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Freethought Today · January/February 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Fourth place: Graduate student college essay contest by Emilee Prado

The fundamental link between religion and violence

FFRF awarded Emily $750.

By Emilee Prado

Some people argue that religion cannot be held responsible for violence in its name. However, I believe that violence is fundamentally linked to both Islam and Christianity. Of course, religious violence is not confined to these religions but, for lucidity and brevity, this essay will limit its scope.

Today, perhaps the most recognized religious terrorism comes from the Middle East in the form of a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS follows the teachings of Islam and supports terrorism as a way of achieving its religious goals.

Another example of a radical terrorist group is The Army of God. This group is made up of Christians who support acts of terrorism on those who are not aligned with their beliefs. Labeled "extremist," these two groups are often thought not to represent their religions as a whole. However, it is clear that although they are radicalized in their beliefs, all forms of religious terrorism, as the term suggests, have underpinnings in religion and cannot be separated from it. Religious terrorists are extremists who share the same foundations with others of their religion while taking Islam or Christianity to its plausible extents. Despite concurrent messages of peace, violence is an intrinsic part of these religions, and can only be stopped by emphasizing universal tolerance among religions.

It is important to look at examples from the Quran and the bible in order to investigate how violence and religion are connected. It is clear how religious terrorists are not "perverting" their religion, but rather embodying it. A passage in the Quran reads, "Kill them whenever you confront them and drive them out from where they drove you out. (For though killing is sinful) wrongful persecution is even worse than killing . . ." (Surah 2.191). Justice and retribution of past injustices are at the heart of this passage. The radical group ISIS takes Allah's directions literally and it kills as punishment for prior wrongful persecution. People who do not directly oppose Islam can be seen as innocent bystanders in the eyes of many outside ISIS. However, this group largely follows the "If you're not with us, you're against us" manner of thinking. Although this is a logical fallacy, it is a common human point of view to see life in these terms. Moreover, this method of exacting justice is at the heart of the Quran and proves to be a direct tie between violence and religion.

According to the bible, thousands of years ago, God destroyed nearly all human life on the planet as a punishment for failure to heed him as a divine being (Genesis 6-9). In the story of Noah's flood, God himself commits violent acts and commands destruction. As one of the oldest stories in Western religion, the flood provides an intrinsic connection between religion and violence, a demand for justice, and a direct killing of innocent people in God's name. According to the God in the bible, these people were not innocent; they were wicked sinners who deserved the consequence of death. However, a secular look at the story of the flood reveals someone who slaughtered humans as a castigation for not aligning themselves with his beliefs. It also perhaps counters President Obama's argument that "no god condones the killing of innocents." Although later God promised never to flood the earth again, what he did was seen by him and his followers as a righteous act.

Killing to overcome wrongful persecution in the Quran and killing as a punishment for wicked ways in the bible are two instances of virtuous murder. Respectively, these are the very same precedents that are at the core of both ISIS and The Army of God. Believing wrongful persecution is worse than killing, followers of ISIS have no qualms about committing terrorist attacks if they are doing it for these reasons. Similarly, The Army of God seeks to punish the wicked, as God commands, by sanctioning the murders of abortionists. Both of these extremist organizations therefore embody the violent acts of Allah or God. Extremists may not represent the majority of those who share their religion, but they often directly follow Allah or God's example on how to punish those who do not share in their religious beliefs.

Teachings of peace and non-violence are also found in the fundamentals of Islam and Christianity. When there are clear calls to violence through commands and examples, alongside clear calls to peace, it is up to the individual which path to follow. Pacifists choose one way and religious terrorists choose another.

After seeing how deeply rooted violence is within Islam and Christianity, it becomes clear that violence and religion are intertwined in a complicated meshwork. Perhaps then, in an effort to thwart religions terrorism, we can preach non-exclusive religion. Both Islam and Christianity present a "them" who oppose an "us." This can be changed by deconstructing these boundaries and emphasizing universal tolerance. We should recognize that, taken as a whole, both Islam and Christianity are flawed and we should accept them as such. Moreover, if we extract the positive messages of love and peace from these religions, those who seek it can have a spiritual basis that is not overseen by a religious figure whom both tolerates and commands violence.

Emilee was born in Littleton, Colo. and is 25 years old. She received a bachelor's degree in Film Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2013. Emilee is in her first year of graduate school at the University of Denver where she will be working toward an MFA in creative writing. She is expecting to graduate in the spring of 2017 and hopes to use her degree to help further her career as a writer and a novelist. Emilee is a member of the Secular Student Alliance and believes that creativity and freedom of personal expression are essentials to all human life.

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