Saturday, May 30, 2009

Research suggests religions owe their success to martyrdom

I'm not so sure how I view this one.

A new article released by New Scientist presents religious belief to be the result of acts of obedience to a particular faith, such as going to putting money into a collection plate, going to alter calls, outward expressions of faith like wearing a crucifix or Star of David, or simply going to a mosque or church, lends credibility to the establishment of a particular religion. But according to evolutionary anthropologist Joseph Heinrich at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, the most important display of true faith is martyrdom.

The article goes so far to say that the only difference between Superman and Jesus Christ is that no one ever died for Superman.

While this may be accurate, I think this article may be a little too generalized.

The world's oldest religion is Hinduism. While there may be violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims today, I know of no devotee to Brahma, Krishna, or Khali that ever laid down their life as an expression of faith. One could make the argument, I suppose of, of Mahatma Gandhi, but Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu radical because of perceived political weakness.

Christians may certainly jump at my response to this article and say that I'm absolutely wrong. I've been asked many times, "who would die for a lie?"

There are plenty of examples I could offer, but the two that come to mind are Muslim extremists and doomsday cults like Heaven's Gate. You may recall that in 1997 Marshall Applewhite and his followers committed mass suicide when he led them to believe that there was a UFO in the tail of comet Hale Bopp waiting to beam them up out of the imminent nightmare that was about to fall upon the planet.

It is true that adherents to particular faiths pay the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. But it needs to be mentioned that some would rather make others pay that sacrifice instead. Numerous solar cults in the Americas and the ancient Near East brutally often took part in human sacrifice to appease their gods with blood sacrifice. Again with the blood thing. And I don't think anyone needs to be reminded of 9/11.

There may be some truth to what Heinrich has to say, but I think Heinrich is oversimplifying the intricacies that weave the fabric of faith.

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