Friday, December 23, 2005

Heaven is Dangerous

The following is based on an email I sent to my father earlier today, the "you" addressed is my dad. I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately and figured I'd reproduce parts of the letter so that I could get a post written to start the ball rolling.


I did read the article on assisted suicide and I also got a hold of the Harper's magazine (December 2005, “Jesus Without the Miracles” by Erik Reece). The preoccupation with Christ's second coming and the apparent judgment it will inflict on humanity is a dangerous foundation for an ideological system. As the writer in Harper's points out very well: if millions of human beings have a value system that takes for granted that this world is a flawed, forsaken place incomparable to the riches of heaven, then what is their incentive to take care of it? Christians are often criticized for not emulating the compassion and wisdom of their founder, but when you think about it, they really don't have to. The compassion of Christ, if Christ is semi- or mostly-divine, is beyond our ability to achieve in the first place, and is only properly understood as a principle to be worshipped precisely because it is beyond our ability reproduce.

Also, if the reward of "allegiance to Christ" (not, you will notice, any other words or deeds however generous or compassionate) is an eternity of salvation and peace, granted by the judgment of Christ, in a place other than this one, then one's treatment of others and the world in general is unimportant.

Anyway, you read all this in the magazine, so I don't need to paraphrase it. But I agree, and what is truly revolutionary about Reece’s line of thinking is that one can easily hypothesize that a central reason why many human beings are so careless with each other and their world is that their spiritual and religious ideology actively encourages them to believe that this world is a fallen, corrupted place from which they can be delivered; no less important is the central belief that every individual is a corrupted, fallen being who must “work” endlessly an yet never achieve the grace of Christ. Christianity & Islam both ascribe to a theology of sin and the reward of an afterlife, and so do, therefore, billions of very powerful populations across the globe.

There is a very interesting article in a recent Vanity Fair (December 2005, “American Rapture” by Craig Unger) about writers who write fiction about the coming Rapture: who will be taken and who will be left behind. I believe that the thesis of this article (I haven’t read the whole article yet!) is that millions of evangelical Christians are very keen to see the rapture occur in their lifetimes, and that this desire is not at all necessarily absent from the hearts of those evangelicals in positions of economic and political power. Tom Robbins wrote a novel called Skinny Legs and All about how powerful fundamentalists are hoping to cause Armageddon due to their belief in their destiny of salvation.

In this respect the creation of the state of Israel could be very dangerous: many already believe that Israel's creation is part of God's plan, even if that creation was a political act. Also, it gives the USA a powerful ally (read: “foothold”) in the holy land. With the more recent "acquisitions" of Kuwait and Iraq, one must wonder what is going to happen when the US manages to accumulate the whole Holy Land? And might it not just be about oil, but rather, the end of the world?

The problem with the liberal, secular world is that most people who identify themselves as such don't put much credence in religiosity; since they don't believe in the end of the world and virgin births and the devil, they very easily forget that many people actually do, and if these people end up in power, their decisions are going to be influenced by their religious beliefs, which may include a profound desire to rid the world of its filth. The religious agenda of the US and other powerful groups and nations needs to become a seriously debated topic, the secular world needs to realize that there is a danger of being destroyed by the wrath of ancient gods whose followers have the means to do so.

In other words, no matter how “wacky” fundamentalist religious beliefs might seem to a lot of people, they must be taken seriously, at least insofar as they form a foundation of ideology that in the hands of great power have consequences for us all.

Unger writes in his article about how the secular world still sees fundamentalist Christians as a minority, a group of hopeless wingnuts on the fringes of North American society. What he argues instead is that not only do fundamentalist Christians make a sizable portion of the population in the US, “there are as many as 70 million evangelicals in the U.S.—about 25 percent of the population—attending more than 200,000 churches” (206), but that they also have people in and around the White House. It is dangerous to believe that fundamentalism does not steer the boat in the U.S., and that it won’t in Canada (c.f. Stephen Harper).

I guess what I’m suggesting is that religion and the values that stem from it must become a topic for debate in our political world. Not to persecute those who hold them, but rather to make plain to the entire population the point of origin of a candidate’s or a party’s platform.

5 Comments:

Blogger Andrea said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

SMART PEOPLE (like Paul Kennett) rule!

Something that disappoints me about the current political climate is the ceding of 'moral' arguments to the right. Of course moral and religious are not synonymous terms, so what I'm talking about is only related but tangential to your entry. Words like 'moral majority' have a tendency to erase the strong moral arguments that inform liberalism at its best. Moral vocabularies are largely the property of the right now, a fact both ironic and politically dangerous.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Ball said...

this is beside the point, paul, but do you have any of your nopress books left? i'd like to snag a copy if i could.

8:49 AM  
Blogger colin martin said...

Hi Paul,

As it happens, these are questions that have been plaguing me of late. My father has recently been "born again", something that happens quite a bit in my family. This pains my brothers and I because my father taught us from early childhood to respect everyone's opinions and to think for ourselves. Now this man, whose rebellious behavior inspired me, is telling me to stop living in "sin", to be wary of "ragheads" and other threats to our security and he won't allow my little sister to see "Spirited Away" because there are witches in it. It is difficult to know how to react when the fool who tells you that '"intelligent design" is obvious in the world around us' is the very person gave you the tools to debunk "intelligent design" in the first place. How do you take Moral back when the people beating you with it are the ones you love? My bad, my rant...agh!

7:05 PM  
Blogger colin martin said...

Hey Paul, How did you add the links to other people's blogs? I can't figger that out.

c

9:13 AM  

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