The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 34.0°F | A Few Clouds


Religion is to Blame

Matt Craighead

One of the loudest screams heard in the aftermath of September 11 has been, “Don’t blame Islam!” We’ve heard it from our President: “[Islam’s] teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.” And we’ve heard it from the diversity police, who warn us that we shouldn’t blame all Arabs or all Muslims for the actions of a few (as if we didn’t already realize that).

But this view of Islam is just not true -- it is partially to blame. Our President isn’t telling us this because he, like many Americans, suffers from a deep psychological evasion. He evades because the indictment is not limited to Islam. It condemns all religions everywhere, his own Christianity included.

The essence of religion is faith in the supernatural and the unknowable. Faith, of course, is the opposite of reason. Reason demands that data and the vigorous application of logic back up every assertion. Faith works in the opposite fashion. The faithful believe in spite of the knowledge that there is no sense data that backs up their belief; no logic that can prove it.

Most religions have a certain set of doctrines taken on faith. For example, Islam requires belief in a God (Allah) who sent a prophet (Muhammad) and divinely revealed a sacred text (the Koran). For Christianity, the names change, but the idea does not.

Whenever a man accepts a false assertion on faith, the consequences ripple through his entire life. Eventually, unless the false assertion is totally irrelevant, it will manifest itself in a contradiction. For example, if he believes that the Bible is literally accurate in its every word, he will eventually discover -- either from a contradiction within the Bible itself or from a contradiction between it and our world -- that it is not.

Whenever you discover a contradiction, you have two options. You can either ignore it or you can check your premises. A man who faces a contradiction between his faith and reality has a simple choice: discard faith or discard reality. To the extent he discards his faith, he becomes a de facto atheist and can live a normal, if confused, life. To the extent that he discards reality instead, he becomes a religious fanatic, inevitably destroying himself.

The living proof of the fate of these fanatics can be seen in abortion-clinic bombers and in the letter that the September 11 terrorists received shortly before they departed on their mission of death.

The abortion-clinic bomber believes, according to his Christian faith, that abortion is murder and an unspeakable crime against God. It is true that the Bible condemns killing; but in his view, he is not the killer, the “abortionists” are. After all, the Bible convinced him that a lump of flesh is equivalent to a human being, that removing that lump of flesh is equivalent to murder, and that he ought to eliminate this evil. His views are not far from the mainstream of the despicable “religious right”; witness Pat Robertson and Jerry Farwell blaming the homosexuals, the “abortionists,” and the ACLU for bringing this attack upon us.

The minds of the September 11 hijackers were an equal mess, as the terrorists’ letter reveals (you can find the letter’s translated text online). The letter is nothing if not pious; it is full of talk about how one must repeatedly say “there is no God but God” (which supposedly is a wonderful phrase because its Arabic letters have no dots in them), and say supplications of place and travel, and have complete faith in Allah and his divine plan. It reminds the terrorists that “the women of paradise are waiting”; that they should not kill in revenge, but solely for the sake of God; that they should not fear death, for they will be accorded the highest status in heaven, that of martyrs.

According to many pundits, Islam is a peaceful religion, and these terrorists are merely “fringe elements” or “extremists” who misinterpret it. The pundits, who have not read the Koran, are wrong. It is not difficult to find examples disproving their claim, such as verse 9.5: “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush...”

Of course, Islam is a dangerous religion for many other reasons, such as the concept of jihad and the explicit belief in fundamentalist dictatorship. Yet all of these problems are simply instances of the root problem: faith itself. Belief in any sacred religious text will undoubtedly lead to evil; it just so happens that the Koran is an unusually dangerous text. Faith leads to ruin in all areas of one’s life by eliminating the capacity for independent judgment.

Faith in metaphysics means the world is fundamentally unknowable, controlled by a higher power beyond the comprehension of man; man is controlled by destiny and not by his own free will.

Faith in epistemology means throw logic to the wind; put your trust in a sacred text; shut your eyes and pray that a nonexistent God will grant you knowledge you never took the trouble to seek; and when he says nothing, rely on your feelings, intuitions, friends, the will of the majority, anything but your independent judgment.

Faith in ethics means give away all your possessions and devote yourself to a life of service and self-sacrifice, since you are irrelevant in comparison to the designs of God; seek forgiveness for your original sin by prostrating yourself and seeking no values of your own; and since you have already discarded your judgment, do whatever your religious leader tells you, even killing millions for the reason that they do not believe.

And faith in politics means ban abortion, sex without procreation, the pursuit of profit; discard the Constitution and the rule of law as worthless, and put the Bible in its place; institute an aristocratic priesthood to quell immorality; and stone to death whosoever even thinks of violating their decree, for theirs is the word of God.

The living proof of all this can be found in modern-day Afghanistan and Iran; and to the extent that the people of the United States accept religion, they will find themselves on that same road, all the way back to the Middle Ages.