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Religious rhetoric divides all

Religion is and has been a polarizing force in American and international politics. It has served as a source of inspiration, a moral compass and a guide of living for millions. It has also served as a means of destruction, death, slaughter and discrimination. Some of you may remember that last semester I penned an article regarding the mistaken aspirations of atheists like myself. The following may seem hypocritical, but after a few events over break and reading the Jan. 20 column in "The Daily Targum" titled "Anti-Semitism Exists Today," I feel it needs to be said. Christopher Hitchens was right when he posited that religion poisons everything.

To start, the column on anti-Semitism was an affront to religious intellectuals and an appeal to dim-witted zealots. In his article, the author makes enormous oversights about Shakespeare, Hitchens and anti-Semitism itself. He makes the claim that Shakespeare's character Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" was a mockery of Judaism. While he is portrayed as the villain, scholars believe that Shylock's speech in Act III, Scene I was the first plea to protect the rights of Jews and condemned the Christian trial of Shylock as unfair.

Hitchens is a virulent anti-theist, not a Jewish apologist. His explanation for the hatred of the Jews was further a condemnation in a three-chapter set of his book "God is not Great" of each of the Abrahamic religions.

While it is a true unfortunate fact that anti-Semitism still exists in modernity, the author and other Jewish apologists mistakenly attribute many things critical of the religion of Israel to anti-Semitism, while anything about other religions can generally be considered a justified criticism. This trait is universal to the major Abrahamic religions, which claim to have a monopoly on divine truth. Israel has abused the rights of Palestinians, Islamophobia is rampant in the U.S. and Europe, Egypt has been abusive to Coptic Christians, and Christians in Balkan Europe have been enduring sectarian violence for years. What do all of these things have in common, besides violence? The answer is simple: A claim to absolute, exclusive, divine truth that can only be channeled through one's religion or holy book. While the author was right in his quote of Hitchens, he was wrong in that it is not simply Jews who have targets on their backs — it is every monotheistic religion.

My reason for outrage at religion in general is a result of outlooks like this, as well as a few examples of cognitive dissonance that occurred on recent occasions. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., upon opening her eyes after an attempted assassination was reported as a "miracle," but a child who was also shot apparently had to be a part of "God's plan" — no miracles were there for her. When miners in a collapsed shaft in Chile came out of their entrapment, God was praised and it was reported as a miracle. When the same amount of miners died in a shaft after being trapped in New Zealand, it was deemed part of a plan. There seems to be some lack of continuity in miracles and divine plans. However, it does not stop the religious from falsely attributing them as divine miracles, and not to the bravery of rescue workers and the miracles of science, which allow for such life-saving interventions.

The truth is, religion is poisonous when it becomes exclusive and expansive. Biblical Christianity is homophobic, sexist and intolerant. The Catholic church continues to refuse endorsement of condom use in sub-Saharan Africa, causing countless to become infected with HIV and die of AIDS, and bringing children into the world that are infected. Islam was spread by violence at first and radicals continue to justify terrorism through Qur'anic quotes. The penalty for apostasy in many countries is death, and Pakistan endorses a death penalty for blasphemy and infanticide for children out of wedlock. Zionism has displaced hundreds of thousands and Israeli soldiers to this day commit atrocities on innocent Palestinians.

Do I condone hatred of religions? Absolutely not. I believe all people have the right to believe just as I have the right to not believe. This extends only to the point until people are put in harm's way in the name of religion. You hardly hear of atheist extremists opening fire on innocent civilians. Can hatred of religion be justified? Absolutely yes. The history of religions include the Crusades, the Inquisition, child rape protected by the Vatican, suicide bombing, genital mutilation, warfare, in-group exclusion, discrimination and the spreading of AIDS. However, it is worth saying that those who "hate" religion generally belong to one, and are simply hating other religions.

Most importantly, this is not an attack on those who are religious, but simply on religion itself. As an atheist, I do not try to convert, I only try to enlighten and challenge the paradigms that large churches and religions implant in people's minds. In most cases, religion is not a force for good, but the constituents of the religion are generally good people. But as the famous saying goes, "Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion."

Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Tuning Fork," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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