As someone who neither believes in a celestial care taker nor wishes there to be one, I often find myself irritated by gestures of faith. While some forms of belief are somewhat innocuous, even mild incantations to a higher power seem to have a subtly ominous undercurrent. At the very least they ring in the ear with a deafening stupidity.
I try to examine manifestations of faith clinically, divorcing my analysis from emotion. If I didn’t, I would likely suffer from unyielding indignation. But I recently stumbled upon an image, along with attached commentary, that so perfectly encapsulated everything I despise about faith and religious fervor, that I found emotionally detached analysis impractical.
The image in question showed up on my Facebook feed. It portrays a car burnt to cinders from what can safely be assumed to be an explosion. In the center of the frame, amongst the scorched wreckage, lay the holy book of Islam open and undefiled by flame. The post was accompanied by the words: “No damage to Quran after Car Fire… SUBHAN ALLAH (glorious is god).” Glorious indeed. The comment thread was filled with thousands of devotional messages such as the reflexive regurgitation of “Allahu Akbar” to more measured responses like “Oh wow, truly beautiful.”
Scanning the image and its reactions I found myself both bewildered and trembling with rage.
Given my overall contempt for the religious, you may be wondering why this particular image provoked in me such a visceral response. After all, the Taliban and its cohorts continue to indiscriminately murder countless of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and Pakistan for opaque theological reasons. Boko Haram gleefully murder and abduct children in their classrooms in northern Nigeria by the “will of Allah.” Christian fundamentalists continue to scorn sexual health and encourage pogroms against homosexuals; especially where they hold most sway, in the poorest regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Messianic Jews still assault, harass and occasionally murder Arabs in areas under Israeli control. Even the gentle Buddhists of Myanmar, are engaged in a genocidal campaign against the destitute and desperate Rohingya minority in their country.
As someone whose only faith lies in the importance of the human family and respect for the world that offers us sanctuary, I’m constantly inundated with stories and images that offend my deepest sensibilities. Yet the image I’ve described above inspired a particularly loathsome ire and I find it necessary to explain why.
The first and most apparent problem to anyone not blinded by religious devotion, is the unbelievable stupidity of the assumption attached to this image. When reading the comments I’m reminded of something Christopher Hitchens said during a debate regarding the Christian concept of the Immaculate Conception; “which is more likely, that the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie?” To anyone without compromised logic, it’s plainly obvious that a book made of paper did not survive an inferno that incinerated plastic and steel. A far more plausible scenario is that someone felt an urge to inspire blind faith through deception.
If we are to give this absurd contention the benefit of doubt, as the religious constantly demand, the insinuations of the commentary grow even darker and more disgusting. When cars explode there are generally people inside them or near them. I looked through the many responses to this image with the hope that someone would offer a word of distress for the possible human victims of this destruction. With over 16,000 responses, I found none. Just relentless idiotic praise to the omnipotent Allah. According to these feeble minds, their all-powerful creator felt compelled to spare paper and ink from the ravages of fire, but not his own children. They were left to endure the unspeakable horror of burnt flesh and boiled organs while an easily replaceable book was protected by divine hands. Whether there were human victims or not, the general lack of concern or even consideration is appallingly telling.
Some who read this may feel that it smacks of Islamophobia. Herein lies another important problem. I will be forthright in my fervent opposition to the strain of theocratic Islam that has gained favor in many parts of the Muslim world. I also find many of the principles of the Quran and Hadith morally repugnant (as I do with most ancient religious manuscripts). But this is not due to any special prejudice I harbor towards an ethnicity or geography. I would be equally revolted had the image been of a crucifix, Torah or other symbol (secular or religious) and made such outrageously asinine and morally bankrupt claims.
If I have been unable to impress you with the horrifying insidiousness of this kind of thinking than I have failed miserably. Most of us like to take refuge in the idea that it’s not religions that are evil, it’s the fundamentalists or those misconstrue religion to their own ends. Bull shit. I know there are many people, inspired by faith, who have done noble acts. There are also many more who live peaceful and deeply religious lives. It’s likely these people would behave similarly without a religious identity. At its worst, faith provides the ideological justification for the absolute darkest of evil. That an idea or its symbols are more valuable than human life. At best, it invites people to be fooled by transparent forgery. Maybe virgins can get pregnant (at least that’s what your girlfriend may want you to believe) and maybe sometimes books don’t burn in fire, but keep it to yourself because you sound crazy.
Blog By Kaetan Mazza