Breaking News: All Religions Are Not the Same

Recently, many mainstream secular writers have made the simple mistake of assuming that all religions – and all religious believers – are essentially the same.

Listen to Michael Kinsey summarize Christopher Hitchens’ arguments from “God is Not Great”:

How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.

Robert T. Miller of First Things does a great job of analyzing this book review. Miller doesn’t waste time breaking down Kinsey’s and Hitchens’ mistakes about religion, but I will. Let’s take two. There is one religion that argues that Christ died for our sins – Christianity. There is another that claims that Christ did not die – Islam. Have neither Kinsey nor Hitchens ever noticed that Christians and Muslims disagree with one another? Let’s take another – that the “argument from design” (which Kinsey conflates with Intelligent Design) is apparently inconsistent because of religious leaders’ support of female genital mutilation. Huh? Have Philip Johnson or William Dembski become African animists without anyone noticing?

On a less serious note, the same kind of ignorance is found in Max Brook’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Way, a bestselling science fiction novel by the son of Mel Brooks. The novel is set ten years after “the zombie war” in which, yes, the living dead nearly took over the world, and it’s structured as a series of interviews with survivors, war vets, political leaders, etc. Overall, it tries to give a “realistic” version of what might happen. Brooks takes into account regional and cultural differences as he imagines how different countries – the US, South Africa, China, North Korea, Israel – would react to the catastrophe. As sucker for post-apocalyptic science fiction, I was massively entertained.

But Brooks stumbles big time when he tries to write about conservative Christians. They are referenced a couple of times – dismissively called “Fundies” by a few characters – and they are mocked for their belief that zombies signal the end of the world, their panicked reactions, and, most curiously, an apparent wave of suicide cults formed by Christians.

First, if the dead begin to walk as reanimated zombies, “The End Is Near!” becomes a reasonable belief for everyone, not just Christians. Second, I know a lot about religious history, and I cannot think of a single suicide cult formed by theologically conservative Christians – or Christians of any kind, for that matter. Even Christian groups that sincerely believed that the world is going to end on a specific date. When that date comes, those Christians – well, they usually realize their mistake and move on. Mass suicides like Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown were conducted by fringe, cult groups whose beliefs had almost nothing in common with traditional Christianity. Brooks seems to have made the same leap as Hitchens and Kinsey above – he knows that some religions have sanctioned mass suicide, so therefore it must be a common feature of any religion.

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