A famous general died and his ashes were to be taken to Arlington National Cemetery. All the airlines were booked and there were no planes available. Someone came up with the idea of using a helicopter. It arrived at five a.m. and startled the city awake. Just goes to show you that the whirly bird gets the urn.
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Several years ago when a well-known actress made her plea for funding and awareness of a particular disease, congressional committee chambers were packed to capacity and surrounded by cameras. A stark contrast was seen when an unknown woman suffering with Parkinson’s disease made her appearance: hers was a reception of chairs left empty by legislators.
Remarked a congressman on ABC’s 20/20: “If you have the politically correct disease, the prospects of getting federal funding to help find the cure are 100 times greater than if you have some other disease, even though it may be a much more common disease.”
The irrationality of this goes beyond disease, does it not. By granting the celebrity such esteem we seem unable to distinguish between a glamorous skill we admire and the entirety of the person, as though artistry empowers one to be a guru for all matters. Whether one is an actor or an athlete, we are imperiled if we forget that giftedness says absolutely nothing about a person’s integrity or wisdom.
We are now, by design, a culture steeped in manufacturing icons. Some time ago one such person, whose only act on stage was to turn the words of an alphabet and look happy while doing so, wrote her autobiography. The demand was so great that it went into a second printing very quickly. One major news anchorman marveled and wondered what prompted such fawning by the masses for a skill as childish as that. He said it was an indictment against their own profession--that it did not take much to be a hero.
Transference of authority is a scary phenomenon in our time. Being a great entertainer is just that—a great entertainer. Let us not transfer greatness across from one point to another without scrutinizing the reasoning behind the recognizable face. Our judgements are in danger if our heroes are influential only because they are well known. Jesus’ words are striking: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He also goes on to say that we look at the outward, but God looks at the heart.
Let us not miss the responsibility of judging an idea by the test of truth and wisdom by foolishly being seduced at the altar of the popular. Life, dear friend is more than glamour and substance is more than image.
August, 1846 German composer Felix Mendelssohn's "Elijah" premiered at the Birmingham Festival, England. One of the most dramatic oratorios ever written, "Elijah" narrates the events in the life of the biblical character Elijah.
Has religion really inflicted "more suffering" than any other manmade cause? Is this assumption, one shared by a large segment of society, an accurate notion? Certainly it's a position that's well ingrained. Demonstrating the imbedded nature of this popular impression, history professor Pat Johnson writes, "I challenge my classes to comment on the following statement: Organized religion has caused more suffering, wars and violence than any other cause. Almost all the students raise their hands in agreement."
Logically, if religion has been the major cause of the world's wars and death, then religion should shoulder the burden of responsibility towards making peace. Today, this rationale underscores much of the global interfaith movement, including the recent United Nations Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.
But can the finger of guilt really point to religion as the primary cause of war and strife?
The Killing Century
In analysing this hypothesis of religion's global war guilt, let's examine the role of religion as the primary killing factor in the bloodiest century of all time -- the last one hundred years. As Winston Churchill explained during the MIT Mid-Century Convocation,
"Little did we guess that what has been called the Century of the Common Man would witness as its outstanding feature more common men killing each other with greater facilities than any other five centuries together in the history of the world."
So was religion the prime death factor, the "single greatest source" of war and suffering, for this very cruel and brutal century?
In order to understand the answer to this question, we need to chart the major wars and human-caused genocides that occurred during this time frame. And in order to do this in the space allotted for this short article, we need a lower stop-limit number -- let's say 1.5 million as a minimum death total.
Please bear in mind that this chart will not be able to list or separate-out all examples. Some, such as the death figure for World War II, could be broken down into holocaust tabulations, single battle totals, etc. -- but we'll try to keep it simple.
Furthermore, it's important to note that many historical conflicts and killings lack accurate death tabulations, and in some instances such as killings done under Stalin and Mao the numbers given in our chart may actually be too low.
Other problems arise from the lack of concrete death totals. For example: the Mexican uprisings of 1910-1920 variably runs between 750,000 and 2 million dead, likewise the decades-old Rwanda/Burundi conflict falls into this statistically difficult range. Because of the variance in accounting up to the 1.5 million mark, I will leave out these two examples, along with many others that display complex numerical discrepancies up to the 1.5 million figure.
However, the following death-inventory will suffice for our brief review. Notice how many of these mass-killing events had classical religion as its central cause.
[The following list is arranged by event (war), date, number of deaths, and lastly, cause.
Congo Free State 1886-1908 8,000,000 Control of colonial profit and power base.
Feudal Russia 1900-1917 3,500,000 (figures vary) Political control
Turkish purges (cross-over with the Russian struggle and World War I) 1900-1923 5,000,000 Ottoman Empire collapse. Political control struggle. Islamic/ethnic factors play an important role
First World War 1914-1918 15,000,000 Balance of power
Russian Civil War 1917-1922 9,000,000 Political control
Soviet Union, Stalin Regime 1924-1953 20,000,000 Political control
China Nationalist Era 1928-1937 3,000,000 Political control
Second World War 1937/38-1945 55,000,000 Balance of power. Expansionism
Sino-Japanese War 1937-1945 21,000,000 Expansion
Yugoslavia (includes WWII) 1941-1987 2-2,500,000 Political control. Ethnic and religious issues
Post-WWII German Expulsions from Eastern Europe 1945-1948 1.8-5,000,000 (figures vary) Post-war policies. Retributions/Soviet and Eastern European control
Chinese Civil War 1945-1949 2,500,000 Political control
People¹s Republic of China (Mao Zedong) 1949-1975 40,000,000 Political control
North Korean Regime 1948- 1.7-3,000,000 (figures vary) Political control
Korean War 1950-1953 2,800,000 (figures vary) Political control
Second Indochina War 1960-1975 3-4,000,000 Political control
Ethiopia (includes famine) 1962-1992 1,500,000 Political control. Ethnic issues came into play
Pakistan-Bangladesh Genocide 1971 1.7-3,000,000 (figures vary) Political/economic, and social control over East Pakistan. Islam and Hindu ethnic/religious issues
Khmer Rouge 1975-1978 2,500,000 Political control
Afghanistan 1979-2001 1,800,000 Political control. Soviet expansion. Islamic issues
Second Sudanese War 1983- 2,000,000 Historical ethnic struggles. Islamic religious issues play a key role. Resource control and usage
Kinshasa Congo 1998- 3,800,000 Political control and debasement. Ethnic strife. Resource control
The sheer horror and brutality of mankind throughout the twentieth century cannot be properly demonstrated in a simplistic chart. However, it's more than apparent that the principal causations of the majority of these awful events -- especially those with death numbers more than five million high -- cannot be laid at the feet of classical religion.