Religious Extremists: a Moderate Rant
Let me announce, before you and the Almighty, that I’ve officially lost my tolerance for religious fundamentalists of any stripe. I’ve had it with zealots who believe their holy textbooks to be the literal word of God. I’ve had it with the jihads, the smugness, the forced conversions, the notion that one’s own sect boasts an exclusive pipeline to the Divine. As far as I’m concerned, they can all go to hell… or at least heck.
What brought me to this unholy pass? The Christmas underwear bomber — a radicalized Muslim from Nigeria — definitely helped. So did the fanatic who barged into the home of the notorious Danish cartoonist who satirized the Prophet Mohammed. So did the Fort Hood psychiatrist who decided he’d rather kill fellow Americans than fellow Muslims.
Granted, fanatical Muslims are generating the greatest worldwide misery at the moment. But as I took a little time to reflect, I concluded that all fundamentalist religious interpretations are equally archaic, equally obnoxious and equally wrong.
Fundamentalist Christianity depicts us as debased sinners who can be saved only by the sacrificial blood of Jesus. (Those who don’t get with the program or believe in blood sacrifices are condemned to eternal torment.) Fundamentalist Judaism exalts the Jews above all other people — not the surest prescription for amicable relations with the other 99.8% of the world’s population. And of course we all know about the excesses of fundamentalist Islam: the unquenchable libido for world conquest, the systematic oppression of women, the grotesque beheadings, the insane belief in an orgasmic eternity for those who die in the name of the Prophet.
If only it were enough to say “Enough!” But how do you convince millions of diehard believers that their beliefs are simply that: beliefs… and not inerrant God-given truths? (Sorry, but nobody has ever taken dictation from the creator of the galaxies.) How do you roll back 1500, 2000, 3000 years of dogmatic indoctrination lovingly handed down through the generations? Most important, how do you persuade these extreme believers to shift to a more moderate form of belief?
Because I’m not convinced that God is a myth or that all religion is bunk. Religious certainty is bunk, because no living mortal knows the nature or will of God. Our holy scriptures — Jewish, Christian and Islamic alike — are ancient conglomerations of history, mythology, prophecy, dogma and sheer fudge. It’s impossible to know where the truth ends and the fiction begins.
So we’re left with pure faith, which can be a beautiful and noble thing. The world would be a happier and healthier place if religious fundamentalists had the courage to abandon certainty in favor of faith.
The tragedy is that the masses of fundamentalists need certainty to anchor their uncertain place in the cosmos. Mere faith is too nuanced, too reasonable, too moderate. Fanatical religious souls, like fanatical political souls, want to see the world clearly outlined in black and white. No shades of gray. No uncertainty. No wandering in the wilderness. No need to think.
In short, we’ll be sharing the world with religious fanatics for a long time to come.