The False Faith of Zealots

IT has not escaped notice that the two catastrophic events commanding the biggest, blackest headlines of recent weeks trace back to religious motivations, however misguided.

The bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center in New York and the killing fields surrounding the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, have driven readers to still another crash course in comparative religions, involving militant Muslims on the one hand and a militant messiah figure on the other.

Wars too often are misprefaced by the word "holy." In India, Hindus and Sikhs have massacred each other; in Ireland, it is Catholics and Protestants. From the Sudan to Lebanon, Christians and Muslims have engaged in mutual devastation, long before Yugoslavia carried on this deplorable tradition of the Crusades, as well as setting Croat-Catholic against Serbian-Orthodox.

The association of religion with violence has become so accepted that secularists especially tend to equate a strong belief in God with the extremism of fanatics.

Quite the contrary. The war-like are ordered by the Bible to beat their swords into plowshares. Most religions conclude that every human being is the brother or sister of every other human being. The value of love is enshrined at the heart of almost all sacred texts. In the most inspired texts, the devoted are instructed to love even their enemies. At the least, forgiveness rather than vengeance is exhorted.

It takes a very selective interpretation to twist any religious commandment to read, "Thou shalt kill." Those who presume to kill in God's behalf have lost touch with God as well as with their own humanity.

In the face of the latest headlines, an obvious truth needs to be repeated: Rather than constituting a justification for war, reverence for God should, in fact, provide the profoundest deterrent to killing and war itself.

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