Killing in the Name of

As we kick off another week here in Australia, Europe is dealing with the threat of another terrorist attack. Brussels is apparently in a state of lockdown.

I haven’t made any comment on the recent terrorist attacks. Frankly, I don’t think I can really add anything to the debate. It’s all too horrible, evil and complex to contemplate. And there are no easy answers.

France’s immediate response to bomb ISIS strongholds in Syria was predictable. France is angry. It wants retribution. But apart from soothing some very raw wounds, it won’t do a lick of good.

France would be better off pumping the hundreds of millions of euros that the military operation cost into setting up education centres in Syria. That is, funding universities, high schools, primary schools and science centres.

That might sound idealistic and naïve. But it’s no more or less stupid than trying to bring about regime change and forcing democracy upon nations at the point of a gun.

Terrorism in the name of Islam is not a new phenomenon. In its modern guise, it’s been building up for a generation. It’s going to take a generation or more to suffocate it.

And the fight against terrorism needs to start with education. Education provides opportunity and is the enemy of ignorance. Opportunity provides hope, and hope can overcome fear.

But the timeframe is too long. No western democracy will see the fight against terrorism through this lens.

The bigger issue here is much more complex and controversial. There’s no point even bringing it up, but I will anyway.

That is, the whole concept of killing in the name of religion is so barbaric and idiotic that it should be quite obvious that our belief in religion of all kinds is the great barrier to the ongoing evolution of humankind.

Sounds heavy, right?

Think about it though. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all believe in the same God. They just differ in the details. Call it a Prophet dispute.

The Christians couldn’t stay on message though. The Great Schism of 1054 split the Roman Catholic Church in two. Theological differences (and power politics) resulted in Papal Rome at the head of the Catholic Church, while the Greek Patriarchate in Constantinople was the boss of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

This position still exists in modern day Istanbul.

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The Western and Eastern Churches went at it for years. In 1204, Western crusaders sacked Constantinople and occupied it for 50 years.

The differences between the Eastern and Western Churches made it possible for Islam to sweep in from the East. Venice and Genoa, the two principle western powers at the time, did little to protect the Eastern Greeks from the advance of the Turks.

About 500 years later, the Catholic Church suffered another blow, with the emergence of a break away religion, Protestantism. In the following centuries, millions lost their lives defending the cause.

Islam too couldn’t agree on a central message. Soon after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, there was a dust up over his succession. The Sunni’s backed his father-in-law, while the Shia’s insisted his successor should be a blood relative.

This little dispute is still in full force, although the combatants probably don’t even know why. It’s a big part of what’s going on in the Middle East right now. Iran, mostly Shia Muslims, is flexing its muscles and challenging the region’s main player, the mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Syria, the source of much of today’s Terrorism, is caught between the two. Its population is mostly Sunni, while the ruling Assad regime is Shia, and has ties to Iran and Russia. Iran also has the massive South Pars gas field, which it wants to direct through Syria and onto markets in southern Europe with the help of Russia.

Parts of modern day Syria also have significance for the French. Crusaders trying to wrest the Holy Land back from the ‘Saracens’ referred to it as Outremer’. Unless ISIS recently blew them up, old Crusader forts still exit along the Syrian coast.

After the First World War, the Allies partitioned former Ottoman lands. The League of Nations awarded the French a mandate over Syria and Lebanon.

Soon after, the increasing discovery of oil in the region changed the game even more. The clash of religion, imperialism, economics and history ensured the region remained an ongoing nightmare.

Religion, however, is at the crux of all this tension. (As an aside, I feel sorry for the Jews. Throughout their long history, they stayed on message, and restricted access to their club. You can’t just decide to be Jewish. In exchange for keeping to themselves, they have only earned the ire — to put it mildly — of Christians and Muslims alike).

My point is, how do you expect the human race to evolve spiritually while we remain stuck in a 2,000 year old dogma? Can it? Will differing religions ever co-exist peacefully?

Or is the problem with humans ourselves? After all, we were killing each other pretty successfully before organised religion came along.

Maybe this is the point. Our widespread religious beliefs haven’t advanced the cause of spiritual evolution. Not for the past 2,000 or so years anyway…so I’m not sure the next 2,000 will be any different.

If I was calling the shots, I’d abolish the practice of baptism. Let people decide their (Christian) religion when they at least have a choice of what they want to believe. Don’t drown them in it before they learn how to think for themselves.

I’d also encourage the teaching of philosophy from a young age. Teach young kids how to think, not what to think.

But who am I kidding? None of this will happen. We’ll go on killing each other for centuries. All in the name of religion.

And tomorrow I’ll get back to writing about markets and the Aussie economy. Apologies for the religious rant…


Greg Canavan

For Markets and Money

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Greg Canavan
Greg Canavan is a contributing Editor of Markets and Money and is the foremost authority for retail investors on value investing in Australia. He is a former head of Australasian Research for an Australian asset-management group and has been a regular guest on CNBC, Sky Business’s The Perrett Report and Lateline Business. Greg is also the editor of Crisis & Opportunity, an investment publication designed to help investors profit from companies and stocks that are undervalued on the market. To follow Greg's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to Markets and Money for free here. If you’re already a Markets and Money subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Markets and Money emails. For more on Greg go here.

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