Neither Religion nor Freedom of Expression Should Take Pre-Eminence

Cape Times (South Africa), January 20, 2015 | Go to article overview

Neither Religion nor Freedom of Expression Should Take Pre-Eminence


BYLINE: Ray McCauley

No decent human being will condone the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that took place in France recently. The loss of lives was tragic, and it is something that should never take place, especially in the name of religion.

Having been a religious leader for close to 40 years now, I am well aware of how religion, any religion, is susceptible to becoming evil. This happens when particular conceptualisations lead to rigid doctrine and cocksure certainty about God and others.

It is worsened by blind obedience and a belief that the end justifies any means.

Islamist extremists, the kind who carried out the barbaric act of cold-blooded violence on Charlie Hebdo journalists, epitomise religion gone awry.

The turning point in any religion is when followers think all that matters is their religious views and everybody else is wrong. This is a pivotal point at which religion can tip the scale towards disaster. But the Islamist extremists are not alone in distorting religion and making it evil.

Almost 20 years ago, the followers of Aum Shinrikyo - a movement that drew from Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism - left Japan and the world in shocked disbelief when in their moment of crazy absolutism, they released a deadly nerve gas in 16 central Tokyo subway stations in the early morning rush.

That left 12 people dead and more than 5 000 injured.

And how can we forget about Yehuda Etzion, the Israeli right-wing activist who was a member of the Jewish Underground, and participated in a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock for which he was arrested and imprisoned in the mid-1980s?

Closer to home, my own Christian religion has its fair share of atrocities.

History is replete with tragic events that solely occurred on command of church authorities. Christian Emperor Theodosius once had children executed because they had been playing with the remains of pagan statues.

The burning of witches is another low moment in the history of the Christian church, including alleged involvement in the Rwanda massacres as recently as 1994.

I cite all the above to illustrate the point that all religions are susceptible to being evil. As one person once observed, religion is like a cow. It can kick severely, but it can also provide wholesome milk. As religious leaders and believers from different religious persuasions, our role is to nurture and bring forth the "wholesome milk" side of religion. …

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