It is truly baffling how the human mind can turn hurt feelings to an excuse for mindless violence. From death threats to decapitations, fear and ferocity are the core tenets of religious crusading across the globe from Oklahoma to Nineveh to Utøya to Sydney. As ever, Holy War is just and beliefs justify the means.

‘All you need is to instil fear and be willing to hurt people’, taught Santa Claus in the Comedy Central censored closing speech of South Park episode ‘201’, ‘and you can get whatever you want’. The controversial animators’ depiction of Muhammad was likewise censored despite the Prophet having already been portrayed earlier by the same television series on the 4th of July, 2001. Here the original air date says more than a thousand words. Jyllands-Posten’s refusal to execute self-censorship over the Muhammad cartoons nearly led to the execution of the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard by Muslim extremists, a fate that Theo van Gogh faced in 2004 after his short film Submission was released. What happened in Paris on the 7th of January this year adds to the list of atrocities conducted in the name of the peaceful religion, rather naturally following the decapitation videos released by ISIS throughout 2014. For years, state-level terror has been provided by such countries as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia issuing death penalties for blasphemy against Islam.

However, no one in his or her right mind would argue that this is what all Muslims want or support, let’s leave that to the activists of other religions. No one sensible would say that all the Christians rally alongside Pegida in Germany or defend Catholic priests sexually abusing helpless children, or that all of the world’s Jewish population agree with the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. If all Muslims were religious radicals then the ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ would have been a worldwide carnage. Similarly, it is equally useless to claim that all religious radicals are Muslim, as examples are abundant in all major religions, be it nationalist monks promoting strict diehard Buddhism in Burma’s political decision-making, Christian fundamentalists introducing creationism to school books in the US, or ‘saffron terror’ targeting Muslim and Christian minorities in India. The paradox between compassion for others and conflicting claims of infallibility found in religious texts, provides grounds for many different interpretations and can be used to validate anything, from charity to genocide, in the hopeless search for eternal salvation.

Which is precisely where the real problem arises. Organised religions are ideological promoters of intolerance towards one another as well as discrimination towards women and homosexuals, among other groups, creating completely unnecessary division between people. Violence and bigotry certainly aren’t inevitable results of following the doctrines of any religion, but religions do grant an extraordinary platform for the bigots and the power-hungry. Not only can a person find justification for a prejudice he or she holds from within a given religion, but a following for that prejudgement as well. Severe violations of human rights and ethnic cleansing have been sparked and fuelled in the name of religion and due to religious differences, as is known.

Used as a tool for controlling the masses religions are like no other: religion ‘saves the rich from being massacred by the poor’, as Napoleon put it. Taken seriously, organised religions deliver strong mass identities and prefabricated worldviews determining, inter alia, social hierarchies, collective morals, what to eat, and who to have sexual relations with and when, which remain relatively unchanged and surprisingly unchallenged given what they offer: quasi-answers to the biggest questions of them all, while claiming that their particular explanations are the truest out of many. Religious institutions and groups have of course often answered scrutiny and examination of their principles with the cunning use of coercion and threats, mainly due to the lack of evidence and legitimacy of these supreme claims. And in many cases emotional abuse is at least as bad as physical violence.

In a liberal democracy being offended does not constitute harm. Hate speech and incitement to ethnic hatred that aim to cause or promote harm to others should obviously be condemned, but ridicule and research, no matter how distasteful or unnecessary, cannot be allowed to be censored because a religious group might get offended. It is especially meaningless, as fanaticism cannot be pleased in any other way but by giving in to its demands.

Brutality conducted in the name of religion cannot, and should not, be blamed on its followers, but at the same time it is not possible to carry on pretending that religions have little to do with terrorism, cruelty, and chauvinism. Who is the one to decide who are the false followers? Debates over the correct interpretation of the dogma and teachings of a given religion are borderline futile, especially when both the moderates and the extremists can undisputedly come to completely different conclusions from the same self-contradicting religious doctrines.

Liberal conceptions, such as equality and freedom of expression, cannot be put in jeopardy only to satisfy some incompatible religious credenda, let alone because of hateful fearmongering and terror. That is a sin worthy of damnation.

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