Misuse of Religion

UGH article, 2020
Author: D. Dashwood

Religious faith has been unscrupulously used to further territorial, political, social, economic and personal gains for centuries

Before we continue I believe that the vast majority of people who hold religious beliefs dear to their hearts and daily lives are good people, as are the vast majority of non-religious people.

This article explores the issues surrounding those religious zealots, the charlatans, and the criminals who hide behind their mask of religion

The purpose of this article is not to explore any particular religion or faith, religious teachings, doctrines or beliefs. Rather, this article seeks to understand how and why Religions and their followers have, over the centuries, been infiltrated, manipulated and abused.

This article explores the issues surrounding those religious zealots, the charlatans, and the criminals who hide behind their mask of religion and religious fervour to prey on the weak, the vulnerable and the ordinary people; those unscrupulous deceivers whose only aim is to further their agenda(s) at the expense of others.

All the world's major religions espouse the ideals of Peace and Harmony and these tenets are reflected in their doctrines.

Witch burning by Inquisition

No major religion in the world is, or has ever been, free from corruption of its teachings, aims, and its effects on society.

Human nature, mans desires - such as greed and lust, socio-economic norms, political influence and pressure, and ignorance, all have, and continue to have, an impact upon people and religions.

Examples that spring to mind include, religious inquisitions where 'heretics' are sought out, tortured and even murdered, and seeking out and burning innocent women, accused of being 'witches', at the stake.

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."

-Albert Einstein

Clerics, Priests and other religious leaders have in most societies always enjoyed a trusted privileged status. Their often exalted status allows them to have access to all parts of their followers or congregation's life on an unquestionable basis.

It is here in this unquestioning environment that unscrupulous, dubious, immoral and criminal people manage to operate under the protection of religion.

It is not only individuals who are guilty of criminal acts in the name of religion. National Rulers, Heads of State, Kings, Queens, and Governments have over the millennia been equally instrumental in crimes such as Murder, Genocide and Theft in the name of religion.

Third Reich Army belt buckle
'Gott Mit Uns' (God With Us)

War in the name of Religion

Wars have been, and still are, fought in the name of religion, usually under the banner of national interests with each opposing force claiming that God is on their side.

Throughout the ages many leaders have taken their armies into battle with cries of "For God and Country"

History is full of religious wars and some of them have continued for years and killed many, for example, the Crusades AD1097 - 1303 in which hundreds of thousands died, and the Thirty Years war, Europe, AD1618 - 1648 that resulted in around 800,00 deaths.

Religion is one of the most sensitive issues and, although every religion encourages the idea of peace and tolerance, almost no one remains in peace or tolerates anything when it comes to their religion.

One God?

Most religions claim to worship and follow one God. Many religions also claim that their God is the only true God. This view seems to still be the cause of much religious inter-faith antagonism and Religious fanaticism is fuelled to the point of conflict by this view.

There is heated debate in the three major 'Abrahmic faith' Religions as to whether they all worship the same God. In an article published in 'The American Interest', December 14, 2011, Peter L. Berger says "there is also common ground, I think, between morally decent people of all faiths or no faith. That common ground is humanity. Jews, Christians and Muslims, the children of Abraham, believe that this humanity is part of the creation by the one God whom they worship.

But is it any less criminal for religious zealots to use fear and coercion to whip up religious fervour to the point of violence against individuals or groups, even nations?

Fear, violence and Abuse

However, things go wrong when 'humanity' is absent.

It is very easy to find many substantiated acts of criminal abuse by clerics, priests, and other individuals, who claim to be religious gurus; who perpetrate crimes against others in the name of their religion, for example perpetrating sexual acts with vulnerable - and often unwilling - women, men and children to 'cleanse' them of their 'sins' for example.

But is it any less criminal for religious zealots to use fear and coercion to whip up religious fervour to the point of violence against individuals or groups, even nations?

Ultra orthodoxy can be just as bad as none, for example, difference in sexual orientation is seen by some religious groups as 'sinning' against the will of God, leading to extreme acts of bigotry, prejudice and religious and social intolerance.

