(A Born Atheist Seeks to Counter Religious Violence)

In his new book Born Atheist, Tim Covell searches to explain why religious zealots kill,
and comes up with a novel explanation, tribalism.

Covell explains that the West’s most influential religions, Judaism, Christianity and
Islam, all rely on ancient scriptures that give them the name, “the people of the book.”  
Covell says,  “The scriptures reflect the knowledge and values of their ancient authors
and when they are used for modern guidance they act sort of like a time machine,
inappropriately dragging outdated knowledge and values into the modern world.”

“The Torah, Bible and Koran all incorporate tribalism, including the authority and even
the obligation to kill those who belong to other tribes or religions,” Covell says.  For
example, one Bible verse provides, “[Christians] entered into a covenant to seek the
Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the
Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or
woman.”  Similarly, the Koran provides, “[Non-Muslims] wish that you reject faith, as
they have rejected faith, and thus that you all become equal, like one another. So take
not . . . protectors or friends from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah. . . . But if
they turn back from Islam, take hold of them and kill them wherever you find them.”

An example of the function of this tribalism is found in Faisal Shahzad, the Times
Square bomber.  Shahzad attempted to set off a car bomb outside a theater featuring
the play The Lion King on a busy Spring Saturday evening when he would have killed
mostly families attending the play.  By relying on the tribalism promoted by his ancient
text, the Koran, Shahzad was able to depersonalize the people he tried to kill and see
them not as families, but rather as “others” who deserved to die in his tribal warfare.

Covell says that religious “end times” beliefs further reinforce this tribalism.  He notes,
“All of the people of the book believe that only those who subscribe to their religion,
people who are members of their tribe, will survive the end times. Christians and
Muslims condemn non-believers to eternity in hell. So from the perspective of a
Christian or Muslim believer, the ‘others’ they are killing are already doomed to eternity
in hell, the killers are just giving them a head start.  Religion makes killing easier.”

Covell says he has written Born Atheist to encourage the spread of atheism.  “In a
world where  religionists are killing for their myths, it is essential that atheists stand up
and speak the truth,” he concludes.

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