Sunday, 17 August 2014

Religious Intolerance

Someone posted a question in our Why Atheism? Facebook group the other day asking which religion was the worst, especially in the context of the Middle East where the three Abrahamic religions are currently slugging it out for control of Iraq, Syria and Palestine, and in Africa where Muslims and Christians are also fighting and killing for their religions.

Looking at the history of Europe and the Middle East particularly, and later the history of European colonialism, it's probably true to say that, until 1948 the one Abrahamic religion that had generally been on the receiving end of persecution and atrocity and yet had no history of retaliation or counter atrocity was Judaism.

In fact, the contribution of Jews to European and Middle Eastern philosophy, art, politics, science, medicine, music, economics, mathematics and banking has been huge - far greater than their relative numbers in the population as a whole. It would be easy to come up with long list of prominent Jews for each of these disciplines, such as Moses Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza, Marc Chagall, Amedo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Max Liebermann, Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, John von Neumann, Richard Feyman, Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Daniel Barenboim, Vladimir Horowitz, Arnold Schoenberg, etc., etc., etc., and that only scratches the surface of philosophy, art, science and musical composition.

Marc Chagall Rabbi with Torah 1965
There really is no dispute that the contribution of Jews, or at least culturally Jewish individuals to European and Middle Eastern Culture has been immense, so it would be easy to look at this history and conclude that, of all the Abrahamic religions, Judaism has been the most benign, least harmful and least exclusive.

However, that would be missing one crucial point, and a point made most strongly by the events in Palestine since 1948.

The point that might be overlooked in all this history is that only the Jews have always been a minority, and usually a repressed, persecuted minority in every state in which they have been present. Both Islam (either Sunni or Shia) and Christianity, at least in its major forms, have been the dominant religions in one or more state, and where they have been they have almost always been exclusive and intolerant of other religions and have persecuted and repressed minorities with enthusiasm.

Of course, Jews have not been the only persecuted minority - Quakers, for example, have been throughout most of their history and they too have contributed disproportionately in those disciplines where they have been permitted to contribute (they were forbidden from holding elected office for much of their history in the UK, for example).

Gaza, 2014
But things changed so far as Judaism was concerned in 1948. In 1948, the state of Israel came into existence and Jews, for the first time since 66 CE, has their own state in which they were the dominant religion. From that point on, Judaism joined Islam and Christianity as an Abrahamic religion which repressed minority religions and which became intolerant and exclusive. The only thing which had been preventing it becoming the religion of choice of bigots and bullies was the fact that Jews had never had the political power to inflict their intolerance on others the way Muslims and Christians have done.

The religion meme has within it the potential to become virulently pathological just as it did in 11th-century Jerusalem when Christians murdered Muslims and boasted about the depth of the blood that flowed through the streets; in 13th-century France when Catholics murdered Cathars; in 15th-century Andalucia when Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by the Catholic armies of Ferdinand and Isabella; in 16th-century Paris where Catholics joyfully massacred Huguenots; in 19th-century Greece where Greek Orthodox Christians and Ottoman Turkish Muslims murdered one another by the thousand; in 20th-century Europe where Christians murdered Jews on an industrial scale with ruthless and inhuman efficiency; in 20th-century Bosnia where Eastern Orthodox Christians murdered Bosniac Muslims to avenge some largely mythical 14th-century blood feud and now in 21st-century Iraq where Sunni Muslims are murdering both Shia Muslims and Christians, and in fact any non-Sunni minority with equal relish.

The only thing preventing Judaism wrecking the same destruction on minorities is they there were rarely ever any minorities with even less power than they had and so they never had the political and/or military power to do so. All that changed in 1948 and we can now see what even the 'peaceful' Judaism is capable of becoming when it has the necessary power.

As I stated in Rosa's Laws of Religion, the Third Law of Special Theological Relativity states:

Tolerance for other religions is inversely proportional to the power of a god's supporters. As their power becomes absolute their tolerance reaches zero.

There are no religions better than others; there are only religions with not enough power to treat those who disagree with them the way they would if only they had the power to do so. The reason the pseudo-scientific Discovery Institute in the USA has adopted the Wedge Strategy to subvert the US constitution and insert Christian fundamentalism into public school is to prepare the USA for a takeover by Christian fundamentalist extremists so that they will have enough political and military power to impose their intolerant bigotry on others.

I cannot think of a single examples in human history of a religion having absolute power not becoming absolutely intolerant and absolutely abusive of those who disagree with it, competing with other religions only in the inhuman brutality and the creative novelty with which they inflicted their hatred on others. If there are any such examples I would be grateful to hear of them. They will be rare and exceptional if they exist at all.

The problem is religion itself. Absolute certainty in the absolute absence of evidence can only be sustained by shutting out opposition and dissent - and of course gods appreciate it when you destroy their enemies.

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  1. Rosa, you wrote: "The only thing preventing Judaism wrecking the same destruction on minorities is they there were rarely ever any minorities with even less power than they had and so they never had the political and/or military power to do so."

    Judaism is a religion that doesn't actively try to recruit and convert non-Jews or Gentiles. Nowhere in the Jewish Bible does God ever command the making of proselytes. It's the Jews who are the chosen people by God. That's why those who joined with Israel never became 100 percent Israelites. Just think of Ruth, the Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family and eventually even converted to Judaism; nevertheless she is always referred to as the Moabitess -- even after marrying Boaz. (Most of the Moabites were polytheists like other early Semites, and the Book of Numbers says that they induced the Israelites to join in their sacrifices.)

    In this article, see , you can read the following sentences: "Unlike in the Hellenistic era (Second Temple Judaism), in the modern era most branches of Judaism do not actively proselytize non-Jews. Instead non-Jews are encouraged to follow Noahide Law, which is said to assure a place in the World to Come."

    So as far as I understand it Gentiles may believe in the true God of Israel - and even convert to Judaism - but they still remain Gentiles.This is an important reason why Jews are not actively proselytizing their religion.

    But in both Islam and Christianity the making of proselytes has a very high priority. Those religions are actively trying to expand all over the world. Those who convert are seen as "true" Muslims or "true" Christians. And we all know from secular history that all sorts of expansionism very often means war and atrocities.

    BTW: I must say that your blog post "Rosa's Laws Of Religion" is both funny and clever. I recommend everyone to take a look at that article too. You find the link in Rosa's blog article here above. Or you can click this link: .

  2. Israel doesn't equal Judaism.
    It doesn't conduct any religious war.
    Almost 20% of Israeli population are Muslim, Druze, Christian Arabs who are as Israeli as British Muslims are Brits.
    On the contrary, Hamas doesn't recognize any right for Jewish presence in Palestine and claims only jihad can solve Palestinian cause which is a religious one according to the Hamas charter.
    (I'm an Israeli who's in favor of one secular state in Palestine)


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