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20 May 2007

Keep Religion In Its Place

Jerry Falwell is dead. He took with him a legacy that had nothing to do with love. He hated Gays, Atheists, Jews, Michael Moore. He even had the nerve to equate the destruction of the World Trade Center with the wrath of god. He was a symbol of the problem with religion today: those who practice one form of religion or another, in a fundamentalist fashion, believe that they have the monopoly on the truth. This belief in "We have the truth and everyone else is damned" has been the cornerstone of much of the violence we have lived with for centuries. Have we outgrown it? Not at all. For today, our world is threatened by new religious fanatics, this time, of the Islamic bent. Until we put religion in its place, we shall continue to live in fear.
If religion was truly the answer, why is the world today as dysfunctional as ever? Why do we still have war and other forms of bloodshed? The western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, claim that they teach love, and yet, considering the violence we have all over the world, especially the kind fought with religion in mind, there must be some other answer besides what we are taught in Shuls, Churches, and Mosques.
I am not one who believes in imposing my will on others. If someone wishes to practice religion, I believe that is his or her right, but when that religion threatens to harm me or mine, then I must take a stand.
Don't get me wrong. There are many wonderful religious people out there who practice their beliefs without downgrading some one else's. I have no problem sharing this planet with them. I am thankful that they are the kind of people who believe in live and let live.
It's the fundamentalists I am afraid of.
Whether we like it or not, religion includes a belief in a supernatural personal invisible being. In other words, as long as you are practicing a bona fide recognized religious system, you are allowed to get away with telling people that you believe in such a being without having your butt locked up in a mad house.
Most of us in this country believe in some kind of deity. We look at this idea of a supreme being with an open mind. We often find rationales for the existence of god in every little thing. Our insistence on such a belief comes from our helplessness in the face of our own mortality. The idea that there is a being who directs us and who will comfort us after death guides our way through the back alleys of our existence. Some of us simply could not believe that there is nothingness at the end of our roads and that no such personal being as god really exists. We grasp each day because each of us has some kind of faith in something. Even those who are comforted with the belief in no after life also practice a kind of faith all their own.
If each of us could deal with faith or the lack thereof in peace and harmony without abusing others, I say why not?
Unfortunately this is not the case.
Fundamentalism, on the other hand, is not that tolerant. People of this bent "Really ARE Sure that there is a SUPREME BEING." Every word of their holy text is true to every word. If the Bible says Moses stood on his head for 355 days, it is so!
While the majority of these people are law abiding and productive members of society, there are some, like Falwell, whose utterances smack of latent hatred, couched in the guise of religion.
Falwell was no better than Osama Bin Ladin in certain ways. Had he been born into a theocratic nation as Bin Ladin was, who knows what he would have been capable of. Thankfully, most of the intelligent people in the USA are rational and would not stand for a display of religious hatred from a Falwell or from any other fanatical religious sect. In this country, people who murder in the name of religion are usually locked up for a very long time.
That is how we handle things in our free country.
Falwell had to be content with simply mouthing his hatred. Free speech was better than nothing. Yes he perverted that right, but that is the downside of living in a free society.
If the mostly Islamic countries of the Middle East imposed the kind of limits on religious fanatics that the USA does, we would be able to begin some kind of dialog and eventually have world peace.
In any event, if you are dealing with a fanatic fundamentalist, whether Islamic, Jewish, or Christian, you can't begin a dialog until their various religious texts are purged of all forms of hatred against non-believers. Christians have to come to terms with the anti-Semitism of the New Testament, for example, in the form of quotes like the one likening Jews to Satan in John 8:44. Jews have to come to terms with their part in the genocidal war on the pagan nations living in Canaan in pre-biblical times. Islam must come to terms with its hatred of the non-believer and purge its holy text of such hatred.
As long as hatred is theological, there can never be any peace on this planet.
I am baffled by the high regard the late Mr. Falwell enjoys. But I have no control over the opinions of others, nor do I want it. What I would like to see is the banning of fanatical religious fundamentalists from running for political office, especially the office of president.
We have seen the damage done by this president (Governor Bush). Not only does he lack the intelligence to run this great nation. His fundamentalist religious beliefs run counter to the oath he took to defend and protect the constitution. We already know that a religious fundamentalist can be a president of all the people as Jimmy Carter was, but he was the exception to the rule, and he was not a great president which had nothing to do with his religious beliefs.
Religion is a personal thing and does not belong in the arena of politics. Our nation is pluralistic. Like the stars of the heaven, ours is a country of many religions and ethnic groups. Once someone runs for political office, he becomes a representative of ALL the people, not just his own group.
If a religious fundamentalist does not understand this, he or she should not be allowed to hold public office. Whether the religious fundamentalists like it or not, we live in a secular country, a country founded on basic human freedoms, a separation of church and state. Fundamentalist religion, by its very nature, is antithetical to freedom in general.
That is why we must keep religion in its place and fight those who would destroy us in the name of their faith as Falwell would have and as Bin Ladin is attempting.