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Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 2002)Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 2002)

         Religion has done much good in many times and places, but it has also been the source and cause of horrible evils.  As I write, the world just commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide where Christian Hutus killed almost a million fellow Christian Tutsis.  If you read your papers carefully enough you’ll also know of the unfolding genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan where government backed Muslims are killing fellow Muslims.  In 1487 the Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 people in four days at the consecration of a temple.  Widow burning, caste systems, female genital mutilation, witch hunts, ritual abuse, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, apartheid, murdering abortion doctors---all these evils and more have enlisted religion for its cause.

         A few years ago Mark Juergensmeyer published an important book entitled Terror in the Mind of God; The Global Rise of Religious Violence (2000).  In it he devoted successive chapters to violence by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Kimball revisits the same, disturbing and disheartening theme but takes a thematic approach.   Alarms should go off when religion exhibits any of the five characteristics he identifies: fanatical claims of absolute truth, blind obedience to totalitarian, charismatic or authoritarian leaders, actively trying to usher in the end times, justifying religious ends by any means, and any and all forms of dehumanization.  We might also add pressure tactics of coercion, deception and false advertisement, alienation and isolation from one’s family or community, and any and all forms of exploitation (time, money, sex, etc.).

         Anne Lamott recounts how her therapist advised her that when God hates all the same people that you hate, then you can be confident that you have created Him in your own image.  God give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to love our neighbor as ourselves, for as Jesus said, this is the ultimate barometer of my love for the God I claim to follow

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