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It’s religion, stupid! [1]

Nathan Bond

We squinch at the balagan whelped of partisan eisegesis while religious katzenjammer continues to embrown our world. It must end.

Spawned of the noisome agglomeration of ignorance, mental faineance and irrational fear; forged in the smithy of certitude; honed in the atelier of fellowship and sold in the thrift shop of two-penny bargains — religion is a crucible for calamity.

The underlying foundation of religion is indicative of its mendacity. Religion ought to be critically re-examined. Said Lear’s fool: “Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach may stand by th’ fire and stink.” [2]

Judaism is founded on a man hearing voices … Around 1812 BCE Abraham distinctly heard a voice, which he came to recognise as that of god, instructing him to leave his native Haran and move away from his people and his family to some undisclosed land that was to be identified at some later stage. Abraham, said god, was to father a great nation. Elated, Abraham took his wife and his cousin and set off into the great unknown, travelling through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. Here, at the tree, god promised the land to Abraham’s offspring. Judaism was born.

Hinduism is founded on the inequality of people … Around 1500 BCE a civilisation vested in an arrant amalgam of incongruous averments appears. Hinduism claims neither an identifiable origin, nor originator or central authority. Choose one or more of pantheism, polytheism, monotheism, agnosticism, atheism, dualism, pluralism and monism, but be sure to abide by the rules of hereditary social divisions in the certainty that by doing so, a next birth will be a happier one.

Buddhism is founded on a confused man acting on a self-sobering moment … Around 600 BCE a thirty-something Buddha, befuddled by philosophic meditation and bodily asceticism, finds himself under a tree (remember Abraham?) determined to attain enlightenment ere he leaves. Miraculously, he stumbles upon a revelation — it’s tanha, stupid! It’s acute carnal desire for the wrong things! And, providentially, he realises that he was without desire — he was the Enlightened One! Buddha entered into negotiations with five of his formal colleagues and eventually convinced them (1) that he was an arahat (one who had attained enlightenment) and (2) that the five of them should become arahats too! Voila — the birth of the Buddhist monastic order.

Christianity is founded upon a Being who is credited simultaneously with consummate deity and rank humanity. He is not partly god and partly man, but god, as if He is not man, and man, as if He is not god. This Being is also One Third of another Entity, the Trinity, a triumvirate of gregarious gods pronounced to be one, yet three separate Beings acting in such concert as to be perceived to be One and, in fact, to exist as One. The caducity of this ineradicable Entity (the gross contradiction in terms is permitted by the duplicitous nature of religion) is manifested in Its allowing One Third of Itself (Son) the latitude to pursue a wanderlust and take leave of absence long enough to be born of a virgin, sired by Self — Holy Ghost, distorting the Trinity for at least 280 days in order for Son to be carried to term. He refuses to proclaim His direct relationship with what His human peers regard to be their god, Another Third (Father) of the Trinity, opting for an approach of demure erudition — a pusillanimous “you’ve said it” and an obsequious “what do you say, who am I?”; raises all manner of hell during a three-year round trip of Palestine, making merry with any number of natural laws and pronouncing upon any and all social dictates to whomever is within earshot; wrecking families to recruit followers and causing economic havoc by appropriating a major trade centre in the name of Father and evicting tenants, without due process, in Father’s name — or His own, as He is also Father, and Father Him, or Them both the Other Third (Holy Ghost). He is eventually apprehended and executed by crucifixion, exclaiming at the moment critique that He is unable to comprehend the fact that One Other Mmember, not Both Other Members, of the Trinity, Father, not Holy Ghost, had forsaken Him; proclaiming not to be in concert with the Other Two as He was excluded from the decision to forsake the Third, Him dying. He is buried, but rises three days later, having dropped in on nemesis Lucifer in Hades, and solemnly promises to return to His terrified and scattered disciples subsequent to a brief visit to Father, but apparently not to Holy Ghost, tasked with representing Him during the brief interlude, yet disappears to date without leaving a single credible historical trace of His sojourn among men.

