Religion and Terrorism Kirsch’s argument assignment critic

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Background. In his book God Against the Gods, the popular religion writer Jonathan Kirsch makes the controversial argument that the history of religious exclusivism and intolerance can be linked directly to the rise of monotheism. Contrary to the traditional depiction of “paganism” as a morally and theologically corrupt body of superstitions (a depiction, after all, developed by and for monotheists), he suggests that polytheistic traditions were not only tolerant but welcoming of other faiths (excerpts from his first chapter—entitled “The Everlasting Fire”—can be found in this module).

Question. In an essay of approximately 500-750 words, critically evaluate Kirsch’s argument, especially as it applies to the texts we have considered thus far in class. Do you see evidence of a “simple but terrifying logic that lies at the heart of monotheism” by which exclusive reliance on a single God inevitably leads to intolerance, culminating in the persecution and murder of those who disagree with us? In contrast, does polytheism lead to religious toleration? Are our readings from monotheistic sources really more exclusive and intolerant than our readings from polytheistic sources? Are there no exceptions? If so, how do we account for them?

Issues. A few points to keep in mind as you ponder your argument (these are presented merely to suggest some possible lines of inquiry—you need not address them explicitly in your essay, and you simply don’t have the space to address them all):

  1. Are monotheists really the only ones who reject the legitimacy of other gods? Consider the use of terms like “atheism” or “sorcery.”
  2. The Hebrew Bible is clearly (and violently) intolerant of Israelites worshipping other gods. To what extent does this intolerance (and violence) apply to non-Israelites?
  1. Intolerance is often described as a matter of “demonizing” others, but we have seen that the word “demon” originated in the (polytheistic) Greek term for “spirit.” What role does demonology play in the rhetoric of religious intolerance? Does it function differently for monotheists and polytheists?
  2. We have seen uncanny parallels in moral panic rhetoric over the centuries. How do these similarities between pagan and Christian moral panics bear on Kirsch’s claims? Is theology (particularly the number of gods one accepts) the main driver of persecution? Or is something else at play?
  3. We have seen that monotheists once suffered persecution at the hands of polytheists. How do our readings about the experience of Hebrews under Pharaoh or Christians in the early Roman empire relate to Kirsch’s claims? Were these persecutions delivered in the name of the (polytheist) gods?


  • Remember to consult the “Guidelines for Papers” in your syllabus for detailed instructions on format and content, and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss your argument.
  • Remember that this essay is not about whether you find Kirsch’s argument to be personally appealing or offensive. The question is not about whether your own particular monotheistic belief is essentially intolerant, nor is it sufficient to argue that the history of monotheism is rife with intolerance. The issue is whether intolerance is more or less prevalent in the examples of monotheism and polytheism we have considered in this class.
  • It is not enough to demonstrate that some monotheists have been intolerant; you must consider – on the basis of our readings in this class – whether monotheists are inherently less tolerant than polytheists.
  • You should of course take a moment to consider the question at hand before you begin writing, but it is even more important to reconsider the question as you revise.
  • Your essay should not simply collect facts together but should instead selectively use the facts with which you have become acquainted as evidence in support of a specific argument. Be sure to use proper citation for every piece of evidence you employ.

I have attached the reading below, also I have attached the guidelines.

make you own point of view on the topic you can ask me any questions and ill be here to answer them

