My favorite nickname for Christianity is Medusa; Islam, Sthenno and Judaism, Euryale. Meet the three Gorgon sisters whom some prefer to refer to as the "Abrahamic" religions.Whatever you choose to call them, these three daughters of the Patriarch Abraham share the distinction, among the religions of mankind, of smugly held but mutually conflicting claims of a unique and exclusive universalism; the wellspring of much misery and suffering in human history.
Who were the Gorgons? The Gorgons are from Greek mythology: three ugly winged daemons; Medusa, Sthenno and Euryale. Vase paintings by ancient Greek artists portray the "ladies" as winged daemons with serpent-locks of hair and fierce looking ugly faces. They were identified as sea daemons of reefs which lurked treacherously submerged and posed a deadly threat to ancient mariners. Many are familiar with the story of Therseus whom King Polydektes of Seriphos gave the task of bringing back the head of the eldest of the Gorgons, Medusa. Armed with a sword, a winged boot and a polished shield, Therseus killed Medusa and returned, unscathed, with her head after being hotly pursued by the other two sisters.
Big sister Medusa(Christianity) has, among scholars of the history of religions, the special reputation of having shed more blood and perpetrated crimes against humanity than any other single religion in all history, more even than the crimes of her little sisters Sthenno and Euryale combined. The obsession of Christianity with destroying heretics has been the single driving force of her blood drenched history. The founder of Christianity is reported to have prophesied concerning Medusa: "I come not to bring peace to the world but a sword." And a sword, indeed; a great sword has Medusa been to a hapless humanity.
The tendency of Christians to look upon anyone with a set of beliefs, even only subtly different from theirs, with deep suspicion and disapproval, lies at the root of her historical obsession with the heretic. "If anyone come to me but hate not his father and his mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yea even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."
The Spanish Inquisitions represented the height of the paranoid obsession of Christianity with dissenters. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established by the Monarchs of Spain to defend Catholic orthodoxy. A reign of cold terror began in which Jews, Muslims and others were forced, at the pain of death, to adopt the "orthodox" christian religion. An estimated 2,000 people were executed by the Tribunal between 1480 and 1530. A total of about 49,000 trials were conducted between 1560 and 1700 which included sub-categories of offenses as blasphemy, sodomy, bigamy, freemasonry and witchcraft.
Regardless of what Christians may think, the Muslims were not the "bad guys" in the three centuries of the wars of the Crusades, which some have described as the worst period of madness in human history before modern times. Unnumbered millions perished in war, by disease, pestilence and famine. Jerusalem had come into the hands of the Muslims by A.D. 637. It is noteworthy that Islamic civilization had reached a splendidly high standard of material and cultural sophistication relative to the semi-barbaric condition into which Western Europe had sunk in the Dark Ages. The Muslim Caliphs, in their wars of conquest in the Middle-East, were generally humane and avoided unnecessary destruction and bloodshed, preferring instead to preserve the splendor of the civilizations they conquered for their own benefit. They granted Christians freedom of worship and association throughout their empire. The Western European troops which came to the Middle-East, during the Crusades, were on the contrary little better than a wild herd of savages; crude, rude and uncultured hordes spreading death and destruction where ever they went.
Lured by the wildly exaggerated legends of the opulence, riches and wealth of the East, the Christian leaders exploited the ignorance, poverty and superstition of the masses to whip up religious sentiments and mobilize their people for major military expeditions to the Middle-East. Massacre, plunder, arson, rape, debauchery on a magnitude never before witnessed in history led to the synonymity of the word "Christian," in the Arabic language with the word "barbarian." Such was the savagery of the Europeans of the Dark Ages that they resorted openly, and without hesitation, to cannibalism in times of food shortage during their Crusade expeditions. Generally, the Crusaders, on getting to the "Holy Land," tended to forget their original "spiritual" motives for the military expedition, and soon became absorbed with relatively secular preoccupations as looting and pillaging on a large scale. After a particularly gruesome orgy of bloodletting in one of the Crusades, the fighters in ecstatic religious fervor prayed to God, thanking him for their victory and afterward resumed the gruesome butchery from where they left off. The incident involving King Richard at Acres remains among the most infamous of incidents in all the crusades. After the capture of Jerusalem, Saladin the Muslim Caliph had agreed to pay a large amount in gold in exchange for prisoners. But a minor irritation led to the massacre of hundreds of the prisoners before the city walls on a Friday after Assumption.
