Thursday, August 30, 2007

God's Warriors

Christiane Amanpour's three part, six hour special report, God's Warriors which aired last week on CNN was a great bit of reporting. I won't presume to "review" the program. Suffice to say that Ms. Amanpour is, in my opinion, one of the best reporters anywhere. She took great pains to be as impartial as possible, revealing her incredulity only briefly in response to some instances of obvious sexism.

The overarching theme of this omnibus presentation was the advent of religious radicalism now prevalent in all three of the major monotheistic religions of the world - Judaism, Islam, and of course, good old Christianity.That in itself is not news to most earthlings of the human persuasion who haven't spent the last twenty or so years in the asteroid belt. But the program served to put into perspective to some extent, the history and events which brought each tradition to this dangerous pass.

It is worthy of note that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and, of course, much of the violence being visited upon the planet today is rooted in radical Islam. But it is also important to understand that there are radical Jews and Christians who are equally disposed to doing violence in the name of their god. God's Warriors does an admirable job of articulating that fact.

What ultimately renders any lasting resolution to the conflicts between these religious traditions so remote is the inability or unwillingness of any of them to accommodate the others in compromise. To do so would be forsaking their god. The true believers of each tradition maintain an unswerving faith that theirs is the one and only true path; that all others are deluded, following false gods or being led down the garden path by Beelzebub himself.

I know there are those, especially in the U.S. who believe that the right wing evangelical movement is waning. Certainly, since the last mid-term elections, it would appear that the Christian fundamentalists have lost their momentum. But they are a hearty lot. They have proven to be every bit as steadfast and driven as Osama and his boys.

Radical Christians are in part driven by the awareness that radical Muslim leaders have made great strides in galvanizing their followers into a fairly monolithic and overtly devout group. The Christians don't want to be caught with their spiritual pants down. They are compelled to mobilize and strengthen their flocks in preparation for the ultimate battle against the supposed heathen Islamist hoards. Many are booking passage to Armageddon as I type. I think a new Holiday Inn Express just opened there. There may be package deals on Expedia or Price Line, maybe an "Apocalypse Special"

What else drives the fundamentalist radicals of these respective faiths? We often hear both leaders and followers of these traditions lament the advent of the secular world and the dissolution of traditional morality, mainly in the west. Much of the western world, and certainly foremost, the U.S. has, in the eyes of many fallen into a miasma of materialism, sexual perversity, drug use and street violence. The fundies of all faiths believe that the only cure is a return to old time religion - a dose of fire and brimstone to force people to sit up and fly right; that failure to do so will ultimately doom us all to eternal damnation. Even a "loving" god can get testy.

Obviously, I think that's all a lot of hooey. While it is certainly true that materialism, mainly in the form of consumerism, pretty much rules the western world - and now more and more of the east as well, as witness China's massive thrust into capitalist ventures, not to mention thoroughly westernized Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai plus inroads in South Korea - even Thailand and Viet Nam. But is it all bad?

I think not. As I see it, many of the negatives we are witnessing in westernized societies are essentially growing pains. We are dazzled by technology. Computers, IPods, IPhones - all the electronic junk that is being foisted upon us is for many intoxicating in their possibilities. Many years ago, Zelda Fitzgerald was quoted as saying, "We grew up founding our dreams on the infinite promise of American advertising..." That is certainly no less true today.

While, at my rapidly ripening age, I will likely not see an end to this, I do believe that at some point, we may eventually just get over such fascination - that the gizmos and toys will not be so coveted as they are today. Some will shake their heads. Considering the current state of affairs, there is certainly no evidence of any waning in our love affair with "stuff." But who knows? Such change may eventually come to pass.

Of equally serious concern is the apparent deterioration of our sexual mores. Witness the massive offerings of any and all types of pornography, mainly via the internet, but also on the tube, in films, books, magazines, in our music and so on. Sex in our society has become ubiquitous and pervasive which deeply troubles many, not only those of a religious bent. Sex can be debasing and dangerous. It can be used to degrade both women and men. It can be lethal owing to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Our concomitant fascination with violence simply adds to the complexity of the problem and the misery it causes either in conjunction with sex or not.

But again, I look upon it as a phase - a troubling one, no doubt - but nevertheless, a phase. It is a logical response to hundreds of years of sexual repression. On the whole, western society is mad for sex and violence. In a sense, we want it all. We want to see it, feel it, smell it and taste it. We want to experience the whole gamut of pleasure and pain. We want to wallow in its perversity. Ultimately, though, "civilized" society will get beyond it. It will likely take a while - at least several decades, more likely, a few centuries. But, should man survive, most of the perverse thrill of sex and violence may become passe', perhaps boring.

