Page Two

Religious zealotry can have the effect of undoing basic morality

Page Two
There's a big picture here I'm not sure I'm getting at in any of my columns. My argument would be that the way to most honor God, the creator, is to live together as best we can. Recently, I read some letter in which the person declared that without a shared belief in God, there would be chaos. This is the bogeyman theory of order: In order for man to try to do good, we need to feel threatened. Instead, let me suggest that the greatest way to honor God is to work to live together in the healthiest, most mutually beneficial way possible (accepting all the limits and impossibilities of that notion).

My problem with a lot of religious thought is the assumption that some can completely comprehend the force that created the universe and all the life it contains. Not only that – they can also understand how the deity would like us to live, down to absolutely knowing what is clear-cut right and wrong in personal behavior and thought, as well as in regard to society, morality, diplomacy, politics, and culture. It is even carried to the point where the "creator of all that is" has a specific opinion on American local and national electoral politics. Is there a more blasphemous statement than "You can't believe in God and vote Democrat?" It denies, demeans, trivializes, and secularizes.

The overwhelming pessimism of modern life – from the religious right as well as the progressive left – is stunning. Every accomplishment of humanity and civilization is dismissed and trivialized in the face of our extraordinary failures and weaknesses.

To many, it seems as if God gave us free will so we could fail and disappoint. How can you believe – really, deeply believe – in the creator while continuing to hate so many of the Lord's other creatures? Does anyone really believe that mankind was created in order for people to become so passionately involved with the specific details of their religious beliefs that they would wage war on others who believed differently from them?

The grand experiment itself has to be humanity, how we all interact, and the future. Denying this, do you really believe mankind was created to provide the creator with an animated Risk game? The overwhelmingly pessimistic religious notion that we are engaged in a culture war, that the enemy within the U.S. is as threatening as the forces without, that other religions and their believers are lesser than we, is anti-God. It argues that the force that knows all and created us designed man and woman for failure.

Rather than contemplating any truly divine and cosmic vision of a creator we cannot possibly imagine, religion too often repackages this force into monsters under the bed: an unusually misanthropic master with a binding set of contradictory rules, all designed to see most of mankind fail. It's as though only a very small number should make it to Go, collect $200, and enter heaven. The worship of God seems to have so much more to do with human fears and petty concerns than with any magnificence.

Do you realize that to so many people it sounds ludicrous when I suggest the truly divine visions have to be that we figure out how to live and work together? I'm not talking about some impossible, utopian vision of all of us holding hands and singing. (I'm not an idiot: A terrorist with a gun is a terrorist with a gun. A psychopathic dictator is a psychopath.) Consider a much more mundane and human take, where the accepted goal is cooperation, understanding, interaction, and shared resources and knowledge.

I would argue the goal is to accept that we are on this planet together, that whether by intelligent design, random biological action, or something we really can't understand, all the people on Earth are interdependent. Can the goal really be endless wars? Can it really be imposing our ideas and our religious beliefs on all? Does that serve God, or does it instead help soothe the fears and uncertainties of man?

I believe in one world government. Not today or this decade or even this century. Look at the United States, a country whose citizens have long been in intense disagreements and conflicts, mostly geographically driven. Urban areas have concerns different from those of rural and suburban ones. Farming has needs different from those of industry and service. The descendants of aristocratic slave owners are going to be different from those of the grandchildren of slaves, those of factory workers and immigrant laborers different from long self-reliant farmers and small-business owners.

In fact, the country is more homogenous now than it has ever been – not because of a central government or federal mandates, but because ever-evolving technology (media, communication, transportation) brings us closer and closer together. Every day, we are living in a smaller world, where more of everything is shared, whether willingly or unwillingly. And some of you think God doesn't want it this way? It was more divinely intended that we stay in small groups, involved in constant aggression with other groups?

Yes, homogenization has many negatives. I miss driving across the country and encountering all kinds of different restaurants and retail rather than the megastores that now dominate. But regional food and folk dances are just another side of the narrow identity coin that leads to hatred and violence between people: between Serb and Croat, Christian and Muslim, Hutu and Tutsi.

The United States has worked to overcome the curse of prejudice, bigotry, regional biases, vast mistrust of others, and all the forces that separate us. It hasn't worked smoothly, efficiently, effortlessly, or even always intentionally toward these goals. The goals and the progress toward or away from them is almost never celebrated (except in the most coldly calculating, cynical political way) but instead is denounced by all. But the genius of the Constitution is that it possesses a truly empowering, holy view of humanity.

Despite more differences than similarities, more mistrust than trust, constant anger and disgust with both the government and our neighbors within and without, the citizens of this country have more or less functioned together in our own interest. Eventually, this will be true of the world, most likely in some kind of confederation.

Any other take is ultimately based on unreasonable fear. If we were all created by the "One," and we all live on this planet, are we supposed to 1) fight with each other all the time over everything or 2) figure out how best (certainly not even close to flawlessly) we can live together? Confucius said it, but every major religious work and enfranchising political document echoes it: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Almost any time the Iraq invasion is defended, a core explanation is that at least "we took the war to the enemy." If this weren't so devastating a lie, it would be something at which to laugh. Instead, I cry. The attacks of 9/11 were committed by fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. There is little this country has done in response since that wouldn't have absolutely thrilled them. They have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

The economy slowed down. We are spending billions on security that an inquiring 5-year-old knows is ridiculous and ineffective. We invaded one traditionally Muslim country. Despite our promised commitment to rebuilding it and helping modernize and stabilize the country, we haven't done so. We invaded a secular Muslim state, ruled by a psychopath, that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Those terrorists would be delirious that we invaded a secular Muslim country, because it was secular (which they despised) but also Muslim (which would and will turn even more Muslims against the U.S., further polarizing the international political situation).

Although it is clear that Hussein had some involvement with international terrorism, it was limited, and he had little to no involvement with al Qaeda. Now I hear the war's apologists pointing to a meeting or two, some known terrorists living in Baghdad, a few training sessions, and/or maybe a couple of phone calls as proof positive of a serious alliance. Based on this connection, we invaded a foreign country? Based on this information, we have seen thousands killed and maimed? Based on this information, a country that doesn't want to spend money on welfare, transportation, education, or job training or creation has already spent close to half a trillion dollars on an operation the most likely consequence of which is to turn current and future generations even more against us?

Using such logic and evidence, one could claim that the United States had long been subverted and is now being run by Star Trek fanatics: They are in our cities, they have different languages, they dress strangely, and they endorse unusual ideologies; they have had many meetings with government officials, mostly covert, where they did not reveal that they were Trekkies.

Yes, we are in Iraq. Yes, it will be hard to get out. But that does not mean we are defending freedom or that we've taken the war to the enemy, because we have not. We have invaded a foreign country for reasons our own leadership keeps jumbling and rearranging – and that most of the rest of the world, quite rationally, can't understand at all.

Chronicle Staff News: On behalf of the entire Chronicle family, I am thrilled to announce the arrival of Prine Perry Patterson, born to Mack and Annette Shelton Patterson a little after 6pm on June 21, 21 inches long, weighing 7 lbs., 10 oz. We are already planning what space Prine can have when he comes to join the staff. Our love and best wishes to Mack, Annette, and Prine.

"Page Two" Personal Note: After next week's column, I will take a four- or five-week break from writing this column. end story

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religious intolerance, religious war, religious right, morality, one world government, Iraq war, 9 / 11, terrorism, Prine Perry Patterson, Annette Shelton Patterson, Mack Patterson, Page Two, Star Trek, Trekkies

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