In defense of (a little) intolerance

That dirty rotten Communist Karl Marx quite correctly pointed out that religion is the opium of the masses. Karl (I feel like we’re on a first-name basis since I’ve also been cursed as a dirty rotten Communist), who preferred name-callers use the appellation of “scientific socialist,” observed that throughout history organized religions have been used by political and theological leaders to control their disgruntled populations — especially during times of strife and hardship, such as when they were starving to death and dying in other painful and unnecessary ways while the upper crust was making out just fine.

It was the “Divine Right” of kings and lesser royalty to rule and prosper, commoners were told. God wanted certain people to be in charge, and decreed that all others must obey their commands, or suffer the eternal fires of Hell.

This earthly existence is only a testing ground, the ignorant and impoverished populace was sternly instructed by various churches working in league with whatever despot ran the show. This planet is a place of pain and suffering you unfortunates must struggle through in a non-rebellious manner to reap your reward in the next world, a land of milk and honey where you’ll walk on streets of gold. (It’s a condition technically described as eternal bliss.)

Or, as union organizer Joe Hill wrote in one of his songs:

Long-haired preachers come out every night
to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
but when asked about something to eat
they will answer in voices so sweet:
‘You will eat by and by
in that glorious land above the sky
work and pray, live on hay
you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.’

History is replete with horrible examples of how amazingly well such promises of a cushy afterlife, combined with the threat of unending Hellfire for sinners, have worked toward the ruling powers’ ends, and never mind the great leaps forward in earth-bound misery they caused the faithful. The various Crusades during the Middle Ages, where true believers of the Christian stripe were lured to go on pathetic military campaigns to wrest the “Holy Land” from Muslim infidels (including the infamous and incredible Children’s Crusade), come to mind, as do the Spanish and other gory inquisitions the Roman Catholic Church imposed on suspected “heretics” throughout Europe, with chuch officials burning, hanging and killing in other creative ways anyone who would not embrace their particular one true God. (There were also a few Protestant inquisitions, but these upstart sects didn’t have nearly the clout for making mischief.)

At any rate, torturing and killing still seem to have an inexhaustible appeal to religious fanatics of most faiths and they can, of course, find plenty of justification for their contemptible actions in whichever holy guide book they follow.

For several decades recently devout Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants killed one another with great enthusiam because Jesus was on both their sides. Not that long ago, religious huckster Jim Jones convinced several hundred people living at his South American compound to drink poison because Jesus wanted them to. Religious huckster Pat Robertson takes it a step further, crediting God Himself with striking down Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because He didn’t approve of a land deal.

But extremism among organized religions is not confined to Christianity. In the Middle East, the popular phenomenon of “suicide bombers” has become the supreme act of Muslim faith among certain fundamentalist sects, a practice where the true believer inserts himself into a crowd of infidels (sometimes the hated Jews, sometimes Christians and other times Muslims of different sects) and blows himself and anyone unlucky enough to be nearby to their personal Kingdom Comes. The zealot’s Kingdom of the future, according to this belief, involves a reward of numerous virgins and eternal life, apparently creating some sort of orgasmic loop.

One of the Danish political cartoons that sparked the riots and killings across the world of Islam last month showed a few tattered, post-explosion suicide-bombers running up a cloudy sky toward Heaven, from where Mohammed is shouting, “Slow down, we’ve run out of virgins!”

Another showed a representation of Mohammed wearing a turban that was actually a bomb with a lit fuse. Supposedly, worldwide Muslim outrage stemmed from the newspaper printing images of their prophet, forbidden in the Koran because it might lead to idolatry. (Don’t think that’ll be a problem in this case, but whatever.)

The cartoons were seized upon by some weighty Muslim clerics as proof of widespread prejudice againt the Islamic faith by Westerners, including the United States, of course, and they sparked weeks of shootings (mostly of demonstrators themselves) and embassy-burnings and uncounted denunciations of the Great Satan (that’s us, folks) and all the little-dog Satans that run with us.

Yet our leader’s first comment on the cartoon-sparked violence was to caution us to “respect” other people’s faiths and be “sensitive” to their beliefs. George “Some of my best friends are Arabs” Bush cautioned the media that “with freedom (of the press) comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others,” and called for “a lot of discussion and a lot of sensitive thought.”

“I first want to make it very clear to people around the world that ours is a nation that believes in tolerance and understanding,” he said.

Hey, George. Count me out.

When it comes to religious philosophies that sanction and reward the slaying of non-believers in the name of their God, be it Allah, Jesus or Satan, I am not among the tolerant and respectful. I will never understand how such a wretched belief system deserves either tolerance or respect.

My tolerance for others’ religious beliefs goes only so far. In this country, we allegedly don’t countenance ritual slayings and/or torture of either humans or animals in the name of religion, so why should we tolerate any faith that inspires war and mayhem on a regular basis, that seems to encourage suicide, that promotes prejudice against anyone not marching in lockstep with its zealous leaders? (And I won’t even go into how women are treated.)

“Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a religion of peace, tolerance (and) moderation,” alleged Jordan’s King Abdullah, a devout Muslim who appeared at the same press conference where Bush uttered his bland emollients. And exactly where does the widespread Muslim hatred of the West, expressed in ugly words and even uglier deeds, fit into that, divine king?

David Grant Long lives in Cortez.

From David Long, March 2006.