Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Religion and Patriotism

Religion and patriotism both stem from the unquestioning faith that something greater than the individual knows better about how that individual should feel about life, morality and humanity. Blind faith is mandatory, the questioning of any of its tenets is heresy and symbols replace substance in word and deed. From the destruction of the intellect that necessarily follows comes so much idiocy, it is difficult to keep track of it all.

A phenomenal example of religion's destruction of the human brain is the outcry in Pakistan and Guantanamo Bay regarding desecration of the Quran. The BBC reported today that a Christian man in Pakistan is being held on charges of insulting Islam for allegedly tearing pages from a Quran and burning them. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4634813.stm. Since the Pakistani government allows local tribunals to order the rape of women, is utterly impotenent in the so-called war against terror and otherwise is so barbaric and useless to its people, it should come as no surprise that the government must resort to symbols to keep the people occupied with trivia.

It's only a book. A mass of pieces of paper, bound together, imprinted with ink in the form of letters that may or may not make out words that god and his messenger uttered. Paper does not become holy just because of the words that are written on it. Muslims in Pakistan, however, seem to believe that god's honor rests in the well-being of every copy of the Quran that exists on earth and, thus, it is punishable by death to do anything to that book. Even though god created the heavens and the earth, her honor is not in forests, which are being mowed down, not in rivers that are being polluted -- just in papers with ink configured in a particular way. The Pakistani people may be starving, may be prohibited from demonstrating against the government, but their right to go ballistic about symbols provides a fabulous distraction from real issues. If they can't demand rights, they can take the repressed energy and demand death to anyone who offends the Quran. Religion really is the opiate of the masses.

While such a law would be considered absurd in the United States, we are closer than we think to enshrining the rights of symbols -- mere material objects -- in the Constitution. Only a week ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill to amend the constitution to give Congress the power to outlaw the desecration of the American flag. The bill is meant to codify the "patriotism" that Americans feel and the talking heads in the media claim that the bill stands a pretty good chance of passing the Senate given the emotive power of the September 11 attacks that the representatives trivialized to get it passed. http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/06/22/congress.flagburning.ap/index.html.

Let me get this straight. The rights of due process, free speech and freedom of religion are equal to and as important as the right of a piece of material to exist, just because that piece of material was strategically dyed with red, blue, and perhaps white. When the Republicans talk about a culture of life, I didn't know that textiles were included.

With the issues of unemployment, war, healthcare and the environment weighing on the minds of the citizenry, it is remarkabe that desecrating the flag is what American politicians are wasting taxpayer dollars debating. This elevation of form over substance is a guaranteed way to become like those the U.S. claims to fight and it is hard to believe that the greatness of America rests in a piece of material. If it does, then we are in big trouble.

Reliance on a symbol only becomes necessary when there isn't much substance behind it. That was how Hitler's party grapped power in Germany. In its infancy, the SS admittedly had no idea how to fix Germany's ailing post-war economy or repair the war-torn infrastructure. They were good at inciting violence and insulting Jews, but they had no clue about economics. Instead of addressing the issues, they stole the swastika from the Hindus and made it a symbol of Aryan purity and pride. Understanding human psychology, the campaign of course was enough to make people forget about how bad things had become and to go along with whatever their patriotic duty mandated. We all know how that story ended.

As the wise George Carlin once said, "Symbols are for symbol-minded people."

"If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York

20 Comments:

At 4:01 PM, June 30, 2005 , Blogger chad said...

Insightful as always…I really enjoyed this post. My mind was racing with all of the symbols that we exalt above the thing the symbol stands for. How profound…

However, I have to play devil’s advocate, so to speak, and argue that religion is not all bad. Religion as you articulately point out can be used to oppress, murder, and confuse people. However, many beautiful human achievements have been accomplished in the name of religion as well. It was religious fervor in this country that burned in the hearts of abolitionists who fought for freedom. One hundred years later, the “church” was the command center for the Civil Rights movement. Similarly, religion (not just, Chrisitanity) has been used to advance goodwill, freedom, and civil liberty the world over. For every man who has perverted wisdom like Adolph Hitler, there is one who has upheld its call to love like Mahatmas Gandhi.

I think we both agree that one’s spiritual walk and understanding of God is a deeply personal matter, but religion allows like-minded people to come together to accomplish “good” as well as “evil”. Churches and religion are like other institutions of human origin such as constitutions, universities, and corporations. On the one hand, all of these entities are capable of perverting there missions to serve mankind (“religious” homophobia, national “xenophobia”, etc). On the other hand, if those individuals within the institution are faithful to the mission to serve mankind, then the greatest human achievements on Earth are possible. Religion is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Religion will only accomplish what the people who practice it have in their hearts.

So I agree with you (and Karl Marx), “religion is the opiate of the masses”, but opiates are neither good nor bad. True, opiates can destroy the lives of a junky. They can also be used to allow a doctor -- maybe even a surgeon -- to cure the sick and comfort the dying.

Your brother in the calling to love,
chad

"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."
~ Dalai Lama

 
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