When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball, Harper-Collins, 2002
This is a very brief summary of the book which highlights the five common characteristics of many religions throughout history which have descended into evil- coercing, treacherous, murderous evil. Kimball does not focus on a particular religion, but includes examples of many. He does suggest that evil can first be spotted by, and the andidotes to evil can best be offered by the Mystery, or Wisdom traditions within each religion.
I’m listing the five characteristics here as food for constructive thought. Were someone to use the single religion they are most familiar with as their only example of evil (or good), or exclude the religion they might be most comfortable with or least comfortable with, as the characteristics are discussed, it would be to perpetuate another brand of chauvinistic evil which elevates the merits or demerits of any religion above (or below) those of another.
Interestingly, just as the characteristics are similar in every religion descending into evil, so are the solutions. It appears that evils within Islam, for instance, could readily be identified and respectfully helped to change by the Zen Buddhist. The evils that manifest within some organized Christian groups, again- for instance, would be able to be perceived by Sufi Muslims, and solutions to that waywardness could also be offered by those same Sufis (or Jewish kabbalists, or Christians of the Mystical traditions, or Zen Buddhists, etc.).
Kimball’s five evil-indicating characteristics are:
1. The religion makes claims of absolute truth. When a religion stops “seeking truth” because it has “found truth,” all there is left to do is build real and metaphorical fortresses around that truth to defend it. Because that truth, they know, will be attacked literally- with drones or suicide bombers, or with laws, doctrines, and rewritten history. Or it will be subverted by “un-truths” like those perpetuated by Galileo, Darwin, or Nietzsche.
2. The religion demands blind obedience (to a charismatic leader or a set of doctrines).
3. It establishes an Ideal Time. Beware any religion that speaks of ‘glory days’ that can be ‘brought back’ if only enough people can be made to believe our way. The reign of King David, or A Christian America, or the days of Shan-gri-la, or that time before The Great Satan appeared: all are ideal fantasies which are loaded with contradictions to that ideal time’s claimed perfections.
4. The ends justify any means. From ricin gas let loose in a Japanese subway, to Zyklon B gas blown into Nazi extermination chambers, to invocation of gods with the removed and bleeding hearts of virgins, the ends (good crops, democracy, the Kingdom of God on earth, etc.) are much more important than the means used to achieve them.
5. Religions descending into evil tend to declare Holy War, often. They declare it on aboriginal settlers like Native Americans, Palestinians, or African tribesmen. They declare war (after war) on the Great Satan, the evils of ________ (pick one), or racial impurity. A religion that is both in denial about its true nature, but has political power, is one of history’s most dangerous entities.
And a religion which is on its course toward evil, will almost always identify and kill those prophets who try to point that out. Isaiah, Amos, Jesus, Gandhi, King: the prophets, the good-inspired finger pointers, rarely make it to the end of their intended days.