Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hooray for Mocking Religion

With the entire muslim world in an uproar over some goofy drawings of Muhammed, threatening to kill those responsible for the cartoons as well as some ill-defined retaliation against the governments who "let" such atrocities occur, now is as good a time as ever to cheer on those who mock religions and their adherents. Given that the big three religions (Judaeism, Chrisitianity, Islam, not to mention the hilarious religions of the rest of the world) posit ridiculous moral codes upon their adherents and demand that they believe, respectively, that an old geiser climbed a mountain and was given stone tablets from a god that only he could see, that an insiginificant Jewish peasant walked on water and came back to life after death in non-zombie form, and that a tribal conquerer hefted a humongous boulder (which no one is allowed to see) from Medina to Mecca single-handedly, the only amazing thing is that they are not made fun of more often and in much more cutting fashion than these rather lame drawings.

Thomas Jefferson once called the absurdity of the virgin birth of Jesus a fable of "the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" and he was being kind since the Greco-Roman myths are far more valuable and entertaining when read without any mystical attachment, unlike their Judeo-Christian-Islamic successors. Religions have two main parts; a ridiculous mythology which serves to provide examples of the other part, a mystical/revelation/altruism philosophy. Despite the efforts of those, like Jefferson, to get rid of the insupportable baggage of the first part in favor of just appreciating the second, the two are inextricably intertwined. There is no more rational support for the idiotic and ridiculous utterances of Jesus ("Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, Give unto God that which is God's") than there is for his turning water into wine or popping out of a virgin womb (Who was Mary's PR person?). Christianity holds no monopoly on mystical irrationality. Islam, like any other religion, is built on it. Turning a conqueror like Muhammed into a prophet of some god is as great an achievement as turning a complete loser like Jesus into one, except we would have remembered Muhammed as a conqueror, religion or no religion, whereas Jesus would have been forgotten with every other crazy Jewish peasant in Judea in the time of Augustus and Tiberius.

So some people in Denmark had the guts to draw some funny pictures of Muhammed? Good for them. Instead of at the very least, being neutral with respect to the taste or lack thereof of these drawings, the United States government has sided with the religious nutjobs out there in saying the cartoons are offensive. The reasoning cited for this move of striking brilliance is that America was founded by religious dissidents who wanted to worship freely. How can those in charge of the government be so ignorant of that government's history?

One colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by dissenters, a group of Puritans so radical that the English Puritans wanted nothing to do with them. They set up a society in which they, and only they, could worship "freely." If anyone dissented, they were kicked out, hence Rhode Island was setup by a dissident of the dissidents, Roger Williams. Add to that the fact that anyone accused of being a witch by any group of teenage brats would be hung unless they admitted that they were indeed a minion of Satan, or somehow proved their innocence (the only way to do that seemingly was to be married to the Governor of the colony). Pennsylvania was established by tolerant Quakers, while Maryland was a haven of those hated religionists of the colonial and early republic years, Roman Catholics. Virginia established the church of england, which stayed established into the early years of the republic (thanks to Patrick Henry, not one of his better moments), but was under assault from those who actually founded the United States, i.e. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others. No one, including me, is saying or could say reasonably, that religion had no effect or role among the founders, but more important to them (as I would hope for us as well) was eliminating religion from the government as one of the principal sources of strife, warfare, and hostility among the peoples of Europe and America for hundreds of years.

This is true today of the Western world, where Israel stands out as having a state religion, but not true of the muslim world. It should be instructive that the West is defined by a geographical direction as opposed to a religion whereas what might be called the East (or more optimistically part of the West) is defined by a religious faith. All governments in the muslim world swear fealty to Islam as some source of their laws and legitimacy (the constitution of Saudi Arabia is the Koran, but don't let that fool you, the house of Saud rules by its own whim). If and unless that changes, what should be the pastime of all rational folk around the world, ridiculing the religious and mocking their crazy stories and idols, will be met (in the case of Islam) with crazy people in the streets threatening to kill others for their ideas and drawings as opposed to just turning to the next page in a newspaper or not reading it at all.

By the way, we should all be proud that among the governments in the muslim world complaining of this "outrage" is Iraq. That is turning out just swell.

No comments: