Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Sunday Ramble: The Who, Religion and the Future


I was listening to the new CD by The Who the other day. There is one song that addresses religion, "A Man in a Purple Dress" and two others that carry oblique or direct references to religion, "Unholy Trinity" and "God Speaks of Marty Robbins". What is this? Irreverent Pete Townshend finding Jesus in his old age? Hardly, but yet the presence of these songs are just one more indication that religion is a resonant cultural issue.

So I returned to a regular theme of my mind searches: where is today's lethal religiosity going to take us? One can't argue that religion is behind the carnage of 9/11, the daily massacres in today's Iraq, the periodic slaughters between Hindus and Muslims in India. Religion could even be animating the blood lust of the Janjaweed in Sudan. But this is nothing new. From the Crusades to the IRA to Bosnia to the jihadis, religion has been used as a means to justify killing. Philosophers and people of real faith have tried to figure out why to no real satisfaction.

Religious fundamentalism is a global phenomenon varying only in degrees from place to place. It is no simple matter that Iran's Ahmadinejad wrote to Bush and called him a "brother."

In the U.S. under Bush and such tactics as "executive orders" (kind of like "ex cathedra" and papal infallibility), religion has breached the constitutional divide between Church and State, and the Supreme Court will soon hear one case brought by citizens against the White House tax-funded initiatives in favor of religious groups. There are more where that came from.

Some European and Canadian Muslims ask for Sharia law to be allowed in their communities, and Christian conservatives seek to outlaw reproductive rights for women on religious grounds.

In Asia, religious conservativism blooms in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries. Governments tend to be aligned with religious institutions already.

Of major concern should be the fact that the two main perpetrators of religion as law have a strong apocalyptic vision. Jihadis believe not only in their own martyrdom, but in the belief that taking others with them, even good Muslims, confers martyrdom and paradise on all. Some Christian evangelicals want the end to come quickly so they can experience the rapture. (need IE browser to access link)

And simmering along with organized, revolutionary, fundamentalist movements are a host of other signs many people all over are grasping for direction and meaning by identifying, whether deeply or superficially, with religious beliefs, be they New Ageism, Buddhism, Kabbalah, Sufism, Scientology or something else. (BTW, it is sickening to me to read about the popularity of the Buddha Bar in Paris, and the expropriation of a powerful symbol that stands for everything that is not of the glittering classes.)

More college students are majoring in religious studies, megachurches are straining under growth, and 77% of Americans believe they are going to heaven.

And yet, in the U.S. the fastest growing group of all, according to some reports, is the "non-religious", currently at more than 14% of the population. A recent poll suggests that almost half of all Americans are uncertain God even exists, and among some Americans there is uncertainty as to whether God is female, male god or both. In this ambiguity, we should find hope and an opening to a different way.

In the 1930s, a number of socio-economic events influenced politics and led to an upsurge of statist governments. Italy had Mussolini, Germany had Hitler, Russia had Stalin, Argentina had Peron, Mexico had Cardenas and the U.S. had a benign form in FDR. The malignant dictators grew to power because they struck a responsive chord in the public, even if everything they stood for was not widely supported. We know from surveys that there are many Muslims who think the U.S. got what it deserved on 9/11. Fundamentalist Christians have been known to speak in violent, militant terms that should be incongruent with their beliefs, and yet...they continue.

Today, religion is the filter through which to begin assessing what our global village is undergoing. Note: It is not really about God. It is about being saved, but not in the way evangelicals see it. The world can be perceived as pretty scary right now, what with cloning, more women than men enrolled in universities for the first time, gays marrying, transgender toddlers, global warming, immigration out of control, porn going mainstream and pedophiles loose everywhere --all things that can be really threatening to how people define their manhood or womanhood, their values, the way they live. Nothing is as it was.

The order-imposing (trains ran on time) statist trend of the 1930s blew up in a convulsive war and took millions of victims, including opponents (as in the "non-religious"?). Where will today's fundamentalism take us, and more importantly, how? Perhaps those who live inside that ambiguity have the answer. If history is a guide, the answer is not with those who are convinced that a dying world can be saved by dictum, dogma and war.

After this is all over, assuming there's something left of the planet, will a new religion emerge from the ashes of discredited ones?

Here's what I'm willing to get on my knees and pray for: that we don't get fooled again.

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