Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.
So this is where all the vapid talk about the 'soul' of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The 'vacuum' will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover. An awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.
Since Jimmy Carter, religious fundamentalists play a major role in elections. He was the first president who made a point of exhibiting himself as a born again Christian. That sparked a little light in the minds of political campaign managers: Pretend to be a religious fanatic and you can pick up a third of the vote right away. Nobody asked whether Lyndon Johnson went to church every day. Bill Clinton is probably about as religious as I am, meaning zero, but his managers made a point of making sure that every Sunday morning he was in the Baptist church singing hymns.
At least two important conservative thinkers, Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss, were unbelievers or nonbelievers and in any case contemptuous of Christianity. I have my own differences with both of these savants, but is the Republican Party really prepared to disown such modern intellectuals as it can claim, in favor of a shallow, demagogic and above all sectarian religiosity?Perhaps one could phrase the same question in two further ways. At the last election, the GOP succeeded in increasing its vote among American Jews by an estimated five percentage points. Does it propose to welcome these new adherents or sympathizers by yelling in the tones of that great Democrat bigmouth William Jennings Bryan? By insisting that evolution is 'only a theory'? By demanding biblical literalism and by proclaiming that the Messiah has already shown himself? If so, it will deserve the punishment for hubris that is already coming its way. (The punishment, in other words, that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson believed had struck America on Sept. 11, 2001. How can it be that such grotesque characters, calling down divine revenge on the workers in the World Trade Center, are allowed a respectful hearing, or a hearing at all, among patriotic Republicans?)
Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.
...I realized how naive I was. My aunt Tina was right: this stuff does exist, and it does hurt people, and although there are lots of people at Liberty who condemn violence against gays--including Dr. Falwell himself--the number of students who want to give them the Goliath treatment isn't zero. In fact, the number who live in my room isn't zero.
Looking at Great-Great Grandpa Baldwin's photograph, I think to myself: You've finally done it. It took four generations, but you've finally goddamned done it. Gotten that war against reason and uppity secularists you always wanted. Gotten even for the Scopes trial, which they say was one of many burrs under your saddle until your last breath. Well, rejoice, old man, because your tribes have gathered around America's oldest magical hairball of ignorance and superstition, Christian fundamentalism, and their numbers have enabled them to suck so much oxygen out of the political atmosphere that they are now acknowledged as a mainstream force in politics. Episcopalians, Jews, and affluent suburban Methodists and Catholics, they are all now scratching their heads, sweating, and swearing loudly that this pack of lower-class zealots cannot possibly represent the mainstream--not the mainstream they learned about in their fancy sociology classes or were so comfortably reassured about by media commentators who were people like themselves. Goodnight, Grandpa Baldwin. I'll toast you from hell.
My friend Adele describes fundamentalism as holding so tightly to your beliefs that your fingernails leave imprints on the palm of your hand... I think she's right. I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip. It would take God himself to finally pry them out of my hands. (p.17-18)
It is often said that mankind needs a faith if the world is to be improved. In fact, unless the faith is vigilantly and regularly checked by a sense of man's fallibility, it is likely to make the world worse. From Torquemada to Robespierre and Hitler the men who have made mankind suffer the most have been inspired to do so have been inspired to do so by a strong faith; so strong that it led them to think their crimes were acts of virtue necessary to help them achieve their aim, which was to build some sort of an ideal kingdom on earth.
The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. There are tyrants, not Muslims.United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list -- yes, even the short skirts and the dancing -- are worth dying for?The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.
Real morality is not the product of fearing a spanking. But what does fundamentalist hell-belief encourage? It retards any developing moral judgment by freezing moral maturity right at the most primitive, most childish, stage: the fear of retribution-and fundamentalism threatens one hell of a spanking.