April 21, 2008, the headlines read:
Orthodox groups clash in Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Christians fist fight at Jerusalemʼs Holy Sepulchre
Police breaks off clash at Church of Holy Sepulchre
Priests exchange blows over religious rights
Earlier Fight At Holy Site
Six Christian denominations jealously guard their rights at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, so when one denomination moved a chair into a spot claimed by another, it was a declaration of war (a violation of the “status quo” law as enshrined in a 1757 Ottoman declaration). About eleven monks were taken to hospital after being hit by rocks, metal rods and chairs that they threw at each other. Christian monks from rival denominations [Ethiopians and Egyptian Copts] have been warring for more than a century over the roof of the shrine which the Ethiopians call the “House of Sultan Solomon” because they believe the biblical King Solomon gave it as a gift to the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopians lost control of the roof during an epidemic in the 19th century which enabled the Copts to take over. But in 1970, during a brief absence by Coptic priests from a rooftop chapel, the Ethiopian clerics returned and have been squatting there ever since. An Ethiopian monk huddles in the corner of the chapel day and night to guard the squattersʼ claim. The Egyptian monk, who has been living with them on the roof since the 1970 takeover to assert the Coptsʼ rights, decided to move his chair out of the sun during a hot Jerusalem day. “They (the Ethiopians) teased him,” said Father Afrayim, an Egyptian Coptic monk at the next door Coptic monastery. “They poked him and brought some women who came behind him and pinched him,” he said. Each side accuses the other of throwing the first blow in the fist-fight and stone throwing that ensued. Police eventually broke up the brawl but by all accounts many of the protagonists were already wounded.
Reuters, July 29, 2002
Another Fight At Holy Site
Greek Orthodox and Catholic Franciscan priests got into a fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Christianityʼs holiest shrine, after arguing over whether a door in the basilica should be closed during a procession. Dozens of people, including several Israeli police officers, were slightly hurt in the brawl at the shrine, built over the spot where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried. Four priests were detained, police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said. Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by several denominations that jealously guard territory and responsibilities under a fragile deal hammered out over the last centuries. Any perceived encroachment on one groupʼs turf can lead to vicious feuds, sometimes lasting hundreds of years.
Mondayʼs fight broke out during a procession of hundreds of Greek Orthodox worshippers… Church officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that at one point, the procession passed a Roman Catholic chapel, and priests from both sides started arguing over whether the door to the chapel should be open or closed. Club-wielding Israeli riot police broke up the fight…
In 2003, Israeli police threatened to limit the number of worshippers allowed to attend an Easter ceremony if the denominations did not agree on whom would lead the ceremony… But a year earlier, the Greek patriarch and Armenian clergyman designated to enter the tomb exchanged blows after a dispute over who would be first to exit the chamber.
Associated Press, 2004
Mark Twainʼs Experiment
Consider my experiment. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately. Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk [Muslim] from Constantinople; a Greek Orthodox Christian from Crete [Greece]; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahmin [Hindu priest] from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh…not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.
Man is the only animal that has religion, even the True Religion…several of them.
Mark Twain, “Manʼs Place in the Animal World,” 1896
A Real Life Version Of Mark Twainʼs Experiment
In the middle of the 20th century in the eastern European country of Rumania (that was communist at the time), anyone whom the government considered “anti-communist” was imprisoned. In one case ministers of different religions were imprisoned together in the same close quarters:
In the hour which the priestsʼ room had set aside for prayer, Catholics collected in one corner, the Orthodox occupied another, the Unitarians a third. The Jehovahʼs Witnesses had a nest on the upper bunks; the Calvinists assembled down below. Twice a day, our various services were held: but among all these ancient worshippers I could scarcely find two men of different sects to say one ‘Our Father’ together. Far from fostering mutual understanding, our common plight made for conflict. Catholics could not forgive the Orthodox hierarchy for collaborating with Communism. Christians of minority beliefs disagreed about ‘rights.’ Disputes arose over every point of doctrine. And while discussion was normally conducted with genteel malice, as learnt in seminaries on wet Sunday afternoons, sometimes tempers flared. [Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, In Godʼs Underground (London : W. H. Allen, 1968), p.218, 232)]
Their “quarrels…came to a halt” only after loudspeakers were put in their cells that blared communist slogans day and night, and they were forced to attend lectures advocating communism. That was when the priests and ministers “learned that all our denominations could be reduced to two: the first is hatred, which makes ritual and dogma a pretext for attacking others; the second is love, in which men of all kinds realize their oneness and brotherhood before God.” But if the communists had not added those blaring speakers and forced them to attend lectures, would the pastors and priests have all joined together against their common enemy and “learned” how to avoid “disputing over every point of doctrine?”
“Equustentialism” By Emo Philips
(Excerpts from his 1985 comedy CD for Epic Records, E=MO2)
Emo: I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! donʼt do it!”
Jumper: “Why shouldnʼt I?” he said.
Emo: “Well, thereʼs so much to live for!”
Jumper: “Like what?”
Emo: “Well…are you religious or an atheist?”
Emo: “Me too! Are you a Christian, Jew, or something else?”
Jumper: “A Christian.”
Emo: “Me too! Protestant or Catholic?”
Emo: “Me too! What franchise?”
Emo: “Wow! Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
Jumper: “Northern Baptist.”
Emo: “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
Jumper: “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
Emo: “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?”
Jumper: “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.”
Emo: “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?”
