In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, we have heard denunciations of the fanaticism in which terrorism is rooted, but we have heard nothing about the real cause of this fanaticism. Religion is the culprit, but no one dares say it. Instead, we have actually heard pleas for even more religion. There have been prayer sessions throughout the land, including even a "national day of prayer" and political speech after political speech that invariably ended with the obligatory "God bless America," but no public official has yet had the courage to say, "Religion caused this."
To the contrary, there have been concerted efforts to deny the religious roots of terrorism. Muslims disassociated with Islamic terrorist groups proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace, and some political speeches in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States echoed the same claim. Such attempts to whitewash the horror of terrorist acts perpetrated by religiously affiliated organizations are usually based on one-sided looks at a two-headed coin, because most religions are like double-headed coins. Holy books will extol the virtue of goodness and kindness in one place but take the opposite view in other passages. In sura 6:161, the Qur'an declares that "(w)hoever brings a good deed will have tenfold like it, and whoever brings an evil deed will be recompensed only with the like of it, and they shall not be wronged." A Muslim who is aware of passages like this will see his religion as a religion of peace and kindness, but what about those who look at the other side of the coin? Sura 8:12 says to those who may be zealous to impose their beliefs on others, "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So smite above the necks and smite every finger-tip of them." This is not just an isolated example, because elsewhere, the Qur'an says of disbelievers, "So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters, wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush" (9:5). This Qur'anic command, by the way, provides an excellent example of the two-headed nature of religion, because the passage goes on to say that if the idolaters repent and "keep up prayer," their way should be left free, because "(s)urely Allah is forgiving and merciful." Whether a Muslim is disposed to mercy and kindness, then, will depend upon his individual mindset, because if he wants to find encouragement to practice goodness, he can find it, but if he is disposed to vengeance and retribution, he can find justification for that in his holy book too.
This is not an attempt to indict Islam moreso than other religions, because we have seen that biblically based religions are also double-headed. If one is disposed to goodness and mercy, he can find plenty of scriptures to encourage him to live this kind of life, but if he is inclined to force and violence, he can find biblical justification for those beliefs too. This two-sided character of the Bible was discussed in detail during the exchanges with Roger Hutchinson on the degree to which the Bible is responsible for atrocities in western history. They showed that only someone with his head in the sand could exonerate the Bible of all blame in these matters.
So it is in the current situation. At the moment, terrorism, for the most part, seems rooted in Islamic fanaticism, but biblically based religions have no room to put on self-righteous airs, because they too are responsible for terrorism on a smaller scale. The half century of civil disorder in the Middle East is rooted in ancient religious beliefs that should have died long ago, such as the belief that God selected the Jews to be his specially "chosen people" and intended them to have forever the land they claim in this region. In our own country, we have "Christians"who kill abortion providers fully believing that what they are doing is the will of God, and they are then harbored or assisted by those who share their belief that the Bible justifies their actions. There isn't enough space left in this issue even to list all the troubled spots in the world where religion is deeply involved in wars, assassinations, persecutions, and terrorism. There just seems to be something about religion that instills in some of its adherents an attitude of "I am right and you are wrong, so agree with me or I will kill you." Does anyone seriously think that a nonreligious political movement would be able to find 19 skeptics or atheists who would be willing to fly suicide missions, believing that when they had completed the missions, that would be the end of them forever? No, it was a religious belief that what they were doing would bring them special rewards in paradise that had motivated the terrorists to volunteer for those missions. Without that religious belief, there would probably have been no suicide missions.
We just don't hear about atheistic groups who plant bombs in
public buildings or airplanes or ships in hope of furthering some
political cause. It always seems to be those individuals and groups
with religious affiliations who engage in such activities, so no matter
how warm and fuzzy those who attended recent prayer sessions may have
felt inside, they need to realize that their actions didn't solve the
problem but actually contributed to the furtherance of that which is
the root of the problem.