The time has come — said the Walrus — to inject a bit of rationality into the relationships between the world’s religious communities. I hate to add vitriol to a situation already besotted with senseless rage so instead I will take a stern tone and say that rationality is not endemic to the practice of religion and the result is a tribalist myopia that causes mistrust, fear, hatred and violence. I believe that, as a species, we can no longer afford tribalism — let alone mistrust and violence — so it’s time to settle an age-old problem: are we going to practice religion in a responsible way or are we going to give it up as too dangerous?
Of course I’m inspired by the crisis which now grips the Christian/Muslim relationship and have been following the events subsequent to the airing of a particular YouTube video which cast Islam in a less than flattering light. The video owes its production to one Sam Bacile (I think that referring to him as Im Becile is better) and to an undisclosed group of ultra-conservative Christian and Jewish backers who funded the project (this latter drawn from CNN’s speculation). I won’t make the mistake of posting a link — you’ll have to search Google for it — because there’s nothing there worth seeing. Chuck Norris, at least, is stupid enough to get a laugh out of but this is simply the closest thing to visual terrorism I can imagine. Like all terrorism there’s nothing funny or useful to society about it, skip it if you can master your curiosity.
I am not in any way religious — neither Muslim nor Christian — but Christianity shaped a large part of my life so let me start by drilling into my former spiritual colleagues: What the fuck is going on here? The video is brimming with base accusations — i.e. the Prophet Muhammed was a child molester; difficult for me to contest but certainly inflammatory, especially considering the many questionable, underage and incestuous romances of various Popes — a complete disregard for any scholarly thought on the Prophet’s life — i.e. Mohammed was someone’s slave; he was not, he was a merchantman and later a general — an obvious and dreadful lack of knowledge about Islam and the Qur’an — i.e. the Qur’an is cobbled together from the Christian Bible; it’s not though it considers itself a successor there to — and, best of all, the kind of hypocrisy I can only expect from ultra-polarized individuals on both sides of every aisle — the very same ultraconservative warmongers who funded the film are the ones who accuse the Prophet of bloodlust. Is there one christian, then, who believes that Christ — with his command to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give a thief our coats as well — would condone this sort of behavior? Apparently, though it strains my credulity, there are some Christians who believe exactly that and I can only assume that those Christians have failed to read the New Testament much at all.
I do not believe that the people behind the video are responsible for the violence that has followed its debut in the Muslim world — that’s a can of worms I’ll open in a few paragraphs — but what exactly is gained by this kind of senseless incitement to riot? I don’t have any religion but I have faith in humanity and I’m sure the vast majority of us who saw the video — Agnostic, Muslim and Christian alike — simply shook our heads and sighed. They may not be responsible for the violence but the makers of the video are certainly responsible for the fact that everyone mistrusts, fears, vilifies and hates ordinary, moderate Christians just a little more. Like I’ve said before, it’s not the billions of moderate, god-fearing people that strain our relationships, they merely pay the price for what the over-zealous, irrational few do.
I do have to place the responsibility for the violence that has ensued — the murder of American diplomats specifically — at the feet of the Muslims who committed those acts. It is not okay to respond to a fucking movie by burning men alive. As a matter of fact I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a lot of Muslims are a little too sensitive about criticism of their religion. Sure I can understand some outrage, the ability to express that outrage is a linchpin of free society, but, frankly, the most outrageous things about this video were abysmal production values, screenwriting that could only have come from the mind of a twelve year old who’s just discovered internet porn and acting readily eclipsed by performances in 3rd grade school plays. I’d say that at least the costumes were not too bad but how hard is it to get some quasi-convincing robes? There was the one guy who looked like a refugee from the movie Gladiator. And where in the heck did those Muslims get European-style longswords? Muslim swords had a pistol grip and many trumped any European sword being crafted from the legendary Damascus steel. So while I can understand the outrage, while I can even agree with some … ahem … boisterousness in protests (a couple of burned cars helps keep the government from getting too comfortable) I think it’s okay to let some things slip by, especially, as in this case, when those things are clearly the work of an Im Becile. Massive protests across international lines sounds like just a bit of an overreaction to me.
