A pig caused hundreds of Indians to kill one another in 1980. The animal walked through a Muslim holy ground at Moradabad, near New Delhi. Muslims, who think pigs are an embodiment of Satan, blamed Hindus for the defilement. They went on a murder rampage, stabbing and clubbing Hindus, who retaliated in kind. The pig riot spread to a dozen cities and left more than 200 dead.
This swinish episode tells a universal tale. It typifies religious behavior that has been recurring for centuries.
Ronald Reagan often called religion the world's mightiest force for good, "the bedrock of moral order". George Bush said it gives people "the character they need to get through life". This view is held by millions. But the truism isn't true. The record of human experience shows that where religion is strong, it causes cruelty. Intense beliefs produce intense hostility. Only when faith loses its force can a society hope to become humane.
The history of religion is a horror story. If anyone doubts it, just review this chronicle of religion's gore during the last 1,000 years or so:
---- The First Crusade was launched in 1095 with the battle cry "Deus Vult" (God wills it), a mandate to destroy infidels in the Holy Land. Gathering crusaders in Germany first fell upon "the infidel among us", Jews in the Rhine valley, thousands of whom were dragged from their homes or hiding places and hacked to death or burned alive. Then the religious legions plundered their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem, where they killed virtually every inhabitant, "purifying" the symbolic city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote: "In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses' bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God."
---- Human sacrifice blossomed in the Mayan theocracy of Central America between the 11th and 16th centuries. To appease a feathered-serpent god, maidens were drowned in sacred wells and other victims either had their hearts cut out, were shot with arrows, or were beheaded. Elsewhere, sacrifice was sporadic. In Peru, pre-Inca tribes killed children in temples called "houses of the moon". In Tibet, Bon shamans performed ritual killings. In Borneo builders of pile houses drove the first pile through the body of a maiden to pacify the earth goddess. In India, Dravidian people offered lives to village goddesses, and followers of Kali sacrificed a male child every Friday evening.
---- In the Third Crusade, after Richard the Lion-Hearted captured Acre in 1191, he ordered 3,000 captives - many of them women and children - taken outside the city and slaughtered. Some were disemboweled in a search for swallowed gems. Bishops intoned blessings. Infidel lives were of no consequence. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux declared in launching the Second Crusade: "The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified."
---- The Assassins were a sect of Ismaili Shi'ite Muslims whose faith required the stealthy murder of religious opponents. From the 11th to 13th centuries, they killed numerous leaders in modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria. They finally were wiped out by conquering Mongols - but their vile name survives.
---- Throughout Europe, beginning in the 1100s, tales spread that Jews were abducting Christian children, sacrificing them, and using their blood in rituals. Hundreds of massacres stemmed from this "blood libel". Some of the supposed sacrifice victims - Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the holy child of LaGuardia, Simon of Trent - were beatified or commemorated with shrines that became sites of pilgrimages and miracles.
---- In 1209, Pope Innocent III launched an armed crusade against Albigenses Christians in southern France. When the besieged city of Beziers fell, soldiers reportedly asked their papal adviser how to distinguish the faithful from the infidel among the captives. He commanded: "Kill them all. God will know his own." Nearly 20,000 were slaughtered - many first blinded, mutilated, dragged behind horses, or used for target practice.
---- The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 proclaimed the doctrine of transubstantiation: that the host wafer miraculously turns into the body of Jesus during the mass. Soon rumors spread that Jews were stealing the sacred wafers and stabbing or driving nails through them to crucify Jesus again. Reports said that the pierced host bled, cried out, or emitted spirits. On this charge, Jews were burned at the stake in 1243 in Belitz, Germany - the first of many killings that continued into the 1800s. To avenge the tortured host, the German knight Rindfliesch led a brigade in 1298 that exterminated 146 defenseless Jewish communities in six months.
---- In the 1200s the Incas built their empire in Peru, a society dominated by priests reading daily magical signs and offering sacrifices to appease many gods. At major ceremonies up to 200 children were burned as offerings. Special "chosen women" - comely virgins without blemish - were strangled.
---- Also during the 1200s, the hunt for Albigensian heretics led to establishment of the Inquisition, which spread over Europe. Pope Innocent IV authorized torture. Under interrogation by Dominican priests, screaming victims were stretched, burned, pierced and broken on fiendish pain machines to make them confess to disbelief and to identify fellow transgressors. Inquisitor Robert le Bourge sent 183 people to the stake in a single week.
---- In Spain, where many Jews and Moors had converted to escape persecution, inquisitors sought those harboring their old faith. At least 2,000 Spanish backsliders were burned. Executions in other countries included the burning of scientists such as mathematician-philosopher Giordano Bruno, who espoused Copernicus's theory that the planets orbit the sun.