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September 4th, 2013
01:10 PM ET

Syria explained: How it became a religious war

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - How did Syria go from an internal uprising to a wider clash drawing funding and fighters from across the region?

In a word, Middle East experts say, religion.

Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have flooded into Syria to defend sacred sites and President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime. Sunni Muslims, some affiliated with al Qaeda, have rushed in to join rebels, most of whom are Sunni.

Both sides use religious rhetoric as a rallying cry, calling each other "infidels" and "Satan's army."

"That is why it has become so muddy," said professor Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "The theological question has returned to the center."

That's not to say that the warring parties are fighting over, say, the definition of God.

But the United Nations, in a series of reports, has warned with mounting urgency that the battle lines in Syria are being drawn along sectarian - that is, religious - lines. Both sides fear that whoever wins power will wipe out the loser.

"The conflict has become increasingly sectarian, with the conduct of the parties becoming significantly more radicalized and militarized," the UN said earlier this year.

And that's a really bad thing, foreign policy experts say.

Religious civil wars are longer and bloodier than other types of clashes, according to studies. They are also twice as likely to recur and twice as deadly to noncombatants.

"People hold onto religious fights longer than battles over land and water," said Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, an expert on foreign policy at Georgetown University and a 10-year veteran of the U.S. State Department. "It becomes existential and related to belief in a higher calling."

Some combatants in Syria appear to believe that fighting in the name of God justifies the most barbaric measures.

Remember that video of a rebel eating the heart of a Syrian soldier while shouting "God is great!"? Or the other video showing the beheading of three men with butcher knives, also while praising God?

According to international reports and U.S. intelligence, Assad's regime has been just as brutal, killing at least 100,000 citizens, including hundreds in a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21.

As Congress holds hearings to determine a response to that attack, Middle East experts say it's imperative to understand the major religious players in Syria, and why they are fighting.

The stakes couldn't be higher, experts say.

"If we come and and give one group a total win, we may be setting up an ethnic cleansing," Landis said.

The situation is Syria is fairly fluid, with lots of conflicting reports and shifting alliances, but here is our breakdown of the religious groups at war and a bit of background on their beliefs.

Alawites

This small, secretive sect makes up just 12% of the Syrian population, but members have held prominent seats of power since the 1970s. Why? Because the ruling Assad family is Alawi.

Alawites consider themselves Muslims, but most mainstream Muslims call them heretics. Among the reasons: They believe that Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, is divine.

They've been ostracized almost since their 9th-century founding, so they keep many of their core beliefs secret. During the Ottoman Empire, they were not allowed to testify in court, Landis said.

"It was assumed they would lie, because the God they professed was man-made," he said.

In the 1970s, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, built a brutal security force with fellow Alawites. They were the fingers of his iron fist.

Despite that, many Alawites initially joined the uprising against Bashar al-Assad, calling for greater freedom and government transparency.

As the conflict progressed, however, Sunni rebels targeted Alawite communities, pushing them back into Assad's arms.

To give you some sense of how some Syrian Sunnis feel about Alawites, here's what Adnan Anour, a cleric who fled to Saudi Arabia, has said: "As for those Alawites who violate what is sacred, when the Muslims rule and are the majority of 85%, we will chop you up and feed you to the dogs."

Shiites 

In May it appeared the rebels had the momentum and Assad's fall was just days away. Then Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, announced that it was joining the fray, and backing Assad.

Within weeks, this fierce group, led by Hassan Nasrallah, had managed to wrestle key cities from rebel control, turning the war's tide.

There aren't many Shiites in Syria, but the Assads courted them from neighboring Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, allowing them to build major shrines to the faith's founders in Syrian cities.

The strategy seems to have worked.

When Sunni rebels attacked those shrines, Shiites rushed in to defend them. Not that Sunnis and Shiites need many excuses to fight. They've been battling since the earliest days of Islam and continue to clash in Iraq and other countries.

Nasrallah harkened back to those early clashes when Hezbollah entered the fray, calling the Syrian Sunni rebels "murderers of Hussein."

Hussein ibn Ali was the Prophet Muhammad's grandson who refused to pledge allegiance to the ruling Muslim caliph in the 7th century. Shiites believe that he and his family were the rightful rulers of the Muslim community.

Sunnis 

Sunni Muslims are by far the biggest Muslim sect, in the world and in Syria. It's estimated that Sunnis make up 75% of Syria's population of 22 million. But they've long been sidelined by the Assads.