Islam is founded on a distressed man seeking solace in solitude … Around 600 CE, perturbed by continuous quarrelling among Sabaeanists, Jews, Christians and Arabs worshipping local gods and goddesses, and believing in angels, fairies and demonic jinn, young Muhammad escaped to a cave near the base of Mount Hira for days on end. Suddenly, one night, the indefatigable Gabriel, celestial courier to Zechariah and Mary a few hundred years earlier, appeared to Muhammad and commenced a series of intermittent revelations. Addled by the experience and unsure about the legitimacy of the visions an insecure Muhammad eventually decided, surprise, surprise, that he was indeed a true prophet and messenger of Allah. The market was not convinced, though, and the first four years of proselytising yielded only about forty acolytes. But by 630 CE the prophet had assembled some 10 000 adherents and Islam was on its way. Subsequent to Muhammad’s death two years later, Islam spread rapidly due largely to jihad — victory in battle and military conquest.

Religion’s god is culpable
God, Allah, Jehovah, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva simply do not exist. Yet the gods are all too real in the minds of believers. God’s tenebrous transcendency is in some macabre way even more veridical and inspiring to the theist than a corporeal existence.

Religion, the primary movements (Christianity, Islam; Hinduism, Buddhism …), the secondary trends (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Shiite; Sunni, Vaishnavite, Shaivite, Mahayana, Theravada …), the tertiary bandwagons (Evangelical, Reformed; Wahhab …) and the sectarian yaws (cf Annexure One, 9 999 999 listings) is a virus that should be eradicated expeditiously.[3] And we should start with that chimera, the immanent god — all 9 999 999 versions.

God is culpable. Created by fear and nourished by ignorance, clothed in the vestiges of fanatic deceit, worshipped by weakness, preserved by credulity; supported by custom and tyranny, god is no more than an incredible utilitarian conception — a bespoke chimera in service of psychedelic human experience: god is a cheap analgesic, a ready hallucinogenic. From Cain’s invitation to Abel, “Let’s go out in the fields”, through Srebrenica and 9/11 and Bali and Gujarat, to Turkey and breaking news on CNN, singular interpretation of the dictates of a god with the manners and the morals of a mollycoddled minor has seen multitudes maimed and massacred.

Originating from the same emotional source, religion and politics are inextricable. Patriotism is about the abstruse emotions associated with fatherland, father, country, place, family, kinsmen. Patriotism is a ready fountainhead for political passion and political conviction — and especially conviction about war — issues deeply connected with religious impulses. Religion is a ready political expedient. [4]

That unscrupulous politicians and authoritarians can manipulate the masses by appealing to faith obligates the unindentured to purge society of the execrable ideology of a god whose dictates are often heard by the inculcated and the intransigent as “Thou shalt kill”. The elimination of this ethereal god will remove a sui generis trigger of evil.

A crucible of evil
There may well be alternative motivations for evil, yet, said Blaise Pascal, “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

To tolerate religion because it is not the exclusive vehicle of evil identifies religion as a vessel of evil and denies us the opportunity to eliminate at least one known crucible of evil.

Religion remains unchallenged as the single most destructive force ever to have corrupted humanity. Religion is, in deference to Friedrich Nietzsche, the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty — the one mortal blemish of mankind.

Centuries of benumbing worship have sadly voided congregants of theoretical knowledge and the ability to think independently on religious issues — a side-effect of overspecialising on the immediate moment. This collective ignorance may well be culpable, and reflects severely on pastors, guilty, at least by inertia, of promoting it. Worship forges a god after the expectation of worshippers; liturgical wont affirms a particular god and reduces worship to a human requisite fuelled even in the absence of god.

Historical fatuity
A dejected Abraham hearing voices. A discombobulated Buddha stumbling on a soi-disant eureka! moment. An addled Muhammad seeing apparitions and receiving the pre-existent perfect words of Allah, communicated through 114 seizure-like episodic visions in a desert. Ludicrous births — Jesus, sired by a spirit and born of a virgin, yet boasting an ancestry originating with no lesser personage than Abraham; Buddha placed inside of the womb of his mother as a white elephant and born out of her side ten months later. Judaism’s 613 rules. The Christian monotheistic! 3-in-1 assemblage of gregarious gods. The Hindu farrago of theistic fixingses and rigid hereditary bind of a caste system subjugating people to subaltern lives … Religion remains unchallenged as the most preposterous prevarication ever conceived of human mind.

A threat to peace
In his book Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths[5] Bruce Feiler suggests that the Abrahamic religions be allowed yet another opportunity to remedy the belligerence induced by Muslims and Jews in response to the result of Abraham’s misgivings of god’s promise of a great nation.

Another chance! The horrific record of ethnic and religious warfare between Christians and Muslims, and between Jews and Muslims, and between Christians and Jews, is a monument of disgrace to the spectacular failure of the children of Abraham to unite in peace and egalitarian respect.

