Belief and heresy are intertwined just as belief and faith are often synonymous. Heresy is the renunciation, questioning, non conformity or objecting to a prevailing belief. Apostates are heretics. In times past, particularly during the Middle Ages, if a Christian heretic dared question a belief, even though there was absolutely no evidence to substantiate the belief, he was punished. In those cases where punishment was meted out, the punishment was built into the belief. In short, people were punished for disbelieving the unbelievable. Even today as science and sound-reasoning has confuted one myth after another, there is still a predilection for humans to believe in the unbelievable, or the incredible – in other words, something that is so extraordinary, bizarre or fantastic that it defies logic.
The goal of this chapter is to show how powerful a belief can be even though it is impossible to prove the truthfulness of the belief. Put another way, there is a proclivity for some people to give more weight to an unprovable belief than in the logic of its antithesis.
For example, many people belief in the force, power or essence of the “spirit of Christ,” the substance of which cannot be verified by scientific study. The “spirit of Christ” has also been called the “spirit of God.” It has also been referred to as the Holy Ghost and revelation. The power of the “spirit of Christ” is made all to apparent in Mormon fundamentalism.
There are fundamentalists who teach that if facts contradict the “spirit of Christ,” trust the “spirit” because the “spirit” cannot lie. If you are inclined to trust the spirit over facts, consider the following: it was the “spirit” that induced Ron and Dan Lafferty to cut the throats of their sister-in-law and her ten-month-old baby girl. It was the “spirit” that told Brian David Mitchell it was alright to kidnap Elizabeth Smart to be his plural wife. It was the “spirit” that authorized Adam Swapp to bomb an LDS Church and then shoot it out with the FBI. Without naming names it was the “spirit” that has allowed some fathers to take biological daughters as plural wives. It has been the “spirit” that has told polygamist men to take the wives of other men as their plural wives. Nearly every atrocious act practiced or perpetrated by Mormon fundamentalists has been initiated or ratified by the “spirit.”
Beliefs influence behavior. Some beliefs [memes] inspire benevolent behavior. Some beliefs have pernicious consequences. It is my position that if a belief or the “spirit” is hurtful or harmful, that is to say sophistry, it should be critically examined, no matter what the source – and that includes Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, or any supernatural source. I include Jesus Christ in this equation because it depends upon who is representing Jesus Christ. Can we really say that the Jesus Christ of Section 132 is the same Jesus Christ of the New Testament? Poor Jesus, he is made the scapegoat for all kinds of weird beliefs.
A belief that induces men to discredit or harm other men should be subject to the same standard, or guiding principle as that which proved the existence of gravity, the atom, and that the sun is the center of the solar system – in other words, subject to the same intensity as scientific scrutiny. When we receive a shot of penicillin we do so in a belief that the doctor knows what he is doing or that the penicillin will combat infection. When penicillin cures infection over and over again it validates the belief. But how do we validate a belief that God wants us to torture or kill unbelievers?
The Mormons were not the first people to practice polygamy, nor the first to use God as a justification. Polygamy has probably been around as long as prostitution. It was the Romans who established the tradition of monogamy and the Roman Catholic Church that established monogamy as a religious law. How monogamy came about, and how efficient or effective monogamy is in curbing polygamy and promiscuity seems to differ with the historian. It seems that historical concepts concerning marriage have gone from polygamy to monogamy to celibacy and is now making a U-turn in the direction of polygamy once again.
However, before examining some really pernicious beliefs that are designed to convert or kill, lets take a look at attempts to institute polygamy among Christians.
There is no known evidence that the institution of Christianity ever endorsed, embraced or condoned polygamy. But there has been throughout history individuals within the Christian establishment that have practiced, permitted, condoned or promoted polygamy. These individuals have been primarily among the powerful, the potentates, those endowed with authority or who have had celebrity status such as a poet. But that isn’t to say that individuals among the proletariat, or the common man haven’t been enthralled over or enthusiastic about the prospect of sex with more than one wife. However, it seem historians are only interested in the rich, powerful and celebrity. So the only historical accounts are of the rich, powerful and famous.
