Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bad Religion

"Beware of people and groups whose political blueprint is based on a mandate from heaven that depends on human beings to implement."
That is a most excellent quote from a book I just finished reading titled When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball. Kimball's background alone makes for an interesting story, but suffice it to say for the purposes of this post that he's an ordained Baptist minister who has spent decades working in the Middle East, he's met with many of the political and religious leaders in these nations, and he's negotiated several high visibility hostage situations that have flared up in that region over the years. I think it's safe to say he has a strong understanding of both the Christian and the Muslim world. My friend Brandon lent the book to me after we had a discussion about religion's potential for evil in the world. Frankly, most of its conclusions will probably not come as a surprise to most reasonably well-informed people, though it does do an excellent job of distilling the traits of corrupted religion down to a few basic characteristics by taking a close look at the dark sides of both Christianity and Islam. And although he's a Baptist minister, he pulls no punches when he turns his gaze to the evils perpetrated by followers of the Christian faith, both past and present.

I can't speak for Islam because I know so very little about it, but on the Christian side of things, I have to confess that I find efforts such as those described in the above quote to be a bit ludicrous. The term "theocracy" is not often used, at least not by those who would seek to institute such a thing. But when people talk about ordering society according to their narrow ideas about what the Bible says or what they think God intends (all other ideas about God and the divine be damned!), well that's basically what you're talking about.

And you know, I'm no theologian, but I'm not completely unfamiliar with the Bible either. And when I think about the kind of world that the Falwells and the Robertsons and the Grahams and the Dobsons of this world would have us live in, the question that comes to my mind is, isn't the concept of a theocracy just plain bad theology? I truly don't know what Biblical leg these people are standing on. I mean, maybe if the gospels recounted the story of King Joseph and Queen Mary giving birth to Prince Jesus, or maybe if they described the daily grooming ritual performed by Jesus's dozen-and-a-half servants to prepare the Jewish prince to walk among his subjects, or even better, maybe if they described Jesus's ascencion to the Emperorship of Rome where he then proceeded to order the world as he saw fit (because if he wanted any real power, would he have bothered with just Jerusalem? Caesar Jesususus, anyone?), or maybe if there were any record at all of Jesus ever telling his followers to seek out power or dominion over other people, if anything resembling any of these hypothetical events ever appeared in even one of the gospels, then maybe, MAYBE the theocrats would have some sort of leg to stand on...it'd be a wobbly one, but they'd have it, and it'd be more than they have now. As it stands though, all they have is plain old Jesus, who never held any governance over anyone. Beyond that, rulers in the Bible are all ultimately conquered, killed, or otherwise deposed in some form or fashion.

The book quotes the first century rabbi Hillel, who, when asked if he could explain the whole of the Torah while a man stood on one foot, responded, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah." Jesus, whom the proponents of theocracy claim to follow, said basically the same thing. In fact, it's probably a safe bet that every religion in the world endorses some version of the Golden Rule. I may be horribly naive and tragically idealistic, but I believe that a world populated by people with the courage and strength to just try to follow this rule would do more good than any amount of legislation we could ever hope to pass.

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