Thursday, August 10, 2006

Skepticism is a Virtue

Pat Robertson made the news yesterday with his support for Israel in the current Israeli/Hezbollah conflict. That should not be front page news since the Christian Right has enthusiastically supported all military initiatives by Israel for years. Several prominent pastors of the Christian Right have been preaching that the current Middle East conflict is foretold in the Bible. We are supposedly experiencing the beginning of an end time, apocalypse, and the ultimate victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil.

Clerics in Iran are ironically claiming the same thing as their peers in the Christian Right. President Bush and President Ahmadinejad believe in these claims and use them to their political advantage. Israel and Hezbollah stand proxy for the larger cosmic conflict between good and evil no less than pure political goals.

The vast majority of believers, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew, are unable to police the extremists within their ranks. The voice of moderation and reason takes centuries to work its will while the voice of apocalypse takes minutes to work its vision of necessary and required destruction. Dangerous religious beliefs lie deeply buried in the human psyche no matter what theory used to explain their efficacy.

Sam Harris, in his The End of Faith, states the blunt proposition that the world is too dangerous a place for religion to coexist with weapons of mass destruction. One finds ample evidence for the truth of his proposition as one watches events in the Middle East and listens to the political and religious leaders who see mass destruction as inevitable and desirable so as to achieve God’s plan and their personal political goals.

Those sitting on the sidelines have no reason to respect the merchants of massive destruction in the world’s large religions. Over two centuries of philosophy, science, and theology have come to naught while these fools control the governments of the world. One troubling part is that so many people who promote rational and secular approaches to these problems unwittingly take sides and further abet potential mass death and destruction.

Some from the Christian Right will say this is an unfair characterization of their beliefs. I respond by saying, take a look at the books, articles, and what is being preached from the pulpits of your mega-churches by your religious leaders. Look at your political ties on the national and international scene that blind you to things like negotiated settlements, not just for the crisis du jour, but the long term safety of everyone in the world.

Many have given up their faith that reason can make life better for everyone, or claim there was no such thing in the first place. That is the deadliest stance given the world’s most dangerous religious leaders train their youth to believe in violent settlement of all arguments, whether these leaders be in the US, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, or India. In our time, one should always question another’s religious motives to discover whether they are benign or destructive fundamentalist beliefs. Yes, humanitarian and altruistic instincts ride side by side with destructive tendencies, but the destructive tendencies always win out in a crisis.

Skepticism is a virtue.

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