“We have met the enemy, and they are us.” Pogo’s insight is all the more true today they when he first “uttered” it. At its root, the civil war among the children of Abraham is a religious war. It is no longer simply over whom did Abraham love enough to try and murder (the Hebrew Bible claims it was Isaac, the Koran claims is was Ishmael), but whom does God love best?
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Koran God’s love is linked to God’s violence and punishment. You know God loves you because God kills your enemies. You know God loves you most of all because in the end God makes all others bow down to you as a surrogate for Him.
Torah tells us quite boldly that the suffering and death of thousands of Egyptians prior to and following the exodus was simply to prove God was God (Exodus 7: 1-5). While we Jews like to speak of our god as the liberating god of the enslaved and oppressed, we do so only by ignoring that this liberating god endorses slavery, misogyny, and genocide.
The New Testament is no less rooted in violence. While Jesus’ earliest teachings in Mark seem to be a rejection of violence, later gospels have him continually damning people to eternal hellfire. Further, the very theology of Jesus’ crucifixion is rooted in the idea that God is at heart a violent and destructive deity.
Ask yourself: what does it really mean to say that Jesus died for our sins? It means that God would have killed all of us (as he did in the story of Noah and the Flood), but was placated by the murder of his son. God is not a god of love and justice, but of blood and sacrifice. Read Revelation, the capstone of the New Testament, to see how Jesus is transformed from a nonviolent prophet of love to a violent wrecker of end times havoc.
The Koran simply adapts this violent god for a new age and new people. While filled with great ethical teachings the Koran almost always links these to warnings of eternal damnation for failing to live up to them. It is as if Allah cannot imagine humanity doing anything just, compassionate, or right without being scared into it by threats of violence.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are at war with one another because their respective images of god demand it. The way out is far more challenging than a military victory. We have to take on the very gods themselves, and say “no” to the violence they demand. Yet we created these gods to excuse our violence. So it is our violence that must be defeated. This is what Islam calls for when it speaks of the Greater Jihad, a war against warring.
The paradox notwithstanding, they are on to something. If western religion is to transcend its innate violence, its followers must own that violence and refuse to participate in it. How? Simply by seeing the violence within us allows us to transcend it. If I know I am angry, the “I” that knows is not angry. If I know I am violent, the “I” that knows is not violent. If I act from this “I” I need not do away with violence I simply choose not to act violently. The key is to take refuge in the true self, the “I” behind the I. How? Just look, observe, witness.