American Atheist Home

Magazine Home

Print Edition

On Target!



Web Supplement

American Atheists

Flash Line


What's New


[text only]
On Target

by Conrad F. Goeringer
November 26, 2020


On Saturday, the man considered one of the leading Al Qaeda terrorists in the Middle East, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought to explain why his group had carried out earlier bombings of three hotels in Amman, Jordan that claimed the lives of 59 persons.

Thirty of the victims were attending a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding in one of the hotel ballrooms. Zarqawi seemed unusually defensive about the incident on an audiotape posted to militant Muslim web sites.

"People of Islam in Jordan, we want to assure you that we are extremely careful over your lives," declared the jihadist leader, "you are more beloved to us than yourselves." But the apology failed to resonate with many in the area, and thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of downtown Amman in mass demonstrations chanting, "Al-Zarqawi, you coward," and carrying banners reading, "Al-Zarqawi, you are the enemy of God."

Indeed, Mr. Zarqawi and just about every terrorist group and nation state in the area has used "God" to justify some kind of violent strategy. Zarqawi rejects tactics like peaceful, non-violent confrontation or even mass political action, insisting rather that the remote detonator, grenade and booby-trap are divinely sanctioned instruments in bringing about a Godly order.

"God ordered us to attack the infidels by all means," said Zarqawi, even if armed infidels and unintended victims -- women and children -- are killed together."

Zarqawi further rationalized the bloody attacks with rhetoric blasting the U.S. and Israel, and promised more of the same. He added that tourist sites in Jordan had transformer the region into a "swamp of obscenity" with alcohol and prostitution. He also pledged to behead King Abdullah II, saying "Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off."

"God ordered us to attack the infidels by all means," said Zarqawi, even if armed infidels and unintended victims -- women and children -- are killed together."
The rhetoric is chilling, and the cavalier reference to innocent victims is strikingly similar to another incident involving religious terrorism from nearly eight centuries ago. Mention of "unintended victims" -- some may call these hapless people "collateral damage" -- recalls the phrase, "Kill them all, let God sort them out!" which originated in the 13th century crusade against the Cathar heresy in Europe orchestrated by Pope Innocent III. It resulted in the murder of thousands of victims, including "women and children" all in the name of religious despotism, conformity and absolutism.

Like religious authoritarians of today, Innocent III was acting under veil of a doctrine known as "Nulla salus extra ecclesium," or "Outside the Church there is no salvation." In 1210, the church unleashed "orders of fire and sword" against a dissident group in the south of France known as the Cathars or Albigensians. They were clearly at odds with Catholicism, renouncing the material world as a manifestation of evil. Much of their belief system was rooted in the earlier tradition of the Gnostics, leading the Cathars to oppose the lavish trappings, worldly power and material greed of the papacy.

The crusade against the Cathars claimed as many as 100,000 victims. A papal army laid siege to the town of Beziers and eventually "examined" (tortured) nearly 500 people, slaughtering the rest wholesale. There were questions, of course, whether the "examinations" were really uncovering heretics, and just how many of those dispatched by sword, fire and other means were "guilty."

According to "Caesarius of Heisterbach: Medieval Heresies," one of the pope's own uttered in Latin, "Neca eos omnes. Dues suos agnoset," or "Kill them all. God will know His own." It is a short and chilling step to the vernacular version, "Kill them all, let God sort them out."

God has plenty of sorting to do in the Middle East, but there are those at home who, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi see themselves as agents or oracles of divine will, and appear to have no qualms about the bloody selection process. While this may reflect a certain psychopathic style complete with a total lack of empathy for suffering victims, it is all the more disturbing when you consider that some of these people enjoy unprecedented access and influence within the American political system, and are the envy of public affairs and Sunday morning news shows.

We are talking about the Rev. Pat Robertson.

While Mr. Robertson prefers the ballot box, political action committee and power of satellite television over the suicide bomber, at least for the time being, he is no less frightening in some of his statements. "God" and His vengeance are inevitable tools of Divine wrath and retribution, and he, Robertson, is upon this earth to point out the signs and wonders of the Lord's disapproval and even a coming Apocalypse.

The latest example is preacher Robertson's statement and warning last week made on his "700 Club" program concerning developments in Dover, Pennsylvania.

