Just finished a book by Christopher Hitchens about religion. He made some good points and provided a historical overview of religious bigotry and cruelty. I hope you will read the following as I believe that Hitchens had some legitimate grievances against religion:
"A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America's better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a 'straight yes/no question,' and I happily agreed. Very well, he said. I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now--would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical. 'Just to stay within the letter 'B,' I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beiruit, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance."
Hitchens then went on to describe the following:
Belfast: sectarian warfare between different sects of Christianity
Beirut: the Catholic militia ("the Phalange") steeped in racism which conducted the massacre of Palestinians in 1982
Bombay: which was overrun by a Hindu nationalist movement culminating in the renaming of the city to "Mumbai."
Belgrade: "To be Croatian...is to be Roman Catholic. To be a Serb is to be a Christian Orthodox. In the 1940s, this meant a Nazi puppet state, set up in Croatia and enjoying the patronage of the Vatican, which naturally sought to exterminate all the Jews in the region but also undertook a campaign of forcible conversion directed at the other Christian community. Tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians were either slaughtered or deported in consequence, and a vast concentration camp was set up near the town of Jasenovacs. So disgusting was the regime of General Ante Pavelic and his Ustashe party that even many German officers protested at having to be associated with it.
By the time I visited the site of the Jasenovacs camp in 1992, the jackboot was somewhat on the other foot. The Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik had been brutally shelled by the armed forced of Serbia, now under the control of Slobodan Milosevic. The mainly Muslim city of Sarajevo had been encircled and was being bombarded around the clock. Elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially along the river Drina, whole towns were pillaged and massacred in what the Serbs themselves termed 'ethnic cleansing.' In point of fact, 'religious cleansing' would have been nearer the mark. Milosevic was an ex-Communist bureaucrat who had mutated into a xenophobic nationalist, and his anti-Muslim crusade, which was a cover for the annexation of Bosnia to a 'Greater Serbia,' was to a large extent carried out by unofficial militias operating under his 'deniable' control.
....In effect, the extremist Catholic and Orthodox forces were colluding in a bloody partition and cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were, and still are, largely spared the public shame of this, because the world's media preferred the simplification of 'Croat' and 'Serb,' and only mentioned religion when discussing 'the Muslims.' But the triad of terms 'Croat,' Serb,' and 'Muslim' is unequal and misleading, in that it equates two nationalities and one religion."
Later in the book, Hitchens ventures quite beyond the letter "B" and goes after Catholicism (especially the scandals involving priestly pedophilia). However, in keeping with the previous examples of institutionalized Christianity and Islam, I'll quote excerpts about Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa:
Uganda: the 'Lord's Resistance Army' (LRA) led by a former altar boy, was a sinister force originating in Christianity but financed and armed by the Sudanese regime. They took children from Acholi, ages 8 to 13, and trained them to be murderers.
Rwanda: An even more graphic example is afforded by the case of Rwanda, which in 1992 gave the world a new synonym for genocide and sadism. This former Belgian possession is the most Christian country in Africa, boasting the highest percentage of churches per head of population, with 65 percent of Rwandans professing Roman Catholicism and another 15 percent adhering to various Protestant sects. The words 'per head' took on a macabre ring in 1992, when at a given signal the racist militias of 'Hutu Power,' incited by state and church, fell upon their Tutsi neighbors and slaughtered them en masse....many of the mass-grave sites that have been photographed are on consecrated ground..."
[Peter's Note: one of the Tutsis visited my law school once and told us about how the Christians would be praying in church one minute and then the next minute they would go out and murder hundreds of Tutsis. Just like the Crusaders of long ago, wearing crosses and murdering Jews, these Hutus were going about in the name of Christ and murdering innocent men, women, and children.]
South Africa: The connection between religion, racism, and totalitarianism is also to be found in the other most hateful dictatorship of the twentieth century: the vile system of apartheid in South Africa. This was not just the ideology of a Dutch-speaking tribe bent on extorting forced labor from people of a different shade of pigmentation, it was also a form of Calvinism in practice. The Dutch Reformed Church preached as a dogma that black and white were biblically forbidden to mix, let alone to coexist in terms of equality. Racism is totalitarian by definition: it marks the victim in perpetuity and denies him, or her, the right to even a rag of dignity or privacy, even the elemental right to make love or marry or produce children with a loved one of the 'wrong' tribe, without having love nullified by law...And this was the life of millions living in the 'Christian West' in our time."
Hitchens also made sure to mention the silence from American churches in the South during the time of slavery. Christians endorsed slavery from the pulpit, blaming the plight of the Blacks to a supposed ancestral curse. He also covers the Vatican's support of Hitler and how the Nazi's were composed of both Catholics and Protestants (predominantly Lutheran).
He concludes that "religion poisons everything."
While I disagree with his conclusion, I am forced to take his sincere grievances against religious abuses to heart. Hitchens was a Jew (and therefore a brother) who could not in good conscience follow the religions which he observed around the world during his time as a reporter.
It would be too easy to hate Hitchens for his blasphemous remarks (the title alone of his book is enough to turn most Believers away). But I can't hate him. He didn't hate G-d (it would be difficult to hate that which you do not believe even exists). He hated those who would use religion to racially divide society, create inequities, institutionalize cruelty and anti-Semitism.
Call me a Devil's Advocate if you must....but I could never hate Christopher Hitchens.
I'll conclude on a quote of Hitchen's with which I entirely agree:
"The urge to ban and censor books, silence dissenters, condemn outsiders, invade the private sphere, and invoke an exclusive salvation is the very essence of the totalitarian."