Humanity will not be doomed to hell for its sins. There is no hell - and certainly no heaven, no afterlife. No god. If we don't nuke ourselves out of existence, if we don't get wasted by an earthly collision with a giant comet, we may one day wake to find that we are well and happy, that we are whole, totally on our own, owing no allegiance to any god or other "higher power."

But in the mean time, anyone disturbed by the growing threat coming from radical fundamentalists of all stripes should be attentive and watchful. It was one thing to wage religious war in the days of swords and spears. It is quite another in an age when some true believer may have his nervous little finger on the nuclear button. The fundies, in their religious zeal, may rush us all to an end we didn't believe would or could happen.



Anonymous said...

Interesting read. In regards to your take on sex - I tend to take the opposite point of view. I believe our society is far too uptight about sex - generally regarding it as something dirty or evil (seemingly, unless the sexual acts are done by a married heterosexual couple in private, in accepted ways, and never discussed.) Europe takes a far more relaxed approach to the issue of sex.

Certainly sex is an adult act, and children should be protected. But to assume that sex can be, as you put it, "sometimes degrading to men or women." I would ask, who decides what is degrading and what is not? Isn't that in the eye of the beholder? What if I LIKE to be tied up naked and tickled with a feather (I don't btw). You may find that degrading, but to me it may be great fun and a huge turn on. "Degrading" seems to be a word that is thrown out there by people who witness or hear about others doing sexual activities that they would "never" do themselves. Right. Whatever.

Sexual diseases? Sure, we need to protect ourselves, just as we protect ourselves in other activities like driving a car, riding a bike, preparing our food. Just because we have to take precautions when driving a car doesn't mean driving a car is evil. Many in our society would paint casual sex as "evil" because you might catch a disease. So is driving a car evil, because you might crash?

Live and let live baby. Sex is one of the few real pleasures that our Creator has given us (along with food and football).

Violence on the other hand is even more pervasive in our culture. Violence is strangely far more acceptable to most than sex. See a guy's head get blown off on TV or a video game and that's "cool". See a pair of breasts and it's time to boycott somebody.

I think the religious people in this country and elsewhere would do far better for themselves and for humanity if they would take a deep breath on the sexual issues and start focusing on violence, which permeates everything from what we read, what we watch on the news, the movies in our theaters, the video games we play, the music we listen to....

For some strange reason, many if not most human beings are disgusted and terrified of other humans' sexual activities (unless it's something that happens to turn THEM on, in which case they'll only pretend to be disgusted by it until such time that they are CAUGHT performing said sexual activity - but I digress). However, it seems many of these same people are perfectly able to accept violence, suffering, and killing - and oftentimes by their own governments on their own behalf.

No, my problem with our societies norms are in their violent nature and NOT their sexual nature.

My 2 cents. :^)

Terry S said...

Hey, Anonymous,

I suppose the way in which I presented this post, it seemed that I was condemning sex. I didn't intend to convey that message.

The key word I used was that sex can be dangerous. And, certainly there is a lot going on that is in its effect degrading and dangerous as I stated.

But I agree with you totally as regards how "uptight" much of western culture, mainly in the U.S. is, regarding things sexual.

On the whole, Americans are really screwed up about sex. And it is just that "screwing up" which, in my opinion, brings about the violence and degradation. Many desire, say wild sex, but wind up hating themselves and others who join in with the notion that it is low and sinful.

I understand that it is a gray area as to what is or is not degrading or even what constitutes dangerous sexual practices - using protection against STDs notwithstanding.

I have long known that Europeans are, on the whole much less hung up and more sophisticated about sex. My older son lives in Germany, which may be one of the more conservative western European countries, but they are, nevertheless, much less stodgy about sexual matters that us good ole 'mericans.

Our relative prudery can be easily traced back to our puritan heritage which we have just never gotten over. I have repeated a number of times here and elsewhere a quote by H.L. Menken wherein he defines a puritan "as a person who's afraid that someone else may be having a good time." (Perhaps not an exact quote, but close enough.)

