By Balasubramanian Venkatakrishnan

Apparently extremism has no religion. So I guess religion gets to wash its hands clean every time someone bad invokes it. In a different way, that thought makes religion even more scary. Extremism could hijack any religion! Like computer viruses that work on Windows, OSX and Linux (Yes they exist). All one needs is a good hole and both operating systems and religions have plenty.

Holes in computer operating systems can be fixed however; and people are expected to work on that everyday. The big problem with organized religion is their holes don’t get fixed easily, if ever. People try to not talk about them, jump over them, walk around them, ignore that they exist, and sometimes they fall into them because they are told that it is not a hole. A common tie across all levels of religious fandom is the belief that their texts and the so-called “word of god” are perfect and infallible. It is not amendable to fit new sizes and you do not question it. This tying tenet is THE oath of religious membership. None of them invite open questioning; they are challenged by it. So you are expected to get married drinking sweetened milk on a swing because that is how they performed child marriages in the dark ages, and by the gods, that is how you will be wed. No questions.

While most religion followers faithfully refuse to ask or answer questions that carry logic, the occasional apologist will present semi-logical ideas. He will deny the official membership of extremists and state that moderate followers – the teeming millions of them – are the majority and their membership is truly for inner peace and salvation, as is said in the texts. The extremists, the zealots and the evildoers are a handful and are not exemplary of the religion, which is pure and beautiful.

Like Windows 8.1

Here is the problem with that line of thinking. Religious membership exists as a hierarchy defined by how far you are willing to take your fandom with your actions.

I call this a hierarchy of support. Each level supports the next tier, even though they may not support the levels beyond. The support may be open or a non-verbal nod to their ideas. At the base you have the apologist who suggests that religious membership is truly an innocent experience, exemplified by the pious and gentle moderate follower, who strives to make his life more beautiful with his religion. The moderate follower supports the political follower who will use his position of power to influence others to also enjoy this wonderful mission to peace and bliss. The political follower takes his religion and his job very seriously. He believes that he can enlist ideas from his religion to do his job. Through this, he hopes to provide good governance to the people who are of his religion and the people who aren’t. He supports the chief religious body that fashions the guidelines of his religion. The chief religious body strives to preserve the identity of the religion and ensure that members adhere to the tenets of the religion properly and non-members maintain good respect. And for that, they accept the existence of the extremists.

Each of these levels have increasing amounts of power even if their numbers decrease. And just having that power makes them dangerous and disquieting. Should they choose to move away from ethical behavior, standing up against them could spell doom. The extremist could be willing to sacrifice thousands to ensure success for his holy mission of supremacy. The chief religious body holds the rulebook on the religion and their interpretation and direction could alter the fates of all followers. The religious body could threaten followers (and others) with damnation if they did not buy into its policies. The political follower holds all other rulebooks that could make or break the world around him. It could be argued that the meek and modest moderate follower poses no danger as he holds no such power. Certainly, all apologists make good mention of it. But if you consider how these higher tier bodies are empowered, we get the reverse hierarchy of hijacking to hide away evil intentions and deeds.

The extremist is empowered by the approval of the religious body; he does not question the ethics of his deeds anymore. The religious body is empowered by the approval of the political follower; now even its questionable actions under the guise of religious self-preservation can be cleaned away by use of political power. The political follower is voted in by the moderate, so abuse of the power is acceptable because the people enabled him to do it. The moderate follower never doubts his choices because there is an apologist over the shoulder validating him on the news and social media. It does not matter if the apologist is religious or non-religious. However, it does matter that you might be one of these.

This hierarchical model suggests that religion is a general subscription. If you buy in, you have bought in all the way and the extremists become your people even if you don’t like it. It may be too radical to suggest that all individuals quit religion in an instant. It challenges your identity and a way of life that defines you. It may take away what gives you inner peace. But think about what you follow and what it can lead to. Think about the relevance of archaic practices and how they stand in the way of humanism. Think about who truly deserves your respect and support. Think about who they support. Think about where your values come from. Offer a hand, not blind fandom. Is the preservation and resurrection of dark-age remains of your organization truly more important than humanity?

You are afraid of breaking out of this system of fear, hate and blind following. Don’t be.

Je Suis Charlie

P.S. This