One Week Out

14 Jan


I.    Fuck Religion

The ghastly, horrific slaughter at the offices of the French humor newspaper Charlie Hebdo only reinforce my belief that religion – in our supposedly post-Enlightenment era – is a relic from a time when the world honestly believed in what we now consider myths. The Bible is a wonderful book…of fairytales and hackneyed morality. No one who wishes to be taken seriously believes the world was created in a week. Apparently 42% of Americans do not wish to be taken seriously. All religions are inherently cults that persist, cults with money. Their sole purpose is to brainwash people. All major religious orthodoxies treat women as inferior to men. They have dietary restrictions that make little sense – no pork, no meat on Friday, no cow. They each have a “thou shalt not kill” order, but all of them have committed atrocities in the name of the rightness of their own creed. They are all intolerant to homosexuals. Each religion has a ridiculously prudish take on sex: basically must be opposite sex, post-marriage, with but one hole to be entered.  Most importantly, not only are religions unnecessary to lead a moral life, at times – like Paris last Wednesday or the Crusades last millennium – they steer people towards what most of us would consider Evil with a capital E.

I know a lot of people are going to read this (boy I hope so) – family and friends who are religious or even slightly theistic – and say something like, “Fuck religion? Fuck Jake! Asshole!!” Yeah, I am an asshole, but you know what I’m not, some guy who thinks my religion trumps your right to breathe. I’m sick of being a Ben Affleck namby-pamby defender of religion when each religion is inherently intolerant to those outside of it – and many inside of it as well.

We live – or we like to think we live – in a pluralistic society. America was founded as a non-religious state. (How many times does the word God appear in the Constitution? None.) Yet much of this country thinks our nation is a Christian one. They are against reason, science, and intelligence of any kind. They don’t believe climate change matters because, you know, God’ll take care of us. These are the people whose bookshelves are populated by two things – the Bible and Left Behind. They think gays caused 9/11. They tried to exorcise our President of his supposed demons. They believe there is a war raging against their most sacred holiday, one whose date is stolen from the Pagans, and get apoplectic at anyone wishing others a more generic festive greeting. At least it’s America and not (eeny meeny miny moe) Saudi Arabia whose flag has their execution method of choice on it. Whose women should be thankful they have an eyeslit to see out of. Whose women are not allowed to drive. Where carjacking is a capital offence.  

And don’t get me started on my own people. I get that there are far fewer crazy Jews out there than Christians and Muslims, and I guess we have to thank the Christians and Muslims for that fact because they’ve been killing us for two thousand years. But really, you don’t have to take every last letter of the bible seriously, do you? “You shall not cook a calf in its mother’s milk,” means I can’t have a cheeseburger?!? Can I cook the calf then put the mother’s milk on top like ten seconds before it comes off the grill? You know you can’t tear toilet paper on the Sabbath? Because it’s work, I guess. You know what’s also work, apparently? Lazing on your couch playing video games all day. How is that “work?” What am I supposed to do all day, jerk off? (Oops, nope, that’s in the No column. That’s right, there are people out there who’ve never beaten it. Ever.)

So, yeah, fuck ‘em all. Buddhists too. At least they won’t fight back.

II.    The Problem With Religion

Okay, right (deep breath), not everyone who believes in God is a total delusional goosestepper. Most, if not all, of the people I personally know who are at all religious (and who I hope are still reading this) are good people. Not good people necessarily despite their religious tendencies, but because of them. Sure they believe in something I don’t, participate in rites and rituals I find to be superstitious at best, but they don’t tell me I’m going to hell, they don’t try to convert me, they respect me for who I am. They don’t hate gays, don’t think women are somehow not the equal of men, and don’t want to kill those who happen to piss them off. Hell, we’ve even got the once-a-century Cool Pope.

The problem we have when talking about religion is to differentiate the actual religion from its followers. I don’t believe most people are inherently bad, but I also feel that religions can give people excuses to act in evil ways.  To true believers, the Word is law. That word may be as innocuous as not eating swine or as outlandish as believing the world is 5000+ years old. It can be demonstrated easily by shunning or harshly through holy war.

But religions have evolved over the past few hundred years, helped along by the Enlightenment and Renaissance. Science, the dissemination of new information, simply meeting people from different backgrounds, all of these things have allowed people to move away from religious dogma and towards secular liberalism. The Protestant Reformation lead (slowly) towards more open-minded variations of Christianity. Reform Judaism believes that traditions should be made more compatible with the Western world. And then there’s…

III.    The Problem With Islam

Right now Islam is the pre-eminent crazy religion. Islam is the only religion with multiple theocracies that systematically uphold the strictest interpretation of their holy book. When Bill Maher or Salman Rushdie talk about being at war with radical Islam, it makes more sense than to say we are at war with fundamentalist Christianity. True, there are some whackadoo Christians out there, but they don’t have the organization, resources, and determination of radical Islam.

The people who stormed Charlie Hebdo, like those who perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 were Islamic fundamentalists. Would they have done something this crazy without the impetus of religious fury? Maybe they were psychopaths who would have found some secular excuse to kill people. Or maybe they were just some guys brainwashed by religion. The threats and promises that religions routinely provide are powerful. And no other fundamentalist religion is preaching the brand of murderous crazy that radical Islam is. That’s just a fact.

But then we get the more liberal Muslim scholars who talk of Islam as a religion of love. Every religion claims to be a religion of love. Then why is it that so many of their followers are filled with hate?

