By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College
Religion and atrocities
A conflict of global importance exists today between two fundamentally different views of morality and even of reality, itself. One view is supported by several hundred years of solid scientific discoveries, rational critical thought, comparative religious studies, and humanistic ethics. The other view is based on narrow inflexible interpretations of ancient religious texts. The United States with its Christian Right and their medieval faith-based agenda is a disquieting anomaly in the present industrialized world — an anomaly that wishes to turn the clock back and undo not only the scientific and democratic revolutions of our time, but also to repeal the Enlightenment.
The Christian Right stridently warns us that without God and His Holy Word (the Bible) to guide us, every atrocity will become possible. And many Christians really do believe that without God morality and civility will break down. Yet, the distressing fact is that even in this so-called enlightened age, religious hatreds and conflicts still fester all over the world. In Ireland, India, Lebanon and the Middle East, fundamentalist Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus and Muslems threaten the security of the entire world with their perennial religious–power–territorial wars.
In fact, over the centuries just about every cruelty and atrocity known to humans has actually been justified in the name of this god or that god. The world’s many different gods have ordered their followers to go on deadly crusades and jihads, torture and burn witches, sacrifice virgins, execute those who work on holy days, put to death gay men and abortion doctors, deny anesthesia to women in labor, slaughter “heathen” cultures, and exterminate inferior races.
The Church of medieval Europe fomented religious wars in 16th century France and the 30 Years’ War in 17th century Germany. In fact, the history of Europe is littered with the corpses of those slain because of doctrinal differences. Christian societies organized and carried out the Crusades, the extermination of the Albigensians, the Inquisition, the religious wars following the Reformation and centuries of anti-Semitic violence.
The Christian Church followed and supported the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English conquerors in order to convert indigenous populations. It was the god-fearing Christians who helped to reduce the Indian population of Mexico from 25 million in 1519 to only one million by 1605. In the 1500s, the Spaniards in Mexico and Peru baptized Indian infants and then immediately dashed their brains out. By this means they insured that these infants went to Heaven.
In 1543, Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, set forth a program to exterminate the Jews, which included burning their synagogues, schools and homes, taking all their money and driving them out like mad dogs. In the 1600s, god’s Grand Inquisitor sent his Catholic troops to slaughter thousands of innocent Protestants and Muslims in Italy and France. He later elected Pope Pius V in 1566 and even canonized a saint after his death.
In the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran recommended killing infidels as “a surgical operation commanded by God.” Over 500,000 young men died in battle, all being told that death provided an instant place in Heaven.
The Bible, itself, was written at a time when society had no concept of universal human rights. So the Hebrews’ tribal god demanded an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:23-5), the execution of children who cursed their parents (Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9) and the stoning to death of brides found not to be virgins on their wedding night (Deut. 22: 13-21).
The Old Testament also has instructions for the genocide and enslavement of out-groups; the Israelites were instructed by their god to slaughter or enslave every man, woman and child in enemy villages. City after city was totally destroyed with no mercy (Deut. 2:34, 3:3-7, 7:1-6, 20:16-18). In the Book of Joshua, the followers of the Hebrews’ tribal god killed tens of thousands, leaving nothing remaining. They “utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded (Joshua 6:21-24; 10:40).” The biblical Jesus never condemned any of these actions and, in fact, instructed his followers to uphold the Old Testament laws and commandments down to the very last one (Matt. 5:17-19).
I’ve listened to pastors in the Christian Right explain away these God-ordered killings of all the men, women and children in city after city in the Old Testament, while at the same time defending their god as a god of love, justice and mercy. They tell their flocks that the people in the cities that God ordered destroyed were all utterly evil and depraved and were trying to commit genocide on God’s chosen people through whom He would bring salvation to the entire world through Jesus Christ. They preach that had any of them been allowed to live they could have continued their genocide against the Israelites in the future. Regarding the killing of children, pastors remind their flocks that in these evil and depraved tribes there was no hope for the children anyway. So God’s command to kill all the children was really an act of mercy, since every child who died before the age of accountability went to heaven. (Isaiah 7:16; Mark 10:14).
How does one respond to this justification for the genocide of every man, woman and child? This is my response. When religious leaders are able to take the commands of their god—commands that today would be considered immoral, even barbaric in any civilized society—and twist these commands into something that sound good, just, merciful and wise, it only proves that people can use their gods to justify anything, from genocides, crusades, witch-burnings and inquisitions, to jihads and even to Armageddon Theology, the ultimate biblically sanctified atrocity of global nuclear annihilation where everyone on the planet is incinerated except for the “raptured.”
The Christian Right today
By the early 1990s, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians were reported to account for 1/5th of all Republican voters, enough to swing major elections. In addition they claimed control of over 2000 school boards nationwide, elected nine state governors, took control of numerous legislatures and dominated 20 state parties. By 2001 the Christian Right had front row seats in the White House and much of Congress. By 2005 there were 1600 Christian radio and television broadcasters who reached over 140 million listeners. By 2010, James Dobson’s colossal fundamentalist Christian media empire was taking in over $150 million/year. It was presenting news programs daily on 3,000 radio stations in North America, heard on radio broadcasts in 99 countries, mailing out four million pieces of mail each month, buying television time on 80 stations daily and maintaining an activist network of over 100,000 people.[i]
Society’s laws regarding contraception and abortion reflect the power of the patriarchal Christian Right in state and national governments. In 2010, more that 600 measures were introduced in state legislatures in an attempt to force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will—in essence, to be reproductively enslaved. In November 2010, 29 governors were elected who were solidly anti-choice. Also bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress with over 180 co-sponsors that would permanently deny abortion coverage to low-income women and to all federal employees.
In early 2011 Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the most outspoken opponent of contraceptives in Congress, was named chairman of the subcommittee on Global Health and Human Rights. He threatened (along with others) to shut down the federal government if it continued to support Planned Parenthood clinics across the U.S.. Smith is now attempting to undermine family planning programs around the globe in the name of saving “innocent babies” (i.e., fertilized eggs, blastulas, embryos). Back in 1998, Smith sponsored a House amendment that would bar federal health care plans from paying for birth control pills and the IUD because, he claimed, they were “baby pesticides.” Almost 200 members of the House supported his position!
There is little doubt that the Christian Right has become a powerful force in American politics and is extending its influence into many places around the world.[ii] Today, there is no viable political force in either our state or national governments that is willing to defend secularism, or to vigorously support women’s reproductive rights. The Republican Party is currently dominated by conservative Christians who appear wedded to archaic biblical morality. The Democratic Party has also failed, as its politicians increasingly affirm their devotion to religious piety in public pronouncements.
[i]“Dobson’s Choice: Religious Right Leader Becomes Political Power Broker” at
[ii]An excellent newsletter which monitors Christian Right activities is “Church & State” published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit educational corporation