It's little surprise, then, that most of the Free Syrian Army, the largest rebel group, is Sunni.

Within the Sunni coalition, there are remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were brutally suppressed by the Assads; Salafists, who believe in a purified Islam based on its earliest days; and more secular-minded Sunnis.

In recent months they've been joined - sometimes to their consternation - by fighters from al Qaeda-linked groups. Always eager to fight Shiites and sow discord, these jihadists are every bit as fierce and battle-tested as Hezbollah, their sworn enemy.

It's unclear, however, how al Qaeda itself is involved in Syria.

The Iraqi-branch commander reportedly overstepped his authority in June by announcing a merger with Syria's al-Nusra Front, earning a smackdown from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's global leader.

At the same time, some Syrian fighters say they pretend to be al-Qaeda just to annoy the Assad regime.

Still, prominent Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi has called on all Sunnis to join the fight against the Shiites and Hezbollah, calling them Hizb al-Shaytan, the “Party of the Devil”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing that call with their wallets, according to international reports, hoping to prevent Shiites from gaining a stronghold in the region.

Christians 

Christians, who form about 10 percent of the Syrian population, are essentially middle men in this civil war, caught between Assad's army and the Sunni rebels.

Under Assad, Christians had more rights than in many Middle Eastern countries, with the freedom to worship and run schools and churches. Their rights were limited however. The Syrian constitution says the president must be Muslim, for example.

According to UN reports, rebel fighters have targeted Christian communities, shooting up factories and detonating car bombs in Christian neighborhoods.

In addition, many Christians - in Syria and in the United States - fear the fate of Christians should Sunni fundamentalists take power in Syria.

They, like the Alawites, have been pushed back into Assad's arms.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, perhaps with an eye towards a presidential run in 2016, is among the latest to express concern for Syria's Christians.

"I think the Islamic rebels winning is a bad idea for the Christians," Paul said on NBC's "Meet the Press," on Sunday. "All of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Foreign policy • Iran • Iran • Iraq • Iraq • Islam • Lebanon • Middle East • Muslim • Saudi Arabia • Syria

soundoff (414 Responses)
  1. Matt

    This article leaves out two groups it should mention, the Kurdish Sunnis and the Druze.

    The Kurdish Sunnis may be Sunni, but are in no way aligned with the Islamist Sunnis. Just as in Iraq, they tend to be secular and generally more concerned with being Kurdish than being Islamist. They are mostly in northeastern Syria. The Arab Sunnis are about 60% of the pop when Kurds are factored in.

    The Druze are about 6% of the pop and are a whole different religious group, focused mainly in southwest Syria. They are similar to the Christians in that they are in the middle of the war, but to avoid persecution tend to support the regime.

    Also, among the Arab Sunnis, many are legitimately secular. The Alawis, Christians, Druze, and Kurds are all mostly secular. Within the Sunni Arab community, the Islamists are weaker in Syria than they are in Egypt. The main religious problem is with the foreign militias. If not for them, I think peace would be much more attainable. But with so many foreigners with little regard for the life of Syrians, I fear this war will go on much longer.

    September 5, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      There are other groups that should be mentioned also. Whack jobs, nut jobs, morons and F00LS.

      September 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Matt
      You can call the Kurds "secular", but they certainly harbour the same bigotries as other middle-eastern Muslims.
      During the Operation Desert Storm, Sadaam Hussein started targeting the Iraqi Kurds, so they fled to the mountains between Iraq and Turkey with only what they could carry.
      The UN setup a relief camp where they provided medical care, food, potable water etc. As the international community heard of their plight, many companies donated goods to Operation Provide Comfort.
      Amongst those companies was Levi Strauss who sent palattes of clothing to help the refugees survive in the cold mountian climate.
      The Kurdish people refused to wear the clothes becuase "Levi" is a Jewish name.
      Their prejudice overrode their common sense to the point where children who were allready malnourished died from exposure.

      September 6, 2013 at 8:04 am |
      • Matt

        True, I don't deny that many are anti-semitic (even the Christians and atheists of the middle east are), but they are still fairly secular when it comes to radical Islam. Additionally, Iraqi Kurdistan and Israel currently have very friendly relations. They are far less anti-semitic than the other groups in the area.

        September 8, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  2. Scodey

    Interesting how this thread has devolved into a religious battle.

    Yo dawg, I heard you liked religious battles. Well, I put a religious battle on an article about religious battles so that you could battle religion while reading about battling religion!

