Cumulative Days Riding: 160 Cumulative Days Blogging: 145
Today’s Mileage: 10 Total Trip Mileage: 1090
As I ride the bike this morning I pondered several potential themes for our posting. We are traveling north towards Jacksonville leaving St. Augustine. I decided to discuss an always sensitive topic: the potential “evil” outcomes of religious communities and movements. I have on numerous occasions had discussions with my student concerning this topic. Sometimes students will note that they believe humanity would be better off “without religion.” I could not disagree more! I point out to them that the social institution of Religion serves numerous functions for both individuals and society at large. I often note that, like many things, it is how an individual or group uses their religious beliefs that can be problematic or have an “evil” outcome. If your belief system acts to keep you from growing and exploring new experiences then that system might be problematic. If a belief system subjugates or alienates a portion of society (e.g., women, minorities, gays, youth) then that system may be problematic.
You might be asking yourself: Why is he bringing up this topic? My friends and students know that I tend to be very optimistic and upbeat and choose to not dwell on topics that drive wedges between people. However, two things elevated this topic in my mind. They have to do with a set of historical events, and a recent event in the news.
Several days ago we explored the history of St. Augustine and three “Forts” in this area. Fort Matanzas has the tragic history of being the site of a massacre of 250 defenseless French Huguenot soldiers by a Spanish Catholic force. They were killed when they refused to denounce their faith and were labeled as “heretics.” This tragic story did not end there! For the French had in 1564 established a settlement near present day Jacksonville named Fort Caroline. When a Spanish force arrived the next year and established St. Augustine the ill fated French force had travelled south to “deal with” the new arrivals. A storm was the down fall of the French, destroying their ships and casting them on the beach where they were discovered and massacred by the Spanish force. Don Pedro Menendez, the Spanish commander took advantage of this development to conduct a counter attack upon Fort Caroline. The defenders fought valiantly but in the end, surrendered. What remained was a hand full of soldiers and 50 women and children. The decision was made to once again kill the survivors as heretics. It was reported that the women and children were all burned at the stake. With this event the French presence in Florida came to an end. The Spanish converted Fort Caroline into their settlement in an effort to extend their control further north along the coast. However, in 1568 a French military force attack the Spanish settlement destroying it and massacring all of its inhabitants in revenge for the earlier kills of French settlers.
I know that some people would simply attribute these events to “an earlier time” when such conflicts were common place. However, all one has to do is listen to recent news out of Nigeria, where Christian and Muslims are taking turns killing each other, or remember back a couple decades to Northern Ireland, where Christians were again killing each other, to know that such sad episodes are by no means a “thing of the past.”
How can we explain these tragic outcomes when the same religious groups and movement have given the world some its greatest artwork, music and inspiring leaders? Dr. Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and academic scholar in Islam wrote a book entitled: When Religion Becomes Evil. Dr. Kimball notes in his book that there are five warning signs (characteristics) of possible corruption of a Religion. The more of these characteristics that are present in a belief system the greater the danger that this faith might produce “evil behaviors” in its followers. Recent examples would include: flying planes into buildings full of people; gunning down abortion doctors; leaving threatening phone messages toward individuals holding opposing views.
What are these characteristics? Dr. Kimball lists them as: 1) Absolute Truth Claims – all faiths have truth claims, however when they are treated as rigid doctrines anyone holding other views become “heretics.” 2) Blind Obedience – beware any movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents (maybe associated with Charismatic Authority Figures; enslavement to doctrine and/or withdrawal from society). 3) Establishing the “Ideal” Time – Often involve concrete ‘divinely ordained” plans, especially dangerous when religion is joined with the goals of the state. 4) The Ends Justify the Means – Beware when a particular goal or end is articulated as essential or paramount, in defense of this goal all calls for compassion and constructive relationships are ignored or attacked as “joining with the enemy.” 5) Declaring Holy War – the lines separating the forces of good and evil become blurred, represented by the crusades, jihad, and “just war.” Especially problematic when combined with Ends Justify the Means characteristic.
It would appear that the presence of several of these characteristics in the 1600-1700 European churches might account for the tit-for-tat massacres surrounding the St. Augustine area. In particular, Absolute Truth Claims; the Ends Justify the Means; and Declaring Holy War. Of course conflicts like that taking place in Nigeria involve not just religious conflict but also economic and tribal conflict and feelings of revenge.
In closing I would like to highlight a news story I came across the other day. It seems that a popular Lebanese TV personality, who conducted a call-in TV program broadcast across the Middle East, travelled to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage and was arrested by the Saudi religious police. He was charged with “sorcery” charges after confessing (after interrogation) “that he consulted spirits to predict the future.” The Saudi religious courts have now handed down a death sentence in his case!
While I believe people have a right to their religious beliefs and a right to their governance system of choice, I do feel that such behavior on the part of the Saudi government and their religious leadership represents an “evil outcome.” They may feel self-righteous in their claims of absolute truth (for Sharia law) and their demands of blind obedience to this law, that does not give them the right to execute an individual whose beliefs would be tolerated if not embraced by the rest of the world (including much of the Islamic world).
I always end this discussion with a “call to arms” directed toward moderate and liberal elements of the world faiths. I believe that it is the responsibility of the moderate elements in Islam, the Jewish Faith, Christianity and Hinduism to rise up and take control of the “message” being expressed to the world. These “evil influences and forces” can only be counteracted and lessened by a wave of moderate voices from “within!”
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