Orlando shows the utter failure of all Abrahamic religion

Violence in America is nothing new, of course, nor is violence aimed specifically at gays and lesbians, but the horrific mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando last week is causing many to realize that a serious cultural reassessment is overdue.

A number of dangerous elements were present in the Orlando attack—homophobia, religious extremism, America’s gun culture, and even the possible psychological self-loathing of the attacker—and most rational observers would agree that these all deserve consideration as we seek to better understand recurring mass shootings. No group or institution should be immune from scrutiny in this process, and in fact some stand out as prime suspects: the gun lobby, indolent lawmakers, and of course the extremist groups and individuals who promote hate and inspire violence.

The Orlando massacre, however, leaves another institution with much explaining to do: traditional religion itself. Not just Islam, and not even just so-called “radical Islam,” but traditional religion as we know it. With dozens of corpses strewn about a gay bar—young lives cut down by an outburst of hate—all avenues that led to this tragedy should be considered, and there is no question that the revelation-based Abrahamic religions have long provided one of the broadest, most heavily traveled arteries for both violence and anti-gay bigotry.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam, even in their most liberal and tolerant forms, suffer from the unfortunate, undeniable fact that their foundational doctrines expressly condone both violence in general and the most virulent anti-gay hatred in particular. Homosexuality is evil, and the penalty is death. Any questions? Thus, it should come as no surprise that conservative and fundamentalist followers of the Abrahamic religions are aggressively anti-gay, for they are simply following doctrine. Frankly, it is the tolerant, liberal followers who must rationalize their acceptance of those whose ways are, as the Bible says, “an abomination.”

Of course, tolerant religionists can and do explain their acceptance of gays, since virtually any viewpoint can be rationalized with scripture if one looks hard enough. Love your neighbor, they say, and don’t judge others. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is sinful, but we’re all sinners, so we should leave the issue to be reconciled between gays and their (hopefully) loving god.

Looming over all of this rationalization, however, is the fact that contradictory, hateful scripture exists, expressly condemning homosexuality in the harshest of terms, and it is here that we see the utter failure of revelation-based religion in the modern world. Stuck with ancient texts written by men who didn’t know where the sun went at night, the modern follower of any Abrahamic religion is at best a theological contortionist, twisting definitions and interpretations to conform to the moral landscape as he or she believes it should be. Unambiguous biblical condemnation of gays? Embrace it if you’re conservative, dismiss it if you’re liberal.

Tolerant interpretations of theology are preferable in a pluralistic society, of course, but the problem is that not all followers choose such interpretations. Look no further than the rantings of conservative Christian preachers after the Orlando massacre, many of whom celebrated the killing of gays. “The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in the world,” declared pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona. “Because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles.” If you ask how he can spew such hate, you should understand that the Bible tells him so.

Liberal and conservative religionists can debate whose interpretations of scripture are correct, but the problem is that such debates are still occurring in the twenty-first century. The entire exercise is dependent on intelligent men and women accepting the notion of revelation—that is, the idea that ancient men actually received messages from the creator of the universe and transcribed those messages into what is still considered holy scripture today. Even centuries ago, serious thinkers were questioning this concept. “Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication,” wrote Thomas Paine in 1794. “It cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.”

Modern, humanistic ethics allow us to toss aside the concept of revelation and instead view homosexuality—and hopefully all issues—rationally and in context. Same-sex attraction and orientation are natural phenomena, seen widely in the animal world, and need not be feared or censured. From a cultural and historical perspective, we can understand that some societies have accepted homosexuality while others have condemned it, but there is simply no justification for intolerance in any free society today.

It is precisely this cultural and historical perspective that allows us to better understand the situation today. Ongoing intolerance of gays and lesbians is largely the result of strong religious institutions that have long propagated such intolerance. This brings us full circle back to the absurdity of ascribing legitimacy to the notion of ancient revelations.

Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch, writing in the Washington Post in the aftermath of Orlando, conceded the role that religion has played in bringing about anti-gay violence. “Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,” he writes. “Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.” Amen, Bishop Lynch.

