Why Talk About God?

Theological disputation is a waste of time — and I rarely go there.

The only reason I occasionally venture onto such sterile and useless terrain is when I see theology — in particular God — being used, as it increasingly is, to excuse and even cause evil behavior; the evangelical attack on science and indeed on all rationality in the US, and, recently, in a minor key through Harper, here in Canada (along with vicious vindictiveness and self-righteousness), the rabbis who declare that all of the “Holy Land” is theirs and that the Palestinians don’t exist (The splendid Israeli documentary “The Gatekeepers” shows what the leaders of Shin Bet itself think of the rabbi rabble-rousers and of the rising religious fervor and irrationality of Israeli politics: horror and utter disdain and extreme worry about the dire consequences for the future); the Muslims who create such things as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah (the latter two have secular aims, but those aims are rendered secondary and impossible to obtain because the religious element encourages dogmatism and etc and make what should be a tractable if difficult problem into an intractable and infinitely costly one, also Israeli responsibility, obviously, the rise of the religious messianic right, mixed with the settlers’ influence, often overlapping, making things even more hopeless), and those who rule over such nations as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. [The crisis and decline of secular Israel is an interesting particular case — and potentially tragic for Israel]

And of course there is a strong religious element in America’s self-defined quest to dominate the world. George Bush Jr was — is — of course a ‘born again’ Christian; and Tony Blair, his articulate sidekick, a ‘born again’ Catholic, which frankly I find astounding.

Religion is a great refuge and instrument of rascals and clowns.

Of course, real interests lie behind all of this, but religion is a very, very powerful instrument: I have seen a great many intelligent men and women actually become fanatics because of religion.

Hence my Dawkins-like outburst.

And one of the annoying things about the rising reaction against Enlightenment values and against science is an increasing infection of tribalism, or the most obscurantist kind of ‘patriarchy’, and of misogyny; since I am a great admirer of women, the more I can see of them the better, and since I find the delights of this world splendid and addictive I am definitely against anything that would mean no more bikinis, no more cocktails, no more cakes and ale.

Many of us — who consider ourselves rational and skeptical — largely mostly in a world and move in milieux in which the baleful influence of fundamentalist religion is not visible on a daily basis; many millions are not so lucky.

If one totally abandons the ideological field, the battlefield of ideas, the idiots and scoundrels win, and so does massive prejudice, irrationality, dogmatism, and … so on.

Also, we who pride ourselves on our rationality are I think often blind to the dangers of casuistry and irrationality deployed on a vast scale. At lunch the other day, a woman friend of mine, for example, who is a supremely rational person, didn’t really ‘hear’, I think, the historical argument I was making about the 1970s change in religion’s role in the world, when I was discussing Gilles Kepel’s thesis about the rise of fundamentalisms in the late 1970s, in Catholicism, in Evangelical Christianity, in Iran, in Judaism, and in Wahhabi Islam, which became much more expansionary from the late 1970s onward.

And I think that she couldn’t ‘hear’ or comprehend the argument because such psychologies are beyond her ken and she has known ‘reasonable’ religion which she thinks is similar to the later more virulent variations. Fundamentalisms have always existed, of course.

But things do change.

History is not one big homogenous porridge. The Evangelism of Today is not like the Presbyterians or the Anglicans of the 1950s, and it’s not remotely as rational as the revivalism of somebody like Billy Graham. The Jewish right wing of today is very different from — almost the opposite of — advanced Jewish thinking of forty years ago. The GOP lineup of presidential hopefuls is among other things a testament to the power — and recent evolution — of religion. [Trump is a phenomenon onto himself] See a brief bio of Kepel below.

Usually don’t waste my time with theology.

And I almost always avoid attacking anyone’s beliefs head on – since some of my very close friends are believers in various forms of monotheism. Most of my friends, though, are, like me, skeptics of various kinds, simple agnostics or mystics again of various flavors or atheists of varying degrees of certainty and militancy.

But sometimes I feel I must throw a little pebble into the pond.