I do, however, believe that the more unsavory aspects of sexual behaviour will eventually become as I said, passe'. That's not to say that SEX will or should ever be passe'. But it certainly wouldn't hurt us as a species if we in time became more cerebral - making better and more effective use of that which makes us distinctive on this planet - our ability to think and reason and create, and perhaps less taken with the visceral.

Physical pleasure, sexual or otherwise is, just that - pleasure. We both need and deserve such experience. It's great. But great things can also come from our minds. That, too should be nurtured, enjoyed and celebrated.


Anonymous said...

Well said. And I love the Menken quote. lol

Anonymous said...

It is very strange indeed that atheists always seem to be spouting off about what 'Christians' believe, when it becomes quite obvious they haven't got a clue. Suddenly we become blood curdling warriors, bent on mayhem and destruction. Plotting to destroy all who will not believe in our God. So now who's talking bull? Anyone with any kind of intelligence will know that 'pure' Christianity rejects violence of any kind. I do not have to quote Jesus for you. You are all aware of His words, "Love those who despitefully use you," and "Love your enemies". THAT, is true Christianity!
I have news for you.....Jesus hated religion! God hates religion!
It was religion that wanted Him put to death. He exposed religion and rightly called them snakes and vipers among other things. Anyone that wants to kill another, for any reason, does not know the Father of Jesus The Christ.
So,in future when you condemn Christianity, remember the real CHRIST. Please don't throw away the diamond with all the glass and plastic replica's.

Terry S said...

Anonymous II,

First this: Christians believe in god. Atheists don't. "Belevers" believe. "Non-believers" don't. That is the essential difference between us.

It is certainly true that beyond the basics as noted above, believers are all over the map.

It is in fact religion from which various dangers emanate. Religious organizations are, by their very nature, political. It is their dabbling in the political aspects of any society from which problems arise. They meddle in everybody else's lives, using what relative political clout they may have in coercive efforts to gain advantage within those societies. As mentioned, there are a significant number of christian fundamentalists bent on establishing a theocratic government in the U.S.

While I think believers are misguided, I certainly accept that everyone has a perfect right to believe whatever they chose. I strongly object, however, to such people mandating what others should believe and how others should live based on religious dogma.


Anonymous said...

Again, I stipulate that 'real' Christianity is very different from how you perceive it to be. Your point about being political by nature.......again, I need to quote Jesus......"my kingdom is not of this world ". Does that sound like political to you?
He also tells His followers, "You are NOT of this world". Political? I think not!
Again, " Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars". The Christianity you attack is not Christianity at all, just a vile and ugly parody....Jesus is beautiful. Read Him yourself and I think you will be in agreement with what He has to say :-)
I agree with you in that Christians should not meddle in the affairs of Government by political means. That is not to say that they shouldn't speak out against injustice and evil. Their mission is to speak out the good news of the coming kingdom of God and His Christ, Jesus.
It becomes political when His feet touch the Mount Zion, when He assumes the Throne of David and rules the whole world from Jerusalem in righteousness and truth and justice. It is then that the government shall be upon His shoulders.
Until that day, you are most welcome to run this world however you like.....but your time is very short.

Terry S said...

I accept your sincerity, but your statements regarding what constitutes "true" christianity strikes me as presumptuous. There are likely millions of people who consider themselves and whatever particular "version" of the faith they follow as "true" christianity. In fact, one might rightly say that there are as many types of "true" christianity as there are christians.

The reality is the great majority of people identifying themselves as christians are members of one of the myriad of church organizations. It is from these that the political "meddling" emanates.

It is true also that Jesus as depicted in the NT bible does impart a number of good moral lessons. But none of them are exclusive or original with him. Even the story of a prophet's death and resurrection is not original with Jesus. Such tales go back much further than the time of Jesus.

How many times, even in fairly recent history have various individuals and groups arrived at the conclusion that the end of days is near, only to have the appointed time come and go leaving those prepared for their ascendancy to heaven languishing in their despair, often having divested themselves of their worldly goods.

Each such individual or group was every bit as convinced of their predictions of Jesus' coming, or whatever it was they imagined, as you and apparently millions of others are now. Were those who came before simply misguided or perhaps stupid, and all who now predict the soone to be realized second coming or "rapture" truly prescient?

It is my firm belief that you and others could wait multiple lifetimes - until long after this planet ceases to exist - and no such happening will take place. Nevertheless, there will likely always be a few or as with today, occasionally many who earnestly await such deliverence. In the mean time the life they have here is in its essence waisted on the empty promises conjured by a myth.