Just this week, a young (oh, so young) woman was convicted of stabbing a Member of Parliament. She was deeply religious. Her motivation was, apparently, that the MP had voted for the war in Iraq, and the particular branch of her faith that she had embraced encouraged vengeance. Violent, bloody, vengeance. But they call it ‘martyrdom’. I’m not entirely sure how the old religious concept of being prepared to die for your beliefs became the new euphemism for being prepared to slaughter for them. We used to call that psychosis.
In America, well, chiefly America abortion clinics have been bombed, and last summer one of the few doctors prepared to save a woman’s life by doing a late-term abortion, rather than, say, let her die and her child die with her anyway, was shot dead at church. Killing is wrong, you see, but apparently some few deeply religious people think two wrongs make a right, so if they kill a ‘killer’, that’s OK (for the record, I am pro-choice. No one should be forced to have a child, at the cost of their health, their life, their sanity). Even though their own scriptures tell them the exact opposite. Thou shalt not kill. Turn the other cheek.
Now, I am not religious. I’m not even one of the doubting Thomasinas. More of a, ‘there is no God, and Richard Dawkins is not his messenger’, sort of person. But there are times when I think I have more faith in deities, Providence, The Universe etc. than a great many people who are extremely religious. Extremely. These are people who put their entire life, every hour, every spare penny, every thought, at the service of their God. And their family’s lives. And the lives of anyone else they can convince to join. To those of proselytising faiths, this kind of devotion is an ideal to be looked up to. I personally find it boorish and tiresome, and if not directly hypocritical in itself, then a lead cause of hypocrisy in others (which makes persisting in proselytising… hypocritical). People join extreme faiths when they are broken, anxious, rootless, fragile. Needy. People pretend to believe in extreme faiths under pressure from their family and community, out of fear. Fear of losing those they love. Fear of rejection. Fear, sometimes, of death. How is it not hypocritical to demand that someone believes with threats and menaces? How is not hypocritical to take advantage of someone’s loneliness and fragility to make a convert? How could any faith be honest and true under these circumstances?
But I digress. The main point I wanted to make was, why do some Extremely Religious people start using violence? I don’t mean violence to defend their very lives in a war zone. I mean those that bomb/stab/shoot people they’ve never met before, who were no threat to them or their faith (though I think claiming someone is a threat to your faith is like claiming someone is a threat to your thinking about pink elephants. It’s the inside of your head. Do with it as you please, surely (preventing someone practicing their religion by keeping them away from their sacred places etc. is, on the other hand, a shitty thing to do. It’s not a threat to faith, though. Not being able to physically get to a chapel doesn’t instantly stop you being a Methodist)). Where was I?
For example, I disagreed with the Iraq War. I was horrified when it started, and horrified that it was entered into on a fiction, and so angry I couldn’t think straight at the reports of abuse of prisoners, dead children, the selling off of the rebuilding contracts to wealthy pals of the American government before the war even began, the ugly, ugly cynicism of it all. I protested. I signed petitions, I marched in the streets of London, I argued with and (with wine on board) harangued people who were pro-war. I did not vote Labour in 2005. Many of the things I said about Tony Blair and George W. Bush and their cronies are, even by my lax and sweary standards, unprintable. And that was pretty much as cutting as I got. Why did I not try to rush into an MP’s surgery and stab him, now, in 2010, when all the worst of the war is over and done and unchangeable, given that I disapproved so much? Because I had no faith that adding to the violence would change a jot or tittle of it, or improve a second of it. Because I do have faith that humans can learn, try to redeem themselves, make some sort of amends, maybe. If they live long enough.
But these Extremely Religious people, they have no faith at all, not even in their God Himself. Where their scriptures say, ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord’, they decide they can’t wait for God to take this vengeance in His own way, in His own time. They must tell Him His business. Who to take vengeance on. How. When. They have no faith that their God knows what He is doing.
And they have no faith that God will chose the right level of vengeance. To God, their scriptures tell them, a human life is the merest blink of an eye against all of eternity, and God will decide what happens to a person for all of that eternity. But this will not do. Suffering needs to be immediate and earthly. They kill, not only those they perceive as responsible, but any amount of bystanders, who could well have shared their beliefs. Hypocritally, that’s alright, because ‘God will know His own’. Oh yes, God doesn’t know who He’s supposed to be blowing to shreds in an urgent manner, but God will know which of the shreds are destined for Heaven and which for Hell. God won’t rip off the legs of an infedel sinner here on Earth and has to have it done for him by People of Faith who know, oh, how certainly they know, whose legs to rip off seeing as God won’t, but they trust him to give a consolation prize to any who have been maimed by mistake because they happened to be sitting on the bus. As if God where merely the orderly following on behind them with a broom and a sieve.
Worse, these Extremely Religious think that human flesh is expendable. The flesh that according to them God created with such love and tenderness, they will tear apart again just to make an incoherent scream of rage, like a toddler smashing his toys in a tantrum. The great gift of life, that their scriptures so treasure that they all prohibit killing, they will batter to pieces and then throw the pieces in their God’s face. ‘I did it for God’ they say, ‘In His Name’. If a grown man smashed the, the, oh, I don’t know, something expensive, let’s say television, you’d just given him, and then claimed to have done it for you because a newsreader said something sarcastic about you, you’d think he’d gone barking mad. Check that, you’d know he’d gone barking mad. And what’s more, you’d know he didn’t really care about you, in fact, possibly shared the newsreader’ low opinion, given that he valued your gift so little.
And another thing, why the hell does it bug the Extremely Religious so much if someone makes a joke or a sneer or a nasty little swearyness about their God? OK, so it’s not nice or polite, but why the killy-stabby-burn-in-effigy frenzy? Is their God really so pathetically little, and their faith in him so pathetically fragile, that one good joke would shatter it? Isn’t their God big enough, powerful enough, and self-evidently good and glorious enough for all the blasphemy and sarcasm in the world to roll right off Him leaving him spotless and perfect as only an omnipotent and omniscient Creator could be? If God is so great, why does he need some paranoid, hysterical and deeply, deeply needy delusional teenager to do his dirty work for him?
So. Fundamentalists of the Bomb and Shoot and Stab and Bloody Mayhem and Vengeance variety, that’s your dirty little secret, isn’t it? You have no faith in your own God. At all. You can’t even read your own holy texts, you ignorant little shits.
I leave you with this clip of Robert Llewellyn, who put it rather well.