Through great fits and struggles, the monotheistic religion of Judaism birthed Christianity and Islam.
Though separated by ritual, the three belief systems share an internal quest for spiritual enlightenment through the personal (or mystical) experience of a single God. In each religion, genuine enlightenment necessitates that followers remove themselves from the vane and brutish rituals of society and do good. (It is no accident that in each of these religions, the central prophets first removed themselves from the boorish concerns of society, then returned to spread their enlightened philosophy).
Sadly, these three religions continue to be hijacked by those who miss this point.
Exhibit A: In a 1999 interview with ABC, Osama bin Laden said that he considered the acquisition of nuclear weapons to be part of his "religious duty."
For bin Laden, religion is the great equalizer - a means of rallying nationalistic sentiment and justifying his own malice.
As President Bush has rightly noted, "[bin Laden's] acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith."
Sadly, history is replete with such examples.
On or about 1095, Pope Urban II organized a holy war against Islam. Driven by the goal of uniting the European empire under one identity, one religion, one pope, Christian soldiers promptly spent the next 196 years butchering Muslims in distant lands. Since these soldiers were ostensibly defending Christian ideals, in rhetoric, though plainly not in truth, Pope Urban II reasoned that the crusades would be pleasing to God.
Another example: The Salem witch hunts. When expanded sailing routes brought new ideas and customs to the wooded hamlets of Massachusetts, a good number of Puritans went on the defensive and began accusing one another of heresy.
Again, God - or more to the point, a united Puritan identity- served as the great justifier for the religious butchery that followed.
More recently, Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) implored "all Moslems to execute" author Salman Rushdie, for writing a book that Khomeini deemed, "against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran."
Examples of such religious brutality are endless and senseless.
They are also perverted by the failure to realize that genuine enlightenment requires a certain purging of egocentricity. This is the necessary first step in transcending the vain and brutish tendencies of modern society.
Rather than pursuing genuine spiritual enlightenment, the religious butchers simply explode in reaction to a perceived threat to their way of life. Such was the case with the crusades, the Salem witch hunts and most recently, bin Laden's unholy mix of terrorism and God.
Genuine spiritual enlightenment offers an alternative to these feelings of hatred and vengeance, by opening its followers to the beautiful possibilities of life.