Monday, August 13, 2001

Week of 08/13/2001

Religion To The Extreme
- by David Matthews 2

"Beware of the man of one book."
Saint Thomas Aquinas

When it comes to religious beliefs, I’m not your "hellfire and brimstone" kind of believer. I do believe in a heaven and a hell, but I don’t believe that it is the obligation of everyone to "save" their fellow human beings from themselves by imposing their religious beliefs onto others. In fact, I’m sort of saddened to see religion be taken to such extreme zealous ends. Although, I’m not really surprised by it.

In the Old Testament, God was a vengeful patriarchal deity. He wasn’t above killing the entire world and starting all over again. He had his "favorite children" that he said should have the best of everything. In the New Testament, however, we find a somewhat different God. He is more forgiving than dictatorial. He promises, not threatens. He’s not limited to one group of people, but actually encourages acceptance of all.

It is understandable, then, to see so many fervent believers of Christianity, from Paul on forth, yearn for that more stricter Old Testament God. It is much easier to bash religion into people’s heads like a club than to reason with them. With reason, you run the risk of being told "no."

And let’s get brutally honest here, that really is the goal in many of these religious crusaders. It is not to "save" souls as it is to enforce their personal beliefs onto as many people as possible. They are not content until everyone they know thinks like them, and everything they see reflect their beliefs.

That’s why religious crusaders often find themselves attracted to government like flies to crap. Government is the biggest stick in the game, and whoever can wield that stick controls the game. Sure it’s a cheap short cut for the true believers, but when the end result is mind control, government is the fastest means to that end.

Take a look at what is going on in Afghanistan. This former servant-nation of the Soviet Union has become a theocratic wet dream, with the ruling Taliban doing more to that nation in a few short years what the mullahs in Iran couldn’t do in almost three decades. They blew up ancient Buddhist statues, simply because their religious beliefs consider statues to be taboo. They are forcing native Hindus to wear distinctive yellow badges on their clothing. (I know a few Nazi generals are rolling in their graves laughing on that one.) They’re holding 24 relief workers – including several American and European citizens – under arrest for supposedly spreading Christianity (which, by the way, is a death-penalty offense). And they’ve recently issued their list of "banned" items, which includes just about everything from the past millenium that doesn’t involve guns or explosives.

Not too shabby for a bunch of religious students-turned bodyguards, huh?

Of course, that’s not to say the US branch of the God Squad is slacking off in their zealous crusade to force-feed religion. They just happen to have a few more barriers that stand in their way from attaining that theocratic utopia they so long to have. A few of those "wrong" people out there who happen to believe that when our founding fathers made mention of either "Nature’s god" or "their creator", that they were not making any mention of any one religion any more than saying "a dog" would be an endorsement of one breed of dog over another.

The US holy crusaders have certainly been making a lot of noise, though, especially since one of their supporters – Da Big W himself – is in the White House. For eight long years, they were stymied by the walking hypocrisy that is Bill Clinton. Now, with George Bush Junior as president, the bible-thumpers thought they would be calling all of the shots in government. How wrong they were!

Bush’s policy on allowing some stem cell research served as a well-placed kick in the political groin of the bible-thumpers. Everyone all the way up to Pope John Paul II had hoped that Junior would simply nod his head like a good little follower and outright ban this kind of research. Guess what? Didn’t happen. Junior strove for that "happy medium" that he campaigned on. That certainly took everyone by surprise.

But far from the unity that he’s seeking, the president’s unprecedented decision on this issue may have only served to further drive a wedge between religion and science.

However, the debate on stem cell research is only one front of this seemingly all-out offensive by religious leaders to impose their standards onto the rest of us. The debate on government funding for faith-based organizations is another. Rather than support efforts to get the government out of social programs, some religious groups would prefer to have Uncle Sam pay some of their private costs.

Education is another issue. Rather than support the effort to get the government out of public education and support private and home-schooling, some religious groups would much rather have their standards imposed on all students, irregardless of their own religious beliefs. One public school principal thought nothing of handing out bibles to students, whether they wanted one or not, and whether that student was of the same religious belief or not. Another public school principal thought nothing of briefly converting a janitor’s closet into a student prayer room, complete with pews and a pulpit.

Of course, the religious crusaders have not stopped with our schools. Our US God Squad would not be content until everything in America reflects THEIR beliefs. Anyone remember who put the words "In God We Trust" on our money? If you’re guessing the founding fathers, you’re dead wrong. Congress and President Eisenhower authorized it in 1955 under the pretense of "fighting communism". The same with the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. (Ironically, a self-professed Christian Communist authored that pledge!)

And then there is the great quest by the bible-thumpers to suppress anything concerning sex. Their efforts can be summed up with one word: NO. No expression, no mention, no discussion, no education, no hinting, no alluding, no "safe use". If it doesn’t demonize sex, they don’t want it brought up, ever. Even when such an extreme position only serves to create more problems, as it so often does, these so-called "experts" simply brush such problems off by claiming society is being too lax, and needs to be wound up just that much more tighter.

Of course, anytime you question the crusaders, they’re quick to play the victim card and claim they’re being "persecuted". Oh woe is the religious crusader who cannot ram his or her beliefs down our throats at their leisure! One letter writer to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently claimed that Christianity has long being treated like the stereotypical ugly redheaded stepchild. Oh, they only WISH they were treated like that! I don’t know where these people get such delusions, but whatever medication they’re taking, they’re not taking enough of it.

Folks, I have no doubt there are some serious, legitimate cases when the bible-thumpers have been truly wronged, but nine times out of ten, these people have absolutely NO IDEA of what it is like to be persecuted for their religious beliefs! In fact, in most instances in America, they are often the persecutors, not the persecuted.

You know, our religious crusaders constantly whine about why we should care about the minority religions. Why is it that when the issue of church and state comes up that people start talking about the Hindus and Buddhists? Why should we give a rat’s ass about those religions? Well, gee, Bubba-Ray, maybe it’s because the last time someone failed to take those other religions into account, six million Jews got buried under something called "The Final Solution." Maybe it’s because the Hindus and the Buddhists and the Native Americans and a few other religions are quite often the first religions to be trounced upon by the religious fervor of the more "mainstream" beliefs.

It is very easy to talk about wanting to impose religion onto others when you’re of the dominant faith. It is very easy to want government to have a role in morality as long as it is YOUR moral decisions and YOUR beliefs that are used as the model. But how many of those people would be so flippant in getting government to impose their beliefs if they were the next ones under the government’s scrutiny?

Maybe some of those religious crusaders who do not believe in the separation of church and state would be willing to experience that theocracy as a believer of a minority faith. Perhaps in some place like Afghanistan, they might have a greater appreciation of the kind of religious freedom they have taken for granted here in America. Let them go around with a bright yellow badge on their clothing showing everyone of their minority status. Let their lives be scrutinized by the religious police. Let them be constantly told to convert to the dominant religion. They certainly would know what persecution REALLY is like… and I’m sure they won’t like it one bit.

In the meantime, however, other freedom-lovers and myself will continue to bring up things like Afghanistan, and Hindus, and Buddhists, and Wiccan, and a few other examples to remind our more passionate crusaders about the dangers of religion taken to any extreme. Who knows? It might even teach them of a virtue that they have sometimes forgotten about: humility.

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