Polygamy connotes responsibility. The concubines or harems among wealthy sheiks (Arab chiefs) were treated as wives inasmuch as they were cared for, that is fed and clothed. Plural wives are stabled like property for the exclusive use of one male. When you think about it there is not that much difference between Moslem and Mormon polygamy because the ends are the same – exclusive sex. Therefore it stands to reason that only those with the means to carry out responsibility are apt to enter into the practice of polygamy.
This was generally true during the Middle Ages but not necessarily true among Mormon polygamists. Some Mormon plural wives were expected to support themselves. Others were dependent upon welfare.
Of those Christians who defied or tested the Christian custom of monogamy, very few admitted they were motivated by lust. There was always an ostensible reason. Very, very few polygamists used “animal nature” as a provocation. The civilized polygamist can’t bring himself to admit that from a Y-chromosome’s eye view, the human male is polygamous by nature.
The domesticated human, or civilized human finds excuses or justification for his polygamous inclinations, as opposed to just wanting sex with many women. In that regard he is inclined to look to the Bible or hierarchy for justification.
We humans are hierarchal creatures. We tend to gather in families, tribes, herds and societies but are perpetually in competition with each other for women, leadership, dominance and prestigious positions in the hierarchy. How that is achieved can depend upon beliefs, mores and laws, in other words, how culture evolves.
A monarchy is usually ruled by a king. A kingdom is usually dynastic in that the king has absolute power and passes on the power to a son or member of the family. Marriages in the middle ages were often arranged between monarchs and sometimes, for one reason or another, the king was not happy with his wife, especially if she did not give him a male heir. (See Henry VII, King of England and Ann Boleyn) Pedigree was important but the church had a tenacious hold over marriage and divorce. In order to preserve and perpetuate a royal blood through a male heir polygamy sometimes became an acceptable option.
Although Christianity has been fiercely opposed to the practice of polygamy their have been historical incidents where Christian kings and monarchs, with the blessings of a pope or clergy (Martin Luther) have permitted the practice. Early Christian emperors like Charlemagne, Lothair of France, Pepin, and Barbarossa, all had more than one wife. The Roman Emperor Valentinian not only had several wives but “explicitly allowed” the practice of polygamy. But it was during the Reformation and the advent of the sectarian, Anabaptists, that it is believed the free thinking French influenced an emergence of an “underground tradition”of polygamy.
When Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Popes he not only liberated the Protestant movement from the perceived tyranny of the Vatican but liberated the minds of ambitious men either seeking, or in positions of power and wealth. Almost without exception, those potentates intrigued by the prospect of cohabiting with many women, were the rich and powerful. And in each case polygamy was justified by what was perceived as biblical precedence.
Divorce it seems, among some clerics, was a greater sin than the marriage to a second wife. Such was the case with Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse. Phillip took a second wife with the sanction of none other than Martin Luther, himself.
Was Henry VIII a polygamist? He was cohabiting with Anne Boleyn before his annulment to Catherine of Aragon. It was Henry’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn that some historians believe initiated England’s break with the Catholic Church. As you may be aware, Henry had Anne Boleyn beheaded.
Henry’s third wife, Jane Saymour died of natural causes, but not before giving him a male heir. Henry had himself annulled from his forth wife, Anne of Cleves on the grounds the marriage was never consummated, and also because she was too ugly to crawl in bed with. Katherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, was also beheaded, allegedly for treason.
Katherine was thirty years younger than Henry, who was then in his fifties. She gave him vitality, just as Amelia did for Brigham, but Katherine’s virtue was questionable. She found Henry unattractive and repulsive. At the time he weighed about 300 pounds and had a festering ulcer on his thigh that had to be drained daily. It is reported she had an extramarital affair with Thomas Culpepper, Henry’s favorite male courtier. The marriage between Henry and Katherine only lasted two years. The sixth wife, Catherine Parr, outlived Henry, of course she was much younger. The reader might find the book, The Six Wives of King Henry VIII of interest.