Jumper: “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
Emo: “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
Jumper: He said, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
Emo: And I said, “Die, heretic!” And pushed him off the bridge.
But if you will recall the history of our civil troubles, you will see half the nation bathe itself, out of piety, in the blood of the other half, and violate the fundamental feelings of humanity in order to sustain the cause of God: as though it were necessary to cease to be a man in order to prove oneself religious!
Denis Diderot (1713-1784), cited in Against the Faith by Jim Herrick
Men have gone to war and cut each otherʼs throat because they could not agree as to what was to become of them after their throats were cut.
Walter Parker Stacy (1884-1951)
Thereʼs a tendency [in religion] to declare that there is more backsliding around than the national toboggan championships, that heresy must be torn out root and branch, and even arm and leg and eye and tongue, that itʼs time to wipe the slate clean. Blood is generally considered very efficient for this purpose.
Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
Religious tolerance has developed more as a consequence of the impotence of religions to impose their dogmas on each other than as a consequence of spiritual humility.
Sidney Hook, The Partisan Review, March, 1950
The only reason the Protestants and Catholics have given up the idea of universal domination is because theyʼve realized they canʼt get away with it.
W. H. Auden, in Alan Arisen, ed., The Table-Talk of W. H. Auden (1990), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations
Everyoneʼs A Skeptic (About Someone Elseʼs Religion)
- Millions of Hindus pray over statues of Shivaʼs penis. Do you think thereʼs an invisible Shiva who wants his penis prayed over…or are you a skeptic?
- Mormons say that Jesus came to America after his resurrection. Do you agree…or are you a doubter?
- Floridaʼs Santeria worshipers sacrifice dogs, goats, chickens, etc., and toss their bodies into waterways. Do you think Santeria gods want animals killed…or are you skeptical?
- Muslim suicide bombers who blow themselves up in Israel are taught that “martyrs” go instantly to a paradise full of lovely female houri nymphs. Do you think the dead bombers are in heaven with houris…or are you a doubter?
- Unification Church members think Jesus visited Master Moon and told him to convert all people as “Moonies.” Do you believe this sacred tenet of the Unification Church?
- Jehovahʼs Witnesses say that, any day now, Satan will come out of the earth with an army of demons, and Jesus will come out of the sky with an army of angels, and the Battle of Armageddon will kill everyone on earth except Jehovahʼs Witnesses. Do you believe this solemn teaching of their church?
- Aztecs skinned maidens and cut out human hearts for a feathered serpent god. Whatʼs your stand on invisible feathered serpents? Aha!…just as I suspected, you donʼt believe.
- Catholics are taught that the communion wafer and wine magically become the actual body and blood of Jesus during chants and bell-ringing. Do you believe in the “real presence”…or are you a disbeliever?
- Faith-healer Ernest Angley says he has the power, described in the Bible, to “discern spirits,” which enables him to see demons inside sick people, and see angels hovering at his revivals. Do you believe this religious assertion?
- The Bible says people who work on the Sabbath (Saturday) must be killed: “Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:15). Should we execute such people…or do you doubt this scripture?
- At a golden temple in West Virginia, saffron-robed worshipers think theyʼll become one with Lord Krishna if they chant “Hare Krishna” enough. Do you agree…or do you doubt it?
- Members of the “Heavenʼs Gate” commune said they could “shed their containers” (their bodies) and be transported to a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp Comet. Do you think theyʼre now on that UFO…or are you a skeptic?
- During the witch hunts, inquisitor priests tortured thousands of women into confessing that they blighted crops, had sex with Satan, etc. then burned them for it. Do you think the church was right to enforce the Bibleʼs command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18)…or do you doubt this scripture?
- Members of Spiritualist churches say they talk with the dead during worship services. Do you think they actually communicate with spirits of deceased people?
Millions of American Pentecostals spout “the unknown tongue,” a spontaneous outpouring of sounds. They say it is the Holy Ghost, the third god of the Trinity, speaking through them. Do you believe this sacred tenet of many Americans?
- Scientologists say each human has a soul which is a “Thetan” that came from another planet. Do you believe their doctrine…or doubt it?
- Ancient Greeks thought a multitude of gods lived on Mt. Olympus…and some of todayʼs New Agers think invisible Lemurians live inside Mt. Shasta. Whatʼs your position on mountain gods…belief or disbelief?
- In the mountains of West Virginia, some people obey Christʼs farewell command that true believers “shall take up serpents” (Mark 16:18). They pick up rattlers at church services. Do you believe this scripture, or not?
- Indiaʼs Thugs thought the many-armed goddess Kali wanted them to strangle human sacrifices. Do you think thereʼs an invisible goddess who wants people strangled…or are you a disbeliever?
- Tibetʼs Buddhists say that when an old Lama dies, his spirit enters a baby boy being born somewhere. So they remain leaderless for a dozen years or more, then they find a pubescent boy who seems to have knowledge of the old Lamaʼs private life, and they anoint the boy as the new Lama (actually the old Lama in a new body). Do you think that dying Lamas fly into new babies, or not?
- In China in the 1850s, a Christian convert said God appeared to him, told him he was Jesusʼs younger brother, and commanded him to “destroy demons.” He raised an army of believers who waged the “Taiping Rebellion” that killed 20 million people. Do you think he was Christʼs brother…or do you doubt it?
James A. Haught, “Everyoneʼs a Skeptic…About Other Religions” [Originally delivered as a talk to Campus Freethought Alliance, Marshall University, Huntington, WV, July 12, 1998]
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