What we want you to do

1. Develop your own spirituality. Life is an unimaginable opportunity. You should experience as much of it, and learn about it as deeply, as you can.

2. If you are a believer, “you should reject the us versus them messages that your religion purveys. Ask why such people are your enemies, and why they have to be converted. Your goal should be to reform your faith, to get it to concentrate not on issues that enhance its leaders’ power and prestige, but rather on the real issues of religion and life: how to be ethical; how to help other species and people; and how to solve real world problems. In particular, you should feel free to disagree with the leaders’ views on intractable social problems. And, regarding the deepest questions of existence, you should encourage the faith not to concentrate on the fear and uncertainty of death, but rather on the celebration of the universe and of life.” (FFF, Religion. The following discussion incorporates a number of excerpts from this chapter, which is also included on the site in its entirety: Religion.)

What we intend to do
Dictator Watch is not against spirituality. We are not atheists, or even secular. We believe there is an underlying purpose and plan for the universe. (Please see the last chapter of Freedom From Form.) However, we object to the dictatorial actions of organized religions whereby they:

- seek to limit our allowable views.
- encourage prejudices against and persecution of, and therefore conflict between, various social and ethnic groups.
- support and perpetuate such things as sexism, overpopulation, and the destruction of wild nature.

Religion is form. It is based not on reason, but on superstition. It regularly encourages divisiveness. It causes as many problems as it solves.

We are opposed to this. We will reveal religious dictators, their tactics, and their values, for what they really are.

Common dictatorial pronouncements from the various organized religions include:

- that they are the only route to existential truth, and that if we do not follow them, we are doomed.
- that other groups which believe differently are the enemy.
- that such other groups must be converted, by any means including violence.
- and also statements and positions that more generally oppose positive social change, in particular equality between the sexes and the end of overpopulation.

The following sections describe various ways in which the major organized religions are dictatorial. Please contribute any information that you have on such dictatorial and other unethical beliefs and actions (and for other organized faiths as well), including such things as financial corruption and the support of conflict by the religions’ leaders.

(In order to be balanced and even-handed, the associated link describes some of the positive features of religious belief.)

Organized religion in general
- Regardless of their differences, in the most profound sense all religions tell us the same thing. Life is a test, which we can pass or fail, and they can tell us how to pass. (How one passes or fails may vary by religion, but the goal should always be to try to pass.) Religions take the view that there has to be an answer: there has to be a purpose for our existence.

No religion, with the possible exception of Buddhism in its earliest form, i.e., through the original teachings of Buddha himself, is willing to countenance the view that life simply is; that it cannot be appealed to or judged; that it can only be lived. To religion, there has to be a judgment, and they are going to make it, both on you and on life. But, in this regard they are willing to make you a special offer, an offer that it is almost impossible to refuse. If you follow what they say, they will assuage your greatest fear: of death. They will grant you immortality.

- Through this, not only do religions set the stage for the types of dictatorship described below, they also imply that the highest purpose in life is one’s quest for spiritual knowledge. And, while we do not necessarily disagree with this, we do reject one idea that is seen to follow from it. Religions state that that which furthers the spiritual quest is good, and that which does not is evil. And in the main, the latter is considered to be earthly or temporal desire, because it distracts you from the quest.

Organized religions have the regular failing that they deny life, and this applies to Buddhism as well. Life, our passion for it, is something they are afraid of, because they cannot control it. They seek to deny it, to say that we should not enjoy life, or they attempt to transform our passion for it into a passion for their faith.

- The dictatorship of religion begins with the demand for faith. You are told that while there may appear to be no answers, if you have faith the answers will be revealed to you. However, since you cannot know anything - have absolute knowledge about the purpose of the universe and of life - this enables you to believe anything you want, including anything you are told, no matter how outlandish it might be. (This also raises the question, if faith is the abandonment of reason, shouldn’t we abandon reason for everything?)

The real problem, of course, is that god will not reveal itself. But, surprise, surprise, there are exceptions:

- God has communicated directly with the prophets (and the enlightened), in other words, with the chosen few. Indeed, He has even sent His son.
- God periodically provides visions and miracles.
- And, god can be appealed to through prayer, and may even bend the rules of the universe a bit and grant one.

When one's faith is weakening, these are the artifices that have been constructed by the purveyors of religious form to shore it up.

It is clear that religion is the greatest confidence game ever devised. The arguments of religion are used to gain your confidence, and faith. Then, given faith in the soul and hell, or reincarnation, the punishment is such that it must be avoided. Also, there is no possibility of argument. Religions have a failsafe defense against any doubts and criticism. If you question a religion, it is your problem, not the religion’s. You simply lack faith.

