Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ship of Fools

As happens whenever the Religious Right's rampages flare to supernova magnitude, a major backlash is boiling. Many, many people at the Left and Center are angry -- VERY angry. The predictable cries now ring loudly again for religion's total, surgical removal from the public square.

Of course we don't study history anymore, so many of us seem unable to put what's going on in any intelligent perspective.

This is a regular cycle: the fundamentalist zealots get too big for their britches, they manage to convince the majority in society that they are the only "real" people of faith and their version of faith its sole legitimate form, everybody else gets good and heartily sick of them, there is a large-scale strangle-the-last-priest-with-his-own-entrails revolt against all things religious, and we enter another period of sterile secularity. Then, when people realize how -- well -- sterile this overreaction really is, in rush the fundamentalist zealots again to convince us how much we really need to get religion. Their brand of it, of course.

This is like keeping an ocean liner afloat by rushing madly, pell mell, back and forth from starboard to port. Just as the ship is ready to capsize in one direction, we ALL have to run over to the other side -- until it's about to flip over that way -- when we all head back over to the side opposite.

My grandfather was a deep-water diver in the Coast Guard, stationed on the Great Lakes, in 1915 when just such an event happened for real. The Eastland, a big pleasure cruiser, was on its way out of the harbor for a holiday jaunt. Everybody ran over to the side closest to the crowds on shore to wave at them. But they didn't get the chance to switch sides before the boat capsized. My grandfather pulled hundreds of dead people out of the water.

If we keep this nonsense up, that may eventually happen to our entire society. In part of the Middle East, it may be happening already.

Spiritual aridity always -- ALWAYS -- leads to spiritual excess. Human beings are incurably spiritual. This can be suppressed for a while, but it always, and inevitably, comes roaring back with a vengeance.

The progressive religious movement (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and whatever other tradition may be capable of progress) is an attempt to end this cycle and bring lasting spiritual health. It tries to spread us all out over the ship so we're more equitably distributed and the vessel can proceed in stability and safety. Not as exciting, perhaps -- but a lot less traumatic.

The antidote for bad religion just may be better religion, instead of none at all.

It seems that those at either extreme view religion only in stark terms of either/or. You're either a red-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic, convinced that God is telling you to set the whole world afire, or else you're so sane and reasonable you allow yourself to believe in nothing.

The hardcore skeptics have the same attitude toward progressives that the fundies do. They are violently allergic to reasoned restraint, mutual respect or thoughtful, tolerant faith. We progressives are "flaky" or "wishy-washy," they scream. And we are, for the most part, too polite to tell these lunatics to calm down and stop screaming. To just stop scrambling back and forth from one side of the ship to the other and making us all pitch and roll along with it.

Do we really need all this drama? Must we allow extremists to shout past us and shove us around?

Again, folks, PLEASE try to evolve. We're supposed to be intelligent beings. Whether we all want to admit it or not, we are spiritual beings, too. We don't all have to believe the same things. But we also don't have to drown ourselves and everybody else.



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