The Massacres of Innocents

Jakarta, San Bernadino, Paris, Boston, Mumbai, Baghdad, Baghdad, Baghdad….this is just the beginning of a list that will go on and on into the future as it becomes clearer and clearer where the world is going. A combination of easy access to guns and bomb-making instructions, worldwide media attention, and young men overloaded with a desire to fight have made all of us targets in what will perhaps be known as World War III. Unlike the other two world wars, this won’t be fought just with standing armies, navies, and airforces. It will be fought by individuals and small groups anywhere in the world who get excited by angry leaders anywhere in the world, leaders who grab their attention and make blowing yourself up with as many bystanders as possible sound like a good thing to do. Young males programmed by natural selection to fight find themselves living in what a Belgian official on the BBC today called “a mental ghetto” where they constantly hear the need to kill the infidel, kill the apostate, kill the oppressors, the bullies, the Other.   In these ghettos there is a very little debate or serious reflection or reason–it’s all about a Cause, Glory, and Death.

We have to face the facts.   There is no way to stop this unless we were to un-create the internet where any hothead in a distant country can spew hate and teach someone to build a bomb.  It’s not going to stop until we shut down the social media sites where young people are seduced into joining the Holy War,  or until we stop arms trafficking, or censor the media so the attacks do not get so much play and convince others that similar massacres are excellent ways to further their Cause. None of that is going to happen anytime soon.

The other facts to face were made clear in a Zogby survey that showed that, yes, a vast majority of Muslims in every country found extremist movements like IS and Al Qaeda were a “total perversion of Islam,” but unfortunately in every country there is a group who thinks the methods of IS are in accord with the teachings of Islam. That number is 15% in the Palestinian sectors, 13% in Jordan, and 10% in Saudi Arabia. What that means is that in Saudi Arabia alone there are 2.8 million people who would seem to support the wars, massacres, torture, executions, kidnappings, and rapes that we’ve seen of late.

There has been no end to the young men and sometimes women streaming to Syria to join the fight, shoulder-to-shoulder with IS. So where will it all end? Prepare we are in for another Hundred Years War, a war of attrition where dozens of innocents are killed every so often, more and more bombs are dropped in Syria and Iraq, and more and more draconian laws are put in place at home to try to stem the tide of attacks.

The only hope of changing any of this in the long run is to do what the Charter for Compassion is doing, and what the idea of Universal Sacraments is all about: find some common ground that everyone of every faith or no faith can agree is part of what it means to be human.   Teach young people that death is a sacred part of life, and that killing someone is not an avenue to God, but a plunge into the Dark Side. To counteract the power of a holy book is a tough job, but it’s being done—remember the vast majority of Muslims do NOT find IS’s methods acceptable.  They have rejected the jihadists’ death-worship.

Every country should enact laws, if they have not already done so, that to teach the slaughter of innocents, to persuade someone to become a suicide bomber is the foulest crime against humanity.  Freedom of Speech should not extend into that dark realm.   Rallying around the sanctity of human life is just a starting point to arrive at other universals that can bring us all together in a world that is coming apart at the seams.


Where the Nones Can Find the Sacrament: Thom’s

Al Jazeera America had an opinion piece recently by Nick Street reporting on an experimental spiritual community called “Thom’s”.   It’s named after the doubting disciple of Jesus, Thomas, and they came into being because they had absolutely had it with the traditional religions they grew up with. “The Episcopal Church is dying,” their leader told Street.   The traditional Sunday service of hymns, prayers, sermons left them cold. This feeling of frustration is the kick-off point for my book, Seven Sacraments for Everyone.   Millions of people are wondering why they are sitting on those pews like their parents did in another century, feeling unfulfilled spiritually, itching to do something more meaningful, but not knowing how to go about it, wanting their children to grow up with a moral compass that does not depend solely on the 10 Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed.

Thom’s are doing something about it: they go out and do laundry for the homeless in a monthly “Laundry Love” event that has spread to over 100 laundromats in Southern California. This group of Nones are actively seeking the Spiritual by connecting with those in need.   This is what I call the Sacrament of the Group in my book.  It can be found whenever we reach out to our communities and help those who need it in whatever way we can. The Universal Sacraments are all about finding spiritual fulfillment in human-to-human contact. Thom’s and other groups like them are demonstrating that it’s not that hard to do. It just takes some organization.

Street was responding to an article by David Brooks in the New York Times, who was making the point that the millions of Americans turning away from the Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, are going to have a heck of a time coming up with rituals and ways of thinking to replace what organized religion has built over the centuries.   Street tells Brooks to quit worrying, but he’s being a bit too flip. A lot of the Nones are drifting, and need some good ideas.   Laundry Love is just one. My book has several more, as does the Charter for Compassion website.   Let’s hope this sea change in the way our country sees its spiritual responsibility will continue to grow, and spread to the rest of the world.

Ex-Muslims and Tolerance

Last month the New York Times published an article (“Leaving Islam for Atheism”) on a different kind of coming out of the closet: young women who had to tell their devout families they did not believe in God.  Some were Christians, some Jewish, but the article focuses on the Muslims.  These are painful moments for parents and children alike, and these women have shown an amazing amount of courage.  In the face of “just believe!”  they have risked ostracism, anger, and even violence to stand up for freethinking.

The parents have to be courageous as well if they are going to come to terms with this earth-shattering news and maintain a relationship with their children.  Many cut the child off, others try desperately to convince them of their error.  Why not simply let an apostate go in peace?  First, parents are afraid that their children will burn in hell forever, and that’s not to be taken lightly when you love someone.  But there’s much more to it.  It’s the fear that your children are now “godless” atheists—that epithet that is so often and so redundantly applied to atheism.  What is meant of course is that atheists have no moral code, that they therefore do the devil’s work, and their freethinking might spread like a blight among the faithful, turning ever greater numbers away from the Truth.

But why not just let these people go down the path to perdition?  If they want to risk the fire and brimstone, it’s on them.    The answer must be that it’s not just about belief, it’s an entire way of life. It’s every fiber of your being, the source of your existence.  To reject this is to reject your family, your ancestors, your community, your culture—so much of what makes us human.

Christians of course went through this centuries ago. Apostasy was a capital crime and the ultimate “act of faith” taught by the Inquisition was the auto-da-fe, in which the heretics were shown the error of their ways by burning them at the stake.  Those days are past, but there are still many in the United States who would shudder if their daughters rejected Christianity, or refused to have their babies baptized, or married outside the faith, and they certainly would shun those who have turned their backs on the Truth.

But there’s a big problem today: religious violence has set more and more of the world on fire.  Unless we think that all 7 plus billion people are going to convert to a single religion at some point, freethinking that includes tolerance is the only thing that’s going to save us.   As the sectarian fighting in the Middle East and Africa gets worse, we have to do more to teach tolerance, specifically pressuring governments and institutions to accept that :

  • Truth is elusive when it comes to religion
  • each sect should be free to exist (as long as they are not harming anyone)
  • individuals should be free to explore new ways of thinking about faith


These are in fact the principles of the Charter for Compassion Movement founded by Karen Armstrong.   Everyone has to do more to get others on board and make these principles the core beliefs we all live by.  Those handbaskets we’re all going to hell in are nearing completion and in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, and the CAR they’ve already been delivered.  Unless we can get the whole world to sign on to these simple ideas of acceptance,tolerance, and compassion the downward spiral we’re on will continue.

The website for Ex-Muslims can be found at