I once had a supervisor (who will remain nameless) where I interned at a faith and community service based organization that (will also remain nameless) during my senior year at University of St. Thomas whom I quoted a number of times stating that “One should never judge a faith by those whom claim to practice it”. It just works better to leave it as anonymous.
He (or maybe she) was entirely correct about his observation in that every faith has been misused to pursue other less virtuous agendas. One’s religious faith is not a bad or evil thing by itself and can be used for many admirable virtues including kindness, compassion, justice, mercy and forgiveness among others. It provides many the inspiration to live selflessly and serve a greater purpose. The problem is that when humans enter the picture that faith (along with guns or alcohol) is misused for other purposes. This generalization is not some random stereotype but applies to all faiths that are practiced by humans. My boss was correct not to distinguish any specific faith in his statement as all faiths through the course of human history have been misused to do ill will against humanity. Common examples include the classic Jihad (all of them), Christian crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch hunts, mass slaughter at the Aztec temples to the sun deity and thousands more.
I bring up humanity’s misuse of religion for the sake of understanding the problem of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his problems with the government of Saudi Arabia. The government maintains that as a result of his violations of Islamic Law, he is to suffer public flogging of 50 lashes every Friday during a term of 10 years of prison. This barbaric punishment sounds like something that the Roman Empire or Attila the Hun dreamed up but make no mistake as to the fact that this still happens today. I believe that the cause of these human rights and human decency violations are not a direct result of Islam or Islamic law but rather the governments misunderstanding and misuse (or abuse) of Islam or Islamic law. The reality is that Muslims are not evil people or at least no more than any other ethnicity but rather have subjugated to a government wanting for find justification for violence (much in the same as the Aztecs did when the thought it was productive to offer human sacrifices to spur desired weather for agriculture). All of us know that human misuse and abuse of various faiths is reminiscent of world history to such a degree that I do not have time to publish my own encyclopedia to the subject. That means that for a full indictment as to how humans misuse religion one may recourse to Wikipedia for more details.
You may accuse me of picking on Muslims for their reprisals against female drivers, females walking the streets alone or for their simple lack of respect for the most basic freedom of speech but this is not the case. Even my very own Catholic faith did this too. Many were tortured and executed during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, regime or the Tudor kings of England, and Spanish inquisition for daring to imagine challenge to authority. As a Roman Catholic I have a high regard for my faith and church and do believe that it has come a very long way from barbaric brutal history to the global institution that it is today. It has certainly become less violent but there remains significant progress ahead for equal human rights. Such things include the prohibition of female clergy (to preform sacraments), the acceptance of the LBGT population and better serve justice. As good as my faith is I also know that the worst two insults that I could ever do to it would be to use it as an excuse to justify violence or to force that faith belief upon someone else. Both of these things are a misuse of any religion because faith is a wholly exclusive concept to violence and faith is a human choice that one has the free will to make.
All of this is the reason that when our government in the United States was put together the very first amendment put together by James Madison was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion. Our founders wanted to avoid all of the mass slaughter in the name of faith that had happened through human history and thought that this was a substantial leap forward in doing so. It would be nice to see other nations renounce their theocratic delusions and to accept people of all ethnicities and faiths. There is no place for religion or faith of any kind in our government in the United States and thank the heavens for that. Oh, the many ways faith could be abused if it were in Congress….. just look at other theocratic societies to put the fear of God into you (poor choice of words - no pun intended).