Our granddaughter's school requires all eighth-grade students to study the Old Testament. The course is called World Religions, but the text comes from the Bible. In high school, students study the New Testament.
I believe religion should be part of every child's formal education, but I'm not sure parts of the Old Testament are fit reading for a 13-year old. The Old Testament is a bloody, unforgiving chronicle.
Read First Samuel (15:1) where God commands, "Kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." Or Joshua Chapter 10 where, on God's orders, Joshua attacks city after city killing every living creature. Read about how Jehu demonstrated his "zeal for the Lord" by massacring every inhabitant of Samaria. (2 Kings 10:15-17) And this is just a small sampling.
When I hear Christians attack Islam because parts of the Quran call for Holy War, I wonder: Do these people ever read their own scripture? It does seem that at one time or another every religion tells its followers to slay unbelievers.
Mankind is a bloodthirsty lot, but killing in the name of God? Surely it is the very worst kind of religious perversion. Nevertheless, it happens over and over again when people see themselves fighting on God's side in a war of good against evil.
Earthly life means nothing to them because their battle is not located in time and space. It is fought on a cosmic level.
Reza Aslan in his book "How to Win a Cosmic War" analyzes the phenomena but is sketchy when it comes to explaining why a given individual falls prey to this kind of warped thinking. Apparently it isn't poverty or lack of intelligence. It isn't even a flawed education. It appears to be a lack of personal identity.
By themselves, these people are nothing, but by linking themself to demanding God, they become invincible. Their cause, whatever it is — nationalism, anti-abortion, racial or sexual purity — becomes a crusade, and it doesn't matter if they blow themselves up in a crowded market or sentenced to death for murdering a doctor.
Life means nothing to them.
Human beings are a complicated species. We take our identity from many sources: family, friends, community, nation and church. But only religion promises immortality through the simple act of believing. When ties to family, friends, community and nation are weak, the emotional power of religion can become toxic and overwhelm any sense of human goodness or love of God's creation.
A little child takes what it wants and feels justified in whatever it does. Limits come first from the family, then the community, and finally the government. Religion attempts to teach a moral code, but there is no uniformity in belief, not even within the various Christian denominations.
This is why a wall of separation between church and state is so important. And this is why inflammatory statements by politicians, religious spokesmen and media pundits are so dangerous. They create a rift in the fabric of our nation that weakens us all.
Elections, court nominations and the operation of state and federal offices break down along lines that have nothing to do with national security or effective government.
Oh yes, and people occasionally get killed.
It will be interested to see what my granddaughter learns in her religion course next year. For my part I‘ve tried to instill in her a respect for all religion and for the majesty and basic goodness of God's creation. There is no one-side-fits-all approach to faith. Each of us has to find it for himself.
How to win a cosmic war? According to the inside flap of the book's dust, by refusing to fight one.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.