“On 23 July in the year of grace, 1534, the northwest German city of Munster proclaimed polygamy as the ideal form of marriage.” This decree took place on the heels of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation 1517-1648, started when Martin Luther tacked on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, his Ninety-Five Theses On The Power of Indulgences.
The polygamy experiment at Muster only lasted eleven months but what happened in Muster uncannily parallels Mormon polygamy. The parallel is so close that it causes one to wonder if Brigham Young had read an account of Munster, which is doubtful. Otherwise, the phenomenon might be explained by the admixture of the same Y-chromosome and memes (the biblical accounts of the patriarchs), stimulating like behavior even though they occurred three centuries apart.
The condemnation against polygamy was so ingrained in orthodox Christianity that although it tended to excite “guilty fascination,” every other European vice by comparison was looked upon with lenience. But the Gospel – the infallible truth – as promoted by the Anabaptists, was replacing Catholic authority and the Anabaptists of Munster, expanding upon the teachings of Luther and the marriage habits of the Old Testament patriarchs, took truth to the extreme. For example, Luther did not denounce polygamy but discouraged it because it might discourage conversion. He rejected celibacy as evil and made the phrases “increase and multiply” or “multiply and replenish” a Reformation byword.
The Munsterites were Millennialists, they looked for the Second coming of Christ when he would restore things in their purity. Only marriages sealed by the Munster Elders were valid. They considered themselves to be the chosen ones, the elect, all others, including Lutherans were considered infidels. Does all this sound familiar. Sure! It is the same thing taught by Brigham Young. But there is more.
John of Leyden became leader of Munster after the death of Jan Matthys. Jan was killed in battle that was raging between the old and new [Protestant] Christians. Jan had a pretty wife named Divara, and although John of Leyden was already married to a sectarian girl, he coveted Divara.
John received a revelation from the Lord, in the form of a vision, that he was to take Divara for a wife. He was startled by the revelation, but like so many Mormon polygamists, he must obey.
He was somewhat like Joseph Smith, “handsome, eloquent, a natural actor,” and charismatic. Before his conversion he had a “weakness for wine and women” which indicated he had a proclivity that was harmonious with polygamy. The Anabaptists were opposed to divorce so the only way he could have Divara was “alter” the institution of marriage, which God conveniently told him to do.
When polygamy became the law of Munster there was competition for women .
Munster like Jackson County Missouri was to become the New Jerusalem while the rest of the world was destroyed. Munster was the city of the “Children of God,” ruled over by a prophet and theocracy. All books other than the Bible were burned.
John consolidated Twelve Articles to live by, the “gist being man should not be fettered by one woman and should be able to take as many wives as he wanted.” The Old Testament patriarchs were propped up as the example. Luther had set the stage with his favorite sermon, “Increase and multiply,” and the Anabaptists carried it to the extreme. John went one step further:
Men cannot contain themselves, and hence they can marry several women. None of heir semen should be wasted. But semen is wasted if it does not produce offspring, for example where the woman is pregnant, sterile, or is too old to have children. Thus, in order to avoid semen being wasted, any man is allowed to take another wife. (Cairncross, John, After Polygamy Was Made A Sin, The Social History of Christian Polygamy, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1974.)
At least John of Leyden had the courage to admit there was a biological factor, but even then he only hinted at the lustful aspect. Rather than say, “Men cannot contain themselves,” it would have been more accurate to say that “Nature” had programed men so that they cannot contain themselves, but God gave men a brain in which to contain themselves.” John of Leyden could not say God had programed man for it would imply free sex upon demand, for as civilization has proven, if the mores [memes] are strong enough, men can contain themselves.