Importantly, the rejection of revelation is an equal-opportunity phenomenon. It has little sympathy for Islam, but it also derides Christians who, with great righteousness, declare themselves peacemakers while condemning Islam as a religion of violence. As anyone who studies history knows, those claiming to abide by the “true” message of God are always able to justify their violence. Many of the most outspoken proponents of war in modern times have been Christians. The problem of ends justifying means is inherent in any ideology, and any religion claiming direct revelation from God, as the Abrahamic religions do, has the potential to become ideological.

Of course, none of this suggests that the Bible cannot be read as literature, as the writings of ancient agrarian peoples struggling to make sense of the world. Some passages contain beautiful and even inspiring prose, others terrifying glimpses into the human psyche in the context of premodern society. No thinking person, however, could believe what traditional religions ask us to believe: that these writings are “revealed truth” from an all-powerful God.

Science long ago displaced religion as the best means for ascertaining truth—few still cling to the notion that the universe is less than ten thousand years old, for example, or that humans were created in their present form—but religion has remained relevant in other areas of modern life, enjoying particular credibility as a supposed source for morality. In the carnage of Orlando, however, we are seeing that Abrahamic morality is no more useful than Abrahamic explanations of natural history.

Sensible modern human societies should question why they continue to validate the idea of revelation-based religion at all. No deity has ever sent revelation to any human anywhere, and we are killing ourselves by continuing the charade. If your friend, neighbor or co-worker claimed to be receiving special messages from God, you would understandably question their mental health. Likewise, we should question our health as a society if we continue to bestow legitimacy upon individuals or institutions—Christian, Jewish, or Muslim—that claim to be carrying forward divine messages from ancient tribes.

Morality, and just as importantly immorality, can be understood from a naturalistic, humanistic perspective. Humans, as evolved animals, carry innumerable impulses that produce thoughts and actions that we define today as being good, bad, and in between. Our job as a society is to nurture what Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, borrowing from Abraham Lincoln, calls “the better angels of our nature.” Freedom, creativity, critical thinking, prosperity, justice, and other important values can and should be encouraged in the modern world. To do so, however, it’s time to get beyond the confines of ancient worldviews. Having already dismissed revelation as our means of attaining truth, it is time to dismiss it as a medium for morality as well.


See David Niose’s books


Twitter: @ahadave


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19 replies
  1. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    This is as beautifully written as any passage in the Bible. In aftermath, I caught a discussion on NPR as to whether it was religion or the shooter’s insanity and I shouted at the car radio, “it ask goes back to religion”.

    Either he was following a directive from the leaders of his religion or he was ashamed and hateful of homosexuals as he learned to be from the guilt that comes from religious teachings.

    Most amazingly, it’s that the response from a guest who was a “moderate” Muslim was that the teachings should be reinterpreted to be more aligned with the Modern world.

    To me, as a nonbeliever, I don’t understand how you “reinterpret” the works of God. If He is omnipotent, then His word is eternal. Once you gf feel the need to reassess what it says in your religious texts then you are essentially saying that you do not believe it is the word of God and then you admit that you are filtering and believing stories made up by men.

  2. susan faccone
    susan faccone says:

    This is an excellent article. One can only hope it cracks the hard shelled barrier that is around the beliefs people hold on so tightly to.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    This is the best, most concise depiction of the evil that is religion. Salvation sells and as humans that will die we buy it all too easily without critical thought.

  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Yes! Thank you! I have felt this way for most of my thinking life. I am so pleased to see this idea is getting traction.