    September 5, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  3. jrscrns

    I am very strongly opposed to America’s intervention into Syria because there are no American interests involved regardless of any outrages that Assad commits. Syria presents no threat to America. We have no treaties with Syria. We have no treaties with Syria’s neighbors. We do not need any resources from Syria. We have no historical ties to Syria. Why should we wade into this political cesspool? Why should we spend national treasure and blood for a dubious cause? I doubt if many people in this country would even notice if Syria disappeared from the face of the earth overnight. Most importantly, we are not the world policeman! Syria’s neighbors should handle this problem, not us.

    September 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • ME II

      "We have no treaties with Syria’s neighbors."

      The US has treaties with Israel which shares a border with Syria.

      September 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • jrscrns

        Like most people, you assume that there is a mutal defense treaty. If you check closely, there is no such treaty. Remember the USS Liberty event?

        September 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  4. children of Israel

    The world so afraid of the God of Jacob, because he rules (Psalm 59:13) All the praise goes to the most high God *Genesis 31:29*

    September 5, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
      – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Alkaban

      September 5, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  5. Joseph Malco

    Civil war becomes much more brutal when one group tries to impose its faith or political belief to another group.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DTISXO0

    September 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Sounds like the republican party.

      September 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  6. children of Israel

    Salvation only comes through the God of Jacob. Is that a lie? (Romans 3:4) *Matthew 15:11*

    September 5, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      how does quoting a line from a bronze age story book prove anything?

      let me try with a more current book ...

      It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.
      – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

      hey look everybody, I proved a point! (I'm so awesome!)

      September 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        Quoting authoritative sources is one of the best ways to prove a point. But if you're into Hairy Pothead, you likely won't want to devote the personal time into investigating the claims of Scripure to determine its authoritative nature. It may buck the trends of the times we live in, but that does nothing to dispell its authoritative nature.

        If one does not believe in the existence of God, then one has no explantion for our existence. If there is no Creator, and we know this universe is not eternal, then it would have to be self-created, and that is impossible.

        September 5, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          the King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve. So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

          this book has no credibility at all.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          there is no Creator,

          we do NOT know that this universe is not eternal

          if self-creation is impossible as you state, then who or what created your god?

          September 5, 2013 at 10:43 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Because God is self-existent and eternal, not self-created.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:50 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          @Lawrence
          You argument basically consists of :
          "Becuase God is magic and can do anything."

          September 5, 2013 at 10:54 am |
        • tallulah13

          Hm. So it's kinda like Larry's god is Harry Potter...

          September 5, 2013 at 10:57 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Tallulah, as in Clayton, GA?

          September 5, 2013 at 10:59 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Dyslexic, right, the KJV isn't the best translation because they used basically latin translations of existing Greek translations... But, look into Lower Criticism, it's a fascinating study of scripture. And the study of manuscripts actually proves the opposite of what you're trying to prove. Modern translations, such as the NASB use manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and others, whose contents contain just about all of the OT, and show that the Bibles that we have today remain unchanged in essence throughout the centuries. Seriously, Textual Criticism is really an exciting science. Are you really interested in it?

          September 5, 2013 at 11:04 am |
        • tallulah13

          I have seen pictures of Tallulah Falls and it is lovely, but my name is borrowed from a small white cat that graced me with her presence for 18 years. She was stubborn, independent and opinionated, so I thought it was a good name to use.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:06 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Gotcha. For a minute I thought it was the name for the area where they filmed "Deliverance."

          September 5, 2013 at 11:11 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          Lawrence, how can you take any version of the Bible seriously given its dubious origins, and how does any version of that non-credible book lead you to believing in some sort of triune god?

          every time you agree that the bible is of dubious value, you give up the right to defend yourself by saying "Jesus said this" or "Jesus said that" or quoting any of the lines from said story book.

          the whole religion is built on a foundation that has no integrity!

          September 5, 2013 at 11:13 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          What do you mean "dubious value?" I'm talking about translation errors like where the text might say "Christ Jesus" instead of "Jesus Christ." That fits under the category of "translation error" but it doesn't change the meaning.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          Dubious value because the whole book was written by men. Men who wrote these tales to gain power or influence or money. Men who never met jesus or heard a word he said because they lived centuries after him. Men who made up stories of miracles and other feats, again to gain power or money or to persecute other groups of people. Men who then used their stories to burn and torture and kill and extort for centuries.

          the whole book is so obviously flawed and contradictory and fanciful and evil.

