January 6, 2007

Root of Evil II

Robert Redeker's life is no longer in his hands. It's in the minds and hands of unknown men and women, who will have one thing in common. Their willingness to kill those who dared to blasphemy their god and their religion. Redeker's identity has been revealed to one and all in an Islamic web site, that published his photograph and address, and sentenced him to death. He had no choice but to run from his home in France, with his wife and three children, and hide in a secret location under police protection. What was Redeker's crime? A high school philosophy teacher, he wrote an opinion piece in a local newspaper, criticizing Islam for its intolerance and hatred against other religions, and supporting Pope Benedict XXVI.

Mohammed Halim was forcibly taken away from his home in the middle of the night by gun-toting thugs, ignoring his weeping children and his wife's pleas for mercy. Next day his mutilated body turned up on the street, tied to a motorcycle. Halim's killing was the fourth in a series of killings by the Islamists at Ghazni in Afghanistan. Halim was a school teacher, like the other three who preceded him. What was Halim's and his colleagues' crime? They were willing to, and did, educate Muslim girls.

Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot and killed in his home in Amherst, NY, while chatting with his wife and children in the kitchen. His crime? Providing legal reproductive services, including abortion, to his patients. James Kopp, the convicted murderer of Dr. Slepian, became a hero to the Christian fundamentalists, and the Army of God, which preaches and supports violence against abortion providers. A devout Roman Catholic, James Kopp was associated with Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity, the Lambs of Christ, and Operation Rescue. The last two are well known anti-abortion terrorist outfits.

Yellavva was sold to the goddess Yellamma when she was only eight. Ostensibly a slave of the goddess, she would actually become a concubine for the temple priests, once she attained puberty. Her initiation as a Devadasi was said to include ritual deflowering, or uditambuvadu, as it is sometimes called, whereby the priests would gang rape her at the temple. It's a part of their religious perks. What was Yellavva's price? An expectation that the goddess will grant her parents a son in return. Religiously sanctioned raping of children is practiced under the guise of the Devadasi system even today in several parts of India. Sanctioning of child rape is not unique to Hinduism. There are several documented cases of ritual rapes and other forms of sexual abuse of children, in just about every religion, including Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Shamanism, and various Pagan and Satanic cults.

What motivated these "people of faith" to murder, and acquiesce in the rape of their own children? There is one common thread that runs through these disparate crimes against life, spread across three continents and four nations. Religion. My branding of religion as the root of evil in this series of posts, drew flak from some of my friends and readers. They argued that irrationality lay at the root of evil, and religion was only an excuse. The Israel-Palestine and the Kashmir conflicts were quoted as examples, pointing to their origins in territorial disputes, rather than religious rivalry. In the stories of murder and rape that I have recounted above, too, it may be contended that uncontrolled desire for sex and power caused these evil acts, and not religious beliefs. I beg to differ.

After parents, religion is the most pervasive and powerful influence in a child's mental development. In the community in which I was born, an elaborate ritual naming of the new born baby takes place on the 11th day. Religious fables were narrated to me, I am told, when I was as young as one or two. Children are initiated into worship and various other rituals around the same age. We are taught to both revere and fear the gods and goddesses, who would become the final arbiters in every dispute and dilemma that we faced. In sum, the child born to Hindu parents is taught to think and behave as a Hindu from day 11! Richard Dawkins calls it mental child abuse, and rightly so:

In a 1995 issue of the Independent, one of London's leading newspapers, there was a photograph of a rather sweet and touching scene. It was Christmas time, and the picture showed three children dressed up as the three wise men for a nativity play. The accompanying story described one child as a Muslim, one as a Hindu, and one as a Christian. The supposedly sweet and touching point of the story was that they were all taking part in this Nativity play.

What is not sweet and touching is that these children were all four years old. How can you possibly describe a child of four as a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew? Would you talk about a four-year-old economic monetarist? Would you talk about a four-year-old neo-isolationist or a four-year-old liberal Republican? There are opinions about the cosmos and the world that children, once grown, will presumably be in a position to evaluate for themselves. Religion is the one field in our culture about which it is absolutely accepted, without question — without even noticing how bizarre it is — that parents have a total and absolute say in what their children are going to be, how their children are going to be raised, what opinions their children are going to have about the cosmos, about life, about existence. Do you see what I mean about mental child abuse?

Do you see where irrationality springs from? We are not born irrational, but we are taught to be irrational. And, religion is the teacher. Why don't we outgrow these teachings? Some of us do, but most cannot. They are condemned to be herd animals. The herd mentality is constantly reinforced by the stick of ostracism in this life, and the fear of banishment to hell in the after-life. There are the carrots, too — the sense of belonging, the comfort in numbers, and the benefits of cooperation that the economists call positive network externalities. The individual begets the tribe, the tribe begets the religion, and the religion clouds reason.