Voters there dismissed all eight school board members who had embarrassed the community by wanting high school biology students to be told that so-called "intelligent design" was a legitimate alternative to evolution. The prominent televangelist, no stranger to impulsive and reckless remarks even when the video feed is live declared, "You just voted God out of your city."

"Intelligent Design" or ID has been the latest strategy to return some kind of religious mysticism to the schools, and specifically science classrooms, by trying to undermine evolution as an explanation for how the universe operates, and the emergence of life. While ID is promoted as a "scientific" perspective meant to support the claim that the universe exists as the result of some transcendent plan (and hence planner), most scientists reject Intelligent Design as empirically flawed. Lately even the head of the Vatican Observatory, Rev. George Coyne has been speaking out against the view, stating emphatically that intelligent design "isn't science, even though it pretends to be."

But Robertson goes even further than simply expressing support for intelligent design, and strays into dangerous rhetorical and ideological territory. "If there is a disaster in your area," Robertson blustered, "don't turn to God."

The implication here is that this peculiar deity is jealous and cantankerous when not worshipped, and as with so many stories of Old Testament lore, punishes humanity when offended. It's a silly view of history and universe, of course. There are natural disasters of all kinds, but only those with a supernatural mindset like preacher Robertson perceive in the tragedy some kind of divine wrath expressing itself.

There are human-made tragedies, too, which Robertson twists in order to conform to a theological bias. In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks where thousands lost their lives, Robertson and fellow evangelist Jerry Falwell blamed not Islamic religious fanatics but feminists, secularists, women seeking abortion and other foes. God, they said, "lowered his curtain of protection" on America. Only by returning to more vehement (and unconstitutional) displays of effusive public religion such as placing the Ten Commandments in our schools, courtrooms and other venues, and by establishing a "godly government" with a distinctly Christian flavor, can that protection be restored.

Robertson has also sensed the hand of a cranky Jehovah in hurricanes, tornados, floods and other natural disasters, all evidence that God is displeased and that we are approaching a foretold apocalypse. Think of the care-free, libertine spirit in a town like New Orleans, to some a modern-day Gomorrah. Was it not right that God punished these sinners, perhaps as Innocent III did eight centuries ago with the Cathars? And what about the victims?

Let God sort them out...

More disturbing than this perverse view of the world and current events is that Pastor Robertson is one of many religious right leaders enjoying unprecedented access to the White House, Congress, the mass media and other centers of political power. He is regularly solicited by public affairs and news programs to provide comment on worldly and other events, as if he is some kind of sage, a Christian Cassandra who reads the tea leaves on both sides of the Washington beltway. The rich and powerful demonstrate no shame in their willingness to appear on the "700 Club," the same forum where Robertson all too often veers into his apocalyptic prophecies and impulsive suggestions, like his recent gaffe that the United States government should "take out" President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, or that "perhaps a meteor" could strike Orlando, Florida because the city and Walt Disney Co. host gay-friendly events.

Threats of meteors, tidal waves or an unspecified "disasters" presumably hurled by God at the town of Dover, Pennsylvania, when uttered by Pat Robertson are no less insane that pledges by Al Qaeda fanatics that jihad against the infidel will claim its share of innocent victims. Does he really believe that such calamities would, somehow, single out only the "sinful" for retribution? What about the innocent, the vulnerable and, yes, even those conveniently dubbed "the guilty."

Will God sort them out?

Both expressions represent versions of a "Divine plan" as laid out in the Bible, Koran or some other holy book according to a particular interpretation. And the sub-text in both cases is one of revulsion and discontent with modernity. Mr. Robertson sees the scientific world view, cultural tolerance and robust individual rights as threats to a godly society. Zarqawi, like other Islamic extremists, rails against the trappings of western presence, that "swamp of obscenity" which must be swept aside through jihad, no matter how bloody, and replaced by a religion-centered Caliphate.

In the United States, the difference is that Zarqawi is demonized as a terrorist from some alien religion (or, according to the Bush version, from a religion which he and other extremists have "hijacked") while Robertson is a revered religious leader, sage and political power broker. They actually represent powerful and dangerous theopolitical movements that have mobilized the loyalties and emotions of millions of people. It is another example of the intolerant and authoritarian horrors of past ages, among them that period when Pope Innocent III turned loose faith-based armies to crush infidels and heretics.

In our own time, whether by suicide bomber or divine wrath, men like Robertson and Zarqawi -- exponents of different faiths but similar visions of theocracy -- leave it to their respective gods to sort out the victims.


Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.