While minor religious scandals flare almost weekly, two major types of holy horror dominate the 21st century: Muslim suicide bombings and priest sex abuses. Let's start with Islam:
The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 Muslim suicide volunteers killed 3,000 Americans by crashing hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon awoke everyone to Islam's fringe "cult of death," which has become the world's worst cause of bloodshed.
The 9-11 "martyrs" left behind a testament saying God would reward them with "women of paradise" upon their deaths. They believed that God craves mass murder.
Although Christianity faded until it no longer produces wars and executions (except for a few "pro-life" murders at women's clinics), Islam hasn't advanced to such a peaceful stage. Muslim nations abound with young zealots eager to kill themselves to massacre defenseless strangers.
Holy suicide was little known until 1983, when a volunteer truck-bomb driver killed 240 U.S. Marines at a Lebanon barracks, and another killed 60 at the U.S. Embassy there. Since then, it has grown to the monster of the 21st century, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
A total of 800 suicide bombers killed 5,560 people in 28 nations in 2016, according to the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. In 2015, some 735 martyrs killed 4,370. In 2014, the toll was 937 death volunteers and 4,400 victims, scarcely more than four casualties per martyr.
Columnist David Brooks calls suicide martyrdom "the crack cocaine of warfare. It unleashes the deepest and most addictive human passions the thirst for vengeance, the desire for religious purity, the longing for earthly glory and eternal salvation." He said volunteers are promised "dark-eyed virgins in paradise" upon death.
It's utter insanity yet it's a religious reality of our times.
PRIESTS AND ALTAR BOYS
A gigantic scandal has wracked the Catholic Church for decades, constantly worsening, spreading internationally. Each new wave of disclosures adds more world outrage.
Starting in the 1950s, a few Catholic insiders began warning privately that some celibate priests were forcing sex onto pubescent altar boys and committing other sexual crimes. The problem stayed hidden for years.
Late in the 20th century, police arrests and lawsuits began revealing the sordid pattern. In 1988, one of my friends, Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote the first book on the growing nightmare: Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (now out of print, but the whole text is available on the FFRF website). She covered Protestant cases as well as Catholic ones.
In 1994, television documentaries showed ugly offenses in Ireland. In 1995, Cardinal Hans Groer resigned as Archbishop of Vienna for sex abuses. In 2002, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for disclosing rampant sex crimes and church cover-up in New England. In 2004, the Dallas Morning News did likewise for Texas. In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report identified 300 Keystone State priests who molested more than 1,000 children. In 2019, Australian Cardinal George Pell was convicted. Etc., etc.