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Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Can't we all just get along?"

With today being Easter and all, I think it's time I talk about religious fundamentalism.  For those of you who don't know what that means, fundamentalism is a type of religious style where practitioners see only their views as true.  To them, if you don't agree with them, you are wrong.  End of story.  As you can probably guess, these people don't have the most sound arguments to back up their constant thrashing of other beliefs.  This can range from fallacy-riddled statements to them just not knowing anything about the religion they're trying to propagate.  If you need an example, here's an interesting one from a YouTube video.

In November of 2011, the symphonic rock group Globus released its second album, Break From this World.  The final track, "Elegy," is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  It's a song about the virtuous life about a person who recently died.  To quote the song directly, "An altruistic dynamo."  The last two lines of the third verse, "God has let you down / God has let you down," sparked a flame war in the comments section of the above video.  In one corner, you have the Christian fundamentalists, calling Globus blasphemers and saying that they refuse to listen to the song because of those two lines, among other things.  In the other corner, you have the atheists and agnostics, some whom are not as dim-witted as their counterparts, but their debating could use work all the same.

Now, I'm a pluralist to the core.  I am of the opinion that all religions are true, with some obvious exceptions.  My whole family is Catholic.  That environment, and other factors caused by it, ended up causing me to stop practicing, mostly due to the over-saturation of headscratchers I had to deal with.  Now, I hold no ill will towards the Catholic Church.  I deem it a perfectly viable belief system for those who want to accept it.  If it works for you, you won't hear a word out of my mouth.  That is, until you start trying to jam the doctrine down my throat.  When you do, that's when I start taking offense.  Not to the religion, but the person spewing it like a sick infant does with its undigested food.

I'm an agnostic.  I do believe that there is something out there that is greater than us.  I just don't have a name or face to put to it.  Some people do.  It's been called God/Allah/Jehovah/Yahweh.  It's been called Zeus/Jupiter.  It's been called Odin.  It's been called Brahman.  It's been called names that have been lost to the sands of time.  But, they're just names, strings of sounds used to identify and distinguish between all the different perspectives we have on that one silent force, that one ultimate power that we attribute our existence to.  
Take my fictional, just-for-argumentative-purposes friend Steven Joseph Smith, Jr., here.  His dad calls him "Junior."  His grandmother calls him "Deary." His uncle calls him "Sport."  I call him "Steve."  His butler calls him "Master Steven."  His younger sister calls him "Pighead."  Is his uncle talking to a different person than I talk to?  No.  We're both talking to the same Steven Joseph Smith, Jr.  However, we're speaking to a different aspect of him.  I'm talking to him as a friend; my contemporary and comrade to whom I can be a total dickwad and have us both laugh at it.  His uncle, on the other hand, is talking to his brother's son, a young man from the next generation of the family, and the supposed heir to his father's place in his heart.  We each choose to refer to him in a way that reflects how we want to see him.   I'm not going to berate his uncle for not seeing Steve as a close friend like I do.  He's not going to get on my case about not seeing Steve as a younger version of his brother.  
Why, then, do we treat religion differently?  It's just different reasons for the same thing, different masks for the same power.  What makes one reason, one mask wrong, and another right?  Is your religious text irrefutable historical proof that the world happened the way you believe it did?  Can you prove that it is indeed true with concrete fact?  Can that proof disprove the validity of other beliefs?  If you answered yes to all those questions, and most people would agree with you, then congratulations, you have found a religion based on fact, not years of mythos.  If not, then you can still believe it.  Just don't expect everyone to believe it alongside you.  Hell, even if your religion is completely factual, don't expect everyone to believe it alongside you.  

We live in a different world than the one that existed 2,000, 6,000, or even 10,000 years ago.  We are no longer isolated civilizations connected by trade caravans.  We humans are connected by instant communication, supersonic travel, and slowly dissolving cultural barriers.  Fundamentalism may have worked in the dark ages, when totalitarian rule could go unobstructed by outside powers, when cultures were homogenous and one person's world consisted solely of the land they could see from their house.  Now, we have the world at our fingertips, generations and millennia of opinions, beliefs, and ideas swirling around in this digital age, all readily available if someone is willing to listen.  Sitting down and blindly rejecting and belittling everything and everyone who disagrees with what you think will not earn you respect like it did all those years ago.  It does not show honor or the ability to stick to your guns.  It shows that you are a bigot, that you are unable to accept anything new.  You are not the herald of tomorrow.  You are the mourner of yesterday.  This world is changing.  Religion needs to change with it.  And that means putting pride six feet under and acknowledging that someone who is of a different opinion might be onto something.  And most religions have.  Pope John Paul II openly advocated pluralism for the doctrine of the Catholic Church, reducing centuries of animosity towards the Protestants, the Muslims, the Jews, and most anyone else.  Eastern religions like Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism have been pluralist and open to all views since their creation.  The Crusades and the Inquisition are over.  It's time for all the "hardcore" religious people out there to wake up.  Wake up, and smell the ashes.  

Killing, fighting
Dying trying.
All seems right in the name of a god
Hopeless hundreds,
Sad and lonesome
When someone laughs, the other one cries.

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