By Douglas Anele
In simple terms, religious intolerance or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own.
Invariably, such an attitude is connected to the conviction that one’s religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and immortality in heaven.
Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. For such a person, those who belong to other faiths are infidels undeserving of eternal bliss in paradise.
That is why adherents of every religion which proclaims a strict exclusive disjunction between believers and unbelievers consider it a religious duty to preach and convert non-adherents. But then, uncritical acceptance of the superiority of one’s religion is a psychological precondition for religious intolerance, since it motivates and justifies any action taken to further that very religion.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in working to promote one’s religion. The major problem is that fanatics go to extremes to promote their religion. Extremists see it as a moral duty, a means of showing genuine piety, to do whatever they deem necessary for achieving a religious cause.
However, for a humanist like myself who detests superstitious weltanschauung and barbarism, vindication of wanton cruelty and violence “in the name of God“ is an appalling regress to primitivism which jeopardises the spiritual core of humanity.
Now, in most countries of the world, especially where the dominant religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam the ruling elite and prominent members of the clergy always blame religious intolerance and violence on unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and mental derangement, and ignore or downplay the damaging effects of certain explicit injunctions contained in “holy books” on the behaviour of believers.
Nevertheless, in the case of Nigeria, the fact that these very conditions were also present in pre-colonial communities before the advent of Islam and Christianity when fanatical religious intolerance among worshippers of different deities was virtually nonexistent implies that the usual explanations are inadequate.
Moreover, a significant percentage of religious bigots are from middle class or wealthy families, well-educated and gainfully employed, which suggests that something more invidious is at work here.
In this connection we must locate the root cause of religious intolerance and violence anywhere Abrahamic religions are practiced on the unseverable umbilical cord between violent behaviour and the distinctive exclusivistic claims and doctrines of those religions.
Put differently, many verses in The Holy Bible and The Holy Quran stipulate, endorse and promote discrimination, intolerance and violence against unbelievers. Sam Harris, in his provocative and well-documented work, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, has put together a comprehensive list of quotations from The Holy Quran which drip with discrimination, hatred and violent language.
Consider the following passages taken from The Holy Quran: God’s curse be upon the infidels! (2: 89). They have incurred God’s most inexorable wrath. An ignominious end awaits [them] (2: 90). God is the enemy of the unbelievers (2: 90).
The unbelievers are like beasts which, call out to them as one may, can hear nothing but a shout and a cry. Deaf, dumb and blind, they understand nothing (2: 172). Theirs shall be a woeful punishment (2: 175). Slay them wherever you find them…Idolatry is worse than carnage…Fight them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion [Islam] reigns supreme…(2: 190-193).
Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it…(2: 216). Those that have embraced the faith, and those that have fled their land and fought for the cause of God, may hope for God’s mercy (2: 218). As for unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will in the least save them from God’s judgment.
They shall become fuel for the fire (3: 10). Say to unbelievers: ‘You shall be overthrown and driven into Hell – an evil resting place!’ (3: 12).
The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam…He that denies God’s revelations should know that swift is God’s reckoning (3: 19). Let the believers not make friends with infidels in preference to the faithful – he that does this has nothing to hope from God – except in self-defense (3: 28).
Believers do not make friends with any but your own people. They will spare no pain to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin…(3: 118). The caustic intolerant flavour of these quranic verses are unmistakable, prompting Harris to remark that “anyone who can read passages like those quoted above and still not see a link between muslim faith and muslim violence should probably consult a neurologist.”
Harris’ claim that Islam “more than any other religion human beings have devised has all the markings of a thoroughgoing cult of death” is probably right. But The Holy Bible also contains a disturbing amount of mind-bending intolerant passages as well.
The Old Testament, for instance, can be likened to a long manifesto of religious intolerance: it contains stories upon stories of destruction of lives and property carried out by Yahweh or executed at his behest by Israelites as punishment for idolatry. Indeed, the Israeli God, just like Allah of Islam, sees worship of deities other than himself as the most grievous sin a human being can commit.
For example, the first of the Ten Commandments he gave Israelites was: Do not worship any other Gods besides me…You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other God. I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations (Exod. 20: 3-6).
Again when Aaron, at the prompting of the Israelites, built a golden calf for the people to worship, Yahweh threatened to “destroy them all” (Exodus 32: 10). In the book of Deuteronomy, he demanded that: Suppose your brother, son, daughter, beloved wife or closest friend comes to you secretly and says ‘let us go worship other Gods’ – Gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known…you must put them to death! You must be the one to initiate the execution; then all the people must join in.
Stone the guilty ones to death because they have tried to draw you away from the Lord your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery (Deuteronomy 13: 6-11).