Very few people follow the more odious dictates of the Bible or Quran.
For example, Christians do not kill others for working on the Sabbath, as the Bible commands, “whoever works on the Sabbath shall be put to death” (Exodus 35:2); “by stoning” (Numbers 15:32-41). Most Muslims do not condone murdering non-believers as the Quran orders: “when ye meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads” (47:4); “… kill them wherever you find them” (2:191).
Both of these books have “do not kill” passages that conflict with the passages referred to above, and the majority of members tend to follow these.
Most people treat others with respect, and the few believers who actually know what is in their respective books preferentially choose to abide by the compassionate passages. This predisposition toward nonviolence suggests the existence of an innate cooperativeness that prevents most people from acting out the crueler aspects of their religions, prejudices, political mandates and even their own selfishness.
Innate morality was believed by theists like Thomas Aquinas to have its origin in a god, while secularists such as David Hume supported a verifiable natural source — human experience.
Most biologists, including myself, believe most people are hardwired to be kind and to cooperate with each other. We all agree that certain acts (murder, for example) are not moral; however, violent acts were considered acceptable, praised, mandated or even carried out by most gods from Allah to Zeus.
In his book “Drunk with Blood,” Steven Wells outlines the millions of murders committed or directed by the Old Testament god Yahweh — yes, the god claimed by Christians to be Jesus. Some of these acts are so horrific that we would not knowingly expose our children to such stories without censoring them. Yet many religious practitioners consider these writings, filled with reprehensible acts of violence, too sacred to criticize.
Custom and sometimes even legal mandates not only prohibit ridicule of these writings, but they often encourage their unscrupulous use for social control or as props in supposedly secular governmental activities.
Human behavior, like physical characteristics, can be expressed in normal distribution patterns, or bell curves. But it is not always easy to identify human behaviors that threaten our survival.
Examples of such behaviors are the propensity for violence or the restriction of free thought, but they are common enough to be considered within the range of normal. The very nature of these behavioral aberrations intimidates, and often terminates, those who are nonviolent or think differently. The longer violence or suppression of skeptics is considered within the boundaries of normal, the further populations will move toward aggression and intimidation. Unchecked, this can push the entire population in an unsustainable direction toward a norm of superstition and non-innovation, as is common in some current theocracies.
Fanciful tales sold under the heading “religion” are not required to be supported by facts, and manipulative people, as well as ardent believers, can justify their violent actions by cherry picking their religious writings. If these people also have wealth or charisma, the cloak of religion allows them to recruit more people who already are primed by faith to not think logically, to not examine facts and to not expect verifiable results.
A current example is Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who uses Islam to procure jihadi. Charismatic manipulators can just as easily recruit Christian youths who are taught that faith is more important than critical thought. Jim Jones, who convinced his followers to commit mass suicide and murder leaving 909 dead, is an example from the Christian world.
In some countries, specific religious faiths are protected by law and have not been identified for what they are — a series of unsubstantiated stories directed by entrenched power structures and maintained by subterfuge and intimidation. The camaraderie, charity, art, music and kindness that some religions claim credit for exist because of human talent and decency and would still continue even if critical thinking replaced superstition.
It appears that much of current formal religious ideology trails behind the evolution of human compassion and intellect. Mainstream theologians have not figured out how to excuse the violent passages in their religious writings and still maintain the writings were divinely inspired. Significant numbers of believers, including religious professionals, do not critically evaluate their religion. Many refrain from this evaluation because they consider it a “matter of faith” requiring no further justification.
Avijit Roy, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering and an American author of “The Virus of Faith,” was hacked to death by religious primitives while visiting Bangladesh on Feb. 26. The use of “sacred” writings as guides for behavior legitimizes the vilest behavior. These writings should be considered sociological artifacts, not guides to a better future.