Religion is like a fire. Without fire we would not have civilization. On the other hand fire which gets out of control destroys and kills, often on large scale. Religions are just like that. They inspire the human spirit to create the most sublime masterpieces of art and to reach great heights of altruism and enlightenment. But religions can also get out of control. They can be abused for dangerous personal, national, or political agendas. If that happens, religions burn and destroy, imprison, enslave and kill with genocidal fanaticism.
Every religion has this latent propensity to become surprisingly destructive and violent. All religious texts, myths, legends, hymns and prophecies known to me are surprisingly violent. Even the Song of Songs, the biblical love poetry, speaks about “the army marching to battle under flags”, “shields of warriors” and “battlements of fortresses”. There are even a few instances when Jesus seems to advocate violence, and honestly, an image of harvest (cutting down of wheat) isn’t a particularly peaceful image of upcoming judgement either. Most often these texts are explained as metaphors, and interpreted as spiritual parables highlighting the urgency of peace and justice. Unfortunately, in no time they can be taken literally and instigate religious riots, exonerate atrocities, and perpetuate oppression.
Every religion has this potential. Every religion can be used and abused by religious, political or national zealots for their own agendas. I might be mistaken, but I think that irrational religious fanaticism has been on the rise for last several decades (and not only in Islam). Some thoughtful and sensitive people react to this nasty side of religion by abandoning religion altogether - to me that is like pretending that we can have civilization without the use of fire. I believe that we can enjoy the benefits of religion but at the same time every person of true faith must recognize the inherent religious danger and seek ways to guard their faith against such aberrations. This Sunday in the lectionary Gospel reading (Mark 8:27-33) we will see how Jesus addressed this very issue in the closest circle of his disciples.