Do you think religion makes people do weird things? I don’t. I think people make religion do weird things. People invent religion to excuse weird behavior that they want to do, but that they need some excuse for doing. They know what they want to do is insane, but they want to do it anyway, so they invent a god who will punish them for all eternity if they don’t do it. It gives them the perfect cover.
Take for example the Jewish custom of kaparot (kapores where I come from): turning a rooster or a hen over your head (a rooster is you are male, a hen if you are female) during the High Holy Day period and believing that by doing so your sins are passed to the bird and that by slaying the bird you are free from those sins. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten chicken to die for our sins? Does this make sense to you? Is this the best my ancestors could come up with when they sought to borrow from their Christian neighbors?
I can imagine a bunch of rabbis gathering in a shul saying, “Look we’ve got to modernize to fit in. We have to be more goyish. The Christians believe Jesus died for their sins, why don’t we run with that. They’ll appreciate the sentiment. Say, I have an idea, instead of Jesus, why not go with a chicken?”
This kind of magic is ridiculous. But, if you don’t really care about the welfare of chickens, quite fun. You take this bird squawking and screaming, grab it by its feet and spin it around your head like you were a finalist on Dancing with the Stars or representing Israel in the Winter Olympics ice skating competition. I’ve seen this done, though not on Dancing with the Stars or at the Winter Olympics. No, I’ve seen it done in Israel. And in Haiti. In Israel it is called Judaism. In Haiti it is called Voodoo.
And then there is baby tossing. Indian Muslims at the Shrine of Solapur have for the past five hundred years dropped their infants from a fifty-foot tower into a taught sheet held by the faithful many feet below. In this way God will bless the baby either with a long and healthy life, or a very short one lasting no more than the time it takes to hit the ground after having been tossed from a fifty-foot tower. Maybe these Muslims read Nietzsche, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Rooster swinging and baby tossing. No wonder Christopher Hitchens is angry. Religious people are insane.
And then there is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The man is angry about American Indian genocide, the enslavement of millions of Africans, Jim Crow laws, lynching, the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Vietnam, the treatment of blacks in South Africa during Apartheid, the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, and the fact that Barack Obama dissed him on national television. I mean get over it. What if we Jews kept harping about the destruction of the Temple, or our problems with ancient Egypt, Persia, and Rome, or our expulsion from Spain, or the Crusades, or the Holocaust, or the fact that classic Star Trek with two Jewish leading men got cancelled while the oh so goyish Capt Picard gets to fly where nobody has gone before for longer than the guys who did it first? People would think we are just using history to promote our own agenda.
But maybe you think there is a difference between the prophetic call for justice and the killing of a chicken to ransom you from your sins. Maybe you think decrying slavery then and racism now is somehow more righteous than tossing your six-month-old off the top of a tower. Maybe you think. But if you do you probably aren’t among the truly faithful.