By Melanie Davis Publisher, PQ Monthly & El Hispanic News
Religion, like every other human cultural product (or, as a perfect revelation given by God but nevertheless managed and propagated in the world by limited, flawed human beings), does not exist as a freestanding force or entity in the world apart from its human “creators” or “caretakers.” In other words, religion qua religion doesn’t do a darn thing in the world. We do it. When violence has been done in the name of religion, it’s not religion itself — as a separate force in the world — that has done it. We have done it, through religion.
Let’s look at some of history’s largest armed conflicts and genocides. World War II had between 40-70 million casualties, 6 million of those being Jews killed in the extermination camps. Clearly a particular group was targeted for their religio-ethnic identity, but we go too far in saying World War II was a religious war. It was not. Along with World War II, the An Shi Rebellion in medieval China (approximately 35 million deaths), the Mongol and Tatar invasions of the 12th-14th centuries (an estimated 45 million deaths), the Manchu conquest of the 17th century (an estimated 25 million deaths), the Dungan revolt of the 19th century (an estimated 25 million deaths), and World War I (approximately 20 million deaths) round out the list of the genocides and armed conflicts with the highest estimated body counts. None of these can be described legitimately as religious wars, or wars conducted primarily under the banner of a religion.
The European conquest of the Americas has a death count estimated at 50 million, which includes deaths from the diseases brought to the immunity-lacking natives. Some estimates put the death count here as high as 100 million. Certainly, religion played a role in these deaths; religion was (and remains) part of the rationale of colonialism. However, it’s only a third. Colonialism is a three-headed hydra that seeks to impose not only a culture (usually a religious culture) but also a form of government and an economic system. Hence, colonial conquest is a much — or more — about money and power as it is about religion.
Now in the name of God, religious business owners have the right to discriminate in a twist of words blessed by our highest court in America (the Supremes’ Hobby Lobby decision). Now frenzied, hateful Christians may think they have us beat (women, homosexuals, and all minorities), but the flood gates are now open to all religions to seek legal exemption to discriminate. I guess the hundreds of millions who have been killed throughout this history as I noted above have taught us nothing! As the 3 heads of religion gives our freedom the death stare, we must stand together and declare absolute separation of church and state to protect us from each other. The Hobby Lobby decision and the barrage of religious exemptions that are headed our way (we’ve already seen them, and rest assured more are on the way) will not be the final answer or the last word.
We, the people, will always have the last word. That’s why it’s so important to make your words — and voices — heard. In the streets, at the polls, with your pocketbooks. Do not let a handful of old, straight men dictate the way your life will be lived.