The brunt of the violence in Syria though is being attributed to a smaller group hidden in the main body of protests, a group of trained extremist soldiers who used the crowd as a cover for a coordinated attack on the American embassy. Apparently the plan had been in place for some time and was, it’s to be supposed, merely waiting for the right protest to come along.
And here, I believe, we have reached the kernel — the germ — of, as I so eloquently put it: What the fuck is going on here?! Over there we have a small group of zealots exercising an extremist attack unsanctioned by the protesters and indeed detrimental to the protest itself. Over here we have a small group of zealots exercising an extremist attack (in the form of a video) unsanctioned by the rational majority of their religion and indeed detrimental to that majority. It’s so clear it can be reduced to mathematical proof: IF zealotry, tribalism, hatred, fear and violence escalate against Islam THEN Muslim zealotry, tribalism, hatred, fear and violence escalates in kind; IF zealotry, tribalism, hatred, fear and violence escalate against Christianity THEN Christian zealotry, tribalism, hatred, fear and violence escalates in kind. And now we’re in a positive feedback loop that unchecked can only lead to disaster.
So I return to that oft-misquoted book favored by mindless zealots, the Book of Revelations. Everybody has heard of the Beast, I’m sure, a creature synonymous with the antichrist. Many might not know that there were two beasts, one from the earth and one from the sea. The beast from the sea is an analogy for government, the beast from the earth is an analogy for religion. Yes, religion — itself an anti-christ! In that same leather bound copy that a bunch of weirdos are using to justify this preposterous video is the most scathing condemnation of religion imaginable. And what does Revelations have to say about the beast from the earth? He is a sycophant whose purpose is to promote the authority of the beast from the sea (the other anti-christ). He performs great signs but his power doesn’t come from god, it comes from a place much warmer. He commands the people to make an idol in the image of the beast from the sea so they might worship it. He kills anyone who refuses to worship the beast from the sea. He forces the people to take his mark: the mark of the beast. None of that, for the record, sounds much like the work of Christ.
Look around, though. Have you noticed that the beast from the earth is already among us? I’m not claiming we’re in the end times, I am using the Book of Revelations as a window not into the future but into ourselves and our society. Have you noticed that there is a minority, rotten element in religion that is driving humanity apart, breeding mistrust, fear, hatred and violence? An element that claims to act on Christ’s or Mohammed’s authority — religious authority — but is in fact pissing on the command to love one another as we love ourselves, to show — as Allah the most beneficent, most merciful — mercy? Have you noticed that — just as the beast from the earth has no name — this element does not confine itself to Islam or Christianity but is a cancer of world religion at large? Have you noticed that this element always stands fastidiously on patriotism, almost as if it is worshiping the state?
As an aside, let me pose a theory. Perhaps the aim of this video was not religious at all but actually exactly what it caused: strife. Perhaps the people who produced it could actually give a shit less about Islam or Christianity. Perhaps they are, instead, trying to turn us against each other. Perhaps this is part of an elaborate divide and conquer strategy. As long as we’re fighting each other we can’t fight our real enemies. I won’t elaborate on who our real enemies are now — that’s the subject of an entire post to itself — but I’ll ask you, oh reader, a favor: think long and think hard on who would suffer most if we as a species suddenly started working together.
When I write I sound a lot more rational and unbiased than I do in person, or at least I like to think I do. Some of my friends have been surprised, never once having supposed that, except for a proclivity for math, there is an emotionally rational human being in my head. So I’ll end with an incensing accusation today. I’ll say that you, sir, Mr. Im Becile and his financial backers as well as extremists across the world who claim to be fighting for their religions, you people all are, as far as I can tell, the anti-christ.