolution was when the great apes and/or australopithecines stood up and became bipedal on the African savannah. This allowed their hands to free up, and led to a greater ability to make tools for cutting which in turn provided greater access to animal protein. More protein via meat-eating thus led in turn to an increase in the size of the brain. Those who had an edge in the brain department were more likely to survive and reproduce. All of these things helped early man on the road to language, and then correspondingly to the evolutionary development of culture.

 The Role of Experience and Culture

 What role does experience and culture play in evolutionary development? I reported earlier that 52% of Jews do not believe in a God, 21% of Catholics, and 10% of Protestants. As a group, Jews are much better educated than most other groups. But they also have cultural experiences like the Holocaust that would tend not to strengthen one’s belief in a benevolent deity. Said another way, experience in life is important as well as education in matters of belief.

There are a large number of people who regard consistent laws of nature governing the behavior of galaxies, human genes, and quarks, with the awe and respect that others accord to a more traditional God. An often stated quotation of Albert Einstein is, “science without religion is lame; but religion without science is blind.” What Einstein actually meant by the term religion is different from how the term is normally used in Christianity. For Einstein religion or religious meant the awe and respect he had for the natural laws of the universe and those discoverable through the sciences of physics and cosmology.

Albert Einstein did not believe in a personal God who meddles in the affairs of humans. To be religious, to Albert Einstein, was to enthusiastically hold in high regard the laws of physics and of the universe that he spent a lifetime trying to determine and theorize about. Ultimately, Albert Einstein was a scientific Pantheist, not a traditionally religious person at all.

Morton Hunt put his finger on the characteristics of the unbeliever when he said, “Perhaps unbelievers do not so much reject the religious needs and impulses of the human race, as adapt to them in realistic and humanistic terms, replacing the fairy tales of conventional religions with the more intellectually demanding tales, provided by modern science, of natural laws and of the demonstrable, repeatable evidence of cause-and-effect relationships…perhaps unbelievers differ from the great majority of human beings in one other way: possibly unbelievers are psychologically adult, needing no invisible parent figure, able to face the reality of life and death without fear (or at least live with that fear), and too sensible to believe in anything that has no proof, any explanation of the world that is either impossible or absurdum.”[39]

 The Caring Hypothesis and Death

 Most of the variables so far used do describe why people believe in a God or heaven seem to dwell on the naïve nature of people, and because of fear of the unknown. This is because there is strong institutional support for maintaining those beliefs. This author proposes a new hypothesis on why people believe that relates to fear but also ties in to the social nature of caring about others. I think there is a positive motive, most likely unconscious, as to why one wishes to believe in a God and heaven. This might be characterized as The Caring Hypothesis and Death.

Most of us care deeply about the people we live and socialize with in our lives. Caring for people is one of the greatest activities to give people meaning and purpose in life. One’s spouse, significant other, children and/or friends collectively comprise, along with perhaps humanity in general, the nexus of caring for others–all others.

Because we care so deeply for others we would like there to be a safe place for those we love after death. An invisible caring entity (The Sky God who judges you) that looks after those we care about is very appealing. The old expression, “Life’s a bitch and then you die” doesn’t make one feel any better even if the expression is sometimes true. An eternal life for those we love, without pain and suffering, is very appealing.

This desire to help our loved ones in all things makes the suspension of disbelief also appealing despite our normal observation that when life is over the body decays and rots in the grave or turns to ash following cremation.

 Five billion years from now the earth will be no more, and everything will all become stardust again. As nice as that thought of becoming stardust can be for people, it is not as appealing or compelling as eternal life.

We do everything in our power to deny the obvious–to engage in denial. Fairy tales are much more appealing than rotting corpses, pain, loss, and personal suffering by those left behind. “He’s in heaven now dear” said a relative to the grieving widow, or among those who really believe in their hearts, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” These people would rather say, “He’s in a better place now.” Yeah! Well better than what?

The Burden of Proof

When it comes to non-believers there are 1.1 billion worldwide. They are a sizable minority compared to the other 4.9 billion inhabitants of the earth who identify with some religion. An Agnostic may be defined as a person who believes that the existence of God, or a primal cause, can be neither proven nor unproven. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word meaning “unknown” or “unknowable.” The term agnostic needs to be contrasted with the term “Gnosis” or Gnostic where the later term means knowledge.

Another term used to refer to one’s position on God or primal causes is Atheist. Atheists, as a group of non-believers, have certain disadvantages in their position taken. The first disadvantage is a verbal assertion about what is unknown, unknowable, supernatural, or invisible. That assertion is–that something does not exist. Such an assertion is patently “unscientific.”

By asserting that something does not exist one immediately clashes with what science has long held as its own limitation. That is, it is impossible to prove a negative hypothesis. Science doesn’t work that way for what data would one collect (and data is the cornerstone of all science) in order to test one’s hypothesis that something does not exist? Put very simply–it is impossible to do that.

Ironically, to make an assertion about non-existence of a God is strikingly similar to the person who lives by faith that God does exist. Many people don’t realize it but the religious zealot and the atheist share a common perspective i.e., they are both trying to make a “leap of faith.” The believer and the non-believer share the same podium in that respect. Nevertheless, there is an important difference here that does favor the Atheist over the Theist or Deist. And that difference is the burden of proof.