John had to come up with something that would counter the Christian taboo against polygamy. In support of the revelation from the “Father” he used all the Old Testament arguments about Abraham, David and the rest of the patriarchs taking plural wives and never, while he argued, was there a peep from God. Nor could anyone find where the New Testament came out against it. And just as Joseph Smith included punishment for none compliance in his revelation, John inserted a punishment for non compliancy – “damnation for those who refuse to accept it.”
There is one thing that existed in Muster that didn’t exist in Kirtland, Jackson County, Nauvoo or the Great Basin and that was a surplus of women. The women who submitted to John’s argument decided it was better to have part of one man than no man at all. Brigham hit upon the same idea, but a little different. He inculcated the idea among the women in Utah that it was better to have part of a good man than all of a bad man. At the time, a good man was a good Mormon with priesthood that could take a wife to the celestial kingdom.
The Munster argument for polygamy was so persuasive that nuns threw down their habits and married. Virginity was considered a prison. And in both Muster and Utah women were convinced that compared with men they were inferior and that they must be completely subordinate to their husbands. And John, like Brigham, in an attempt to reinforce male supremacy, declared that it was time women quit “wearing the pants” and started referring to their husbands as “my Lord.” It was time for the men to “assert [their] God-given superiority.”
In Munster, just as in Utah, forced marriages occurred. In Muster the age a girl could marry was reduced to age 12, a boy, age 14. Brigham Young proposed the same ages to the Territorial Legislature that consisted of all Mormons. When Muster was eventually overcome by armed force and John executed, divorces were granted, especially to little girls below the age of puberty. Because they were so small during sexual consummation, of eighteen little girls, all needed medical treatment. Fifteen were cured but three died. According to Cairncross, Luther was indifferent to women who died in childbirth. “What harm is there in that?” he is reported to have said, “Childbearing is what they are for.”
Forced cohabitation resulted in abuse and rebellion among some wives, especially the first wives. Two or more wives forced to live together in the same dwelling made living conditions in some cases intolerable. And there were the usual jealousies that one could expect. In order to suppress the rebellion the bewailing women were threatened with the sword. To refuse to have intercourse with a husband was considered a “horrendous blasphemy,” the punishment death. So was insulting a preacher. If we can believe that Cairncross’ research is accurate, several beheadings resulted. It seems that once the plural wife craze took hold, fanaticism followed. Everything revolved around the accumulation of wives and sex, just as it did in Utah during the “Reformation” of the 1850s.
So what does all this tell us. It tells me that with the same stimulus and same Y-chromosome, you get similar behavior. It should therefor be no surprise that in Munster we see the same behavior as in Utah.
In Mark Twain’s Roughing It, he described reading the Book of Mormon as “chloroform in print.” After getting a look at some of the Mormon women he said rather than punish the polygamist men they ought to be rewarded for taking on such a “gruesome task.” Kate Field, a Nineteenth century author and anti polygamist attempted to persuade Mark Twain to jump on the anti Mormon/polygamy band wagon. The following is how he replied to her invitation:
“Am I a friend to the Mormon religion? No. I would like to see it extirpated, but always by fair means, not these Congressional rascalities. If you can destroy it with a book – by arguments and facts, not brute force – you will do a good and wholesome work. And I should be very far from unwilling to publish such a book in case my business decks were clear. They are not clear now, however, and it is hard to tell when they will be….
Hartford, March 8, 1886.
Samuel L. Clemens.
I suspect that what Twain had in mind when he said “brute force” is the wholesale prosecution of polygamist men creating a hardship on wives, mothers and children, which was the case in the late1880s, and in 1953 when Arizona authorities raided Short Creek.
Islam and Terrorism
I know it is politically prudent for politicians and leaders of Christian based countries to go along with the disarming ratiocination that Islam is basically a peaceable religion. I can see that if they were to say anything derogatory about Islam or the Koran it would in all probability ignite violent demonstrations where innocent people would be slaughtered and diplomacy with Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia would deteriorate.
