Don't ask me to explain why I'm still on my religion kick: three columns in a row, all about "God." Maybe it's the season -- you know, the holidays. Oh, excuse me, I mean Christmas, of course! And New Year's. And Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and "shopping," and whatever else they might dream up for the solstice in the interest of making money.
Anyhow, I'm still on that kick. Probably I've turned to religion because it's so painful to read, never mind write, another word about George W. Bush. Not before Lent, anyway. I understand that Bush's approval ratings have bumped up slightly -- not much, but a little -- since he embarked on his manly "Strategy for Victory in Iraq" campaign. Don't worry, they'll fall back where they belong when people get their heating bills this winter.
Anyway -- two stories caught my eye last week, sitting calmly side by side in the local daily. One concerned the president of Iran, who not only insists that the Holocaust is "a myth," but that Israel "should be moved to Europe" (which would be like moving Killington to New Hampshire, only racist). The other was about that man in Brazil, Rayfran das Nevas Sales, who is "accused of killing the American nun and rain forest defendant Dorothy Stang" He killed her last February, in fact, "with six shots from a .38-caliber revolver," in the belief -- as Sales now tells the courts -- "that he acted in self-defense after mistaking her Bible for a gun." Stang was 73. The story explained:
"Sales testified he and Stang had an argument over who owned the land he was working, and that Stang threatened to 'finish him off' with the help of some 150 people living on a sustainable development reserve.
"'She said, "The weapon I have is this," and reached into her bag,' Sales said. 'I didn't know what she was going to pull out of her bag, so I shot her.'"
Now, I think it's a weak defense, and I don't think it'll work. (It only works for governments.) But I'd be the last person -- with all respect for Sister Dorothy -- to dispute that the Bible often does assume the aspect of a gun. And however noble her mission, however sincere her beliefs, we can't just go tramping into other people's worlds and expect them to get "good" all of a sudden. On our terms.
Call it a culture clash -- call it whatever you want. But "Beware the people of the Book," as Gore Vidal famously remarked in his 1992 Lowell Lecture at Harvard, titled "The Great Unmentionable: Monotheism and Its Discontents." By "Book," Vidal means bibles, whether they're Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Vidal is a well-known smart aleck -- thank you, Gore! -- yet his words bear reading:
The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal -- God is the Omnipotent Father. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is not just in place for one tribe, but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good.
So, who got killed? In this case, Sister Dorothy, but it could just as easily have been Sales -- let's say, if he'd come forward before shooting a gentle nun and said, "Guess what? I don't buy it." And the point is not that his defense is in any way defensible; rather, as Vidal repeats, that these sky-god religions, historically, have been the bane of the Earth. Every war, every terror, every torture, every persecution since the conversion of Rome under Emperor Constantine can be traced, ultimately, to them.
Even Marx and the horrors of communism can be traced to them. Because Marx had a "Book," too -- Das Kapital -- a kind of "anti"-Book, but a Book nonetheless. Or maybe I mean Hitler and Mein Kampf. We all know what transpired from that. Indeed, we're proud of ourselves for "defeating" it, aren't we?
Consider again the words of the Iranian president, who thinks that Israel should be "moved to Europe. [The Jews] faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?" It's an honest question, I suppose, but it ignores all reason, reality and fact. Israel exists, and it's going to keep existing right where it is, as it should and must.
At least in Judaism you're allowed to shake your fist at the Deity. But so long as everyone is huddled over their Korans and their Torahs and their "Testaments," there will be no peace. It's out of the question. It's actually forbidden. It's ironic, even, when you understand that they're all really the same religion -- sky-god things. This is what Vidal means.
Now we've got The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- "Narnia" -- a big Hollywood hype and total, if beloved, fantasy. Both Disney, its producer, and Christian groups around the country are relentlessly promoting the story as a metaphor for the suffering of Christ, which, in fact, it is. Its original author, C.S. Lewis, was an Oxford don with an exalted nature, who had a particular, prissy, British-style taste for being punished. Who knows, maybe it's a good movie. But it's only a movie, don't forget. Lewis once said that if The Chronicles of Narnia were ever filmed, they should be done as cartoons. So should the Bible, if they ever try that again.
Oh, I almost forgot: Merry "Season."