There are times when I think that the most compelling reason for atheism, or perhaps belief only in a malevolent deity, is the action of those who claim to do outrageous acts in the name of some God. Last Friday a suicide bomber walled amidst some 300 Pakistani Muslims in the town of Khyber and set off a bomb laden with ball bearings that ripped through the bodies of perhaps as many as 80 Muslims who had just finished Friday prayers in the holy month of Ramadan. In the report today by al Jazeera, one local man was quoted as saying, “Whoever did it in the holy month of Ramadan cannot be a Muslim,” he said from a hospital bed in the main northwest city of Peshawar. “It is the cruelest thing any Muslim would do.” Sadly, history shows that acts of Muslims killing Muslims, Christians killing Christians and indeed members of any one religion killing those of their own faith are rampant in our species. Religion may not be the cause of the violence, but it is often the justification on the surface. There are perhaps no more odious words than “my God told me to do this” for acts of violence and hatred directed towards others indiscriminately.

These days the Middle East is a killing field in which dictatorial regimes propped up by outside powers even after the thawing of the Cold War turn arsenals of weapons against their own people. Muslims are killing Muslims in Libya, Syria and Yemen as they have been at times in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain. The numbers are chilling, especially in Libya and Syria, and in some cases the overt rationale is so political that religion is merely the background. In other cases Muslims are killing non-Muslims, such as the recent bus bombing in Israel, and non-Muslims killing Muslims, such as yesterday’s bombing raids by Israel in Gaza.

One of the most challenging questions for religion is why bad things should happen to good or at least innocent people if indeed there is a loving and merciful God out there who cares about the creation he (be it Yahweh, Jehovah or Allah) or she (Kali is hardly Mother Teresa) oversees. Judaism has its “Golden Calf” defense: if you go whoring after foreign gods the jealous “I am who I am” will punish you, so follow the rules or else. Christianity seemingly softens the blow by having the one God mysteriously produce a half-human son who becomes a martyr so that anyone can be saved from eternal damnation just by taking the metaphor of being born again to heart. Islam rejects the damnable notion of original sin, but creates a web of rules on just about anything a person might do. All three stream from the same mythological foundation, but reject each other or tolerate each other only within limits. None of these three Gods seems to have any pity on poor pagans.

The irony is that the three monotheisms posit a God who not only creates history but can intervene miraculously; the faithful point to miracles as proofs and all kind of miracle makers crop up all the time, like weeds in a garden. When Joshua needed more time to wipe out the Canaanite city of Ai, Yahweh stopped the sun in its tracks; when Jesus went to a wedding and the host needed help, he turned the water into wine; when Abraha of Yemen was attacking Mecca with his elephants, Allah rained down a sky full of birds that routed his formidable army. All these are recorded in the holy books, the last of which (unless you are a Mormon or an Ahmadi) was revealed almost a millennium and a half ago. Important as these books remain for adherents of the three monotheisms, not one original manuscript exists so the followers of each have enough wiggle room to interpret to their cultural background’s content and lop off the heads of those who dare to use what the Enlightenment fathers saw as God-given wisdom and disagree.

I am not asking the question “Does God exist?” because that is never a single question. Which of the thousands of “gods” that humans have imagined are being questioned? Nor am I saying that any particular religion has “the” Truth that justifies blotting out any who do not see that as an ultimate truth. If God so hates atheists that there is an eternal and tormenting hell prepared for their souls, then let atheists face that music after death. If the God who is said to have accomplished the creation of the entire world and so many miracles is no longer capable of world-class miracles or of zapping those who offend him, then we all need a new prayer, no matter what our faith or lack thereof. The question becomes, “Where are you God?” If it is God’s plan to let the world go to hell and then send a savior to make the lion lay down with the lamb, why is it this going to hell has been the theme from the get-go, even from Eden as far as the most conservative Christians are concerned. And if it is a test of our faith, like the command of God to Abraham to sacrifice his favorite son, then where is that lamb in the thicket?

Does Allah care if a man thinking he is doing the will of Allah detonates a bomb that causes incredible pain and suffering to those in the very act of keeping the commandments? Does Yahweh care if an Israeli jet drops a napalm bomb on a house where children are playing? Does the Lord God of Protestant heritage care if a Norwegian blond guns down youth without remorse? I do not think these questions need to be answered by saying there could not be any kind of God, but they do bring into relief the problem of not adapting outmoded ideas to the present. If we can assume that God, whichever you have been taught to believe in, in some way endowed humans with rationality, then why should we continue to perpetuate the idea that such a God could act irrationally, that a God of love could allow such venom and hate in his (or her) name, that having created all that is the Master of the Universe goes on an infinite vacation?

There is a brilliant line in the Peter O’toole movie, The Ruling Class, in which he plays a wealthy English gentleman who thinks he is Jesus Christ. When asked by an aunt how he knows this, he exclaims that it must be true because when he prays he finds that he is talking to himself. Fellow humans, whatever your faith, let your brothers and sisters worship their understanding of God in peace and pray to yourself that you do not make yourself into a god in the absence of the many, many gods humanity has created.

Daniel Martin Varisco