My personal belief is that an omnipotent being - if “god” truly is omnipotent - would not need, or want, faith. Perhaps a better explanation is that the real purpose of the need for faith is to limit the allowable views of the religious adherent. It is an ideal mechanism to ensure obedience: if you believe in X (our god), you cannot - are not allowed to - believe in Y (theirs).

- The Messiah. One of the basic tenets of Christianity (and also of Judaism, since it comes from the Old Testament) is the need for a Messiah. We are all held to be responsible for the Original Sin; we suffer guilt, and punishment, which derives from the actions of our first parents. Furthermore, there is no way for us to make up for this, to right the balance. We require an individual to lead us, and to save us - we require “salvation” - from this and other sins.

The structure of this belief creates the need for a dictator; indeed, one with god’s blessing. It authorizes a position of unlimited earthly power, with which no disagreement is possible. Such an individual, and his, or - theoretically - her, ministers and priests, effectively have “the power of the keys.” They can open the door to heaven and grant eternal life, or doom one to eternal damnation.

This form enables such priests and ministers to demand any action, any sacrifice, from those who believe. It enables, and has justified, again and again, the worst kinds of dictatorship.

- Gender inequality. Women under Christianity are the weaker sex, and are in fact derived from men; specifically, from Adam’s rib. Man is actually in God’s image. Men have His form, and therefore are closest to Him, and best. Also, a woman caused the downfall of man, through eating the apple. Furthermore, since the mother of Christ was a virgin (if this is to be believed), such a life represents the ideal for women, perhaps even the only way a woman can be good. And sex itself is bad, particularly when a woman wants it.

All of this has led to a typing of women as inferior, and subordinate, and even evil, and given us a legacy of sexism which we still must fight today.

- Attitudes towards nature. The Christian view of nature is that it is wild and undisciplined, i.e., sinful. It therefore needs to be controlled. This has served as further justification for the rampant environmental destruction that accompanies development. Such destruction is not even viewed as a negative: it is actually seen as an improvement.- Racial discrimination. In December 2001, the Christian Coalition settled a lawsuit brought by ten black women who were required to use the rear entrance and a segregated break room, and who “were excluded from the coalition Christmas party and events related to President Bush's inauguration, and were denied health-care coverage and overtime pay.” (Source: Knight Ridder News Service)

- Catholicism: the “Truth.” In July 2000, the Roman Catholic Church released a statement saying that it is the true route to salvation, and that other faiths have “defects.” It also called upon Church followers to “evangelize, ” to seek the conversion to Catholicism of the followers of other faiths.

There you have it: the Roman Catholic Church as dictator. They are the only ones who know the “truth,” and if you do not follow them, i.e., submit to them and thereby increase their power, you are doomed.

- Catholicism: religious persecution. The persecution of the Jews by Christians began as early as the fourth century, as soon as the Catholic Church was well established. In particular, they were one of the primary targets of the Inquisition. Of course, such persecution has come from Protestant denominations as well, including in Nazi Germany and among today’s far-right hate groups.

Indeed, whenever and wherever Christianity as an organization has been in power, it has engaged in persecution. (What would happen if it was in power again?) This is because it is underlined by a revenge psychology. Our circumstances here on earth are the revenge of god for the original sin. And an eternity of torture in hell is the revenge of the “good” over the “evil.” And persecution of others, such as of the Jews, who failed to recognize Christ as the savior, who actually crucified him, is a revenge as well.

- Catholicism: opposition to knowledge. The Church historically has been opposed to advancements in knowledge, since this threatened its power. Uneducated populations are most receptive to a belief in miracles and the other mysteries of the faith. From its establishment, “the Churches, everywhere, opposed as long as they could practically every innovation that made for an increase of happiness or knowledge here on earth.” (A History of Philosophy in the Western World, Bertrand Russell)

- Catholicism: opposition to birth control. The Catholic Church says that birth control should be forbidden because it is “against nature.” Pope John Paul II is a complete supporter of this and other hard-line views. Of course, such a position is not that difficult to understand. Higher birth rates in the families of members ensure a continuing population of followers, since parents dictate the faith of their children. For its own selfish purposes, the Catholic Church is willing to sacrifice the earth’s ecological balance, which has already suffered tremendous destruction through human overpopulation.

- Catholicism: corporate sponsorship. When the Pope visited Mexico in 1999, there were corporate sponsors. Such an alignment, of traditional and modern forms of dictatorship, is greatly to be feared.

