At CNN’s Belief Blog, John Blake offers four warning signs of when religious beliefs become evil. These include absolutism, charismatic leaders, apocalypticism, and the end justifying the means. He notes that “the line between good religion and evil religion is thin, and it’s easy to make self-righteous assumptions.”
Near the end of his memoir, Robert Lifton writes about Victor T., a Jewish doctor who had been an inmate at Auschwitz. While at Auschwitz he acted heroically, tending to patients in one of the camp's infirmaries and often endangering his own life in order to save theirs. Yet when Lifton went to interview Dr.
Mark's account of the beheading of John the Baptist is a sordid tale of anger and revenge, resentment and death. Jesus is never even mentioned. The key to understanding why this sorry saga shows up where it does in Mark's Gospel is its relation both to the growing fame of Jesus and the success of his disciples. John's death foreshadows Jesus' death and the deaths of many of the early followers.
In Dallas, Texas, one week prior to the assassination of President Kennedy, I heard German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias reminisce about his life in Israel, where his parents were missionaries. After WWII, he returned nervously to Israel to see if the treatment of Jews by the Nazi regime had severed forever his friendships there. When he knocked at the door of an old friend, he was welcomed with an embrace.
I received a phone call once from a good friend, a member of my congregation with whom I had been carrying on an extended theological conversation for several years. She was a believer on most days, she said, and she was absolutely unafraid to doubt and hold up to scrutiny everything she thought the Christian church insisted she believe.
Nothing is gained and much is lost if we describe the terrorists as evil,” a friend of mine argued recently. I disagree. Our difference can be traced back to a division in moral philosophy. My friend is a moral expressivist. He views moral judgments as expressions of feelings, desires and wants.
We want a word from God. When, before our eyes, hijacked airplanes crash into buildings, and the towers of the World Trade Center plunge to the ground snuffing out thousands of lives, when evil suddenly and irrevocably transcends the limits of what we have assumed is possible, we desperately seek to know what God intends for us.