This radicalizing effect of a religious text — what I call the Josiah Effect — is not uncommon. It happened to Josiah, it happened to Steven Anderson, and to some extent, it happened to me. Perhaps it also happened to the Tsarnaev and Kouachi brothers. What I would like to point out here is that this effect is an inevitable consequence of even moderate religion, which is culpable in at least three ways.
First, moderate religion primes children — by the millions, if not billions — from an early age to accept without question the authority of the very same books that serve as the basis for fundamentalist ideologies, and it teaches children that the gods described in those books are worthy of worship. This renders these children susceptible to fundamentalist ideology when, as young adults, they begin seeking a purpose for their lives.
Second, moderate religion propagates and legitimizes the vehicles of fundamentalist ideology — both the texts and the rituals. The fact that millions upon millions of Americans believe that the Bible is a holy book drives publishers to print millions upon millions of copies every year. Bibles are available in every home and on the back of every church pew. And all it takes for a fundamentalist to be born is for one lost soul to pick up a copy and find a powerful sense of purpose in a literal interpretation of the text. The same is true of the Koran.
Third, moderate religion lends credibility to fundamentalism by claiming to believe in the very same gods and the very same divinely-inspired texts that are exalted by fundamentalists. If not for moderate religion, the absurdity of fundamentalist beliefs would be much more obvious. But those beliefs are not as easy to identify as absurd when billions of people worship the same god and study the same scripture. The result is that fundamentalist beliefs are seen not as ridiculous, but as merely unorthodox or misguided interpretations of an ideology that is, on the whole, widely regarded as correct.
The absurdity of the situation would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. For generations, we have been printing billions of books containing verses that command us to kill idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, and unbelievers. We teach our children that these books are holy and then cross our fingers in hopes that they won’t take those verses seriously. Then we have the temerity to be shocked when, like King Josiah, some of them read the texts with fresh eyes and decide that they should be taken literally after all.
Personally, I think the best way to at least postpone the next dark age would be an organization explicitly dedicated to “corrupting the morals of the youth”, by giving them free copies of the “sacred” texts from religions OTHER than the one into which they were unlucky enough to have been born.
If children are exposed to the fables and folktales of others, then at least some of them just might be intelligent enough to doubt the “literal” truth of the specific fables/folklore being foisted on them, which they would otherwise most likely buy into merely on the basis of “cultural osmosis”.
I would really, really really love watching Christian fundies pants-shitting over (for example) their children being exposed to Tales from the Rig Veda for Children, or some such thing.
I would really love for them to be unable to engage in VBS (“vacation bible study”) propaganda/recruitment without having such “blasphemous lies” pressed into the children’s eager little hands.