In the U.S. for example, many laws are passed, or not passed, to please or appease the powerful pro-gun lobby; so to for the equally powerful ultra-conservative Christian Churches. The Christian Right in the U.S. has engaged in battles over abortion, euthanasia, ontraception, pornography, gambling, obscenity, state sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning creationism), homosexuality, and sexual education and is seen by many non-Christians as religiously intolerant. It is a brave President who invokes the anger of the Christian Right or the pro-gun lobby.

However, ultra-orthodoxy is not confined to the U.S., many countries around the world are home to fanatical groups, many of whom perpetrate truly dreadful acts in the name of religion.

Religious criminals?

History has seen many events where individuals, groups, ethnic groups and nations have been 'targeted' because of their religious beliefs and subjected to abuse, torture, mindless violence, murder and genocide.

However, when individuals, who claim to be a Religious Leader, set up a 'Cult' following and then inflict the same on other individuals that believe in the person of the abuser, then it seems more shocking to the average 'man in the street'.

The 20th Century saw some truly shocking individuals whose influence led to deadly consequences around the world.

  1. Shoko Asahara: Aum Shinrikyo ("Supreme Truth")
    Masterminded a deadly attack on Japan's subway system.
    Cult members released the poisonous nerve gas sarin on five crowded subway trains during morning rush hour in Tokyo, killing 13 people and sickening thousands more.
  2. 'Reverend' Jim Jones: Peoples Temple Church
    Ordered hundreds of his followers to kill themselves as a "revolutionary act"
    Jones orederd cult members to commit suicide in Jonestown in the Gyanese jungle. 909 followers died, all but two from cyanide poisoning.
  3. Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret: Order of the Solar Temple
    Founded a murderous doomsday cult
    In 1994 Di Mambro and Jouret, along with 51 of their followers in the Order committed suicide or were murdered in Switzerland and Quebec, Canada. In December 1995, 16 more members took their own lives or were killed in France, while an additional five committed suicide in March 1997 in Quebec.
  4. Marshall Applewhite: Heaven's Gate
    Orchestrated a mass suicide in conjunction with the appearance of a comet
    Applewhite and 38 other members of the cult called Heaven's Gate were found dead in a mass suicide. The group members believed that a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet would pick them up and take them to a higher plane of existence.
  5. David Koresh: Branch Davidians
    Engaged in a bloody battle with federal law enforcement agents
    Eighty cult members, including twenty children, died after an assault on the cult headquartes in Waco, Texas.


Cognitive psychologists refer to human's deep rooted need to belong to a group of likeminded individuals or 'tribe'

What makes people believe in and follow these cult leaders. What makes these people, in some cases, endure physical, psychological or sexual abuse, extreme hardship, or even obey a command to end their own lives?

These are not easy questions to answer as there are a multitude of reasons and not all will apply to each case.

It is all too easy to claim that the followers of these criminals are weak minded individuals who are unable to see or understand what is actually happening to them; much evidence points to the contrary.

Cognitive psychologists refer to human's deep rooted need to belong to a group of likeminded individuals or 'tribe', alluding to this need as tribalism. For ancient man the need to be part of a tribe is obvious for survival. In the modern eras this tribalism takes many forms, from loyalty to a football team for example to allegiance to a political party or Leader.

In most cases it appears that the cult leaders offer their followers something that they can identify with and which engenders in them a tribal instinct. Once a person has fully identified with their 'tribe' - identity fusion - they will do whatever is required to promote the survival of the tribe. In other cases the force of personality of the Leader overwhelms the followers such that they obey without question, even to the point of death.

However there is much evidence that in a lot of cases extreme coercion, force, psychological manipulation, torture, abduction and imprisonment are used to ensure compliance of followers, as testified by cult survivors and escaped followers.


Peter L. Berger, The American Interest, Dec 2011, Do the three Abrahamic faiths worship the same God?

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