Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Jun 27th, 2015

ISIS Lunacy and the Bible Belt

The lunatic fringe bedevils most, if not all, religions. Right-wing Christian fundamentalists’ rail against evolution and climate change as though Galileo never existed. The ISIS digital propaganda machine goes from beheading to burning and drowning victims and blowing up ancient monuments. Radical Buddhists, as oxymoronic as that sounds, in Myanmar have hacked indigenous Muslims to death

North Florida church sign.

North Florida church sign.

While such attitudes and atrocities represent only a small faction of adherents to major religions, such groups readily become the mediated public face of a religion. If there was ever a time to turn to atheism, for many people it is now.

How does one respond to lunatic statements and horrible crimes committed in the name of religion and justified by a supposed direct line to some God? Social media and the Internet spread ridiculous claims and images of despicable acts in nanoseconds. Imagine how the world might have reacted if there was Twitter during the killing fields of Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge slaughtering over two million Cambodians in the 1970’s or the Rwanda genocide in 1994 of up to a million deaths. Yet it is obvious that knowledge of such mass killings and suffering does not always lead to action to stop them. The current destruction of life and limb in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Yemen bears testimony to that; death counts appear and disappear all too quickly, as though there is nothing else to do except report the number of dead and the level of destruction. Bodies decay in graves; memories of what put them there quickly fade in people’s minds.

Most of the time the absurd pronouncements of religious or allegedly religious spokesmen seem so trivial and crazy that it is not worth refuting them. So a minor Saudi cleric tries to explain why the earth does not revolve around the sun. This is laughable, but is it really newsworthy? An eccentric geo-centrist in the 21st century can be nothing more than a laughing stock. Prominent Christian fundamentalist Rev. John Hagee has hit the airwaves with the following ethically challenged statement: “If you’re asking about my personal opinion, there is no greater sin in terms of wrongly using God’s name than women who use it during sex. That is one of the filthiest, most derogatory and sinful uses of the Lord’s name I can think of. If it were up to me, I would put every single woman or girl who does that in jail. That would be a fine example of God’s wrath aimed at what is, in my opinion, a terrible misuse of our Maker’s good name.”  Really?  Would he put a tape recorder in someone’s bedroom or force a husband to tell on his wife? What if it was the man who shouted “Oh God!”, and for someone who believes in the creation of a literal Adam and Eve, why does the Bible say God told them to be fruitful and multiply?

It is hard to frame any response to such silly claims which is not sarcasm, but clever responses have little to no impact on ideologues. I’m tired of laughing at fools when there is so much suffering going on. Maybe we should have a moratorium on punditry writing back at lunacy. It may be the rave of a buzzfeed, but there are far more important matters to think about and act on. We could document absurd claims from here to Doomsday (which in some fools’ heads could be any day), but what is the purpose apart from making us feel good about our own cleverness? If you want to think the earth was populated by aliens riding “chariots of the gods”, go ahead. It’s always fun to debunk such nonsense. But if you insist some God told you this and that anyone who does not believe you must die, then damn you! Here is the problem: when absurd claims cause real harm, measurable suffering and death, it is no longer a laughing matter. This is true whether the context is religion or politics and especially so when the two are indelibly intertwined, as is often the case. By the time it takes you to read this short commentary, someone will have been brutalized in the name of religion or politics and that is the real lunacy the world faces today.


About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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