          I believe that you are, at heart, a good person. How could you believe such an evil, self serving work of fiction. How could this work convince you of a triune god?

          September 5, 2013 at 11:28 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          "Dubious value because the whole book was written by men."
          I'm not disputing that it was written by the hand of men.

          "Men who wrote these tales to gain power or influence or money."
          All you have to do is read Fox's Book of Martyrs to see that isn't so. These people proclaimed what they saw, and most of them were killed for it, and not just any death, but many were crucified, others were sawn in two.

          "Men who never met jesus or heard a word he said because they lived centuries after him."
          There is no evidence for this at all. But I know where they are coming from. When the Bible speaks prophetically, the carnal mind that refuses to believe in the miraculous automatically assumes that they must have written after the events have taken place.

          "Men who made up stories of miracles and other feats, again to gain power or money or to persecute other groups of people. Men who then used their stories to burn and torture and kill and extort for centuries."
          The fact that people have misused scripture throughout the years in undenyable. But you cannot judge an idea by the actions of its "faithful." (just look at the disaster of the crusades) You've got to examine the actual claims that the scripure makes. One of those claims is the miraculous, unfortunately, trying to prove the miraculous to one who will not recognize the miraculous is like trying to explain to a blind man that the sun is bright.

          "the whole book is so obviously flawed and contradictory and fanciful and evil."
          Well, what contradictions? Can I straighten out any that you think you may have come across? And evil? Telling people to love their enemies is evil? I'm just asking...

          "I believe that you are, at heart, a good person. How could you believe such an evil, self serving work of fiction. How could this work convince you of a triune god?"
          The idea of the Triune God is discerned from many scriptures that talk about it. I can list them if you really want them. As to believing in the book, well, you've got to examine the claims against observable reality. And it's hard to do that when so many people "copy and paste" rhetoric from atheist websites by men who very obviously hate anything to do with the idea of God.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:40 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          I didn't mean to infer that you "copy and pasted" by the way. I was speaking more to the culture than anything else.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  7. coolusernametwo

    What a relief it is when there's no more belief in god and religion!

    September 5, 2013 at 4:02 am |
  8. nate4406

    This article lost credibility when is stated Assad's regime is responsible for 100,000 civilian deaths. Really? if so this in not a civil war but a 2 year massacre. There are multiple sides responsible for the casualty count.

    September 5, 2013 at 3:44 am |
  9. Jean Sartre

    Those folks are ALL missing a fundamental fact: ALL gods are MAN MADE...

    September 5, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • Lawrence of Arabia

      If man made God, then who made man? The only other option that you are left with is that life can come from non-life. And we know that is impossible...

      September 5, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        The theory most scientists currently favor for the origins of life is called “abiogenesis,” the gradual emergence of life on Earth from non-living matter. To understand why it is thought that life arose on Earth from non-living matter, one has to understand some basic biochemistry. This is where you “talking snake crowd” have such a problem. You have to actually understand some very basic science, you can’t just rely on what you were taught at Sunday school as an eight year-old.

        All life is comprised of complex arrangements of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, all orchestrated by DNA and/or RNA. DNA/RNA and proteins are by far the most important components of a living organism, carrying out virtually every function in a cell. Fats and carbohydrates are generally simpler molecules and play critical, but subordinate roles in cells.

        DNA and RNA are made of five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil. They act as the cell’s “mission control,” orchestrating the cell’s activities. Proteins are made of 20 amino acids. They are the workhorse of the cell – the nails, wood, steel beams and machinery that make the cell run. It is the order of amino acids in a protein that determine its shape and, therefore what it does. This order and shape of proteins is itself dictated by the DNA through RNA.

        So, in short, life is made up of complex arrangements of:

        The five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil – arranged into DNA and/or RNA
        The twenty amino acids – that form all proteins, including enzymes and the other 100,000 or so proteins in a complex organism’s body.
        Carbohydrates – literally “water-carbon,” which include sugars and starches. These are much simpler elements than proteins or DNA/RNA and act as an energy source.
        Fats – also called lipids, these are important in constructing cell membranes.

        The simplest cells are prokaryotic cells. They exist today principally as bacteria. Stromatolites and other fossils from all over the planet suggest that, for the first billion years of life on earth, all life was simple, prokaryotic life. These cells consisted of a fatty cell membrane, like a balloon skin, with DNA/RNA, proteins, fats and carbohydrates on the inside. They had no nucleus. Cells with nuclei, called eukaryotic cells (which make up virtually all multi-cellular organisms) are much larger and more complex that prokaryotic cells and likely resulted from the early combining of prokaryotic cells.

