Excerpt from Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness, by James A. Haught (Prometheus Books, 2002).
From Church & State, UK
— In 1766 at Abbeville, France, a teen-age boy was accused of singing irreligious songs, mocking the Virgin Mary, marring a crucifix, and wearing his hat while a religious procession passed. Criticizing the church was punishable by death. The youth, Chevalier de La Barre, was sentenced to have his tongue cut out, his right hand cut off, and to be burned at the stake. The great writer Voltaire attempted to save him. The case was appealed to Parliament in Paris. The clergy demanded death, warning of the dire spread of doubt. Parliament showed mercy by allowing the youth to be decapitated instead of mutilated and burned alive. He was first tortured to extract a fuller confession, then executed on July 1, 1766. His corpse was burned, along with a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary.
— In 1980 at Moradabad, India, a pig caused hundreds of people to kill each other. The animal walked through a Muslim holy ground. Muslims, who think pigs are an embodiment of Satan, accused Hindus of driving the pig into the sacred spot. Members of both faiths went on a rampage, stabbing and clubbing. The pig riot spread to a dozen cities and left 200 dead.
— In the 1500s in Mexico, the Aztec theocracy sacrificed thousands of people to many gods. Aztecs believed that the sun would disappear without the daily “nourishment” of human hearts ripped from victims on stone altars. To appease the rain god, priests killed shrieking children so that their tears might induce rain. In a rite to the maize goddess, a virgin danced 24 hours, then was killed and skinned; her skin was then worn by a priest in further dancing.
— In the 1980s, Iran’s Shiite theocracy—“the government of God on earth”—decreed that Baha’i believers who wouldn’t convert to Islam must be killed. About 200 Baha’is, including women and teenagers, were hanged or shot by firing squads. Some 40,000 others fled Iran.