The authors of the website that sentenced Robert Redekar to death, the Taliban thugs who disemboweled Mohammed Halim, and the parents of Yellavva who sold her for the false promise of a son, might have done these evils in a fog of irrationality. If asked, however, they would have given an explanation that they thought to be perfectly rational, as James Kopp did in the interview that he gave to the Buffalo News after his arrest. After all, what could be more rational than the omniscient gods' words to them? If irrationality were the root of an act of evil, as one of the commenters on my first post in this series opined, religion is the root of that irrationality.

  1. Hi

    I agree with your reasoning somewhat. But I think that religion being the reason for all the evil in this world is too simplistic. It is hard not to ignore the correlation between religion and war/conflict and that is to a certain extent also causal. But how about the Holocaust? That wasn't about religion exactly. I would suggest 2 books: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and Who we are.... by Marvin Harris. I am not a fan of religion either, but find that man's propensity to commit irrational acts is part of our pscyshe. As a species, we are not evolved enough: we consider ourselves intelligent because we can figure some stuff out with great difficulty, but don't understand our collective stupidities.


  2. Jyoti:

    I don't agree that human beings are hard-wired to commit irrational acts. It would, of course, depend on how "irrational" is defined.

    I admit, however, that we have a genetic propensity to be promote our respective self-interest. And, I interpret religion to mean any system of beliefs and rules that are not open to challenge. Nazism is one such, and communism is another. Marx is as much an infallible god to the Marxists as the presumed father of Christ to the Christians!

  3. Krish?

    I think that religion is an evolutionary response for the survival of the fittest among the human species and is very old.(I read somewhere that anthropologists found traces of worship and sacrifice almost 300,000 years ago). So is man's propensity for conflict - a very old response. I have mulled and agonised over this as much as you do and there is not a more satisfactory answer that I get after my observations. We have a propensity to create not one God, but multiple gods and sacred cows and demand blind allegiance to superstitions. I cannot tell you how amused I am when I am told to "pray for my deepest wishes to come true." It is all so obviously shallow, I am astounded at how blind people are to this monumental stupidity. Despite that, I think man will outgrow this propensity in probably the next 1000 years or so. Till then the more enlightened among us can advocate tolerance and respect and hope to blunt religion's sharp edge of intolerance: make it a toothless tiger.


  4. >>that parents have a total and absolute say in what their children are going to be, how their children are going to be raised, what opinions their children are going to have about the cosmos, about life, about existence. Do you see what I mean about mental child abuse?


    I thought calling it mental abuse was going overboard. It can be abuse depending on the parenting style. What if the parent is educating the child with arguments supporting his/her religious beliefs? Would you still consider that mental abuse? Is ALL kind of religious training of children really mental abuse? It would be IF questioning is discouraged. Religion can be taught to kids in an environment allowing them to question their beliefs and ideas.

    Even if the parent is far from sophisticated in the teaching of religion to his child, would it really be mental abuse? I mean children don't have an opinion yet on such matters. If the parent is dictating such opinions, children simply absorb it without questioning. It is abuse only if it is taken as true that religion is irrational. But then, the same can be said of any values. Children get their values from parents. Parents teach children values not always justifyiong them. Most of them are simply dictated. Is that an abuse because children are being taught values?

    Pls explain


  5. Hello Vinod...
    ... again, I presume :)

    To conserve bandwidth, I'll refer you to an earlier post, "What am I Optimistic About", which pretty much sums up my position on the subject of bringing up children.

  6. Religion, culture, ethos, whatever, is all taught. No kid develops a religion on his or her own. Left to themselves, I doubt whether something like 'religion' can actually dawn on them. The evolution of religion (any religion), I believe was a collective effort. The Root Cause, I believe is somebody dictating "what opinions their children are going to have about the cosmos, about life, about existence" Thinking has become a sin.

  7. Excellent post. I have always believed that religion when taken out of the personal confines of our home do more harm than good. The most disturbing part about religion is the total subjugation to blind faith and complete opposition to questioning common beliefs, rituals, or traditions.

    Some which were initiated with a short-term goal in mind have long lost their relevance and continue to be adhered to in the name of tradition and no one seems to remember the roots.

  8. Hi

    Religion is not the root of all evil. Every person has a religion. Science is my religion. Libertarianism could be somebody's relgion. Marxism could be somebody else's religion.

    I agree that some people happen to have religions which are blind to factual evidence. But that doesn't mean all religions are bad.

    In my opinion, the root of all evil is racism. It is a fundamental biological instinct of man (or animal) which needs to be tamed by scientific temper and humanism. Most of the crimes commited in the name of religion have their origins in the age-old feeling of racism.

    Please check my blog (the antithesis of race). I would be glad to know your views.



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