Christian extremism in the U.S. Military, Muslim extremism in the new Egyptian Parliament, the worst kind of racism and fantasies of ethnic cleansing reaching the most official governmental positions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. That is just the news from one week, and it all points to the same thing: religion is poison for the State and the State is poison for religion. Want to kill a religion? Give it power in the State. Want to save a religion from those men who would abuse it for their own violent fantasies? Deprive religion of all state power, and the maniacs lose interest in it.
The State is all about power, and we have learned from a long and painful human history that no one should be trusted with too much power. That is why religion should remain powerless, so that it can function as a place of harmless fulfillment of meaning for millions of people, and also an occasionally helpful conscience that calls the State to task when there are power abuses. Religion cannot do this when it is itself drenched in abuse of power.
The dangers arising from Islam, Judaism and Christianity involve three different areas of human experience which all can either promote a more violent or less violent expression of religion and the state: ideas, behaviors and policies. If you look carefully at each of these cases, religious people start down a violent path with a bad idea. It is a bad idea to think that Sunni Islam can be honored in Egypt by humiliating Shi’ites and women. This is a mistaken way of thinking about Islam, and it is no doubt influenced by the mixture of politics and religion, for these men know that they can get votes by appealing to the hatred of their voters for progressive women and for Shi’ites. It is a bad idea to think that because you really believe that Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems that you should deceptively and even coercively take over the U.S. military and then use it to go kill the Muslims. This will only lead to counteractions and endless warfare. It is a bad plan as has been repeatedly shown by rational analysis of history. Finally, in Israel, the statistics are clear that more and more Israeli Jews detest religious coercion, so to put the Chief Rabbinate in ever more extremist hands seems to be inviting a civil disaster in Israel and be self-defeating, even just for the Jews.
Then there is the question of behavior. Speaking against Shi’ites and women, especially when you have the power of the state, is a violent act, it is incitement to violence, when millions of simple people are watching how their leaders in Parliament behave. Any attempt to take over a military surreptitiously, as this Dominion group is doing, should be considered a criminal act of treason, and it is definitely a violent challenge to to non-extremist Americans of all kinds, including Christians. Finally, making a chief rabbi who has openly advocated racism is again the worst kind of incitement behavior.
This leads us to policy and what the rest of us should do. The one place of refuge in the last few hundred years is the steady growth of a rational idea of the state where no one has too much power over others, and every one in principal should have equal rights. We must work hard as global citizens to educate our fellow citizens as to the vital importance of preventing men from using religion violently and coercively through the levers of the state. There should be no political parties allowed that advocate racism or prejudice of any kind. There should be far stricter guidelines as to who is allowed to be in the military or in Parliament or an official rabbi of a country. Better yet there should be no official clergy of any country.
None of these policy suggestions are anti-religious. That is nonsense. The actual founders of the separation of religion and state were in fact religious Christians who understood how corrupting power is to the higher values of their faith, and they had a thousand years of endless bloodshed of Christians against each other to prove it. With every revolution in the Arab and Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Iran to Egypt to Syria, it is becoming clear that the militarization, weaponization and instrumentalization of religion is a human disaster that sets back religious values centuries. This can be overcome only by our steady determination to educate, to enlighten, to model, and to effect policy that makes the corruption of religion far less possible at the hands of the state.
© Marc Gopin