Okay, please don’t kill me. I hate starting one of these editorial pieces with such a craven plea, but there are people who take their religion humorlessly and very, very seriously. I am not composing what follows as some snide atheist’s rant, every bit as condescending as a smug “I’ll pray for you,” after an evangelical Christian has stopped listening. What I really want to get at is the frightening apocalyptic instincts of so many orthodoxies in this age where science can make literally anything possible. Even the fulfillment of prophecy.
Religion has always been used as a form of social order, one so comprehensive regarding the causes and meaning of life that it often scares people into doing anything their earthly speakers for divinity command. The extremely religious listen closely, and allow a radical, absolutist interpretation to give them guidance on how to live their lives. It is a mistake for non-religious worshipers of Contrarianism to write this off as mere stupidity, breaking down some of the silliness of biblical fairy tales, and asking how anyone could believe them. That is not what faith is at all.
Let us not talk about the lazy, the legitimately stupid. Let’s ignore those who shrug their shoulders and answer “It’s God’s will,” without explaining what this is supposed to mean. I want to discuss the true believers, those dedicated souls seeking to inform the world that their complicated truths are the only way things could possibly be.
Religious terrorists, Islamic and otherwise, do not believe they are committing acts of evil. They see their violence as necessary and righteous. It is an effort to save the world from destruction, and create the one they wish to believe in. It is an important distinction to make, because crazy psychopaths, chortling over the corpses they have made, are far easier to understand than a murderer praying for the soul of their victims. Some horrible person like the guy who shot up a New Zealand mosque, or a miserable punk gunning down the people who mocked him in school–these we call senseless acts, hideous examples of insanity taken to its extreme, but we tend to reconcile these actions and then put them away with a shake of the head–what is the world coming to? Not so with dedicated religious terrorism. We understand that this is an attack on all of us.
So am I going to rant about how “all religion is evil,” or that “religion causes every war” (regardless of the second one being close to the case, but I will expound upon that further in a moment)? Should atheists like the creep in the last photo above be put in charge of national policy, not influenced by the outside forces of religion and left only to cynical bitterness over what absurdities they think other people believe? Or how about a theocracy, demanding puritans imposing behavior laws on all citizens, insisting that we all kneel to their idea of their righteousness, or face penalties including and up to torture and death? Should women be swathed in clothing that buries masculine lust (although we can fetishize anything, I suppose, within the limitations we are able to experience)? Should men be required to grow long beards and pray in every direction all day long between shouting in the streets against all non-believers? (By the way, one time I saw this extraordinary stereotype of a hipster sitting in this hipster bar near my home, a gentrifying city neighborhood becoming hipster haven. He was railing on about how everything is shit over his half-touched craft brew, eating fried pickles. He was wearing a cap with some smug symbol of nothingness, a t-shirt featuring a kitschy parody of a childhood figure, maybe Mickey Mouse flipping somebody off; his arms were both sleeves of blurry tattoos, already fading and making it appear that something was wrong with his skin. He was slightly overweight, wore thick black-rimmed glasses, and had a puffy, unkempt, extremely dense beard dangling down over his heart. He was in his early thirties and clearly had no job, still on his aging parents insurance plan, possibly still living at home. He was an eternal child. I said to him, “Hey Al Quida.” He looked at me, offended, then ranted against religion to the bartender, entirely non-sequitur.)
Of course the answer is no to every one of these suggestions, the disappearing idea of religious freedom no longer valid with any gang of true believers. I have been condemned by groups of atheists (can I call them a church of non-believers?) when I stated that religions do not have to be about an ethereal god. They can be overtly political–fundamentalist Democrats and Republicans; Stalinist Communism, Hitler’s self-deifying Nazification of a large portion of the world. These are all secular religions, all beliefs risen to radicalism. People follow religions around guns (the church of the NRA, and the rage at open gun shows where anyone can buy anything without restriction, claiming that people are trying to take away their guns.) We worship celebrities, games, movies, money. There are religions of varying sizes consuming every race of people in every place on earth. There still exist small cults of native religions, tribal myths about many gods in charge of every different thing. I bet there are even people left who worship Zeus.
But why did I label these faith as ‘death cults?’ What makes me both so fearful and contemptuous of these roiling beliefs that potentially threaten every person on earth? Well, it’s because they are all consumed with an apocalypse, with the end of the world and what happens after. They seek some kind of immortality, the idea that death is not the end. Religion is finally about the fear of dying.
And so they mythologize death into a form of rescue, an idea that a miserable life on earth can only grant an individual clemency, the approval of eternity so they can finally live the life they always wanted. And there are some people, some people so miserable, that they hope and pray and try to make this very thing happen. Here, let’s take another look:
Those last three, the red cow . . . all three of the major monotheisms discuss this creature–the red heifer, as a sign of, A) the second coming of Jesus Christ, B) the coming of the Jewish Messiah, and C) the coming of the Mahdi, the apocalyptic prophet of Islam. This thing in the pictures was genetically engineered. As far as the temple mount, the Al-Asqa mosque is alleged to be built on the ground where once stood the Temple of David, the most holy early synagogue of the Jewish religion, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. (This was actually the second Temple of David, the first destroyed on the same ground in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzer II.) The red heifer is supposed to be a precursor to the destruction of the Islamic holy site in order to rebuild the temple for the third and final time. Here are two videos, the first a brief explanation; the second, longer, is a voice of absolute lunacy. Yet people believe this, truly, and seek to bring about the end of everything.
Death cults, every one of them. Here are the Christians:
Islam is more circumspect, actually, ultimately annoyed in the here and now. You want to destroy our third holiest mosque? How dare you! Muslims get easily offended when challenged on their holy sites and images. Remember, Mohammad cannot be depicted:
And so I will end here, wondering about how people can believe certain things. How can I believe what I am certain of myself? Perhaps were are all trapped by faith, of some sort anyway, moaning about ideas of God versus thoughts on facts we trust other people for having discovered. I mean, how many of you have actually studied the deep theoretical (“concerned with or involving the theory of a subject or area of study rather than its practical application”) physics and the forces of nature these geniuses somewhat understand? Or do we merely take it on faith that our prophets hold the absolute truth?