The Ugly Underbelly of Organized Religion

Organized religions can be, and usually are, a civilizing force, a source of comfort and hope to the faithful. Yet they can also take, and often do, all sorts of ugly twists. To wit:

The thousands of alleged heretics racked, dismembered, burned at the stake, deep fried in oil, buried alive, skinned alive by order of Roman Catholic Inquisitors, with the approval of the Pope, during the Inquisition.

The witch hunts of menopausal and senile women and the countless tortures and executions inflicted by Protestant churches during the Reformation. “I should not have compassion on these witches. I would burn all of them,” declared Martin Luther. And John Calvin had no qualm about ordering the slow roasting of Michael Servetus for having the audacity to question his version of the Holy Trinity.

The racist teachings of the Mormon Church. As narrated in the Book of Mormon, the good guys, the Nephites, were fair-skinned, whereas the bad guys, the Lamanites, being descendants of Cain, were punished by God with a dark skin. (Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6) According to Brigham Young the “flat nose and black skin” of African Americans were likewise the stigma of Cain. It wasn’t until 1978 that an African American was accepted into the Church priesthood. Then there’s the Church’s history of polygamy and sexism. Only two women figure in the Book of Mormon, and only in minor roles.

The genocidal mandates of the Hebrew Jehovah in the Old Testament (Joshua 11; I Samuel 15:1-35). The scurrilous comments against Gentiles in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud: “All Gentile children are like animals (Baba Kamma 113.a); “Gentiles prefer sex with cows” (Abodah Zarah 22 a.); "Gentile girls are in a state of filth since birth" (Abodah Zara 221-22b); "Jesus mother was a whore"(Sanhedrin 106A)

Before maligning someone else’s religion, we ought to take a close look at the ugly underbelly of our own. True, those roastings and witch hunts and bigotry of old are history, but the religious zealotry that engendered them live on, and not too deep below the surface. Given the right conditions—the threat of a global depression or a nuclear war, say—they are likely to resurface with a vengeance.

The abuse of women and children, and atrocities committed by Muslim zealots in the name of Allah against rival sects and infidels, and the centuries-old bloody clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India are still raging as we speak.

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