It is at times like this after the murder of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto by ISIS, in the wake of the killing of his friend Haruna Yukawa and the Paris attacks, that even the most liberal of us are inclined to see Islam as a specially violent and brutal religion.
This would be a mistake. To single out Islam would be to divert us from a more basic and urgent truth: all religion is poisonous. No distinction should be drawn between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, animism, Wicca, whatever.
We habitually make a distinction between mild, innocuous religion — the church-going lady in a hat — and the extremist, the masked RPG-wielding nutter or the Koran-burning pastor in Hicksville, USA.
This distinction is false.
The mild and personal religion and the violent oppressive version exist on the same continuum and they are bound together by faith.
Faith is the willing suspension of reason. The faithful cleave to their creed despite all the evidence that it is made up; a fiction, a historical relic; a code of living plucked out of the arses of self-declared seers in ignorant times; a rationalisation of a world the ancients could not understand or interpret; a story to make things all right in the long, dark scary night before the enlightenment; and ultimately a tool of power, an otherworldly authority to earthly control.
It is this suspension of reason that makes religion the insidious thing that it is because without reason, the brain is crippled. We are unable to tell the difference between right and wrong, we don’t know up from down, our arse from our elbow. Faith allows you to see beheading, shooting, or bombing innocent people as a reasonable thing. Thought without reason leads you to believe that stoning people to death for being raped or murdering doctors because they perform abortions is necessary.
It is no coincidence that the justification ‘God told me to do it’ belongs not only to the criminally insane but to the religiously devout.
The fact that we are witnessing an upsurge of atrocities committed specifically in the name of Islam is an accident of history and geography. Central Asia and the Middle East are very unstable and volatile areas of the world and an ideal environment for the disease of religion to breed. Had the dominant piety of these areas been to the Tinkerbelle the fairy rather than Islam, heads would be rolling in her name — but whatever the name of the god, the irrationality of faith would be the same.