The rising tide of fundamentalism in the United States, the clashes between Christianity, secularism and Islam in the Middle East, the rancorous debate within the Anglican Church concerning same sex marriage … reflect an increasingly tumultuous world. New factors include globalization and increasing inequities, but religious notions continue to frame public discussions, political agendas and terrorism.
This is not new. History is full of `isms' having at one another - notwithstanding that religions counsel congregations to `love thy neighbour as thyself'. Such admonitions are clearly unable to prevent conflict among human beings after they have been sorted into Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews ….
The reason is worth noticing. If you and I subscribe to any of a thousand renderings of doctrinal truth, we will usually get along with individuals making similar choices. We will likely combine resources against persons or groups espousing different versions of The Truth.
Since all such groups are similarly constituted, the stage is set for conflict.
In the 20th century alone, 200 million human beings died because of organized violence. There is reason to believe that this percentage will increase. Our ability to kill one another is rapidly increasing. Moreover, we now know that no prospect is frightful enough to make us rethink the wisdom of indoctrinating human beings.
Sects and `isms' provide easily-won feelings of identity and purpose and a reliable supply of `others' to feel superior to.
To draw back from this prospect, we may have to resort to what philosophers call a `transcendental route to a conclusion'. The reason is simple: fundamentalists typically dismiss `inconvenient' facts and arguments out of hand. They must therefore be challenged based on notions they clutch to their breasts. Their axioms and conclusions must be shown to be mutually contradictory.
Fortunately, in the case of religious fundamentalism, this is not difficult. Christians, Muslims, Hindus …
- understand themselves as God's favourite creatures;
- understand one another as infidels;
- understand there can only be one Truth, one Chosen People;
- believe that persons are born into the world to have opportunities to develop as moral agents and make decisions.
These claims set the stage for the transcendental challenge. Fundamentalists believe that, to the extent that decisions are virtuous, people qualify for paradise. The alternative is the fire and brimstone fate proposed by traditional Christianity, the `grave oblivion' proposed by Jehovah's Witnesses or, for reincarnationists, yet another ride on the 'wheel of life'.
The problem is, such talk involves information God clearly does not want human beings to have. According to both the Bible and the Koran, the world was created so persons could have experiences and make authentic choices. Had God wanted people to live in the context of Divine Agendas and spiritual possibilities, there would have been no need to create a world wherein He (or, more likely, She) was conspicuously absent.
Thus, the `transcendental challenge' is simple. As soon as individuals are told about God's Plan for Man, as soon as they are persuaded that their `important existence' begins after death, this world and this life is trivialized.
In this context, doing the `right thing' to attain heaven or avoid hell is nothing more than sophisticated selfishness.
Such behaviour cannot be considered as moral in any interesting way.
In the Bible, Satan is described as wondrously subtle. What could be more cunning than telling human beings the one Truth certain to set them apart from the world, other creatures and one another?
In short, whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu, proselytizers striving to eliminate choices are guilty of sabotaging God's purpose in creating the world.
They would do well to ask which supernatural entity they are working for.