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Mutilation in the Name of Religion

For those with strong stomachs, the Web features images of ISIS “caliphate” zealots (or even their children) holding up severed heads with delight, a practice nicely congruent with Koran 8:12, which speaks of “striking” infidels upon their “necks.” You can also find photos of crucified captives, a practice condoned by the Koran at 5:33, a passage which also prescribes lopping off feet and hands. One marvels that a religious group could parade such barbarism, but Islam has the scripture to back it up.

Of course, through the centuries, any number of miscreants have killed in the name of religion, or religious irreligion, and much has been written on the sheer scale of slaughter in Europe’s Wars of Religion, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Boxer Rebellion, and such. But special note should be given to those who think they are serving God by cutting off body parts or rendering bodies unrecognizable. Here, the motivation may be the production of terror/horror in the viewer, the venting of unholy contempt and vengeance, or appeasement of a monstrous god. In each case, the dignity of man is affronted and canons of decency are trampled. Here are examples:

1. The Aztecs believed their sun god required fresh blood every day. The 2006 film Apocalypto portrayed graphically the way in which sacrificial victims had their hearts cut from their living bodies and held on high as they died. Also, for the rain god, virgins were killed and skinned, their skins donned by dancing priests.

2. The Romans, with their cult of emperor worship, had no scruples about throwing Christians to the lions for civic spectacle. Nero was particularly cruel, having some believers torn to pieces by wild dogs and used as human torches.

3. The Christians are not without guilt in this connection. The heretic Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva. In London, “Bloody Mary” burned over a hundred Protestants at the stake, including Bishops Ridley and Latimer.

4. The Bushido Followers—Japanese who embraced an amalgamated code of Confucianist, Zen, and Shinto themes—performed ritual disembowelment as suicide and were zealous to behead their enemies, a common practice in World War II. In what has been called the Rape of Nanking, they tied Chinese together with ropes, doused them with gasoline, and set them afire. On the island of Chichi Jima, they killed and cannibalized allied POWs.

5. The Hindus of India practiced widow burning (suttee) until 1829, when the British banned it, largely due to the efforts of the evangelical missionary William Carey and the Christian statesman William Wilberforce.

Through the years, some of the mutilating faiths (e.g., Aztec, Roman) have vanished. Others have “seen the light” under pressure from occupying powers (e.g., Bushido, Hindu). Christians have come around on their own, in light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. And their civic culture has forsaken disfiguring forms of execution, such as the guillotine, popular in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, in Hitler’s Germany, where 16,500 prisoners were dispatched by this means, and in East Germany, where the Stasi used it for secret executions.

Since “church and state” are one in zealously Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, mutilating punishment persists as official policy. Little wonder that their “renegade” jihadists take up the blade when hapless infidels such as Daniel Perl and James Foley fall into their hands. It mocks the claim that Islam is a truly “great religion.”