The burden of proof does not lie with the atheist or the scientist to prove something does not exist. Such proof technically lies with those who make claims of a supernatural nature; otherwise claims are only assertions of belief unsubstantiated and without the benefit of actual proof. What is different between the atheist and scientist on the one hand, and the true believer or religious zealot on the other, are their tools of measurement, willingness to measure, and the approach taken.

Interestingly, the invisibility of the subject matter of religion or science isn’t even the issue. Why? Because even where invisibility of the subject matter is concerned, it is measurement, and a willingness to measure, that does matter. For example molecules, atoms, protons, and even the elusive neutrino are invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they can be measured for their proof of existence. God is alleged to be invisible to the naked eye, yet theologians and fundamentalist “true believers” of all types have yet to provide proof of existence through any kind of “measurement.”

Said simply, they have failed to provide the needed proof to substantiate their supernatural claims. It is interesting to note that the 20th Century’s greatest scientist Albert Einstein never attributed bizarre supernatural forces as an explanation for the fundamental laws of the universe.

 Why America is turning more Secular

 The data from the Barna survey strongly suggested that the slide toward syncretism may be responsible for the decline of Christianity in the 20th Century. Evidently, the democratic trend toward freedom of religion and freedom from religion took heart in America. However, the net effect of these changes within and outside Christianity is the move toward a more secular society.

There are three basic reasons American society, in particular, is becoming more secular: (1) The religious right is trying to invade secular society, (2) scandals within the church has lowered its status in the eyes of the public, and (3) simultaneously, science education and technology has come to dominate the social landscape of our culture through laboratory research, and through educational programs on television and in the classroom.

 It is also true that alienation produced by fundamentalists gone amuck with their disdain for liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations created an atmosphere where younger potential converts automatically looked askance at religious institutions altogether with contempt. As stated before, until mainstream and liberal churches gang up and fight fundamentalists politically and socially, they will continue to lose adherents, and suffer from the consequences of a right-wing extremist theocracy.

Adding fuel to the decline in Christianity is the undeniable scourge of sexual abuse of innocent children at the hands of Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, along with many other types of church workers. Not only have these offenders brought dishonor and disgrace to themselves as individuals, but have lowered the value and status of the various religious institutions they represent. The outcome of these and other scandals has harmed and denigrated whatever value remains of religious institutions in America. Such disgrace and dishonor has resulted in the continued decline in attracting new people to the faith of Christianity.

Squabbles both inside and outside the church will continue to paint a picture of church leadership as incompetent. Cognitive dissonance perceived by others as phoniness and hypocrisy in actual conduct by believers, will continue to cast a light on the bigotry and hatred that has lessened the status of religious institutions everywhere. If Jesus were alive today he would be ashamed of what has happened in Christianity during the last 2000 years in His name. The following quote is worthy of repeating. As Mark Twain said in the 19th Century, “If Jesus was alive today there is one thing he certainly wouldn’t be–and that is a Christian.”[40]

Joseph Campbell discussed in his book, The Power of Myth that every culture holds dearly to its myths. And there is a tendency in every culture to believe one’s own. Why people hold on to their religious cultural myths has been the subject of this blog. Holding on to cultural myths (for all you sociologists) is a product of learning in small social groups. But it is also due to the vast institutionalization of Christianity in America. Such mythology does have power that has persisted into the modern era. Some of the reasons have been discussed in this series of blogs. But cultural wars employ many of the same tools such as television programs that provide an instant audience of millions of people.

Right now as one scans television’s power they’re several first rate channels on DISH and cable networks. They include: The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, The History Channel, and many other programs found on NOVA. In addition the Science Channel in 2008 brought back the award-winning program COSMOS, originally written and hosted by the late scientist, Carl Sagan.

Collectively, these kinds of programs can have a profound influence on shaping and developing young fertile minds, and help stimulate opposition to the mythology of the Christian world. Organized religion, including Christianity, is all about social control of its adherents. But in a true democracy like America, Christian radio and television exists right along as competition for the attention of people. There is “Freedom of Religion” in our U.S. Constitution. But guess what? By implication there is also “Freedom from Religion” as well.

 


[1] Paul Kurtz, “Why Do People Believe or Disbelieve?” In Science and Religion: Are They Compatible, ed. Paul Kurtz with assistance of Barry Karr and Ronjit Sandhu  (New York: Promethius Books, 2003), 283

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 283-284

[5] Ibid, 284

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 285

[8] Polytheism and paganism involved characteristics of animism, shamanism, and anthropomorphism. 

[9] Ibid, 285

[10] Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1941), 3-4.

[11] Ibid, 29

[12] Ibid, 35

[13] Eric Hoffer published ten books between 1951 and 1982, and an eleventh was published after his death in 1983.

[14] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Perennial Library Harper & Row Publishers, 1951), back cover.

[15] Ibid, Preface.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 23

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, with a biographical introduction by Peter Gay (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961), xxiii

[20] Ibid, 19-20

[21] Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (2nd Edition) A.W.H. Freeman/Owl Book, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 74-75

[22] Ibid, 74

[23] Ibid, 75

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 77

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid, 78

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, 79

[30] Ibid, 80

[31] Ibid, 81

[32] Morton Hunt, “The Biological Roots of Religion” Paul Kurtz ed. In Science and Religion (New York: Prometheus Books, 2003), 303

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid, 303-304

[36] Ibid, 304

[37] Ibid, 305-306

[38] Ibid, 305

[39] Ibid, 308-309

[40] Mark Twain was also known as Samuel Clemens.

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