N.B.: This is one of those posts that has a little something offensive for just about everybody. Have fun.
Tonight, with thoughts of Easter and a war going on in a Muslim nation floating around in my head, I had (if you'll pardon the pun) a revelation of sorts.
Before I get to that though, we're going to need to spend a minute doing a rough theological genealogy.
Pretty much everybody in the english speaking world (my current audience), and quite a few others I might point out, understand that Christianity is descended directly from Judaism. Jesus was Jewish and, according to Christian mythos, was the messiah that had been prophesied somewhere in the Torah (roughly, the Old Testament to those of you who didn't know). There's a pretty easy line that can be drawn between the people that believe in Jesus as the son of God (a.k.a. Christians) and those that believe that Jesus was a heck of a nice guy, but wasn't in and of himself a deity (a.k.a. Jews).
What I think a lot of people don't realize is that Islam is also a direct descendant of Judaism. I didn't personally realize that until a high school theology class, and even then it was presented as an aside. This isn't surprising when you look at the my understanding of world history up to that point: The ancient Greeks wore robes and had a funky alphabet. The Romans eventually took over, and at some point went Christian. Next came the dark ages, when pretty much nothing good was happening in northern Europe (note the locale change), followed by the crusades, which is the first time we meet our Islamic brethren, albeit on the opposite side of a war. There was almost no reference to Orthodox Christianity (Greek or otherwise) in my education, and even less devoted to Islamic nations. In fact, the only times Islam came up at all in my history classes were when they were on the opposite side of a war: a handful of crusades, and something in Spain.
The overall bias in my history curriculum is a subject for a different rant (or maybe just a deep sigh, if I'm feeling vaguely defeatist), so let's get back to our, er... history lesson. According to reputable sources, Islam started around 650 A.D. (or C.E., for you politically correct weenies out there), and comes from Judaism (pretty much the whole beginning of the Qurán is a Cliffs Notes version of the Book of Exodus from the Bible [I'm not sure what's it's called in the Torah]), so once again we have a fairly clean division of believers, this time that Mohammed was an actual prophet (a.k.a. Muslims), and non-believers (a.k.a. still Jews).
So, we've got a rough genealogy with Judaism as the parent, and Christianity and Islam as the two children. Let's fast forward this home movie a few years to the part where the two kids start fighting, and the elder one tries to kill the parent. How oedipal.
I'm referring, of course, to the crusades and the inquisitions (and pogroms, in the orthodox end of the world). At this point, Christianity had a pretty good handle on the world, if by "the world" we mean somewhere between five and ten percent of the planet (couldn't resist another dig at cultural bias), and they were left to bicker amongst themselves. The pope at the time, Urban, felt it'd be a good idea to get the Europeans to stop beating each other up, and in his infinite wisdom, sent everybody after the Muslims (who, in all fairness, were doing a pretty good job beating up the Orthodox Christian folks). That was in about 1096, so (depending on the accuracy of the calendars in the intervening years) a little over a thousand years after Jesus died. A couple hundred years later, the overall disdain that the Christians had for Jews got institutionalized, and thus began the inquisitions. For argument's sake, let's say that the peak of this series of events happens around 1400 years into the religion.
Gee, Islam is currently about 1400 years into its religion. Over the course of those years, there has been persecution, followed by expansion, followed by infighting, and now religious leaders advocating that Islamic nations stop fighting each other, and join together for a holy war. Nah, no parallels there.
That was the revelation that I had, in terms of the data. Interpreting the data (which is, admittedly, not exactly hard science) is always going to be subject to cultural bias (there's that phrase again...), but since I've tried to make an effort in my life to reject cultural bias whenever possible, I'm forced to make an attempt at an objective analysis.
The conclusion that I've drawn in my "as objective as I know how to be" analysis is NOT that Islam is woefully behind the times, that holy wars are so passé as to be beyond resuscitation by the even the most retro-leaning fashionophile. Instead, what I'm forced to conclude is that organized religion is the source of most of the evil in the world. If you think about it, pretty much the only function an organized religion serves is to divide the populace into clusters of us and them. That's how wars get started. [hippie]We cannot have an "us" without a "them", but we can have a "we".[/hippie]
Maybe the best thing would be for the Agnostics of the world to unite to stamp out the plague of organized religion, but they generally have a hard time committing one way or the other, so it's hard to get any inertia going. At the very least, you'd think all of the monotheists (which are, for the most part, Jews, Christians and Muslims) in the world would band together against the tyranny of Atheism or Polytheism, but I guess that the Atheists don't really care about a holy war, and most of the remaining polytheists tend toward pacifism or outsourcing, so it's hard to get a good fight going.
I guess the good news is that the Jews should get a nice vacation from persecution in about four or five hundred years. Of course, at some point the Mormons are going to hit the 1400 mark, and then we're all in trouble.