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THE EVERLASTING FIRE The Dark Side of Monotheism, the Bright Side of Polytheism Religious intolerance was inevitably born with the belief in one God. —Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism On September 11, 2001, we were reminded once again of the real meaning of the 3000year-old conflict between monotheism and polytheism. The men who hijacked and crashed four civilian airliners were inspired to sacrifice their own lives, and to take the lives of several thousand “infidels,” because they had embraced the simple but terrifying logic that lies at the heart of monotheism: if there is only one god, if there is only one right way to worship that god, then there is only one fitting punishment for failing to do so—death. At that moment, we were shown, yet again, the power and the consequences of true belief in monotheism… But the roots of religious terrorism are not found originally or exclusively in Islamic tradition. Quite the contrary, it begins in the pages of the Bible, and the very first examples of holy war and martyrdom are found in Jewish and Christian history. The opening skirmishes in the war of God against the gods took place in distant biblical antiquity, when Yahweh is shown to decree a holy war against anyone who refuses to acknowledge him as the one and only god worthy of worship… Over the last thirty centuries of religious propaganda, starting in the Bible and continuing through the TV evangelists of our own era, paganism has been painted as a parade of horribles. We are instructed to regard paganism as an “abomination,” as the biblical authors so insistently put it, a dark and demonic force compounded of harlotry, idolatry, sorcery and human sacrifice…But the religious practices and beliefs of paganism were kinder and gentler than we have been taught to believe by our rabbis, priests, ministers and imams. The core value of paganism was religious tolerance—a man or woman in ancient Rome was at liberty to offer worship to whatever god or goddess seemed most likely to grant a prayerful request, with or without the assistance of priests and priestesses, as long as he or she didn’t do it in the streets, as a Victorian-era wit once said of women preachers, and scare the horses… By the first century of the Common Era, paganism offered a fabulous array of beliefs and practice from which to choose, ranging from the sedate and stately rituals of worship offered to the gods and goddesses of the traditional Greco-Roman pantheon to the eerie and exotic rites that roused the devotees of such imported deities as Isis, Mithra and the Great Goddess…Polytheists, as we have seen, were not inclined to dictate to others how and to whom prayer and sacrifice should be offered. They were perfectly willing to mix and match gods and goddesses, rituals and beliefs, and they sought the divine favor of many different deities at once… Monotheism, by contrast, insists that only a single deity is worthy of worship for the simple reason that only a single deity exists…Pagans certainly understood and embraced the idea that some gods are more powerful than other gods, and phrases like “Supreme God” and “Highest God” fit comfortably into the language and theology of polytheism…By contrast, all of the gods, goddesses and godlings of paganism are “no-gods,” in the words of Jeremiah, or even worse, “devils,” according to the apostle Paul. To worship the wrong god, according to the value system of biblical monotheism, is not only a sin but a crime, and a crime that is punishable by death. Monotheism, for example, cruelly punishes the sin of “heresy,” but polytheism does not recognize it as a sin at all. Significantly, “heresy” is derived from the Greek word for “choice,” and the fundamental theology of polytheism honors the worshipper’s freedom to choose among the many gods and goddesses who are believed to exist. Monotheism, by contrast, regards freedom of choice as nothing more than an opportunity for error… The polytheist can live in harmony with the monotheist: “[M]any pagans could still extend to the new worship,” writes historian Robin Lane Fox, “a tolerance which its exclusivity refused to extend to them.” Pagan Rome offered the ultimate gesture of respect to the Jews and Christians by adding the God of Israel to the pantheon of gods and goddesses, where he was called Iao and offered worship along with Apollo and Zeus, Isis and Mithra…But the pagans who did so, of course, missed the whole point of monotheism, and the Jews and Christians refused to reciprocate… Nowadays, of course, religious terrorism is carried out by true believers in one or another variety of monotheism against their fellow monotheists, and the same has been true ever since the final victory of monotheism over polytheism in the war of God against the gods. Ironically, the worst excesses of the Crusades and the Inquisition were inflicted by Christians on Jews and Muslims, all of whom claimed to believe in the same god. But the first casualties in the war of God against the gods were found among those tolerant polytheists whom we are taught to call “pagans.” Jonathan Kirsch, God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism (Penguin, 2004), pp. 2-14 (selections). 2 Student Name Class Number and Section Essay Number A Guide to Essay Writing The following presents Standard guidelines for formatting your essay. While a simple list of requirements may be the easiest to read, I have chosen to present them using the format I expect your essays to take, so as to exemplify some of the basic principles. In case you are wondering, this example essay is exactly 300 words long Essays are not business letters. Your essay should be double-spaced, with paragraphs indented one inch. No extra spaces should be inserted between paragraphs. The font should be 12-point "Times New Roman" or a comparable serif font. Margins should be 1 inch on all sides. Your name, course and assignment information should be single-spaced in the upper-right comer of each page (you may wish to place this information in a header so that it will automatically appear on every page). You should also insert page numbers on every page after the first Ambrose Bierce described the act of plagiarizing as taking the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read." (Bierce, 1999: 146) Be that as it may, any words drawn verbatim from another source must be identified by quotation marks or (if longer than 2 lines) placed in an offset, single-spaced block quote, as follows: Plagiarism is the academic offence of presenting another person's words or ideas as one's own. Students commit plagiarism when they submit another person's essay, have someone write an essay for them, or lift sentences and paragraphs (not to mention complete articles) from the scholarship they used. (Brown, 2000) As Earl Babbie has argued, however, plagiarism need not only be about stealing someone else's words, and it may not always be obvious where the line between legitimate borrowing and plagiarism lies (Babbie, 1998). The best policy should be "when in doubt, cite your source." LIST OF WORKS CITED Babbie, Earl. "Plagiarism." ( Modules/Other/plagiarism.htm). Last updated October, 2000. Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil's Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Brown, Scott G. "Writing Academic Essays in Religion" ( religion essays.htm). Last updated October, 1998. 6
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Explanation & Answer


Religion and Terrorism
Analysis of Kirsch Statements

Religion and Terrorism
Analysis of Kirsch Statements


Course Title and Course Number
Religion and Terrorism

Religion and Terrorism


Course Title and Course Number
Religion and Terrorism
Religion and Terrorism

The world today experiences recurring terrorist attacks. In most incidents, it is referred to
as religious terrorism and has captured the attention of scholars and policymakers in an attempt
to establish the root cause and viable solutions to the problem. This was triggered by the
9/11attacks at World Trade Centre and Pentagon by Al-Qaeda. Since then, discussions and
debates have been done in an attempt to analyze the intersection between religion and terrorism.
Jonathan Kirsch has made his contributions too towards the subject of religious terrorism,
intolerance, and religion. He relates the challenges directly to monotheism, which is the belief of
the existence of one...

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