My Orthodox colleague, Kostas, from the USA, questioned the ideology of martyrdom in the book of The Revelation, as belonging to the Imperial Church, which he knows I detest as much as he does. Then yesterday I read about an incident in Afghanistan which reinforced my own view, as displayed above, that God hates religion.
A young Afghan woman, who had been reciting the Qur’an in Kabul, got into an argument with keeper of a shrine when he tried to sell her text cards which she thought were a rip-off and unislamic. He couldn’t accept a woman arguing with him and accused her of burning the Qur’an. Male passers -by heard him and started beating her up. After a while some police arrived and stopped them, but then allowed the large crowd of hysterically screaming men to stone her and run her over with a car. By the time reinforcements arrived, the young woman was dead. After a day the police realised that she had not burned a Qur’an and that she had been murdered by these men for no reason. There was plenty evidence on mobile phone cameras to identify the attqckers and the police who stood and watched them. A court found them guilty. Meantime the body of the young woman was buried by women who refused to allow any men near her. After some days, the town declared the dead woman a martyr. Her name was Farkhunda.
Now there are some other societal institutions, like racism or nationalism,for example, which might also fuel such lynchings, but none of them are as frequently guilty as religions. There is something about the traditions, brotherhoods and taboos of religion which generates the hysterical hatreds that produce lynch mobs. More than any other issue religious violence leads me to doubt the value of all religions, including Christianity.
At this point in my thinking there’s an interruption. I glance up from the computer and see him sitting on the sofa bed, dressed in jeans and striped shirt, smiling.
Me: Yes, even Christianity. Are you going to argue?
Him: No, as long as you’re not blaming me for the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the massacres of Jews, the wars of Catholic and Protestant, Rangers and Celtic…..
Me: Not directly of course, but actually, when I think about it, you must accept some responsbility for what the church has done in your name. I mean, you started it.
Him: I started something, yes that’s true, and I didn’t expect it to be perfect. I knew people would go off the rails from time to time, as they did in the first churches, but the real betrayals came when the Roman Empire adopted the faith and the emperors pushed me out of the frame. Can I be held responsible for what they did?
LMe: I’m sure the prophet Mohammed-
Him : – peace upon him-
Me: – peace indeed. He seems to have been a decent bloke who would never approve of what happened to Farkhunda, but the existence of Islam, in his name and in his certainty, made her killing possible.
Him: I’m sure that Mohammed would have been just as indignant about selling text cards as I was over the trading in the temple.
Me: It’s all very well for guys like you and big Mo who’ve demanded complete obedience and accepted peoples’ worship….
Him: It’s not true that Mohammed is worshipped….
Me: But you are!
Me: You mean you don’t like being worshipped?
Him: I’m not even sure that my Father likes being worshipped. But me, I’m the way and not the end, the gate and not garden. And as for complete obedience, I’ve never demanded it. I just observed that there’s not much point in saying you love me if you don’t obey my teachings.
Me: Are you saying you didn’t intend to start a religion?
Him: Religions peddle ways to find God and influence him. i announced that God had come to find human beings and influence them: that’s the opposite of religion. And religious people knew it. They hated me, drove themselves into a hysterical fury and got rid of me, just like they did with Farkhunda.
Me: You know her then?
Him: Of course, she’s lovely, we often talk.
Me: But it’s OK to have churches and ministers and…
Him: Yes, yes, the people are fine, as long as they don’t get too religious…
I woke up with a start. How had I managed to dose off when writing about something so important?