Jihad has two meanings. According to some Muslim writers the first or greater meaning, means, individual struggle to overcome vice, passion and ignorance. The lesser or second jihad is holy war against infidels.
The Koran is the holy scripture of Islam. For many Moslems it is the undisputed word given by God (Allah) to Mohammad. It is the Islamic bible – a sacred text equivalent to the Mormon, Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants. It is the one and only true commandment from God. It is literal truth.
The ‘hadith” is a collection of literature, sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad. It might be compared to the Mormon Journal of Discourses or the Jewish Talmud. But unlike the Journal of Discourses where only Fundamentalists take it literally, it seems that the hadiths are generally accepted.
As a concerned individual I don’t have to be as cautious as a Secretary of State. What I find alarming about Islam is the lack of Islamic, public outcry against the terroristic acts of fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas. I am alarmed by the super-sensitivity of Muslims who swarm into the streets shaking, shouting and shooting in the air over the slightest provocation. And I am alarmed when I read in the Koran and hadith doctrine that initiates violence against non believers – simply because they don’t believe. Consider the following:
Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate. (Koran 9:73)
Believers make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous. (Koran 9:123)
Islam is an uncompromising religion. It is their way or no way. The crime of apostasy is death, and not just a spiritual death. Even if the apostate reverts back to Islam he still merits death.
There has been more than a few books written by authors familiar with the Koran who warn us against the worldwide machinations of Islamic extremists. In that regard, one cannot help arrive at the impression that the extremists would rather kill infidels than convert them. Of course this all has to do with belief – a belief, the truthfulness of which is taken for granted. Granted means acceptance, and in this case, even though there is no empirical evidence to verify that Allah even exists and that he delights in the beheading of those who refuse to believe in him. This belief, and the act of killing, is a form of worship. It is hard to imagine. Think about it. Archaeologists have uncovered ancient evidence of human sacrifice as a form of worship. We shudder at the thought of our superstitious ancestors placing a beautiful young virgin on a stone alter and then having her heart torn out with an obsidian knife. Today, in a vista of enlightenment where technology is gradually replacing a supposedly omnificent, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient god, while scientists explore the icy rings of Saturn and contemplate the elements of life on Titan, Moslem extremists map out the destruction of non believers – and Mormon extremists dream about performing “blood atonement” on their enemies.
How far removed from the “human sacrifice” rituals of our superstitious ancestors is the righteous, sacerdotal killing of apostates and non believers? One is as barbarous as the other, and astonishingly, educated men buy into this once pantheistic belief system.
In Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, chapter 4, entitled, “The Problem with Islam,” he lists at least two dozen excerpts from the Koran that should make a clear thinking American sit up and take notice. Consider the following which is not the exception but typical of Islamic hatred for non believers and the West.
God’s curse be upon the infidels! (2:89)
God is the enemy of the unbelievers (2:98)
But the infidels who die unbelievers shall incur the curse of God, the angels, and all men. Under it they shall remain for ever; their punishment shall not be lightened, nor shall they be reprieved. (2:162).
Mohammad invented a belief system that united the Arab nations, giving them dignity, purpose and meaning, on an equal footing with Judaism and Christianity, that at the time overwhelmed the Arab. When we stop to consider the subordinate circumstance of the Arab people in 570 CE, the birth date of Mohammad, are we wrong to suspect that Mohammad inserted in his scripture the prejudices and biases of the sons of Ishmael? Is it not probable that the Koran features the frustrations of Ishmael’s posterity and provides a “spiritual” remedy to alleviate those frustrations? And when we see on national television Muslims swarming into the streets to demonstrate against a perceived insult, are we not viewing a “frustrated,” impotent people who believe their only recourse for respect is violence? Is not the Koran an amulet or antidote for frustration and discontent, as well as a means to intimidate the haughty, arrogant and stupendous? Is not the degree of cruelty and butchery perpetrated by Islamic extremists in direct proportion to the inferiority that they must still feel?