        So, can a simple prokaryotic cell come into existence without the intervention of God, Allah, Shiva, Vishnu, Yahweh or any other divine/magic being?

        Beginning in the 1950s, scientists started trying to mimic the conditions on the early Earth to see whether some kind of “life-fairy” was necessary to get things started. In the most famous experiment of this era, the Miller-Urey experiment of 1952, Stanley Miller demonstrated that heating and running an electric spark through an atmosphere of water vapor, ammonia, methane and hydrogen for a few weeks resulted in these very simple molecules self-assembling into all 20 of the amino acids upon which life on Earth is based. This is a startling result. All 20 building blocks of proteins, which comprise over 99% of the cell’s functional structures, self-assembling without a magic wand from God, Shiva, Vishnu, Allah etc!

        The experiment was groundbreaking because it suggested that, under the perfectly natural conditions of early Earth, the building blocks of life can and will self-assemble. Indeed, it now seems that major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago would have created an even more diverse atmosphere than Miller used, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). When these were added to the mix in subsequent experiments, they have resulted in the creation of all 5 nucleotides, all 20 amino acids and basic fatty membranes and various carbohydrates. That is to say, with no magic/divine intervention, all life’s building blocks WILL self-assemble.

        But nails, wood, wiring and bricks a house do not make. Even the simplest life requires these building blocks to be arranged in very, very complex ways. In various experiments with various conditions, scientists have been able to create a wide range of cell-like structures of increasing complexity on the road toward a simple self-replicating organism. These creations are called protobionts or coacervates and if you “you tube” or google these terms, you will see many examples.

        This is still a far cry from a cell, but the important thing is that the experiments uniformly demonstrate that organic molecules have a natural tendency to clump together in increasingly complex ways under early Earth-like conditions. They are not being pushed into doing something “against their will”.

        Where it gets really suggestive is that scientists have been able to isolate what they believe to be some of the most primitive genes of Earth, by comparing the DNA of two organisms whose last common ancestor lived soon after the formation of the Earth. For such genes to be common to both such organisms, they must be very, very old. When these ancient genes produce amino acids, they are rich in the amino acids most common in the Miller-Urey and similar experiments! This suggests that these experiments do indeed reflect early Earth conditions and that life itself did arise under such conditions.

        The other important factor is that these impressive results have been achieved in laboratories over small periods of time. Imagine the whole Earth as the “Petri dish” and hundreds of millions of years as the timescale. Simple life gradually emerging from such a “soup” does not seem at all incredible, certainly not incredible enough that we in the USA have to give up and call the remaining gap in knowledge “God,” while our Indian colleagues do the same and attribute it all to the Lord Shiva.

        Scientist are also approaching it from the other side too, gradually stripping away at prokaryotic cells to see how stripped down they have to become for life to “stop,” while others continue to build up from coacervates and protobionts. The gap is narrowing as our knowledge continues its inexorable march.

        The Christian sky-fairy is being pinched out! There’s not a lot of room left for him now. The pincers of science are closing in from both sides, squeezing out the phantom of religion and ignorance. Soon, the two sides of the pincer will meet and this unnecessary holdover will have to flutter off and find another dark corner to settle in, where the penetrating light of science and knowledge has not yet shone. Fortunately, the weak, forgiving mind of the believer will always be there for him, acting as an eternal refuge from enlightenment and advancement.

        September 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          If I squash a mosquito on my arm, in that puddle of goo exists all of the chemicals needed for life. If I believe in the fairy tale of abiogenesis, then I am forced to believe that it is at least possible for that bug to fly away... But dat bug aint a commin back! Even if it gets struck by lightning, which all that can do is heat it up a bit...

          September 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          And how hateful the person was who wrote that article too. And even though they used the language of science known as "speculationese," all of that to say that the proper beginning materials plus electricity yields just more materials... They didn't create life from non-life. All they did was essentially take one material and make another. Neither was considered living by the scientist. But the way he uses the word "suggests" you'd think they did though.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:48 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          what a Neanderthal explanation!

          it's no wonder you'd rather believe that a magical sky fairy created us out of dirt rather than believe observed science that has 90% of the puzzle solved.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:48 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          I'm sorry, but the skeleton for the famous "Neanderthal Man" was that of an old man who suffered from arthritis. So, what's your point?

