In a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Bill Maher said, “There are no great religions — they’re all stupid and dangerous.”
Ummm, well. I still know a few Christians, and none that i know seem dangerous. For that matter, i’d assess several of them as smarter than i am. And yes, a great deal of good has come from Christians who focused on the kindness taught by Christ even though the Christian church has certainly perpetrated a great deal of evil in its history.
But Christianity has not been all that dangerous for several centuries now since political control was torn from its grasp and it no longer has the power to jail, torture, and kill those who offend it.
And that’s the real problem with religions. If they are allowed to have political control, they create nightmarish theocracies with a fine degree of control over your actions great and small right down to governing your sex life as well as the clothing you must and must not wear.
Actually, they’re quite like capitalism in that respect since unbridled capitalism exercises similar controls while creating appalling working conditions with savage exploitation of the workers. Remember those photos of little children laboring in the mills before the advent of child labor laws? Or for that matter the more recent exposes of working conditions for mostly immigrant labor in our meat processing plants? Ummm, not of course that it was the Catholic priests who were working as slave laborers in the Latin American gold and silver mines.
No wonder capitalism is sometimes called a religion with adherents in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. So yeah, all religions, including capitalism, need to be kept under close control to protect the rest of us.
But back to Charlie Hebdo. Is this really a problem of religion or is it one of religious extremism?
In the few days since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, countless Muslims have come forth and argued that the perps were not good Muslims and that their actions were contrary to Islam. And certainly the practicing Muslims i know are decent and tolerant people not given to bombing their neighbors and assassinating journalists, folks who insist that the acts of terrorism are those of a tiny minority of extremists just as the bombing of abortion clinics and the assassination of abortion doctors are the work of a tiny handful of fanatical Christians.
So let’s look at religious extremism, starting at home.
Is there a history of Christian religious extremism? Of course, but we can let go of the Crusades and the Inquisition and all that stuff back when the Christian church had real power. What about today? Well, there are still parts of this country dominated by fundamentalist protestants in which it is impossible for anyone, not just themselves, to legally buy a bottle of beer, and in my youth it was impossible to buy contraceptives in the parts of the country dominated by Roman Catholics. Again, not just for the Catholics but for everyone.
And look at fundamentalist Christian opposition to HPV vaccination on the grounds that even though a safe vaccine would prevent tens of thousands of HPV-related cancers every year in the US, it could also promote extra-marital sex and promiscuity. The same argument is used against emergency contraceptives, so they insist that a seventeen-year-old girl raped by her stepfather needs his consent to buy Plan B. Also consider the hideous civil penalties currently levied against gays in the Christian nations of Africa.
But those are the mainstream conservative Christians. What about the truly crazy cults in their compounds all over the nation? Like the Westboro Baptist Church, or if you want to get truly bizarre, the Mormons, whose holy scriptures teach that some wandering Jews managed to sail from Africa to Central America about 2500 years ago, where they multiplied like rabbits, became the Indians, built great cities, and about a thousand years ago had a huge war among themselves with iron weapons and horse drawn chariots even though not one shred of physical evidence of this has ever been found.
Thankfully, the US government recognized the danger the Mormons presented and, threatening Brigham Young with an invasion, forced him to back down in his efforts to extract Utah from US control. And then we stopped all that polygamy although not in time to prevent Mitt Romney from having a couple dozen great-grandmothers and half a dozen grandmothers.
And to be fair, the idiocy is not confined to the Christians. For goodness sake, look at the ultra-Orthodox Jews. They’d be hilarious if they weren’t so hideous, with the women doing all the work at home and laboring outside the house to support the family while the men sit on their asses studying the Torah.
Which brings us to the radical Islamists, clearly the worst of the worst.
They practice the ludicrous dietary laws of the Orthodox Jews and treat their women even more horribly.
They practice the polygamy of the Mormons and have a theology just as ridiculous.
They practice the hideous violence of the early Christians as exemplified by the massacre of the Cathars by Roman Catholic crusaders under the command of Arnauld Almaric, who decreed, when soldiers wondered how to tell innocent Catholics from the heretical Cathars, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”
And they further the repression of gays for which the Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and the vast majority of protestant sects are well known.
So yes, je suis Charlie.
And since i don’t have a photo of Charlie or of a blasphemous anti-Muslim cartoon, here’s a pic of my Gasteria batesiana shamelessly displaying its sexual parts, some of ’em still sticky.