At one time Islam gave important contributions to science and math making the world a better place to reside. All that energy that once went towards astronomy and medicine is now overshadowed by an improbable belief system that transfers that energy from building up to breaking down. I would rather credit Islam with the invention of the telescope and pendulum than lambaste them for lopping of the heads of unbelievers. But they seem to allow “lopping off heads” to be the main course of action.
While each Islamic sect (Shias, Sunni, Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, etc.) is united as far as the Koran is concerned, they are not united in leadership and how the Koran should be viewed and practiced We can be glad of that. Think how much trouble Islam would be if it was united under one head. But just as Islam has fractured into sects so has Christianity and just as Mormonism is now doing.
Now that political correctness has become invested decorum in America, we ostensibly give respect to all beliefs that connote Christ, god or religion. However, because of the insistence of terrorism, honorable, pious believers in Jesus Christ look at Islam with warranted suspicion. We may think we are above such heathenish acts, but least we forget that Christianity also has its dark past.
We should remind ourselves of the witch hunts and unspeakable torture that occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. Consider the following passages from Deuteronomy:
12. If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying,
13. Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;
14. Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you;
15. Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.
16. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the Lord thy God; and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again.
Pious Christians have slaughtered heretics with as much guiltless ease as Islamic terrorists have blown up apostates and infidels. When it comes to pernicious belief the dagger doesn’t care if its Islamic, Mormon or Christian. The following is taken from R Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft, New York: Viking 1996)
On the wilder shores of the feminist and witch-cult movements a potent myth has become established, to the effect that 9 million women were burned as witches in Europe; gendercide rather than genocide. This is an overestimate by a factor of up to 200, for the most reasonable modern estimates suggest perhaps 100,000 trials between 1450 and 1750, with something between 40,000 and 50,000 executions of which 20 to 25 per cent were men.
In reflecting back upon the stupid, cruel acts of our ancestors and comparing them with our current thinking, its hard to comprehend. Slavery along with race and gender inferiority resulting in torture, death and oppression of women, can be traced to fear, ignorance and the propensity to dominate, all of which are manifest in idiotic religious beliefs.
We look back at the Spanish Inquisition and wonder how supposedly godly men could boil a woman in oil or burn her at the stake merely because someone thought she was a witch. On second thought maybe I’m not being entirely fair. Those Christian priests didn’t always take the word of an informant. They would inspect the miscreant and if she looked or acted like she could be a witch, a confession was sought.
A confession was always the companion of torture. There were men who specialized in extracting statements of guilt. The devices used must have put the imagination to the test. Inasmuch as LSD had not been invented back then, we can only speculate at what dark and cobwebby recesses of the mind they were found. A potpourri of grisly, macabre contrivances can be found on page 81 of The End of Faith.
Sadomasochism back then must have been an art form. There were thumbscrews, “pair shaped vices inserted into the mouth, vagina, or anus.” There was the “Spanish chair,” an iron chair with iron stocks around the neck and limbs. “A coal brazier [was] placed beneath [the] feet slowing roasting them.” But the following method of torture topped them all.
“… you may be bound to a bench with a cauldron filled with mice placed upside-down upon your bare abdomen. With the requisite application of heat to the iron, the mice will begin to burrow into your belly in search of an exit.”
Was torture during the Inquisition a form of worship? Those priests prayed and paid homage to the same God that Christians nowadays worship. What has changed? I find it remarkable that back then it was believed that God not only condoned putting women to the rack but required it. Has God changed or has our whimsical beliefs changed?
Have we humans as a species reached an apogee of enlightenment where we are no longer goaded by our primordial, selfish instincts into concocting bigoted and prejudicial beliefs? It doesn’t look like it. Muslim extremists are taking archaic beliefs that in the Sixth Century may have had merit but today these subversive beliefs tend to isolate and turn Islam back towards the Dark Ages.
