Another tiresome post about religion. Feel free to click the "Next Blog" button above.
I've been watching the events in the Middle East with more than my usual dull despair. Misery and human ugliness are everywhere, death and mayhem and posturing and power grabs. And lies. Lies, lies and more lies. There seems to be no pure justice, no failsafe sense of honor beneath; only an elephant's memory of endless and retaliatory ethnic / cultural / racial wrongs going back and back, infinitely back.
The motivating factor behind virtually all of this turmoil--and the thing that seems so obvious to me, anyway, but about which no one dares to speak--is (sorry to say it again) religion. I don't know how we escape this conclusion. We've covered all this ground before in discussion of Sam Harris, but he's not less correct because he's already been covered. On the contrary, his views seem confirmed and reconfirmed on a daily basis. To me this is all like the girl who punctures herself so as to appear to have miraculous stigmata, and at the hospital her caregivers treat the wounds without trying to get at the delusional self-destruction that is the elephant in her brain. We can wrangle the parties to the negotiating table and talk about practical matters and compromises until we're blue in the face (and indeed, we've done exactly this for as far back as my memory stretches). But without getting to the underlying cause--the one BENEATH the ones everyone is trying to address or avoid--I'm convinced there will just be more and more blood spilled in the sand (and elsewhere), more human lives sacrificed to these irreconcilable causes.
Waiting at the dentist's office a couple days back, I read a month old article in one of the news weeklies about the present state of things in Baghdad. Parts of the city that had been relatively quiet after Saddam's ouster have now been taken over by young men lured by the political power vacuum who are imposing their fundamentalist view of Islam on the local populace. Women are to be fully covered and are not allowed to drive. Men must not wear shorts. This view is imposed, of course, by lethal force. What things are allowed or forcibly forbidden depend on what charismatic young man in that neighborhood has his thumb on his god's pulse and what that god has told him. Sunnis and Shia are segregated, the article says, and the country is already in the midst of civil war except by declaration.
A couple weeks ago a plot to evade security and blow up a bunch of trans-atlantic flights was uncovered, and no one was surprised to find that the suspects were not Girl Scouts or Mennonite. The people in question had all been born on British soil, and some were only recent converts to the faith for which they were suddenly eager to die (so long as they could take a bunch of people with them). English Islamic groups in in the aftermath of the plot being foiled said that while they deplored the use of violence they nonetheless felt that England's foreign policy was to blame for the animus behind the plot.
It takes no Einstein to see that a man wearing shorts or a woman's arms exposed to the sun cannot rationally be thought to be an inherent source of evil. And no sane person would say that planes full of American and British citizens are any part of the engine of either country's foreign policy (though they do make effective leverage). But we are fatally compromised in our attempts to temper these Muslim's religious fanaticism by our own literal devotion to our no-more-solidly-grounded mythologies. The young man who would enslave every woman he meets is untouchable not simply because he claims--but because we accept--that he is doing his god's work, that he is imposing his god's will.
Until we reach a place where we can celebrate the good things in the human psyche which have been collected in the religious texts--in that portion of those texts which are divorced from a source of power and control of people--while rejecting those texts' claims of LITERAL TRUTH, we will be powerless to halt our march toward self-destruction.
And I cannot but note that we will be quite unable to encourage others to divorce their religion from their governance when our own administration does not see the basic utility in this principle.