Religion’s intrinsic extremism

A friend recently posted the following to Facebook:


While trite, this picture’s message is at least true … only not in the way its creator intended.

Because the fact is, the Ku Klux Klan does represent Christianity in the same way that jihadists and terrorists and oppressive regimes such as that of Saudi Arabia do represent Islam. They don’t stand for all of Christianity and Islam, but they do represent an incarnation of the faith that has as much claim to be genuine and representative as any other.

It’s important to remember that religion is just shit that people make up.

There is no truth in religion – no objective standard against which attitudes, ideas and actions can be judged as being ‘true’ or otherwise to the faith. Every religion encompasses a spectrum of beliefs. Every sect claims for itself the title of the true way, the genuine faith. It is, after all, a fundamental characteristic of religion that it is exclusive and exclusionary, assuming a superiority to those outside it – or even those outside one narrow interpretation of it.

But no sect can in any meaningful way prove, or even justify, its claim of authenticity and purity, other than by the circular reasoning of pointing to the tenets and ideas that define and differentiate it and claiming that everything else must therefore be wrong. ‘This is why we’re right’, the faithful will say – but what they actually mean is simply, ‘this is why we’re different’.

Without objective benchmarks, it’s arrogant of any Christian to point to the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church and say, “they’re not real Christians”. You can spout scripture as much as you like – those extremists will just spout different excerpts of the Bible back at you, or the same excerpts with a different twist. (Religious ‘logic’ is nothing if not twisted.)

Religion is a matter of interpretation. What’s more, it’s interpretation of superstitions and (in the case of the religions of the book) the fairy tales of primitive Bronze Age tribes from the Middle East.

There’s also an argument that you can’t have the kind of inoffensive, limp-limbed Christianity of, say, the Church of England without accepting that the same philosophical framework is capable of sustaining, say, the cretinous lies of creationism, the murderers of abortion doctors, the Inquisition, and the deadly falsehoods that Catholics spread in Africa.

By the same token, jihadist murderers are cut from the same cloth – albeit in a different, less palatable style – as those who profess Islam to be a religion of peace and love.

They are the same philosophy viewed through different facets of a distorting prism. We may find one image comfortable and the other horrific, but they are inexorably connected, growing as they do from the same root of discriminatory exclusiveness that is the nature of all faiths. And it’s this intrinsic sense of self-righteousness that can lead as easily to misogyny, savagery and murder as it does to missionary zeal.