My friend Hajj sparked a maelstrom of angry responses a while back simply by welcoming into the world his Muslim grandchild. Go figure.
People responded to his off-hand reference to his religion by blaming organized religion for all the evils in the world, maybe even jock itch and acne. Some insisted the mass murders perpetrated by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the North Koreans, Chinese, etc. don’t count because communism is or isn’t a religion. In my experience, people who bash religions don’t even bother to define their terms. For some, being a religion requires a belief in a divine being. Without trying to be too much of a smart-ass pedant, I submit that maybe we even need to define what we mean by divine.
In my experience some Americans treat Ronald W. Reagan the way the official North Korean media treat Kim Jong Il—according to a strict cult of personality. There’s one difference: The Reaganites do not call their idol a God. They just treat him as someone who could do no wrong. My favorite example of Reaganism is the argument that Ronald W. singlehandedly defeated communism by outspending the Russkies. But, of course, that big spending had nothing to do with the massive deficits that came from his administration. That’s because, as every middle-school civics student knows, Congress, not the president, appropriates money. Talk about faith-based politics. I also get a kick out of the guy in my church who wanted everyone to vote for Joe Miller two years ago because Joe said he opposed abortion. The Miller-supporter insisted no one should call himself a Catholic if he or she votes for a pro-choice politician. When I pointed out that Reagan was the first governor to sign into law a bill allowing abortion, the Miller-supporter insisted Reagan had had no choice. And so it goes.
At a forum I attended back in 1990, the speaker asked the audience if anyone knew the fastest-growing religion in the world. When none responded, he told us—nationalism. There used to be a saying, “My country, right or wrong.” Nowadays, that saying might as well be “My country’s always right and never wrong.” Witness the adoration extended to US foreign policy in 2003. I know of at least one instance where a guy told me he considered opposition to the Iraq War a capital offense. He didn't propose burning us at the stake for heresy; instead, he proposed firing squads.
Nowadays, you’re not called a heretic for opposing some foreign aid; the politically correct term for such opposition is “anti-Semitic.” I get a kick out of watching Gentiles labeling Jews anti-Semitic for opposing such foreign aid.
Another favorite religion is statism. In this religion, everything the government tells us—including that old stand-by, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”—has to be true because it is the “official” statement of the government. Remember when treason was defined as believing in the doctrines that Osama and Saddam were biddies and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now, while the Pentagon itself admits it doesn’t know how much money it spends; nevertheless, whatever the Pentagon says it’s spending on our wars is the Gospel truth. Kind of reminds me of the evangelical Christians who “prove” everything you need to know about religion is in the Bible—even though the Bible itself doesn’t say that. Even though former Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted the government lies continually, some insist every “official” government statement, now matter how ludicrous, has to be truthful because the government says it is.
Another favorite is the “capitalism” religion. To some capitalism isn’t merely an economic system; it’s a flawless messiah that saves all humans from themselves. Except when it doesn’t. Christians believe Jesus bails us out of our sins through the cross; Capitalists believe we bail capitalism out of its sins through our taxes. Now, no one to my knowledge has provided empirical evidence proving Jesus is not a messiah, but there’s plenty of evidence proving capitalism is not our messiah. That’s why the “capitalist” religion requires lots more faith than the Christian ones.
These days comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are having fun watching the stone into which Republican presidential candidates have carved their free-market capitalist doctrines turn into silly putty again and again. Front-runner Mitt Romney and consistent libertarian Ron Paul have become targets of the other politicians who have suddenly posed as members of the “99%” because Romney and Paul sometimes practice the dogmas that they preach. Apparently, the doctrine we’re supposed to base our unshakeable faith on is that firing people and cutting government waste are wrong only when the other guys do it.
I used to know an actor so in love with himself that he liked to say, “You’re an atheist; you don’t believe in me.” In my experience, I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t believe in some god or other. I remember one self-admitted atheist who once held up a dollar bill and told me, “That’s what I believe in.” That was around 1965. I wonder what that dollar is worth today.
I guess the lesson here is that before you show your contempt for the other guy’s religion, you might consider whether yours is any more believable and, for that matter, any less contemptible.