We’re in the 21st century. We know that the earth is not flat. We aren’t narcissistic enough to think that the sun revolves around the earth. When we don’t understand something, we try to science the shit out of it. We follow Neil Degrasse Tyson on Twitter and put up George Carlin quotes on our Facebook profiles.

So, why is religion still a thing? You would think that by now it would have been part of history lessons, not current affairs. And yet, most people in the world are afraid of hurting “religious sentiments” of others. Karl Marx said – Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes” , which roughly translates to “religion… is the opiate of the masses”. Guess you can’t keep the junkie away from the needle, eh?

But even if you’re religious, you can’t deny that there are some leaders out there who take it to a whole new level.

So here’s a list of some of the most controversial religious leaders from our times.

1. Hassan Nasrallah – Shiite Muslim, Secretary-General of Hezbollah

While Hezbollah has done a lot for the Palestinian cause, no one can deny they have a violent side as well, most of it directed towards Jewish people all over the world. Yes, that was an understatement.

Quote: If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.

Times of Israel

2. Dov Lior – Hasidic Jew, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba in the southern West Bank

Meet the rabbbi who takes Zionism to a whole new level altogether. This right-wing rabbi has even said that during war-time, it’s okay to kill innocent Arabs. He asserted that Jewish women should not use sperm donated by a non-Jewish man and a baby born through such an insemination will have the “negative genetic traits that characterize non-Jews” and that “Gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring”.

Quote: A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail.

Israel National News

3. Yogi Adityanath – Hindu, Priest and BJP MP from Gorakhpur

The leader of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Yogi Adityanath is a man who wants to have the final word on anything related to Hinduism. In early 2007 he was arrested for his role in fomenting religious riots in the northern city of Gorakhpur. Yuva Vahini activists set fire to multiple vehicles including a train and an ambulance in response to his arrest.

Quote: Mark your houses with saffron flags and count the Muslims in your neighbourhood. We may need to do something soon.

India Live

4. Dr. Zakir Naik – Sunni Muslim, Islamic scholar propagating Salafist ideology

Where do I even start with this guy? He doesn’t subscribe to the idea of evolution. While he believes that people shouldn’t be given death sentences simply for leaving Islam, he believes that if that person starts propagating his new-found religion, it is okay to give him a death sentence.

Quote: There are many verses in the Quran which say you can have sex with your wife and with whatever your right hand possesses. Right hand possesses, which means your slaves.


5. Athuraliye Rathana – Theravada Buddhist, Monk and Sri Lankan MP preaching violence against Tamils and other minorities

While the religion might preach peace, not all Buddhist preachers preach non-violence. And one of the most infamous ones of that list is Sri Lanka’s Athuraliye Rathana, who believes that the entire country is only for the Sinhalese, most of who follow Theravada Buddhism. Think of him as the Yogi Adityanath of Sri Lanka. He’s always been on the warpath against Sri Lankan Tamils and has also tried to pass legislation that prohibits Buddhists from converting to Christianity. No wonder the Sri Lankan press has mischievously named him the ‘war monk’.

Quote: Peace negotiations simply made the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] stronger. We mustnt talk to them; we can crush the LTTE. It is like surgery.


6. Joseph Kony – Christian, Commander of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda

Warlord slash messiah, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has proven that fanatics can go to unbelievable lengths while supporting their leader. Kony, a former altar boy, aims to overthrow the Ugandan government and establish a regime based on the Ten Commandments. In pursuit of this goal, the LRA has abducted over 20,000 children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves, often forcing them to kill their own parents.

Quote: [The spirits] speak to me. They load through me. They will tell us what is going to happen. They say You, Mr. Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack. They will come like dreaming; they will tell us everything.


7. Shoko Asahara – Founder of Aum Shinrikyo, prime conspirator of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway

In a society like Japan, when national/racial identity plays a more important role than the religious one, it is quite rare to find leaders and even followers who commit serious crimes under the name of religion. Shoko Asahara and his followers unleashed a brutal sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured about 1000 more. They’ve even murdered an anti-Aum Shinrikyo lawyer and his entire family.

Quote: I am certain that in 1997, Armageddon will break out. By ‘break out’ I mean that war will erupt and that it will not end soon. Violent battles will continue for a couple of years. During that time, the world population will shrink markedly…. A Third World War will break out. I stake my religious future on this prediction. I am sure it will occur.


8. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – Sunni Muslim, founder of ISIS

Abu Bakr al-Baghdādi is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also known as ISIS, an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria, and Syria.

Quote: Rush O Muslims to your state. It is your state. Syria is not for Syrians and Iraq is not for Iraqis. The land is for the Muslims, all Muslims. This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills.


9. Fred Phelps, Sr – Primitive Baptist, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is infamous for its blatant homophobia

Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. was an American pastor who headed the Westboro Baptist Church, an independent Baptist church based in Topeka, Kansas.

Quote: God hates fags. Thank God for dead soldiers.


10. Abubakar Shekau – Salafi Muslim, current leader of Boko Haram

Abubakar Shekau is the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian militant group that has declared loyalty to the Islamist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Quote: I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will sell them off and marry them off.

Afrique Inside

11. Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz – Sunni Muslim, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 to 1999, who issued a fatwa against women driving cars

Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz, was a Saudi Arabian Islamic scholar and a leading proponent of the Salafi form of Islam. He was the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 until his death in 1999.

Quote: [On why in Sharia court, the testimony of one woman is insufficient] The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) explained that their shortcoming in reasoning is found in the fact that their memory is weak and that their witness is in need of another woman to corroborate it.


12. Sun Myung Moon – Founder of Unification Church, and self-proclaimed messiah

Sun Myung Moon was a Korean religious leader, businessperson, political activist, and media mogul. A messiah claimant, he was the founder of the Unification Church, and was extremely paranoid about communist ideologies.

Quote: The only way to defeat communism is to clearly prove the existence of God.


This is obviously a non-exhaustive list. There are way too many fanatic leaders out there. But since (sadly) there are even more out there who follow them blindly, the cause for logic, science and rational thought seems like an uphill one.