When you stop to think how the various religions have molded, renovated, mutilated and refurbished God over the years, how can anyone have confidence or faith in that God or the prelates that claim to know Him. For God, it appears, is a plastic apparition ready to adapt to any form or cause. He may be a spirit or an old man with a gray beard. He can hate Jews and Christians and love Moslems, or the other way around. He can authorize you to enslave women, rape them or make them your queen. But he won’t let you make women your head.
Was it God that whispered in Newton’s ear, saying, “Watch the apples falling from the tree.” Was it God who prompted Galileo to look at and observe the solar system? Did God tell Louis Pasteur how to pasteurize milk?
Our primitive ancestors thought God caused floods and typhoons. At one time we credited Him with birth defects, deformities and mental impairments like autism. In their ignorance and superstitions medieval men thought diseases were punishments from God. As science exploded one myth after another, priests invented new myths to take their place. Some of us still cling to the idea that God controls the weather. On November 13, 2007, Governor Sonny Purdue of Georgia surrounded by his retinue prayed on the Capital steps for rain, hoping to end a serious drought. The Reverend Pat Robertson was quoted as saying Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for man’s immorality.
We humans can’t seem to shake the idea that as a species we are special and that the self, I, or soul, lives on after mortality. We have no proof, just a gut feeling reinforced by some oracle or soothsayer who’s business is merchandising answers about the unknown.
I for one believe there are forces at work yet to be discovered, forces like gravity, x-rays, atoms, electrons and gamma-rays that influence human behavior. I believe one day biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and especially geneticists will discover new facts that will define our special place in our ecological universe. Who knows, they may find the cue ball – in other words, that impetus that has set everything in motion. There must be a reason that out of all of Nature’s creations we have been selected to observe and wonder about the fantastically salubrious and awesome building up and breaking down of the universe. If there is purpose and reason behind everything, would the universe exist if there was not something, some creature like ourselves, to observe and know there is a universe — that there is something out there greater than ourselves? It is in answering those ominous questions that the spiritual eclectics derive their power.
H. L Mencken in his Treatise On The Gods suggested that if we studied the evolution of all the major religions we would trace them all back to a common origin or central idea. He said that it was the “desire” of man to “first .. attract the notice of the gods, and , second, to induce them to be amiable.” He said that all religions as they are exposed to each other have borrowed from each other. “Everything that Holy Church cherishes as peculiarly its own, from pedo-baptism to auricular confession and from holy communion to the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, was hoary with age before Peter ever saw Rome.” Although he obviously had the Catholic Church in mind back in 1930 when his Treatise was published, his statement couldn’t be more true of Mormonism.
Mencken proposed that, “Four ideas lie at the bottom of all organized religions, whether ancient or modern, cultured or savage, to wit:
1. That the universe is controlled by powers of a potency superior to that of man, and that the fortunes of man are thus subject to their will.
2. That these powers take an interest in man, and may be influenced to favour him.
3. That certain men have a greater capacity for influencing them than the generality of men.
4. That certain words and acts are more pleasing to them, and hence more likely to make them friendly, than other words and acts.
Henry Louis Mencken, 1880 – 1956, was a journalist, cynic, satirist and free thinker. One of his favorite philosophers was Friedrich Neitzche. One of his favorite authors was Mark Twain which says a lot about Mencken.
One doesn’t read Mencken, Dawkins or Hoffer to learn to be a skeptic. If you are reading their works you are in all probability already a skeptic. What you learn from reading those guys is that others have the same doubts and concerns, they just have an elegant way of saying it.
