Bin Laden’s burial and other religious frauds

We are in desperate need of the moral realignment that only religion can impart. But it won’t happen as long as we consider religion a collection of empty rituals.

The bizarre burial of Osama bin Laden at sea – necessitated by the US government’s need to accommodate Islamic law, which requires that a Muslim be buried within 24 hours of death – raises urgent questions about the definition of faith in America.
Can a mass murderer be said to be religious? And should Western governments participate in this definition of religion as something that is preached as opposed to practiced? For years, US government officials as well American Muslim leaders have been saying Osama bin Laden is not a Muslim but a charlatan, a man whose actions violated the Islamic prohibition against killing civilian non-combatants.
At his death, the Islam Society of North America released a statement noting: “The ideology of bin Laden is incompatible with Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.”
A spokesperson for the Muslim Public Affairs Council echoed the sentiment. “He basically hijacked Islam and became a disgrace to Muslims.”
Why then, if bin Laden did not live as a Muslim, did our government rush to bury him as one? This unfortunate endorsement by the United States of faith as a collection of rituals unattached to basic morality feeds a growing perception of faith-based hypocrisy that is alienating many.
Religious truth is notoriously difficult to gauge.
For Jews, the deification of any man is an act of sacrilege, yet the divinity of Jesus is central to most Christian belief. Likewise, Christianity affirms that Jesus is the sole path to salvation, yet Islam insists that Muhammad was a prophet who lived after Jesus and paved a new and exclusive road to heaven.
As a Jew, I do not believe that in 1823 Joseph Smith discovered golden plates engraved in Reformed Egyptian which he translated using seer stones. But having had extensive exposure to the strong families and charitable communities that the Mormon Church has built , I do believe that in Western New York, where he claimed to have found the plates, Smith encountered universal religious truths. Conversely, when a religious figure devotes his life not to compassionate acts but to a blood-filled apocalypse, either he or his religion is fraudulent.
WHILE THE Koran expressly prohibits the taking of an innocent life – “We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind” (Sura 5:32) – bin Laden told Al Jazeera in 2001 that those who say “killing a child is not valid” in Islam “speak without any knowledge of Islamic law” because murdering a child may be done in vengeance.
Indeed, Bin Laden and others who preach murder in the name of God are in no way analogous to the pastor or rabbi caught cheating with a congregant, or the priest found to be molesting a child, and not just because the taking of life is a more serious sin. For while the latter involves acts of religious inconsistency, the former constitutes outright religious hypocrisy.
The difference cuts to the core of human nature. Few pastors believe that adultery is not a sin, and few priests would argue that molesting children is a virtue. So why do so many religious people disgrace themselves by acting in contravention of basic morality? Because humans are fallible and selfish, weak and inconsistent. They mean what they preach, but tragically cannot always live up to their own preaching. The hypocrite, however, is he who professes a piety that he himself never feels, merely for public consumption. I was not surprised that the videos captured by our Navy SEALs exposed bin Laden as a vain and shallow man, obsessed with his celebrity and tinkering with his appearance. It confirmed the hypocrisy of a man who inveighed against Western corruption while enthusiastically embracing its emphasis on image to the exclusion of spiritual substance.
THE SAME hypocrisy can be found in homegrown religious hate groups like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, with its loathsome slogan that ‘God Hates Fags,’ and its protests of military funerals claiming soldiers’ deaths are the revenge of a God angered by America’s tolerance for homosexuality. Here is an ostensibly Christian Church whose very foundation is in direct contravention of the Bible’s core teachings: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”
(Ezekiel 18:20) But notwithstanding the difference between inconsistency and hypocrisy, the growing chasm between faith-based teachings and the actions of the faithful is the greatest cancer afflicting modern religion, and accounts for the popularity of the new ‘high priests’ of atheism – men like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who exploit the duplicity of religious ritual unaccompanied by religious values to make a wider point: that religion itself is a control-motivated fraud and faith a money-making scam.
It wasn’t Martin Luther who in 1517 was responsible for the Reformation, but the indulgences of a corrupt Church that had become more interested in the soaring spires of St. Peter’s than the moral elevation of its priests.
America is rapidly becoming a nation of insatiable consumers, whose abject dependence on material objects collapsed a $10 trillion economy.
We are purveyors of an increasingly decadent culture whose exploitation of a fame-obsessed citizenry now passes for “reality,” and whose institutions of higher learning are often better known for drinking than debating. We are in desperate need of the moral realignment that only religion can impart. But it won’t happen as long as we consider religion a collection of empty rituals.
The writer is the international best-selling author of 26 books, including his most recent, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.