February 5th, 2006

run the fuck away


I don't partake in any organized religion, and generally espouse an Apatheticist religious view: "God may or may not exist, but either way, it will have no impact on how I live my life, so it's a non-issue. I don't care."

I don't generally disparage the religious, and don't usually attack religion as an institution. Usually, I just say, "Fine for those that want it."

But considering the recent embassy burnings, and the general Islamic militant crap, I'm pretty fed up. Despite what some right wingnuts claim, there is nothing inherent in Islam that tells people to strap C4 to their bodies and detonate themselves at a wedding party, and nothing that tells them to burn down the Danish Embassy.

If Islam itself were such unbridled evil, someone is going to have to do some fancy footwork to explain the Middle Ages. Our European cultural ancestors were busy behaving not much unlike the modern Islamic world while historical Muslims were in a golden age that is comparable to the US today. It isn't Islam itself that's the problem- it's organized religion.

What does religion do? One of the major features of a religion is that it allows people to make claims with no basis in physical reality. (See: Creationism/Intelligent Design) People who are really good at making these claims tend to get leadership positions in these religions, which means that they now have a captive audience. And it's quite captive- while in the US we have a high number of lapsed Christians, the overriding philosophy is that you're born into a religion and you keep it for life. Because of the deep hooks into the culture, a religious leader is allowed to make wild claims, and their word is law unless other members of the religious establishment decide to shut them up.

The end result is that religions are ruled by theological tyranny. The tyrants- priests, mullahs, imams, swamis, etc. have no interest in renouncing their tyranny. Tyrants never do. They may bundle it up in "self-sacrifice", this myth that they're doing what's best for people. But gradually, any tyrannical system, even if it began as an enlightened dictatorship, is going to become populated with the power hungry.

When things are good, these tyrants will just try and keep it going. That's how we got an Islamic golden age in the Middle Ages. Things were going great, and in a situation like that, a tyrant simply consolidates power and takes credit for how good things are going (or gives the credit to the appropriate deity, but as the mouthpiece for that deity, they get the credit anyway).

In the modern Islamic world, things aren't going so great. First they suffered through the colonial period, then they suffered through the neo-colonial, Cold War land grab. Foreign powers meddled in their politics for their own gain, leaving corrupt government establishments, shattered economies, and no political power on the world stage. The Middle East has turned into a cesspool.

In a situation like that, the tyrannical strategy is to incite violence. Not to Godwin myself, but observe post-WWI Germany and the rise of Naziism. A religion is an especially good vehicle for inciting violence because of the aforementioned lack of a need for reality to intrude.

And that's exactly what we're observing in the Middle East. Things aren't going well. In a Democracy, you can vote out the leaders when things get bad. In a tyranny, the "Vote of No Confidence" is usually accompanied with a beheading. To avoid such a fate, theocratic leaders will point to someone else as the problem, promise that the appropriate deity will smite them, but we are that deity's hands and feet, so we have to strap bombs to ourselves and kill school children, otherwise our deity will be most displeased with our lack of faith.

Fear mongering, covered with a layer of righteousness, can be used to justify anything. "Faith", is a virus that attacks the critical thinking centers of the brain.

The fact of the matter is that organized religion will always cause these problems. We'll get a hiatus of a few decades between religious wars, but unless we rip apart institutional religion, we'll never avoid stupid conflicts. Mind you, I know I'm asking for the impossible.

The only difference between Fred Phelps and a Jihadist is that Fred Phelps has the luxury of being connected to an economically and politically enfranchised First World religion, and doesn't need to have the conviction required to be a suicide bomber. Meanwhile, we all wish Fred Phelps would at least commit suicide.