- Catholicism: pedophilia. A large number of priests in the Catholic Church are pedophiles and child abusers, and their crimes have been covered up by church leaders for decades in the United States and for centuries elsewhere.

- Protestantism: missionaries. It is not only the Catholic Church which believes in Christian evangelism, many protestant sects and denominations sponsor missionaries as well. Such missionaries effectively extort conversion from the uneducated people of traditional cultures using the idea that the alternative to the Christian faith is banishment from god and an eternity of torture in hell. Groups which are most active in missionary activities include the Baptists and the Mormons. As part of our campaign against religious dictatorship, we would like to establish a directory of different missionary groups and the traditional and indigenous cultures which are their targets. If you know of any such culture which is under the assault of religious imperialism, please alert us to this including the specific missionary organization that is involved.

- The Messiah. As described above, Judaism is the source of the belief that humanity requires a Messiah, and through this the dictatorship that such a form enables.

- The chosen people. The Jews believe that they are “the chosen people,” and such a belief actually serves to define them to other groups as THEM. In addition, they have a pejorative name which they apply to all non-Jews: “gentile.”

- Zionism. This is the idea held in some fundamentalist Jewish circles that the land called Israel, also known as Palestine, should be for Jews only. All non-Jews should be driven out, or allowed to stay only as second-class citizens (i.e., as in an apartheid system).

For some, such ideas are taken to their logical, and extreme, conclusion. In April 2001, Rabbi Yosef of the Orthodox Shas party in Israel, called for genocide against the Palestinians. In a sermon he said: “It is forbidden to be merciful to them, you must give them missiles with relish - annihilate them.”

Such policies have been followed - with relish - by Ariel Sharon since he became Prime Minister. (Israel under Sharon is a fundamentalist state.)

- New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. September 11, 2001.

Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who hijacked and then flew
the two jets that crashed into the World Trade Towers

There is no denying it: THIS is part of Islam. The question is: is it now an integral part of the faith, or can it be eliminated? This is for Muslims themselves to decide. If the latter, they must lead the fight. If the former, it brings the validity of the entire religion into question.

- The Sari nightclub, Bali, October 12, 2002, destroyed in an attack by Islamic extremists, causing hundreds of casualties.

- The now regular string of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, including since Bali in Madrid, Morocco, Istanbul, Russia, London, the Sinai, and elsewhere.

- The “Truth.” Mohammed was the last prophet, and his revelation was “God’s final message to man.” (The Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C.)

- Religious dictatorships. Many nations in which Islam is the dominant faith are theocracies: they are religious dictatorships governed by the leading mullahs. (This includes at least eighteen of the nations judged Not Free by Freedom House.) The Koran, subject to their interpretation, is the law, and it supersedes any human law, principles or practices that are based on reason. This enables such mullahs to persecute as they please, as described in the points below. It also puts them in direct opposition to the historical practices of their faith.

- Religious persecution. “The prophet made no claim to be divine, nor did his followers make such a claim on his behalf. ... It was the duty of the faithful to conquer as much of the world as possible for Islam, but there was to be no persecution of Christians, or Jews, or Zoroastrians - the 'people of the Book,' as the Koran calls them, i.e., those who followed the teaching of a scripture.” (Ibid. Russell)

Followers of extreme or fundamentalist Islam, who are often referred to as “Islamists,” regularly engage in the persecution of the followers of other faiths. Such individuals are “infidels,” and if they refuse to be converted then they deserve to die. This has been explicitly stated by the Taleban in Afghanistan, and it is also accepted - pursued - in many other places: Sudan, for example. It also holds within Islam, in the regular battles between the Sunni and Shi'ite sects.

The Taleban are actually worth additional mention, since they are at the vanguard of Islamist extremism (see photo above), and since their goals and actions may be viewed - cynically but not unrealistically - as the ideals and aspirations of Islamists everywhere. In March 2001, the Taleban destroyed, as un-Islamic idols, two giant stone Buddhas that were carved into a stone wall more than 1,500 years ago. (This occurred despite a widespread call for restraint - at least in public - from the leaders of other Muslim nations.) Then, in May 2001, the Taleban ruled that all Hindus in the nation had to wear a yellow identification label, which was highly reminiscent of the Nazis ordering Jews to wear yellow Stars of David. Would anything other than ethnic cleansing, in its worst forms, have been the fate of all non-Muslims in Afghanistan had the Taleban not been forced from power? (see also below)

On Christmas Eve 2000, there was a coordinated series of bombings of Christian churches in Indonesia, for which extremist Islamic elements were believed responsible. (There have been many similar bombings since then.)