I see a world in a state of perpetual conflict as a direct result of religious thinking, a world precariously perched on the precipice of catastrophe. No matter how people wish to paint religion as peaceful, the fact remains: the men who crashed planes into American buildings lived and died by their faith. The root cause of 9/11 is religious belief. Born-again Christian President Bush threatened with “Crusade”, reacted with war and continues on his bellicose way — “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”[6]

… And Osama’s response? “Fight the agents of the Devil, God will give us victory.”[7]

Even so, said Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah during a November 2002 meeting at his palace with members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, “there is no extremism in religion”.[8] Jihad followed by Crusade followed by inevitable Jihad; terror is the minacious handmaiden of religion.

Like the US, India is also a gigantic democracy with a secular constitution. But, like Washington, New Delhi has a religious approach. The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is breeding a militant Hindu nationalism — an undercurrent largely responsible for the disastrous 2002 Gujarat uprisings. It is disquieting that the BJP plans to place Muslim terrorism and the Pakistani threat on the 2004 election platform.[9]

If the Christian/Muslim and the Hindu/Muslim conflagrations are not impetus enough to rise against religion, then the impending clash between declining liberal Western churches and the growing Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America awaits. Third World churches are increasingly seeing themselves as correctives to the errant positions of apostate churches in North America and Western Europe.[10]

Already liberal First World clergy are warning that Third World churches risk much needed funding from the West by their fundamentalist stance. The current Anglican “gay bishop controversy” is threatening to tear the church apart. Central African Anglican primate Bernard Malango holds that morality outranks funding, calling the pecuniary threat “simony”. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola called the consecration of gay V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire “a very dark hour for the church”. His views are shared by Tanzania’s Mtetemela, “How can we draw people to the faith of Jesus Christ if we do not follow the Scriptures?”, and West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, “We can’t continue limping along.”[11]

Might the world face a future “intra-Christian” war similar to the “intra-Islam” war between Iran and Iraq in the eighties? By 1980 Iraq’s Saddam had the support of the United States, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and France — largely because these states were determined to prevent the spread of Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran, earmarked to have started with Iraq. For all the merits and demerits, for all the prevarication and obfuscation, for all the hidden agendas of the Saddam regime, the “Iraqi crises” since 1990 were largely augured by religious imperialism … and “infidel” Saddam, manoeuvring, albeit to promote personal interests, to prevent this epidemic in the oil-rich Islamic Gulf and the global religious Muslim population.

Whether it is a Muslim internecine, or a Christian one along the North/South fault line, or a Jihad or a Crusade, or Muslims and Hindus raising religious rancour in South Asia, or Catholics and Protestants killing children in Belfast, we are embroiled in a continuous cataclysm, if we care to notice.

I am reminded of Mark Twain’s pearl on man being a religious animal: “He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.”

It is the noisome claim of exclusive and absolute truth — that shibboleth of the supercilious believer, the subscriber to any one of the religious movements, trends, bandwagons or yaws that makes religion so appalling, so terrifying, so perilous.

Current stakes
Religion’s perfidious nature is perpetuated and increased by its stance on that abominable bane, HIV/AIDS. While science offer condoms and a drive for microbicides and immunogens, religion has embraced abstinence in the battle against HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

“Don’t do it ‘cause the Bible tells me so” is a supreme reminder of religion’s hegemony. Just-say-no abstinence is the putrid yield of a vitiated and supercilious ideology. In the face of the most serious threat ever to human life, religion capitulates meekly to fulfil the agenda Dei. “Just don’t do it” is the “right thing to do”. It’s also a death sentence. It’s a 21st century version of the stake. It’s no less than a stoning. It’s the force-feeding of religion’s noisome certitudes on the masses all over again.

How many will religion kill this time around? Will sentient people again simply look on and ignore religion’s despicable nature?

Religious ethics
I am ad idem with Bertrand Russell on religion’s contributions to civilisation, “It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.”[12]

A history of mission? Soup kitchens? A great feeling of belonging? Why not run these claims by aboriginal peoples, children of war and psychologists?

In a recent letter to the press[13] a pastoral theologian associated with religious broadcasting presents a moving ode to the beneficial activities of “practical Christians” relieving suffering by daily acts of charity. I am amazed at the astounding arrogance of claiming charity kudos for a creed that is leveraging infant death for political expediency. Asked on May 12, 1996 on 60 Minutes about United Nations reports that half a million Iraqi children had died from sanctions, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied, “Well, this is a price that we feel that we are willing to pay.”

