Even if you believe Islamic terrorism has associated economic causes or is related to U.S. foreign policy, there can be no doubt that religion provides both the justification and the motivation for these terrorists. Religion convinces young men to kill themselves for the promise of a better future. Religion promises them an illusory paradise superior to the pain of this world.
Religion promotes an ideology that divides their world into “us and them.” Most important, religion, using that division and the superiority that comes with being part of a god’s select group, silences people’s innate human compassion.
Attempting to divorce the religious motivations and justifications from these atrocities not only ignores what the terrorists themselves say, but is also a form of Western elitism. Ignoring the religious angle is to assume that you know more about the terrorists’ motivations than they do.
Religion featured prominently when the ISIL militant raped a 12-year-old Yazidi girl who he first bound and gagged. Religion played a role when he explained to the girl that “according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever” and “that by raping [her], he is drawing closer to God.” The rapist’s pre- and post-rape prayers were assuredly religious.
Another Yazidi girl, this one 15, was raped by an ISIL militant to whom she had been sold as a slave because “he said that raping [her] is his prayer to God.” ISIL kidnapped and made 1,300 other Yazidi girls sex slaves because they were not Muslims—as one fighter put it, “because you worship the devil, you belong to us.” Who will tell these girls that religion had nothing to do with the motivations and justifications for their torture? Who will tell these women and children who were “divided according to Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State” that religion is not the problem? They need only watch the video of ISIL fighters quoting the Quran as the justification for a slave market to see that religion is the central problem.
Will anyone be so absurd as tell the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Al Shabab, ISIL, Boko Haram, and the other jihadis that their black standard—which contains the words of the shahada, Islam’s profession of faith and one of its five pillars—is not really religious?
The simple fact is that some people do not want to believe religion is bad for the world. And to maintain that outlook, they will ignore the mountains of evidence that show otherwise.
The religious influence on terrorism makes one thing very clear: more religion is not the answer. “Prayers for Paris” are not the answer. And assuredly, “Christian truth” is not the answer.
But that is precisely what Dwight Longenecker, a blogger and Catholic priest, is suggesting: More “Christian truth.” Longenecker’s “solution” is essentially a recipe for religious war, for a return to the crusades. The same goes for Gov. Kasich’s new agency to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” And this Yale theologian. We don’t need more religion, we need less.
Longenecker’s “Christian truth” does not exist. Truth does not adhere to one deity. Indeed, religious faith often blinds people to truth. At their most basic level, there is no difference between Longenecker’s Catholic religion and the Islam the terrorists espouse because both are based solely on faith. Neither side could give one legitimate reason—one piece of evidence—that would suggest their religion is truer than the other.
This is the problem with religious faith. It is the denial of evidence to preserve belief. Religious faith provides the same cancerous justification for the violence the Catholic Church committed for millennia and the violence that happened in Paris on Friday. Religious faith overwhelms and consumes basic human objections to killing and instead provides a license to kill, granted by god himself. The great physicist Steven Weinberg was right when he said:
Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
ISIL is bent on spreading their religious “truth” worldwide, just as the Catholic Church is. Even though the tenets of one of those religions may diverge, their bedrock is still identical because both are based on faith. And faith is, by definition, unreasonable—it is not subject to evidence or reason. Both religions promote “us versus them” thinking and the dehumanization of those who practice other faiths or no religion. Instead of valuing humans because of our shared humanity, both religions assign value to other human beings based on which god the person worships and in what way.
The world needs less religion. Religion, humanity’s first attempt to explain the world, has since become our biggest roadblock to truth and progress. We don’t need more religious “truth,” we need more curiosity, more compassion for those who are different, more people who are good without god. We need goodness uncorrupted by religious “truth.”