Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Don't Smell Anything

If, instead of Muslim, much of the Middle East were Hindu, would there have been the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001? Would the Crusades have happened, if Paganism had held sway in Europe, rather than Christianity? Would a Buddhist United States of America have given rise to the Ku Klux Klan? Would a Native American follower of traditional religion have shot George Tiller?

Although the basic argument surrounding Islam in America as we come closer to the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks is one of whether or not Islam is "compatible" with "American values," there is a secondary question that many different faiths have had to answer at some point, for different reasons: "Does this faith make its followers more Evil than they otherwise would be?" (And on the other side of that coin, does a lack of faith make people more Evil than people with faith?) Even as I type it, it feels like a stupid question, perhaps because I have difficulty believing in the Mind Control Theory of Religion (or of Marketing, for that matter).

When Christopher Hitchens subtitled God is Not Great "How Religion Poisons Everything," I think that he went wide of the mark. My personal understanding has become that while we may think of our personal belief systems as being a form of detox, in fact, they simply blind us to the poisons that are already within us. Or, to be a bit more crude about it: Most of us are already assholes - we just use religion/spirituality/science/et cetera to pretend that our particular brand of assholery is the Way the Universe Intended Things.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

If it wasn't religion, it'd be some selectively interpreted ideology to explain why our assholery is so special. God knows (heh) there are enough modern examples of that. (Ask Hitchens, for instance.)

Marvin Harris talked a lot about this. He hypothesized that "nonkilling" religious (which we'd include Christianity, and I think Islam; certainly Buddhism) originated as, basically, an austerity response of the persecuted in politically troubled times. You'll get that pie in the sky when you die sort of thing. They spread, he hypothesized, because that attitude was very convenient for later tyrants, aristocrats and imperialists. Harris compared Kublai Khan's timely conversion to Constantine's, quoting the former's (I was looking for the actual quote, but the book's at home, and Amazon won't let me see it, so maybe later if I remember) high opinion of Buddhist soldiers. They'd do whatever cold-blooded business you'd tell 'em to.

I like the idea of religion as a collective response, and as a social engineering motivator. I think that is a sensible understanding of things on the macro scale. On the individual level, it seems able to make good people better and bad people worse, just like anything else people believe. And there I am with universals again.