17 Dangers in Religion
My Suicide Bomber Training
by William Cleary
I will never forget how I shocked myself by bursting into tears one Sunday
afternoon when I was 20 and waiting to leave to join the Jesuits. Some five
of us stood around a piano and were singing the words "O Danny Boy, O Danny
Boy, I love you so" and suddenly it all went to my deepest heart. No one
noticed but I turned and hurried to the bathroom where I locked the door, fell
on my knees and gave myself once again to God amid the disconcerting flood.
Celibacy for life. Yes!
Beautiful? No, I don't think so now. It was suicidal. At the time I
figured I was a bit of a mystic, and two years later I cried again uncontrollably
– and in public – when I took my perpetual vows. Once again I thought it was
God's doing, humiliating me to the core: and I was heroically able to forgive
him. (How large-souled of me.)
This memory comes back to me now after reading O'Murchu's Religion In Exile,
and seeing my own religion's limitations.
Religion has the power to destroy people. Only some kind of religion could
explain a thing so evil as hostage decapitation or for that matter burning someone
at the stake or a murderous Crusade Against Unbelievers or the European Shoah.
Only religion can produce the "sin of the mind" that Aristotle so
dreaded, something far more corrupting than a sin of the heart (like theft or
injustice) or a sin of passion or power (like assault or sexual abuse). Worse
than that – the worst -- is when the mind itself has been torn from its foundation
in reality and experience, and some kind of mental illusion is substituted:
"God wills it" drove the Christian and anti-semitic crusades; "Allah
is great" inspires the Islamic jihad.
Religion has that great power: to justify an insane and catastrophic level
of cruelty – like 9/11, the pinnacle achievement of fanaticism. If you "do
it for God," then even primary and foundational instincts like self-preservation,
like your very life, can be set aside. Then potential suicide bombers emerge,
men and boys, girls, even children. Religion – not all religion or every religion
but some religion and only religion – can trump common sense, human reason and
proportionnality. That is why people come to prize "spirituality"
rather than religion, a humane instinct for the holy and awesome rather than
belief on the word or claim – or often the untruth – of another person or book
My religious vows were grossly ill-advised, I see now. At age 22, I took
– along with poverty and obedience -- a perpetual vow of celibacy, gave up a
very large avenue toward life before my life had seriously begun. I became in
effect a kind of suicide bomber (giving up my life), and, thrilling to belong
to a brotherhood of similar "heroes," my mind and heart spinning out
of control into an ego trip of colossal dimensions, with the dream of a gigantic
eternal reward ahead. Believing it all, and taught to exercise a misguided heroism
in order to reach "holiness," I peremptorily vowed to separate myself
from one of the greatest avenues – not the only avenue -- toward the holy in
human life: love, bodiliness and sexuality. But I didn't know that and many
vowed people still don't.
So the Islamic killers in the news who at this writing may well decapitate
one of this world's heroic women – with the whole world and all of history watching
– will feel in that unspeakably debased act of murder a personal religious thrill.
A "canonization." A great holiness achieved. Fame. Eternal glory.
The status of a "Saint." God's admiration. But what an evil god, demanding
the world's worst evil: sin in the mind, a colossal lie totally believed. It
can mean the end of a rational world or a civilized state: a life led by religion
and belief instead of by true, honest, humble discovery of the spirit where
In the religious crimes of our time, we see of course how in religion even
God can be lost. In misguided faith you can lose your common sense and your
sensitivity to the true miracles in life. The imams, the preachers, the gurus
may give you a belief system that works for you at least temporarily, but if
you want a personal lifelong spirituality, a true inner elevation and sensitivity,
there are no short cuts. You have to find it on your own. #