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Fundamentalism II: God Loves Genocide

The world is afflicted by the Abrahamic faiths---monotheistic patriarchal desert cults. The big three are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there are many offshoots involving subsequent “prophets” wired with the Almighty, including the Mormons, who claim prophesy is perpetual and prophets are always giving news you can use from the Deity.

All of the big three underwent a similar evolution in how much danger they posed to unbelievers. The danger lies in the first principle of monotheism (no other gods before the One True God), the first principle of patriarchy (might makes right), and the driving force behind all desert cults (competition for scarce resources).

Judaism maxed out violence in the Torah stories Christians call the Old Testament, where the One True God authorizes what we now call ethnic cleansing and genocide and a total war of killing soldiers, non-combatants, and farm animals.

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Indians had the misfortune to encounter Christianity late in its maximum violence phase as authorized by the Pope and practiced by the Spanish and Portuguese. Those colonists who believed Indians were human beings with souls normally considered “convert or die” to be condign choices. You know, like ISIS?

Christianity was still killing for theology not that long ago, and the truce in Ireland is not even now a sure thing. Islam, the youngest of the big three, is farthest from escaping its violent phase.

Indian spirituality was ill equipped for collision with hyper-aggression by divine command. I can think of one instance in all our post-contact history when Indians proselytized, and that would be the Ghost Dance. At least since the fall of the Aztec and Incan Empires, we do not trouble ourselves about what others believe.

While I cannot speak for others, I can say my own traditions do not turn away from converting non-believers because of tender concern for tolerance as much as the idea that ultimate truth will always be in control—with or without help from believers.

Most of the tribal traditions with which I’m familiar contain this thread of practicality. Violation of fundamental principles carries its own penalty. This practicality has a down side, which is that a secular failure becomes a spiritual failure and leaves those who survive the failure vulnerable to the belief system served by those who prevailed.

At Adobe Walls, Quanah Parker watched a Comanche medicine man blown off his horse at a range later measured at 1,538 yards. The shooter, Billy Dixon, called it a “lucky shot” all his life, but Chief Parker proceeded to syncretize the prevailing religion with 10,000 year old peyote ceremonies to preserve the latter in the Native American Church.

Fundamentalists among the big three are attracted by the instrumental view of faith as well, the idea that the One True God made promises to believers that can be cashed in for political power and military advantage. When the Islamic State fails, those fighters motivated by religion will sort themselves two ways.

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Most of them will double down, as fundamentalist Protestants have historically done when their leaders made a date with Jesus for the Second Coming and Jesus stood them up. The Seventh Day Adventist Church has learned the hard way not to set a date. A sizeable minority, though, will be less dangerous, at least when the adolescent hormones let up.

Some people view the House of Saud, which has custody of the most sacred sites of Islam, as the Sunni Muslim establishment, having seized the mantle from Turkey when the Ottoman Empire was crushed in WWI. If the Saudis represent Islam, it’s going through a rough patch right now from the fundamentalist perspective.

Allah is not smiling on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Last week, one of the cranes surrounding the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca crashed though the roof, killing at least 107 and injuring 180.

The House of Saud is in the midst of a multibillion dollar expansion project on the mosque, which contains the Kaaba, the black cube which observant Muslims are supposed to face when praying. The date of the disaster was fortuitous but the time was not.

The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that brings some three million believers to Mecca every year, does not begin until September 22. However, the crane collapsed at 5:45 p.m., when people were gathering for 6:30 p.m. prayers.

Managing a crowd in the millions without a common language is a tall order, and The Hajj has been marred in the past by a series of deadly stampedes, the worst of which took 1,400 lives in 1990. A 2004 stampede killed over 200 and another in 2006 took more than 300. Either Allah is trying to send a message or something more fundamental is going on.

Mainstream theologians wrestle with the abstraction they call the Problem of Evil, but fundamentalists live it. The contradiction in monotheism is that if there is One True God who is both all-good and all-powerful, then evil cannot exist. Either God is the author of both the evil and the good (and so is not all-good) or God lacks the power to prevent evil (and so is not all-powerful).

The answer is to have faith that God has a plan. But we knew that.

It’s like the argument for creationism that the universe is so symmetrical, so perfectly made, that there had to be a maker. So you postulate a maker. How have you moved forward? Either the Great Mystery is how we got here and why or the Great Mystery is how God got here and why? This argument rejects the most parsimonious explanation without moving forward.

Most Indians have sense enough to put a period after Great Mystery but also enough sense to know killing people who disagree is stupid and futile.

Note: As this column was pending publication, this year’s Hajj began and the body count from the 2015 stampede is, according to the Saudi government, 769 dead and 934 injured. So far. The Iranian government claims a figure in the thousands. The BBC made a tally of the body counts released by individual countries and came up with 906 dead. The truth of the matter, like so much else, is pending divine revelation.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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