I have long thought of doing a book on religion. Since there are already several billion books about religion I can't imagine this news will cause a big rush of enthusiasm in many readers, most of whom are already saturated with the "religion," "inspiration," and "spirituality" displays at the big bookstores, not to mention being tired of dull sermons.
But I don't think my basic idea is a bad one, and it has not been worked to death, not that I'm aware of. It is that one should (a) sincerely practice the religion one believes in, that is, both walk the walk and talk the talk, and (b) encourage everybody else do the same. Live and let live.
Telling the other guy his notion of God is bananas and deriding his rituals is strictly forbidden to a civilized citizen. If someone tries to tell me that my God is bananas and my rituals are to be banished, and he does so amiably, I'll ignore him except to suggest he learn manners. If he is coming at me with threatened violence then I'll (attempt to) kick him to the back of breakfast and go on about my business.
Actually this is kind of the way we do it in America, except that the anti-religion gang has presently got the upper hand and is working to shove their version of things down our throats. The anti-God, anti-religion people want THEIR views on the first and last things of life to prevail in the land, and they have managed to get control of a lot of the governing institutions, especially the courts, and the "entertainment industry" as well, so it's a problem for us peace-loving religionists, at least those of us who are not entirely enamored of totalitarian ways and of totalitarianism's handmaiden, salacious "entertainment."
But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is that some of the religion people themselves have taken it as their duty to shove their version of things down the throats of foreigners. Now, to move this ball requires something I call hijacking. You have to hijack religion and make it serve sheer aggressiveness and greed. Religion becomes the shield of all our evil instincts, including the most destructive ones and certainly including what is very likely the most universal human drive of all: the drive to dominate, what St. Augustine called libido dominandi.
If, in the pursuit of my "Christian vision" of a good world, I can convince myself that Pomerania is ruled by a crowd of wretches who torture their own people and are stockpiling stinkbombs to throw at me, and I think the Lord I worship has ordered me to carry the good news to all the benighted, but especially to tortured Pomeranians, then I have hijacked my religion to serve my desire to dominate Pomeranians, which is especially handy because it happens that the Pomeranians, dear misguided souls, are sitting on a gold mine, and need to be relieved of it.
It's not that we want the gold, you see; perish the thought; but if the gold happens to come to us while we are engaged in the thoroughly worthy work of saving the souls of this most unfortunate people (unfortunate because we may have to kill quite a few of them), why, you can see, can't you, that we should have the good of the gold. That is only what justly comes to those who obey the Lord's calling to go forth and turn the wicked from their ways and enlist them, newly enlightened by our attentions, in our cause of righteousness.
If, in addition to being torturers of their own people, the Pomeranians are also terrible heretics who have distorted the very religion we subscribe to, then all the more are we determined to wipe them out. The fact that we, too, have distorted our religion to embrace invading and destroying Pomerania, and thus we also are heretics, is just one of those little ironies that pop up in life. It is, then, heretic contra heretic, with each side claiming the true, Pierian spring of faith.
The ancient gods must find this amusing, because they know that the supreme God, the All-High Endlessness, is never party to these internecine bickerings, however much they may resemble the carryings-on of the gods of old Greece. Those ancient gods indeed knew all about one-upping and revenge. You do me, you s.o.b., and I'll do both you and your mother-in-law back so that you'll never forget it! (I believe this is now called "blowback.")
The late Arthur Koestler wrote years ago that the 17h century religious wars of Europe settled nothing. What happened is that Europeans grew weary of their fierce hatreds and their awful bloodlettings in the name of God and turned their attention elsewhere. Where they turned it was, of course, to politics and money, and attention has stayed fixed on politics and money to this day. When Christian Austria and Germany fought Christian England and France, it was a little hard to say Jesus Christ was on either side, although the effort was made.
Now we are up against a different sort of item. The bloodthirsty religionists are back in the saddle on both sides of what is clearly a pseudo-religious face-off. It's almost enough to make one wish for a Voltaire or at least a Rabelais to shame and mock the participants out of their intransigence, but I don't think we are going to be that lucky. This one is going to have to work its way down to embers and ashes, and I wish to all Heaven that was not so. But we seem to have set ourselves up to deserve this payout: I recently read somewhere a line that I thought a fitting epitaph for the present episode. I think it was credited to Arnold Toynbee and was to this effect: "No great nation every died save by suicide."
March 11, 2003