The centuries of the Crusades also witnessed the peaking of anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe. The history of the enmity of Medusa and her little sister Euryale is a very long one. Jews have been murdered in Europe as Jesus killers for centuries before Hitler. Given the magnitude of the butchery, it is, indeed, a marvel that Hitler found enough Jews left in Europe to populate his extermination camps! There had been a longstanding tradition in Europe of abducting Jewish children from their parents to prevent them from falling into the heresy of their parents. The Jews were particularly bitterly persecuted in Spain. They were freely massacred in thousands in the cities of of Germany. Such was the magnitude of the butchery that it is reported that on a single occasion of bloodletting the corpses of Jews choked the river Rhine, and the river itself flowed freely with their blood for days.
So much for big sister Medusa; now for a little of the second sister Sthenno (Islam). While it is true that Sthenno has so far been unable to match her sister's monstrosities, yet she has been a gory monster in her own right. The history of her relative tolerance of her two sisters Medusa and Euryale has certainly not been without blemish. It is noteworthy that the career of the founder of Islam, Mohammed, had a lot in common with the career of the bandit king David of Israel, both being "principled men" who found the sword a convenient means for survival and would not hesitate to commit acts of extreme cruelty if they thought it was in the interest of "higher principles."
While it is understandable that most of the early wars of Islam were fought in deference to the imperative of survival, the history of Islam shows a gradual development of the Jihad doctrine from war as pro-active self-defense to a deliberate policy of aggressive expansion. One may locate the full circle of transformation at sometime in the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar, in the seventh century, when Islam began with a series of conquests in Persia, Iraq and Syria. Islam is unique amongst the three Abrahamic religions for having used imperial warfare as the primary means for "evangelization."
In the earlier days of Muslim expansion, the Moslems were not insistent on converting conquered peoples to Islam. A people could avoid being attacked by paying a jizya tax, or otherwise, a zakat tax if they agreed to convert to Islam. However, with the onset of Islamic expansion outside Arabia, around 633 A.D, we witness a shift, beginning with the Blood Canal war, to the notorious Allah-or-the-Sword policy, though to the credit of Muslims they generally refrained from pillaging and massacre when a city surrendered voluntarily. One might point out, to the credit of Sthenno's big sister Medusa, that the continued expansion of Sthenno's power beyond the Arabian Peninsula made a final conflict between the two inevitable. The Crusades might, from a different perspective, be looked upon as a pro-active response to long term Muslim threat.
Little sister Euryale is relatively the tamest of the three sisters, yet the notorious Gorgon family trait of a delusion of unique blessedness and special relationship with God stemmed from her. A lot has been said and written about the "Chosen People of God," syndrome of Judaism. The dominant trait of Judaism is its intensely narcissistic ethno-centrism in which the world's people are ominously divided into two categories: Jew and unclean Gentile. The fact is that ethno-centrism is the seed of the racism tree.The intense ethno-centric narcissism of the Jews bordering on racism is revealed glaringly in the New Testament scriptures. We are told, in the New Testament scriptures, that pious Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles, especially Samaritans, these being "unclean." On a poignant occasion a woman( a Syro-Phoenician lady) petitioned Jesus on behalf of her sick child. Jesus' response, regardless of how Jesus himself might have meant it, reflected the attitude of Jews to the "Gentiles" who lived around them. Jesus objected to attending to a Gentile "dog." The woman responded wittily: "Even dogs eat crumbs fallen from the master's table."
The three monster sisters converge in the Middle-East, in modern history, in a bloody struggle that has claimed more than its fair share of the world's attention and resources. The policy of the United States in the Middle East is, unfortunately, stoked by the conservative Christian lobby which subscribes to the notion of Israel as the "Chosen People of God," and thus favored by God over the Arab children of the "bondswoman." The Arabs, of course, have their own version of the biblical story which relegates the Jewish ancestor to a subordinate status.
Old sibling prejudices and quarrels die-hard. One thing is certain, however, the final resolution of the Middle-East conflict will not come until the cultural-religious philosophy in which each Gorgon holds an unwavering conviction of her special blessedness, in conflict with those of her other sisters, is finally abandoned.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus" (Read a Free Three Chapters Excerpt)