  5. Eoin O
    Eoin O says:

    When Abraham was invited to count the stars but could not, he was told that so too would his descendants become innumerable. I suspect he had worked out the maths of the growth of family and therefore military potential that came with high numbers. He, as patriarch, would wield great power as the head of the biggest army in the world and this would also guarantee the continuity of his own genes into the future. Picture this: if it takes three months for a healthy couple to guarantee pregnancy then the man could move on to a new partner for another three months and then another, when the first baby is born. A further three months as a cleansing period allows for a fourth partner before he gets back to the first one. Thus one man can have four wives on the go for all of their reproductive lives and could reasonably expect eighty births. The same rules applied to the next generation, then the next and every subsequent generation would ideally mean that a single progenitor could live to see an army of his own great-grand-sons counting a quarter million, or even great- great-grandsons up to twenty million! How to guarantee this? Ensure that all sexual activity goes towards this power project by legislating for it. No value was placed on the social cohesion function of normal human sexuality (like bonobos) and same-sex, group-sex, self-sex and any activity that did not stand a chance of resulting in pregnancy was banned by law. ‘Abominable’ means to be shunned on religious grounds so any sex not involving a husband and a wife in a vaginally penetrative act unto ejaculation inside her was deemed illegal, immoral and punishable by whatever was deemed acceptable at the time in that society. Make sure the population understands that this is the will of God, the project thus demands unquestioning support and unfortunately it seems to have worked. The entire scenario depends on the perversion of an important human characteristic and the introduction of guilt systemically at a very young age throughout the whole population. We now have seven billion, why is the system that started the expansion still in play? How effective the driving force of guilt has been. Heaven is denied to anyone who gives in to impulses not sanctioned by religion and the best way to prove you are worthy of heaven is to prove your distance from all things abominable. The gatekeepers of Heaven have a lot to answer for when it comes to hate crimes in the general population. This is what an Irish Catholic has come to think of Abrahamic cultures in today’s world . It is gratifying to read that I’m not alone in my objectivity and re-assessment of my history. So now I’m a Humanist and I’m much more relaxed and looking forward to our future on this planet as one big, supportive, meritocratic and loving human family.

  6. Miranda
    Miranda says:

    Not enough like buttons in the world! So many excellent points in here. Thanks for writing this.

  7. G
    G says:

    >people killed in the name of islam
    >this never happens with any other faith in existence, but consistently happens with muslims
    >fault of all abrahamic religions
    u wot

  8. Sherrie
    Sherrie says:

    Hi David,
    You mostly reference Christian thinking. I would say the vast majority of modern Jews see Torah as an historical record, written and compiled by men, not revealed by God. Even the most fundamentalist streams know there is no proscription on lesbian sex.

    Leviticus is widely accepted as remnants from a handbook for the priests (no longer functioning) and not applicable to the general public.

    Not only that, but by Jewish tradition, the commandments in Torah do NOT apply to Gentiles, not even the 10 commandments…..Only the Noahide laws. Officially, you’re forbidden to celebrate Shabbat. That was given only to the Jews. You can do whatever you want on Sunday though

    To reject Abrahamic writings with such a broad brush is to negate much of the ethical basis of western civilization and its laws.

