Magazine article USA TODAY

Is Religion Good for Us?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Is Religion Good for Us?

Article excerpt

IS ORGANIZED RELIGION GOOD for you, us, or the world'? We often are advised that one never should discuss religion or poll. tics in mixed company. Just look at the hoopla raised when someone suggested that the Pledge of Allegiance omit the "nation under God" phrase, or the controversy over prayer in school, or that of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom. Years ago, the nation was split on evolution with the celebrated Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee. (Incredibly, in our age of scientific enlightenment, it still is an issue with a number of religious groups as well as the State Board of Education in Kansas.) Generally, religion has not taken kindly to science, and vice versa. Supposedly, religion should console, inspire, promote the good life, and aid in making tragic personal events acceptive, if not understood. It can be the last hope for the hopeless. Whether a placebo or a reality, religious faith can work wonders.

What we find today, though, is the name-calling of "Infidel" by Moslems. In the Middle East, America is referred to as the Great Satan. Many Islamics think the crises there must be resolved by jihad (holy war). We see suicide bombers encouraged by the Mullahs, wreaking havoc among innocent civilians. Enigmatically, the terrorists expect to be rewarded in heaven with sexual favors. Of course, the West prefers to forget its own jihads of the Crusades in the Middle Ages, in which, just like today, countless civilians suffered looting, torture, and death--all in the name of religion. We barely seem to mention the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition practiced by the Roman Catholic Church. One cannot make the lame excuse that Church officials merely pronounced the verdict, but the actual punishment was inflicted by the state. The fact is, Church and state worked hand in glove. John Calvin in Switzerland had his own inquisition and burnings at the stake. We had our Salem witch trials. We have all but forgotten the Hindu practice of suttee, whereby a widow was supposed to throw herself on her dead husband's pyre and be consumed by the flames. Presently, some Islamics are pushing more enforcement of the law of Sharia, which permits the cutting off of the hand of a thief, stoning to death an adulteress, and beheading a criminal. Ironically, the name of the terrorist group Hezbollah translates to "Party of God." Then there is the neverending hatred and bloody battles between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

The sacrifice of virgins and children to the gods in Aztec culture was a rather common phenomenon and was found in other early cultures as well. Shocking though it may be, the Old Testament tells us that Abraham was willing to do the same with his son, Isaac. Voodoo still is practiced in Haiti, and through it one expects to harm one's enemy.

Any honest enquiry into religion must confront the question of interpretation of its phenomena. Hearing voices, a la Joan of Arc, often is viewed as having a special pipeline to the Deity. Others claim to hear Satan instead, as was the case with the Texas woman who drowned her five children. She was found guilty of homicide, but a second trial judged her insane, as any sane person would expect. Ordinarily, hearing voices within oneself is a sign not of God talking to us, but of schizophrenia. …

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