Friday, August 05, 2005

Theo-fascism, anyone?

So everyone has heard by now that the President spoke favorably of teaching intelligent design in the schools. Matt over at greenideas has worked himself into fine philosophic fettle over this -- and I'm glad he's (Matt, that is) through with moderation!

I'm hardly surprised at the Bush remarks, but no less disgusted. All I have to say about intelligent design in my classroom -- over my dead body.

What comes to mind for me is a question of whether or not the problem with the world is the entire Christo-Judeo-Islamic tradition -- monotheism, in short -- itself.

Now, voicing such a proposition gives me pause. Is it really in keeping with the Buddhist idea of "Right Speech" (which includes avoiding harsh and hurtful language just as much as it includes not lying) to attack the faiths of millions? On the other hand, when does the search for truth necessitate raising some potentially inflammatory propositions?

In any case, earlier this week I ran across reference to a book by one Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason.

Harris's thesis is straightforward: non-rational belief systems, especially the monotheism of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, form the basis for terrorism and warfare in the modern world. He goes one further and claims religious moderates are no better, as they shield irrational beliefs from criticism even if they don't use those beliefs to extreme ends.

Pretty heady stuff, and really not so new. It reminds me of Bertrand Russell's charming little diatribe Why I am not a Christian, the flap about which kept Russell from getting a job teaching Math at Teacher's College in the forties. Or how about all those enlightenment thinkers, including many of the founding fathers of the United States? They had some pretty nasty things to say about the religion of the day. I especially like the way Alfred North Whitehead put it toward the end of Process and Reality, when he decried how the Galilean vision of Jesus was totally misunderstood, and instead men had made God in the image of Caesar.

On the other hand, is it the case that these religions are being misused and bent toward evil ends by unscrupulous and self-serving religious figures? Certainly televangelists should not be considered true Christians -- or should they? But then what about the Catholic church and all it's wonderful, tawdry, colorful history?

One thing is for sure, Americans love a huckster. Perhaps P.T. Barnum should be on the money, instead of some crusty enlightenment free-thinker ...



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