This is not an auspicious time for religion.
Millions of religious Muslims celebrate their co-religionists who blow up innocent people while chanting “Allah [God] is great.” Here in America, we learn of more and more Roman Catholic priests who sexually molested children though, happily – unlike in the Islamic Middle East – there is no celebration in the wider Catholic world of evil done in God’s name.
All of us who believe that God-based religion is indispensable to moral progress need to condemn religion-based evil as vigorously as possible. In fact, we need to condemn it even more strongly than we condemn secular-based evil such as communism and Nazism. From a religious perspective, religious evil is the worst form of evil. While secular and religious evil do equal damage to their victims, religious evil is more destructive because it does immense damage to the only things we believe can solve the problem of evil – God-based morality and moral religion.
The damage Muslim terrorists and their supporters are doing to the name of God and to religion is immense. Speaking personally, the fact that millions of people believe that God rewards those who massacre innocent men, women and children – with 72 virgins in heaven, no less – almost makes me want to hide my being religious (even though not Muslim) from the world. I so easily understand why many Catholic priests, according to news reports, do not want to wear their collar in public.
All religious people need to vociferously and publicly condemn those who commit evil in God’s name, especially members of the faiths in whose name evil is being committed.
If American Catholic leaders do not believe that many members of their great religion have been negatively affected by the sick men in collars who molested children and by the institutional silence that concealed these men, these leaders are fooling themselves. Perhaps that is why the cardinal – under whose jurisdiction 80 priests are charged with molesting children – has not resigned. He does not realize how important such an act would be to restoring credibility to his Church.
Even more so, Muslim leaders who do not understand how terribly the name of Islam has been sullied among decent people are only inflicting more damage on their religion. That is why one can only wonder at the absence of any public Muslim demonstration against Muslim terror – the best service Muslims could render their religion at this time would be to organize demonstrations and condemn Islamic terror (and not hide behind condemnations of “terror committed by all sides”).
Whatever our religion, we who are religious need to acknowledge that religion does not guarantee goodness. The sobering truth is that it is quite possible to believe in God, in Allah, in Christ and do great evil. A major 18th-century rabbi, the Gaon of Vilna (“genius of Vilnius”), compared the Torah, the book he believed was dictated by God, to rain. Just as rain, he explained, produces both beautiful flowers and poisonous weeds, so, too, religion can produce both beautiful and poisonous human beings.
Because religion can be the greatest tool for goodness, it can also be the greatest tool for evil. And those who use it for evil commit the worst of sins. The second/third (depending on your enumeration) of the Ten Commandments reads, “Thou shall not take the name of God in vain, for God will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.”
This commandment prohibits much more than merely frivolously saying the word “God.” What it really prohibits (and describes as essentially unforgivable) is committing evil while acting religious. Or, as the original Hebrew literally reads, “carrying” God’s name in vain.
Such people have a uniquely harsh judgment awaiting them. And it is time for religious people to state this loudly and clearly. Because every day religious people stay silent about religious evil is another day that they, their religions and God Himself fall into disrepute.