The Roots of Religious Violence

Robert D. Brinsmead

Extracts from The Scandal of Joshua ben Adam, No God Above and Essay 2A, The Divinity of Jesus, RDB, April 200l

The idea of God as a non-human, vertical, authority is the most destructive weapon ever let loose on the earth. In God’s name the worst tyrannies and inhumanities are legitimised by becoming sacralized.

Let the idea of God being a vertical authority above us be accepted, let the idea that this relationship takes precedence over human relationships be accepted, then the door is wide open for every human atrocity, tyranny, deprivation of liberty and destruction of human rights. This is how a sensitive human being like Saul of Tarsus got caught up dragging Christians in chains before the authorities. He put devotion to his God before human obligations. In the same way good men got involved in torturing people in the Inquisition or carrying out Pogroms against the Jews. For sure they were human enough to hurt as they kicked against the goads of their own human consciousness, but the higher authority called God made them do these inhuman things.

Calvin agonized over burning Servetus at the stake. This bloody intolerance was not behaviour true to Calvin’s own human nature. For sure he had to violate his own human sensitivities to do it, but allegiance to a higher authority which he worshipped as God made him do it. As long as a vertical authority called God is separated from our horizontal relationships to our fellow humans the agony of doing inhuman things in God’s name will be repeated.

“For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19)

Millions have been slain and continue to be slain in God’s name. At this very moment somewhere on earth someone is being hacked up or blown up in God’s name.

God is absolutely the most destructive idea let loose on this planet. This idea has caused more war, bloodshed, misunderstandings, strife, tyranny and terror than anything else. Nothing has held people in so much darkness, bondage or blocked human progress so much as the idea of God.

Christians have thought the world was in darkness through want of the Christian God. So they have gone out to convert the world to the God of original sin, hell and blood atonement. A God of blood savagery and total vindictive revenge, dressed up in garments of love and mercy, produced a totalitarian system which has survived the collapse of every other totalitarian system. Why? Because it sacralized its rule and kept people captive with the idea of God.

Anyone who can’t see that the idea of God is dangerous, bloody dangerous, hasn’t read any history and doesn’t realize the appalling amount of crimes against humanity done in his name. And it has not stopped. The world today is a powder keg because there is an idea of God between the ears of millions of people that’s more dangerous than all the explosives you could muster in this world.

That many want to dress this idea of God up in a benevolent guise makes no difference. It may be worse because, in the guise of ‘God is Love’, the idea becomes more seductively dangerous to human freedom and existence. It is safer to believe in no God at all than to believe in this God above, that is, in this God of the vertical dimension.

Of course, we are dumb fools if we fail to acknowledge the source of all this inhumanity done in God’s name. It is because God is made to be an authoritarian, non-human reality. This always works to take away our freedom, destroy the possibility of loving others and turns us into the image and likeness of beasts.

Joshua ben Adam laid the axe at the roots of the vertical order with a new doctrine which put a supremely human God on the human level of freedom and love. His image and likeness is not seen anywhere else.

If God is not an authoritarian figure above the human horizontal line, then nothing else is above that line to demand from us blind obedience, submission and loss of human freedom. There is no Bible, Creed, hierarchy or religious laws that can exercise an authoritarian rule over us. Whatever is human may stand on the line of equality with us, but every other icon must be placed beneath our feet. (Psalms 8:3-6)

God in Solidarity with Us

Joshua’s new vision of God was all about his solidarity with people. It went beyond anything taught before him. It is a vision urgently needed in a world rocked by religious violence.

(1) No Serving God apart from People

God and people are is such solidarity that it is no longer legitimate to say, “God comes first”. The worst inhumanities to man crawl under the wretched cover of putting God first. Under this cover they are still spreading mayhem and murder from Afghanistan to Jerusalem, from Bosnia to Northern Ireland.

The God which is not in solidarity with people is a God of the vertical order, a non-human Abstraction and a dangerous idol of the imagination. Millions will rush into battle for this Abstraction – a God isolated from people- and they will give up their lives or slaughter others to defend him. Yet it is all a total delusion because a God of the vertical dimension does not exist.

Every quest or claim to know God-in-himself is a religious delusion. For God-in-himself is unsearchable, unimaginable, incomprehensible, unthinkable, unfathomable, unknowable, and as the Hebrews used write his name, unpronounceable.

The religious burden of trying to conjure up love for a God-in-himself is a crushing burden that humanity has never been able to carry. Devotion to this unknowable, abstract God out there or up there has driven people crazy enough to resent, neglect, abuse, hate, persecute and slaughter millions of people. There is no violence on earth so bad as religious violence.

When Joshua ben Adam replaced devotion to a God-in-himself with devotion to a God-with-humanity, he conflated the two great commandments of the Law – love of God and love of neighbour – into one. There is now no higher commandment than love of fellow man. The so-called golden rule “is the Law and prophets.”

This explains the mysterious absence of any emphasis on the so-called “higher” or “first” great commandment in the teachings of ben Adam. Rather than repeat the tired old religious clichés about putting God first, Joshua even said that we ought to put reconciliation with our brother first.. As Sheehan puts it:

Henceforth, according to the prophet from Galilee, the Father was not to be found in a distant heaven but was entirely identified with the cause of men and women. Jesus’ doctrine of the kingdom meant that God had become incarnate: He had poured himself out, had disappeared into mankind and could be found nowhere else but there…The doctrine of the kingdom meant that henceforth and forever God was present only in and as one’s neighbour. Jesus dissolved the fanciful speculations of apocalyptic eschatology into the call to justice and charity. (Ibid.)

The idea that there is some sort of vertical authority out there or up that takes precedence over love of neighbour has caused more divisions, hatreds and blood-letting than anything else in the history of mankind. This is what drove Saul of Tarsus to persecute the early Christians. It caused the Church to banish or burn Jews and heretics. It drove Calvin to execute Servetus and the Puritans to flog the Quakers. It still drives the religious extremists in our day to burn, bomb, or shoot up others out of devotion to a God who takes precedence over humanity. But by conflating the two great commandments into one, ben Adam laid the axe at the root of all religiously inspired acts of inhumanity.

We observed earlier that the notion of a God-in-himself, out there or up there, combined with the idea that devotion to this kind of God must take precedence over any human considerations, is the most dangerous and destructive idea that has ever been let loose on this planet. Fired with religious devotion for this abstract God, there is nothing humans will not do to dehumanise and crush one another. Christianity has proved that it is no exception when it comes to religiously inspired violence.

Extracts, RDB 2001