This scenario is akin to stealing a million from a defenceless octogenarian and then giving a street urchin 10c towards a meal in demand for respect of one’s creed. If you have a mind capable of reconciling this ethical dialectic, Club Dogma has a wonderful bargain for you. No cheques, please. Cash only, and in small bills.

Religion is diametric to the moral high ground. The divine right of kings, slavery, gay hatred, corporal punishment (and indeed capital punishment), exclusive suffrage for men, child labour, subjugating low wages and the subordination of women have been abolished by non-partisan humanism, and not by the church. Many of these modern ethical principles are still scorned by religious regimes.

Religion makes for intolerant, hierarchically minded people that will believe any old thing, indicated — even without pursuing the profane — by supranumerous denominational and sectarian multifurcation. The continued presumption of religious orders to prescribe and to pontificate is an obvious perpetuation of the earliest injunction against criticism, preserved by prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy and the continued domination of fear.

“Religious ethics” is nothing but a noisome aggregation of contradictions contrived of the caprices of a pitilessly vengeful, jealous, racist, sexist, tyrannical, blood-lusting god. No measure of exegetical contortion and hermeneutical prevarication can deny religious “commandments” to be the ordained double standards of a god with the manners and the morals of a mollycoddled minor.

It was perhaps first stated by Epicurus that god either wishes to take away evil, and is unable, or He is able, and unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of god; if He is able and unwilling, He is malicious, which is equally at variance with god; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not god; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to god, from what source then is evil? And why does god not remove evil? Only nullity can excuse god.

A challenge
I am flummoxed by the general deference to religion and the consummate failure to criticise the anserine ideology. This romance with God and infatuation with the supernatural bodes ill for the future. It is a sobering thought that as religion is founded on men hearing voices, the global balance of power is in the hands of men hearing voices.

Politicians, for instance, are frequently subjected to vitriolic invective. I have recently heard author Frederick Forsythe depict Prime Minister Tony Blair as one who “lies as he breathes” in conversation with Tim Sebastian on BBC’s HardTalk. Why then be mealy-mouthed about a nefarious ideology such as religion? Why should religion be allowed to perpetuate unperturbed while witting people tip-toe around ecclesiasticism and whisper the occasional alert designed not to pique believers, and especially clergy? Religion is bunk and calling it for the idiocy it represents is reprehensibly overdue.

Religion is the single most destructive force ever to corrupt humanity; a pernicious bane; an insidious hegemony responsible for most all of human suffering. Religion is a grotesque parody of thought; an egregious abuse of intelligence.

Religion has failed mankind. The god-fearing have left mankind precariously perched on the precipice of catastrophe. The time is now for sentient beings to shed religion’s hegemony. Social dictates are to be purged of religious influence in the immediate term to give historically divergent peoples a reasonable chance at co-existence in the long term; to give ordinary people a better chance at life.

[1] “It’s the economy, stupid!” was the Clinton-Gore campaign slogan in 1992. There was a mild recession because of the transition from a wartime (Cold War) economy to a peacetime economy. The slogan was designed to focus their minds on an obvious fact …

[2] King Lear, Act 1, Scene IV, lines 110-112.

[3] Cf Richard Dawkins, http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html.

[4] Cf Elaine Pagels, The Politics Of Christianity: A Talk With Elaine Pagels.

[5] HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022, ISBN 0-380-97776-1 (hc), September 2002.

[6] According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, from minutes acquired by Haaretz from cease-fire negotiations between Abbas and faction leaders from the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts (circa June 2003), quoted from Arnon Regular, “‘Road map is a life saver for us,’ PM Abbas tells Hamas“ (Haaretz.com: June 27 2003), quoted from EvilOz (The Iterative Record) .

[7] From an audiotaped voice believed to be that of Osama bin Laden, quoted in Newsweek, February 24, 2003.

[8] Newsweek, November 11, 2002.

[9] Cf “Praying to Angry Gods”, Newsweek, February 24, 2003, p 17.

[10] Cf Ian T Douglas, The clash of global Christianity, TheWorld&I.com, February 2003.

[11] Cf “The Schism of 2003”, Time, October 20, 2003.

[12] Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilisation?”, p 1. First published in 1930. Included in Why I am not a Christian, first published in Great Britain by George Allen & Unwin, 1957.

[13] Beeld, Gauteng, South Africa, January 26, 2003.

22 January 2004

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