Ring in The New Year With Hopes For Less Religious Extremism

By Donald A. Collins | 1 January 2014
Church and State

Here we humans have just closed another year in which war, terrorism, and civil disturbances too numerous to name are plunging forward relentlessly.

As the year closed, an old friend emailed me this message:

This is a sight you have probably never seen. This is a rare memorial to our veterans who were killed in the Vietnam War. It hangs in the National Veteran’s Art Museum, Chicago.

And accompanied it with two photographs of the exhibit, one which I certainly never heard about, as he says:

Did not know this existed? Most likely NO!

When visitors first enter the museum, they will hear a sound like wind chimes coming from above them and their attention will be drawn upward 24 feet to the ceiling of the two-story high atrium.

Dog tags of the more than 58,000 service men and women who died in the Vietnam War hang from the ceiling of the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago on Veterans Day, November 11, 2010. The 10-by-40-foot sculpture, entitled Above and Beyond, was designed by Ned Broderick and Richard Stein.

The tens of thousands of metal dog tags are suspended 24 feet in the air, 1 inch apart, from fine lines that allow them to move and chime with shifting air currents. Museum employees using a kiosk and laser pointer help visitors locate the exact dog tag with the imprinted name of their lost friend or relative.

This powerful exhibit sends us all a message about the folly of war and the way of the world as it careens toward the end or at least the vast diminution of human civilization. As we hit 11 plus billion humans on the planet by 2100 as projected by most experts, the level of peace and comity among us will be so damaged that Cormac McCarthy’s book “The Road” may well come true.

What are the motivations that have possessed and generated such behaviors among our species forever?

I suppose we must finger the usual lusts for power and material goods, but frequently disguised under the cloak of religious prerogative! Yes, my god is better than your god!

Did you ever read James Michener’s “Miracle in Seville”, published in the 1990’s and described thus on Amazon with: “Miracle in Seville [James A. Michener] on Amazon.com. … America’s best selling author transports readers to magical Seville, Spain, at Easter time … Miracle in Seville: A Novel and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle.”??

In the book, at some point, Michener describes the many huge, heavy floats bearing the various statutes of the Virgin Mary through the crowded streets, each float claiming they have the true image of the Virgin and each dismissing the others, he says, some referring to the others Virgin using the word, “Puta”.

Imagine, the holiest moment of Christianity infused with a core of hatred and dissent at a time of when good will was allegedly supposed to be rampant.

That claim of exclusivity extends to all the monotheistic male dominated religions I am familiar with.

The book must have sold well as all Michener’s books seemed to. It got good reviews; here is the top one picked by Amazon’s editors:

Hearing about the bull fights before visiting Spain I thought how cruel and terrible. My opinion was based on ideas I do not share and a culture I do not understand. In Madrid, I experienced a bullfight sitting next to a local. What I learned to appreciate that day. Now reading “Miracle”, again my perspective has been changed. And isn’t that what truly good reading does – changes our perspective? Michener teaches about the history and glory of the bullfight creating an understanding with the reader. While still not my choice of sport for the treatment of the animal, I better understand the bullfight. Thanks, Michener!

But the tone of the book and that of this reviewer are ones of ecstasy! Hmmm. It is about the blood sport of bull fighting and the magic spell of their Easter celebration. Under the domination of the Roman Catholic Church, the city described in this book is a city owned, controlled and dedicated to this religion. As a non Catholic, I suspect I would not be embraced there either culturally or commercially if I tried to live, work or run a business there. Of course my tourist dollars were embraced when I visited there, not at the Easter time, some years ago.

As we commence the new year knowing what we know of human history, it becomes very difficult to express an optimism that the power of religions will be focused more benignly. Those persuaded that their brand of god gives them the divine right in that name to do any violence or other act that will enhance the tribalism of that group.

Likewise we of course acknowledge there occurs outrageous behavior from many with money and power with no religious fervor or affiliation.

So where does this argument lead. First, stripping away the fantasies of religious beliefs at least offers potential non believers a tabula raza, which as Wikipedia tells us, “meaning blank slate in Latin, is the epistemological theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception. Generally, proponents of the tabula rasa thesis favour the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate, when it comes to aspects of one’s personality, social and emotional behaviour, and intelligence.”

Surely as we send probes rocketing far into space, offering sublime vistas of other entities far from our tiny orb, the beliefs in gods handed down from the ancients become absurd to people of intelligence. However, weaning those convinced of a higher power from specific orthodoxies is impossible in the short term.

The best one can do now and going forward into the New Year will be to keep arguing religions are dangerous constructs designed to inhibit freedom, give secular power to unqualified elites, and for all of us whose life times here are so short, the sad chance to waste enormous amounts of time.

But what of the power of prayer some say. Hey, we can all pray for safety, succor and stability, none of which are divinely wrought! Obedience to ones own inner guideposts based on standards of behavior found universally accepted is confused by the claim that religion invented the Ten Commandments, when they actually came from accumulated human experience which fostered sensible behavior which were guidelines not God lines owned by any religion. But I guess packaging and marketing were as important in earlier times as they are today.

We can only pray secularly for freedom from fantasy of religious behavior and hope that the tribalism that attends all of human life, both religious and secular, can be smoothed down enough to permit humans to survive in the overwhelming numbers which soon will be upon us.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Amazed there have been no comments on this all year.
    Yes, I hope for a reduction in religious extremism. That includes Christian extremists as well. They are just as dangerous, only more subtle.
    What we lack in humanity, is spirituality, which, by the way, has nothing to do with religion.
    I know,and know OF many religious people who don't have a spiritual, compassionate or moral bone in their body. Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum come to mind,along with Bachmann.

    Conversely I know a lot of very spiritual people who have never set foot inside a church.
    My late father in law was one. A kinder, more compassionate, more moral, more generous person never lived, and he was a rock ribbed atheist.
    You see Spirituality is a gift from the Creator (if you believe in one or not). Religion is a creation of man, designed as a tool and a weapon to control others.
    They use shame guilt, and finger pointing to keep people under control.
    They also use it to create GOD into their image of what they think He should be in order to fit Him into their own socio political agenda.

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