          September 5, 2013 at 10:55 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          @Lawrence – if your attempt at an analogy was supposed to contradict doG's lengthy post... it didn't

          September 5, 2013 at 10:59 am |
        • tallulah13

          No point in arguing with Larry. "God did it" is the easy for Larry to understand, plus it makes him feel special. He has no need for honest answers.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:01 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          "the skeleton for the famous "Neanderthal Man" was that of an old man who suffered from arthritis" you say that like you believe there was only one skeleton... there have been hundreds of Neanderthal skeletons found... hopefully you were trying to be funny and not actually as dumb as you portray.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:03 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Evil Twin, no, my point was that if a "neanderthal" skeleton can be definitively proven to be a "modern man," then what does that say for the class? People all over the world have different features. There's tribes with long neck, other people with elongated skulls, some family groups have protruding brows, and the list goes on and on.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:10 am |
        • tallulah13

          They can also find Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. Some part of that species still exists today. It is always surprising that people can deny the existence of something proven by the fossil record and by genetic material, while insisting on the reality of a god that has no proof of existence at all.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:12 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Tallulah, I'm just trying to reason here... Scientists say that the only difference b/w Neanderthals and Modern Man is that they were "beefier" and their skulls were bigger, but they were comparable in height... Since you say that DNA is even comparable, I'm really not seeing a difference b/w "them" and "us?" My father in law fits the description of a neanderthal's appearance...

          September 5, 2013 at 11:16 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          I always thought that evolution was just man's attempt to make a monkey of himself. *snicker*

          September 5, 2013 at 11:20 am |
        • Reasoner

          Even though I believe in God, (aka: "sky fairy"), I must congratulate our dear friend Dyslexic doG on a very thoroughly thought out position. That's a lot more thought than most of these so-called Christians have ever even attempted, the vast majority of whom have never even bothered to read their own operator's manual. If they had they would have figured out long ago that trying to take the Bible literally is a fool's errant. Having said that, when faced with opposing extremes, the truth can often be found to exist somewhere in between. If evolution is indeed factual, and it may well be, why is there no room for the hand of intelligent design inherent to the process? After all, atheists cannot prove that God doesn't exist any more than I can prove it does. Truth be told either one of us could be wrong, after all, belief is not paramount to empirically -based fact and at this point in time neither side is provable.

          September 5, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • ME II

        @Lawrence of Arabia,
        "If man made God, then who made man? The only other option that you are left with is that life can come from non-life. And we know that is impossible..."

        How exactly do you know that it is impossible?

        September 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Sara

        "And we know that is impossible..."

        LOL. You're funny.

        September 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Lawrence, do you believe that tigers and lions are the same species? They are genetically different, yet they are able to interbreed. The male offspring Is sterile, but the females are able to reproduce.

        In the end, it doesn't matter if you believe that Neanderthal were a different species. This isn't something we get to vote on. The DNA doesn't care about you opinion or ignorance. The DNA tells the true tale, and the truth is that the Neanderthal were very much a different species.

        September 6, 2013 at 1:16 am |
  10. JM

    "Religious civil wars are longer and bloodier than other types of clashes, according to studies." Cite your studies. Otherwise your entire article is bunk, and even then, most people simply don't care.

    September 5, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "Religious civil wars are longer and bloodier than other types of clashes..." says pretty much every history book ever written

      September 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
      • Laurence Charles Ringo

        That's nonsensical on its face;were WWI & II,the Korean War,and the Vietnam War religious wars,and if so,in what way?

        September 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  11. Bob Hobbs

    Alawites, Shiites, and Sunnis – What a Mess!

    September 5, 2013 at 2:12 am |
  12. KEVIN

    75% Sunni? Sounds like they will eventually gain the upper hand and rule the country. But they will still have to assume the responsibility of keeping the other sects. in line using the same brutal tactics as Assad. Same conflictual societal structure and political practice but by another name.

    September 5, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Matt

      That number is slightly deceiving, since about 15% of that Sunni number is Kurdish, not Arab, and very opposed to the Arab Sunnis (the Kurds have been fighting the Islamist rebels more than they have the regime).

      September 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  13. brian

    There's that word "expert" again. "Expert" is the new cliche of journalism. At one time they called Jimmy Swaggart the "expert" on spirituality.

    September 4, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • KEVIN

      Agree. But at least this one is coherent

      September 5, 2013 at 12:18 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.