Paradigm Change Needed
"Book Lists for the Candidates", New York Times, July 24, 2004 posed the question, "Suppose you could recommend a book for President Bush that might deepen his understanding of the relationship between religious faith and political responsibility".
Given the way the question was phrased it should be no surprise that recommendations to President Bush and Senator Kerry relied heavily on books from a religious orientation.
Perhaps its time to consider a paradigm change.
As long as nations rely solely on religious mythology to define, nurture, and prescribe morality, a God is on our side mentality will be used to justify all manner of violence, intolerance, abuse, hate, terrorism and war.
Look at it this way. How long have the people in Northern Ireland been killing each other over which brand of Christianity is the one true brand?
The Israelis and the Palestinians are engaged in a war over who has the right to claim "sacred land". Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for "Vanity Fair" puts it this way in "free inquiry", August/September, 2004. "When Israeli extremists visit the United States these days, they go straight to address large gatherings of "rapture"-minded Evangelicals, who also believe that the entire Holy Land is a divine gift to the Jews and who resist any talk of negotiating even one inch of it. By this means, they hope to advance the day of Armageddon and (as it happens) the conversion of the Jews. There is obviously some cynicism at work here on both sides, since Messianic Judaism and Messianic Christianity are radically incompatible. But presumably each faction believes that it is using the other: and that God will sort out the differences on the big day. This in turn inflames the Muslim belief that Islam faces a sinister Zionist-Crusader alliance and thus that jihad is an urgent necessity."
It seems all too obvious that whatever else is happening, there's a holy war going on in Iraq. Muslim extremists interpret the Koran to justify their agenda to kill the infidels.
However, it isn't just Muslim extremists who use scripture to justify killing infidels. Adults in the United States can't seem to get enough of the best selling "Left Behind" series of evangelical thrillers. Nicholas D. Kristof, in "Jesus and Jihad", New York Times, July 17, 2004, puts it this way. "If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of "Glorious Appearing", (the latest in the series), and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit. We have quite properly linked the fundamentalist religious tracts of Islam with the intolerance they nurture, and it's time to remove the motes from our own eyes."
Here in the United States the establishment clause in our Constitution makes it crystal clear that we are a nation founded on the separation of religion and government. Our president wants Iraq to establish itself as a democracy with the separation of religion and government. But here at home, if he has it his way, this nation will become a Christian Theocracy. Our president has been known to say that God told him to become president. His faith-based decisions are evidence that he thinks God is on our side. However, those of us who base our beliefs on a naturalistic worldview (as opposed to a supernatural worldview) aren't counted in the 'us' or the 'we' he's talking about.
You might say it's only the religious extremists who are causing all the trouble. But, the all-American, apple pie eating, Boy Scouts openly and legally discriminate against atheists and gays. Non-Christian students attending a public high school are coerced into receiving their graduation diplomas in a church that preaches they are damned for not believing in the true God of the Christians. Our pledge of allegiance unabashedly links belief in God with patriotism. Our tax dollars support the proselytizing of faith based social service organizations. Crosses and replicas of the Ten Commandments appear on public property from sea to shining sea.
While senator Kerry has made it clear that he will be a president who will protect our civil liberties, he's found it necessary to also make it clear that he's just as good a Christian as President Bush is. Presidents are, and should be, free to practice the religion of their choice, (or no religion at all). However, when making decisions and policy that affects a diverse population it's urgent that they separate their religious views from their public policies.
I highly doubt that people will ever agree on which religion is the right and true religion and whose God or gods are the "real" God or gods.
Isn't it about time we get out of the nine dots?
In the late sixth century BCE (Before Common Era), long before organized religions took it upon themselves to prescribe their own brands of morality, Confucius emphasized benevolence, respect for others, and reciprocity as the Foundations of Social Order.
"Book Lists for the Candidates" made it clear that there was no expectation that Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry would actually read any of their recommendations. If they had asked me to recommend a book for President Bush and Senator Kerry to read, I would have highly recommended, "The Science of Good & Evil" by Michael Shermer, and I would sincerely hope that both men would read it.