Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Against Universalism

I know I'm lacking in new material. Too tired to blog (which means proofreading and formating), I posted the following (which I'll now edit and elaborate on) to BTF this morning, in response to this assertion:

I think that last part is practically undeniable, but not so much "we" as each individual builds god in his/her image. Which is why the same faiths "inspire" Pat Robertson and the KKK or Osama bin Laden and the Wahabbist movement on one hand, yet Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter or Muhammad Ali and Richard Thompson on the other (even with the respective feet of clay). Pat Robertson isn't a goat molesting son of a ##### because he's a Christian; his Christianity is the cloak in which he clothes his reprehensibleness. If Christianity -- or religion in general -- didn't exist, the Robertsons and bin Ladens of the world would find other means to be evil, and Jimmy Carter would just go on building more houses for poor people.

True, Robertson isn't a goat molesting son of a bitch because he's a Christian, but it helps. I get the point, but it also lets certain types of religions off the hook all too easily.

Religions are ideologies; older, and thus based on myths and ethics rather than philosophies, but ideologies all the same. And they sure as hell aren't created equal.

"Radix malarum est cupidatas" is no doubt true (just ask a decent human being about a Randroid!), but the urge to convert has to give it a run for its money. And not all religions/ideologies have the demand to proselytise explicitly stated in their Holy Books equally; not all have the same command from God (or "History" or "Reason") to aggressively convert. Of religions, the monotheists (Xtians and Muslims; Jews not nearly so much) are by far the worst for claiming universality, the worst at urging their followers to convert the "other," the worst at insisting that the condition of the "other" is degraded until such time as they are converted, willfully or not, to a state of grace.

Politically-economically, the worst is probably the Trotskyist variety of Marxism (which is not to leave Lenin off the hook, but he also sometimes learned his lessons and stepped back from "internationalism"), Western Globalism and Fascism -- these are the monotheist-equivalent, universalist ideologies. Classic Euro and American Imperialism fails the test on one crucial count but comes close otherwise. Roman Imperialism does and does not make the cut depending on era.

Universalism, and the urge to convert which drives it, begets murder and monsters. Period. Ideologues and religious nuts will cheerfully destroy the world to "save" it.

Jesus was cool; it's the dreadful St. Paul that made him into the universalist he was not. I don't know enough about Mohammed to say if the later imams did the same trick with him, too, but it wouldnt surprise me if they did.

Eastern and indigenous religions, usually polytheistic though sometimes atheistic, have a capacity for tolerance quite alien to the monotheists. If one has a differing religion to the polytheists, their attitude in response, at least on the individual level, is generally that of "yours may be true, too." Whereas, for a monotheist the religion of the "other" is automatically False, and, moreover (and here is where the Manicheanism comes shining through) its Falsity and Otherness is a manifestation of the Evil One.

Applying an anthropological rule of thumb: if it came from the deserts, it's intolerant and universalist; if it came from the jungles, it's not.

For the inevitable rebuttals alongs the lines that, hey, there's been sectarian wars apart from the monotheists-universalists... well, that's true. But religion was not, in those cases, at once the crutch and the spur to the conflict. It was less integral. Or it was, as in the cases of Hindus, a reaction against the invasion of those hell- heaven-bent on conversions. Humanity has quite enough problems with ethnic/nationalist conflicts, and petty wars of greed and resource-robbing, which is why only the most dedicated misanthrope, in my opinion, would encourage the religious-ideological impulse, too. It's simply an unnecessary urge to fight; mass murder's not worth the endorphin-raising, cosmic thumb-sucking experience certainty in a universalist dogma provides.