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HomeNewsArchives3,000 Years of Doing God's Will: A Chronicle

3,000 Years of Doing God's Will: A Chronicle

BCE: before the Christian era:
In 860, the entire population of the Palestinian town of Ai — 3,500 men, women, children, plus all four-legged animals — were slaughtered by the Israelites. They were led by their great warrior Joshua — the same Joshua who led the same people in the storied battle of Jericho, where "the walls came tumblin' down." Even the reserved Elizabethan prose of the King James version of the Bible graphically describes the bloody killing fields. It was a series of pitched battles fought by our primitive religious forbears for booty and political dominance. But when the history was reduced to writing, the reason for the recurrent carnage was that God told them to do it.
CE: Christian era:
In 1095, Pope Urban II started a series of military expeditions we know as the Holy Wars — the Crusades. Eight in all, ending in 1464. The stated reason for them was to take back Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Turks. Slogans whipped Crusaders into a frenzy: "Fight God's war and you will conquer, fight the Lord's battle and you will be saved." Both sides put religious symbols on their armor and weapons, maybe so the Almighty could see they really were fighting for Him. But religious purpose was clearly augmented by a thirst for territory, power and riches. Finding the occupants of the Holy Land too daunting, the Fourth Crusaders diverted to Constantinople, where they defeated the Turks and opened the Bosporus for trade between Europe and Asia. Good things happen even when you do bad things. Power and money are good. Aren't they?
1555: Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII, became Queen of England and married Philip II of Spain. She dreamed of merging the two countries into the most powerful Christian nation in Europe. Spain was staunchly Roman Catholic, as was Mary, and she set out to rid the Church in England of every vestige of Protestantism. Clergy with protestant ideas she labeled as heretics and burned at the stake as many of them as possible. We recently passed the 451st anniversary of the occasion that, in the middle of Oxford's venerable university, Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were thus dispatched to their eternal reward. She is remembered as Bloody Mary. But, of course, she did it for God.
1953: Police brought to the psychiatric hospital where I was in training a 20-something-year-old mother to be evaluated for mental illness. She had stabbed her two small children to death with a pair of scissors. Speaking softly and smiling sweetly, she explained to me that God had told her to do it, to release their souls back to Him.
1990: Sipping tea with my distant cousin in his home in Northern Ireland, he — a Covenanter Presbyterian clergyman — told me the seemingly irresolvable conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Emerald Isle is a smoke screen; religion is incidental to the real reasons for the ongoing hostilities. Some on the auld sod profited handsomely from keeping the bile flowing on both sides, while the demagogic protestant Rev. Ian Paisley faithfully fanned the flames, for God's sake.
1995: The despicable members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church preach an insane hatred delivered with distorted religious rhetoric. They specialize in disrupting funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq, declaring their death to be divine judgment on a nation that permits homosexuals to live. They have nothing in common with other Baptists except the name, which they disgustingly dishonor.
2001: Islamic religious sickies behead a man on TV and quote passages from the Quran to justify it. Crazy Christians similarly abuse the Bible. Almost any type or degree of hurtful act can be supported by selective proof-texting of holy writ.
People do all manner of sick, silly, destructive, vicious things, and religion gets the rap, while serious, sincere, sane Muslims and Christians sicken inside and weep together.

Editor's note: W. Jackson "Jack" Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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