IV.    The Problem With Charlie Hebdo

It’s racist. Or it seems racist. But maybe it’s not. Not that this is an excuse for what happened last Wednesday. In fact, the rightness or wrongness of: a) murder and b) an inflammatory and possibly racist publication are so mutually exclusive I’m ashamed to have to actually bring it up. What’s ironic about this whole thing is all these people who would never have been seen reading Charlie Hebdo are tweeting #jesuischarlie, like they’ve been there with them all along. They get to whip out that Voltaire quote “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Actually, the people who – technically – defended to the death their right to say it were the people who died at Charlie’s offices last week. How many of us would actually put ourselves – literally – in harm’s way to uphold Voltaire’s maxim? Speaking only for myself, I have no idea what I’d do; I’m kind of a pussy. 

V.    The Problem with Europe

Maybe it’s not Islam or Charlie Hebdo that are the root causes here, but Europe’s festering xenophobia. Note, I did not say Islamophobia. It’s not restricted just to Muslims, but can be seen with Jews and North Africans, and just about anybody who is different. Europe is like a once-restricted golf course who lets in some minorities but still keeps them at arm’s length. Nationalism has always been part of the European character. These are old nations whose identities were solidified centuries ago. America, while it surely has its fair share of racist and nationalistic tendencies, has advantages that Europe does not. First, it’s a relatively new nation that does not romanticize a bygone era (except Dixie). Second, America – as many have pointed out – is a giant experiment. We have no idea what kind of nation we live in. A New Yorker’s ideal America is radically different from an Oklahoman’s or Oregonian’s. Finally, while we go through periods of rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric, we are still a nation that is not only made up of immigrants, but which embraces those “tired, poor, huddled masses.” Nationalistic tendencies – both here and in Europe – want to maintain homogeny: “keep France for the French,” or the so-called “real Americans.” Europe’s homogeny is far more dire than our own. Homogeny stultifies creativity and innovation and isolates anyone who is different. If you are isolated from your neighbors, you look for something – anything – that you can call a community. Enter radicalism.

VI.    One Week out

My immediate reaction to the murders last week was “Fuck Religion.” A lot of people felt that way. Not necessarily fuck Islam or fuck radical Islam or fuck al Qaeda or fuck ISIS or fuck whoever did this. This was bigger than all that. The attack was a perfect example of what religion has wrought. It was a knee jerk reaction, and one which for a day or so I contemplated as the title of my next post. I am good at knee jerk reactions. Here’s my post five days after the shooting in Sandy Hook two years ago. And here’s a far superior take written a week later. What makes the second one better than the first? Simple: it’s funny.

After a couple of days I still wanted to write about religion, but not necessarily with the fuck religion mentality. I don’t like organized religion, but as I’ve said on many occasions, I don’t have issues with believers, as long as they don’t try to kill or convert me. I’m not an atheistic zealot. (Also, not an atheist technically.)

As last week turned to last weekend, I found myself travelling further and further down the rabbit hole. What to write about? A defense of (maybe) racism? Free speech? European Jewry? The outsider status of European Muslims? The religious civil war within Islam? Dumbass Fox News? (Too easy.)

Actually, Dumbass Fox News was a good starting point. As a thinker and writer, my first goal should always be: don’t be like Fox News. Not because they are conservative, but because they are narrow minded. They are the equivalent of the ALL CAPS dude on Facebook telling you The Truth. The problem with The Truth is that it is not a singular idea. The attack on Charlie Hebdo is not about one thing, but many, probably some we haven’t even thought of yet. We can talk all we want about free speech, but that’s just us patting ourselves on our backs. This may have been an attack on a modern concept (free speech) by a barbaric subgroup of a religion, but if that is all we glean from this then we are no better than our previous President, the Simplifier-in-Chief. Also, to hashtag jesuischarlie as a sign of solidarity, or to have George Clooney proclaim that the brave men and women of Hollywood are with them, is all well and good, but it’s not like we’re going to remember it once the news cycle flips to the next tragedy.

Narrow mindedness is not restricted to political conservatives. So-called liberals will find an idea they agree with and defend to the death that idea, not looking at any shades of gray between their adamantine position and that of their evil opposition. My Facebook feed has been soaked in “fuck the cops” for the past couple of months. Because, obviously, all cops are racists. As are, apparently, all GMOs. All religions are inherently cults. Any military intervention is empire building. Those of us who are rabidly anti-gun (me) mock all the gun enthusiasts out there without ever examining why guns are popular in the first place; we simply assume that these people are crazy or stupid. Too often we romanticize the right for a woman to have an abortion as opposed to bemoaning the necessity of a woman to have an abortion in the first place.

I find when I write – either this blog or fiction – that I start with a basic premise but rarely stick with it. Writing is in many ways an argument with myself. I am not necessarily trying to convince you of anything, only myself. (If I convince you too, that’s definitely a plus.) We live in a world where we have to react as quick as possible to anything, be it a shooting in France or what someone wore at the Golden Globes. But those instant reactions are often spoken by the worse angels of our nature, angry, dogmatic, narcissistic, self-righteous, but rarely if ever right. One week out from the Charlie Hebdo attack and my thinking about it has evolved, and yet, I am still in the dark. The more I try – like others – to simplify things, the more complex they become. This is about religion, yes. And free speech. And assimilation. Global politics. Middle Eastern policy. Israel. (And no, just because I said that doesn’t mean I’m “blaming Israel.”) Nationalism. Racism. Secularism. Pluralism. Unfortunately, most of us see but one or two issues here, thereby missing the point and falling into the same trap that has ensnared countless others – fundamentalism.  

One Response to “One Week Out”

  1. Dominick Versetto January 15, 2015 at 00:15 #

    Well Stated!!

    Religion presumes possession, if not authorship, of “The Truth”. Any criticism or rejection of religious tenets denotes heresy. Most religions prescribe some sort of punishment for heresy.

    Science has no Truths. It derives conclusions with varying degrees of certainty. That certainty is NEVER 100%. That’s what makes science valuable. It is self-correcting, and always open to some degree of doubt.

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”
    ~ Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics.

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