In scrutinizing religion or a specific sect, you can’t form a judgement by focusing only on one segment of time, you must look at the whole picture, from its beginning to the present. For example, you might say, “I couldn’t have been a Mormon in 1856, but I can be a Mormon today.” We could say the same thing about Islam or Catholicism. If you are going to put time, money and energy into a religion, you are going to be buying the whole package. If you are shopping for a religious belief, a worthy cause, or meaning greater than your prosaic reality, then I would think you would apply the same investigation as you would if buying a horse – that is weigh the good parts against the bad. This is what prompted Mencken to say:
“I believe religion, generally speaking has been a curse to mankind – that its modest and greatly over estimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.”
Mencken has been called a bigot, a racist and an anti-Semite. Telling it like it is makes enemies. Some people don’t like their comfort zone disturbed even if it is a fairy tell. That’s what helped make Mencken such a great writer. Like other masters of the English language, he reminded us that we are human creatures with human foibles. He was no toady, and found entertainment in lampooning anybody of interest, from presidents to popes. He took everyone in stride, impressed only by the creative mind that made something worthwhile happen. In that regard it is only fitting that I conclude this chapter with one of Mencken’s more superlative quotes, at least I think so:
It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
As I was editing this chapter Muslims in Afghanistan were rioting because their President, Hamid Karzai, reportedly released to the Afghan people that a radical Christian pastor by the name of Terry Jones, in the little town of Gainesville, Florida, had burned the Koran.
The Christian fundamentalist Jones, like the infamous Danish cartoons, earned International acclaim when he announced on Facebook last September his intentions to burn the Koran. Almost instantly, his diabolical intentions spread throughout the land of Islam. General David Patraeus trying to fight a war with one hand tied behind his back urged the radical pastor to recant, knowing that burning the Koran would spark a bloody demonstration among the fanatical Afghans. In response to pressure from a variety of American sources Jones put the burning on hold. Nevertheless he had achieved his objective – international recognition.
Proving that he could, Pastor Jones at last but the Koran to the torch, although it was a good week before the information reached Afghanistan. It is reported the controversy over the burning split the pastor’s congregation, reducing it to a mere 30 souls. Yet this little known man of god, a miniscule voice in all of Christendom, incited a three day riot that took the lives of at least 20 people.
Pastor Jones has been characterized as a “nutjob,” still he didn’t break any laws, at least in the U.S. He was merely making a religious and political statement – holding the Koran and all it stands for in contempt. However, had he been in Afghanistan or Iran making the same statement he would undoubtedly had his head severed from his body.
Had radical liberals in the U.S. burned the American flag or burned the Bible, or had Muslims burned the American flag or Bible in the land of Islam, no one in the U. S. would have swarmed into the streets manically shooting guns in the air, tipping over cars, destroying property, killing foreigners, etc. Why? Because it’s stupid and wouldn’t change a thing. Yet Muslims have found that such stupid acts tend to intimidate and discourage criticism of their religious beliefs no matter how justified.
In all probability there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Americans who view the Koran and the Muslim fanatics with contempt but they hold their tongues because they may become a target of terrorists or might upset humble Muslims a continent away. They comply with that old adage which says, “If you can’t say anything good about something, its better you don’t say anything at all.”
I’m not defending the action of Pastor Jones, if you can really consider him a pastor. Insiders who have left the Dove World Outreach Center, the “nutjob’s” church, say he is a tyrant presiding over a cult, and is known to strut around with a pistol strapped to his hip. Knowingly boasting of an act that provokes a riot that threatens the lives of innocent people is despicable. By the same token it does not justify the actions of the rioting Afghans.
You might have noticed that Jones’ burning of the Koran did not spark riots in other Islamic nations like Egypt, Syria, Iran, etc., probably because they have more pressing things to think about. Nor did I see any remarks from the Islamic Brotherhood. Nor has any Muslims, home or abroad condemned the riots.
What is the moral of this story? It demonstrates the perniciousness of religion. Neither “nutjob” Jones nor the Muslim rioters have exemplified their professed religion in any positive way. If anything they have denigrated religion as a positive, peaceful, civilized undertaking – giving credibility to Henry Louis Mencken’s assertion that more harm than good comes from religion.