  9. Bronwyn
    Bronwyn says:

    Hi there, like the others who have commented before me, I agree that this is a well-written and respectful article. I appreciate your intense dislike of what you are referring to as Abrahamic religions, however, your article paints a slightly underdeveloped understanding of OT interpretation (especially how interpretation differs between the three religious strands). Interpretaton of OT Texts hangs on who people think Jesus was (that’s how you get the three religions). Depending on the view of a Jesus, the interpretation of the OT changes.
    As a Christian (who believes the radical claim that Jesus is who he said he was, God in human form) I’d like to briefly explain the most commonly held understanding of OT interpretation by Christians
    (1) God reveals himself not so much in ‘special messages’ given to ancient men but in specific events throughout history which were recorded in oral and then written form. These specific events are also understood as pointers or symbols or examples of something bigger e.g. the exodus is understood as representing our own ‘slavery’ to death and decay in this world (i.e. the earth and everything in it has been cursed and all will eventually die as a result of the evil that entered the world, see Gen 1-3).
    (2) OT laws are not constantly reinterpreted in a more modern light. Most Christians understand that after the Israelites cried out to God to be rescued from slavery in Egypt, God his people a moral law and civic law. Civic laws were given to a specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose (i.e. they explained how the Israelities were to keep themselves holy and pure since the God of the universe who is holy and pure had declared that he would live among them e.g. Exodus 6:7). Jesus makes it clear that he came to fulfil the law (e.g. Matt 5:17) . The civil laws which were all about ceremonial cleanliness and purity are no longer needed because of Jesus (see Mark 15:38 when then temple curtain, decorated with cherubim – like the cherubim who guarded the garden after Adam and Eve were thrown out – was torn in two from top to bottom, giving free access to all to the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt among his people.)
    Moral law (the 10 commandments) still applies and Jesus suggests is even amplified e.g. Matt 5:21 anyone who is angry with a brother or sister…)
    (3) the most important command/law has always been ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, love your neighbour as yourself…Deut 6:4, Deut 10:13-22, Mark 20:30).
    All the Christians in my family, all my Christian friends and aquaintences, all my church family understand the OT as it applies to us today. And, like Jesus, who shared meals with his enemies, no matter our differences of believe, most of the above mentioned people would extend a warm hand of welcome and friendship to all (even those with whom we don’t see eye to eye with on any given point).
    Thanks for sharing your view. I understand that Christians are never perfect, however, we do not, on the other hand, “interpret” OT writings quite in the way you suggest.

  10. Muhammad
    Muhammad says:

    oh, im moeslim which agree 50 people have killed in America , Cz Gay is fucking sex and terrible idea . Fuck LGBT !

  11. Abraham Puckerman
    Abraham Puckerman says:

    There are instances in which both the Old and New Testament speak to the matter with unbelievable clarity… You know what that sin is. It’s the sin of homosexuality… In fact, in Romans 1, Paul affirms that this particular sin is worthy of death… Granted there are varying levels of clarity/relevant relating to ethics, but still, the Old and New Testament, I believe, both speak with authority and we ought to receive it. !

  12. Simon Teale
    Simon Teale says:

    This article beautifully sums up the thoughts and beliefs of the ever growing humanist movement. We, as an intelligent free thinking society, have moved beyond the archaic teachings and dogma of all religions. Time to start treating our fellow man with respect and dignity and move beyond this outdated nonsense.

    • Jelly
      Jelly says:

      Most humans do not need the structure of an organized religion to treat their fellow man with respect and dignity. It is inherent. The process of a religious upbringing may instill the fear and discipline needed for some humans to maintain that. As an intelligent, free thinking society, one would hope we can move beyond the stories some were taught as truths while putting in practice the humanistic movement that most major religions are based.

  13. Mike West
    Mike West says:

    Now that we are 300 plus years into the Age of the Enlightenment, if you are not criticizing the danger of religious to society, you DO NOT know how to effect positive change to society and you are an immoral person.

    All religions and all superstitions are human-made. Fake. Not true. Failed sciences. Claiming to know a god is claiming the impossible. No amount of sincere belief makes something a fact. Fantastic claims require fantastic evidence.

    Religious faith is called faith because it’s not knowledge. Faith is not a virtue, reason is a virtue. Prayer never works because god is imaginary. Sin is a myth. People do good and bad things but there is no such thing as sin. Heaven and hell is a myth.

    If you are not criticizing religious belief, you are immoral based on science because morals are typically based on human-well being and human suffering over time. So by not criticizing all religions, all religious belief and all superstitious belief, you are helping all believers in mythology and superstitions to continue to waste human resources and time, and also you are helping believers to continue to harm, hurt and murder people.

  14. John
    John says:

    Your title says all abrahamic religions, yet you leave out at least two of them. 3/8 (9 if you include the yezvidi) isn’t very good analysis of “all”. I’m not saying the substance won’t end up largely the same, but you should at least back up your claim. (And at least do your homework and fact checking before saying “all”; it’s one of those “show your work” kinda things).

  15. Stuart McDonald
    Stuart McDonald says:

    And all other religions as well. Of course, they’re all failures because they’re all man-made bullshit created to justify their evil doing and thereby avoid accountability.

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