- Gender inequality. Sexism in Islam is a common practice, and as the following quote demonstrates it extends well beyond the requirement that women cover themselves in public so as not to be seen.

Why women are forbidden to testify in criminal proceedings.
1. Women are much more emotional than men and will, as a result of their emotions, distort their testimony.
2. Women do not participate in public life, so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe.
3. Women are dominated completely by men, who by the grace of God are deemed superior; therefore, women will give testimony according to what the last man told them.
4. Women are forgetful, and their testimony cannot be considered reliable

(Saudi Arabian rules of evidence, Princess, Jean P. Sasson)

In Mecca, the Saudi religious police, the Mutawa, or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, prevented young girls from escaping a fire in their school (they beat the girls back at the school gate to stop them from running out) because they were not properly clothed. Fifteen girls died and fifty-one were injured.

More generally in Saudi Arabia, women have value only as wives and mothers. Unmarried women, known as aanis, are shunned. Men, on the other hand, may have four wives under Islam. Unmarried women are encouraged to become misyar, or legal mistresses: wives that husbands do not have to reveal to their other, “legitimate” wives.

In Iran, all candidates for election must be approved by the Guardian Council, which screens applicants using Islamic criteria. No woman has ever been approved to run as a candidate for government office.

The practice of “honor killing” is also common throughout the Muslim world, in particular in the Middle East. Women are killed, by their fathers and brothers, if they are seen to stain the family’s honor in some way. This extends even to women who become pregnant as the result of having been raped.

It is ironic that it is so inappropriately named, since all it really does is bring dishonor upon such families.

Related to this, in June 2002 in Pakistan, a teenage girl, Mukhtiar Mai, was gang-raped by four men, and then forced to walk naked through her village to her home. She was punished because her brother had allegedly had an affair with a woman from a higher caste. A tribal court, known as a jirga or panchayat, ruled that if she did not submit all the women in her family would be raped. Subsequently, it was revealed that her brother had not had an affair as claimed, and in fact had been raped himself - sodomized - by three men from the higher caste. The affair had been concocted to cover this up. After all this became known outside Pakistan, six men - the four rapists and two members of the panchayat - were sentenced to death by a special court. (They have the right of appeal, though, and their sentence may well be overturned.)

Also from Pakistan, Zafran Bibi, who was raped in May 2002, was sentenced to death by stoning. Sex outside of marriage is a crime punishable by death. Pakistani rapists regularly claim that their victims were willing, thereby leaving them blameless and with the carry-on effect that the victims are then executed. A conviction for the crime of rape requires four male Muslim witnesses thereto.

Yet again from Pakistan (which is a military dictatorship, was the primary source of support for the Taleban, and which remains the main source of support for Kashmiri terrorists), in July 2002 four men on death row for the murder of two other men bought their way out of jail by giving their victims' families eight girls and approximately $130,000. One 14 year old girl was married to a 77 year old man, and another to a 55 year old man. However, foreign publicity scuttled this deal as well and the murderers are now looking for another way out.

Similarly, a Nigerian court, following Islamic law, or sharia, ruled that a woman found guilty of adultery should be stoned to death. This puishment was only prevented when an international outcry was raised. The man involved, her former husband, was not charged. After this, though, another woman, Amina Lawal, received a similar sentence (in August 2002). Amina is pregnant, and her sentence is to be carried out after her baby is weaned. She will be buried up to her neck, and then killed by stoning.

A couple of related items: in Catalonia, Spain, a Muslim couple removed their five daughters from school, since they do not believe the girls should be educated now that they have begun menstruating. And, in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, the local Islamic government has passed a hudud penal code, which will allow amputation and death by stoning.

- Martyrdom. Muslims believe they must conquer the world for Islam, and the form that most supports this is the myth of martyrdom. They are told that if they die in the process they will immediately ascend to heaven and sit closest to god. Such martyrs are celebrated, as are their families. Their deaths are not viewed as tragic. This is the form that encourages many young men, and some young women, particularly individuals who have had close family members killed, to agree to sacrifice themselves in extremist acts.

Related to this, Osama bin Laden, according to the testimony of one of his associates, justified his terrorism by saying that any innocent victims thereof - as in bystanders - go to heaven (as if those whom he directly targets have been legitimately found guilty, and deserving of capital punishment). This is an extraordinary rationalization for his crimes: he completely denies responsibility - he is in effect merely the instrument of god.

It is also worth noting than bin Laden is not separate from the Taleban, although it is usually presented in the media and by government officials as if this is the case. He is an unacknowledged but integral part of it. Anyone who thinks differently is making a mistake. Bin Laden is one of the leaders in the Taleban's drive to spread its barbaric ideals and goals, particularly to other Muslim nations. In addition, they both work closely with groups in Pakistan, with extremist mullahs and members of the military dictatorship. Together, they brought recruits to Afghanistan for training, and then funneled them to Kashmir and other nations to engage in terror.

- Structural inequality. A fundamental Buddhist belief is the idea of karma, which in general terms can be restated as actions have consequences. (The similar Christian idea is that you reap what you sow.) Through belief in reincarnation, though, the religion adds a deterministic slant. Your situation in this life is the result of your behavior in a prior life. Therefore, if your current life is bad, if, for example, you are born to a low station, you cannot complain, nor should you even try to do something about it.

Through the idea of karma, in combination with reincarnation, Buddhism justifies inequality, and it also legitimizes determinism and encourages fatalism. (One wonders, though, in which life are you free to act such that your conditions in subsequent lives are a legitimate reward or penalty? In which life can you exert will and thereby initiate the subsequent deterministic chain? For such a system to work, logically, there has to be a break in the cycle; a starting point.)

- Gender inequality. Sexism is applied in Buddhism as well, reflecting the belief in the countries where it is practiced that a woman has a lower station in life than a man. For example, in Thailand women are not allowed to be monks (i.e., with authority to teach and also over temple affairs). Nirvana, apparently, is for men only. (Interestingly, Buddha himself was a prince, the son of King Suddhodhan Shakya. What a coincidence! Is Nirvana also only for the elite?)

- Corruption. Corruption among religious leaders is common in all faiths. Indeed, the whole set-up is the best possible design for abuse. A religious “professional” is basically saying: “I can’t work, since I have to devote myself to the spirit. And you should pay me so I can do this, and thereby ‘make merit.’ And, the more money you give me, the more merit you make.”

Among religions, though, corruption seems particularly commonplace with Buddhist monks, who regularly sell good fortune, even lucky lottery numbers.

- Structural inequality. As we just saw, religion is regularly used to justify class structure and inequality, and this is most clearly the case with Hinduism. One of the three aspects of dharma (which is related to karma) is the natural social order, which among other things is the foundation of the rigid social castes in India.

- Attitudes towards nature. Indeed, such beliefs justify the positions for all life, not only human. They effectively subordinate all other life. But here it should be noted that there is another logical flaw in the argument of reincarnation. If your behavior in this life causes you to be born as some other species in the next, how can you possibly make merit as such a species and hope to be born human again? Other life forms truly are subject to natural law, and have no ethical options. In this sense, they are determined. (And if this happens to you, you are stuck. Also, it is interesting that in reincarnation cultures you can come back as a rat or a bird or a snake, but never as a tree. Reincarnation does not occur cross-kingdom.)

- Gender inequality. Sexism is commonplace in India, and although it may not be a direct consequence of Hindu religious beliefs certainly the link exists in practice. An ancient tradition which still survives is that of suttee, where a wife throws herself onto her husband's funeral pyre. This is not always voluntary, though. In August 2002, in the central state of Madya Pradesh, fifteen people were arrested for forcing Kuttu Bai to burn herself to death this way.

In another ancient practice (reportedly 2,000 years old), young untouchable or dalit women have been forced to become joginis, or servants of local temple gods. What this means in practice, though, is that they are doomed to lives of sexual slavery. When they reach puberty they are married by the temple priest to the god. Then, on their “wedding night,” they are raped by a village elder (from a higher caste), and then passed from man to man after which they become prostitutes, given only enough to survive. (This is similar to the condition suffered by trokosi in Ghana, who are young women offered to priests as payment for the misdeeds of their fathers.) On a positive note, though, in August 2002 a group of Hindu priests in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh renounced the practice (finally!). However, it remains widespread in the state, where there are reportedly 42,000 joginis.

- Opposition to birth control. One belief in Hinduism is that families must have a male heir, to preside over the funeral rites of the father. This is a contributing factor in overpopulation. More generally, the common belief in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and which has religious links, that boys are superior to girls, and that families must have sons, which in combination with the statistical pattern that more girls are born than boys, ensures that overpopulation will never cease.

- Religious persecution. Hinduism is a remarkably tolerant faith. It does not seek to convert others. Indeed, you must be born Hindu. However, in recent years extremists have encouraged attacks on Christian missionaries and churches in India. While we are no fans of proselytizing, we are certain that there are ways to deal with the threat to one’s culture that missionaries pose other than through their murder!


© Roland O. Watson 2001-3