When Religion does matter Part I
Our founding fathers had a completely merited and two way fear of religion and politics. They were familiar with atrocities such as the inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, and the violence of the reformation and counter-reformation; and they didn’t want to see that kind of violence in the USA. They knew that at the root of such violence comes from the influence that authoritarian, dogmatic, and corrupt religion can have on politics. They knew the predilection of preachers, ministers, and priests to engage in convenient, parsed, polemical and sometimes corrupt interpretation of religion, in the pursuit of fame, power and money. And they knew that such religious demagoguery could lead to the rise of fanaticism, dogmatism and authoritarianism. They also knew that politics can exert a multiplying influence on the rise of such corruption if religion is allowed to become a tool of politics. Thus Separation between church and state was meant to protect the Church from the corrupting influence of political power and politics from the violence of corrupt religion.
They weren’t wrong. We see how religion is corrupted by politics, and how the corrupt use politics to corrupt religion and intrude on people’s lives. Once we see this in terms of the moral issue of “corruption” we have an incomplete framework for analysis, because we need a yardstick to measure the corruption of religion or politics.
I’ll save a full discussion of this issue for another time, but one measure of both the ideological and the potential for corruption is the ease with which religious beliefs can be manipulated by the cynical and ambitious. On that score literalist and facile understandings of religion are the most vulnerable. Because the cynical can understand religious beliefs and motivations and exploit them, even when they don’t believe them themselves.
All modern religions have a level of understanding that says “both material truth and textual truth are true, if you think one contradicts the other then you don’t really understand the material and are not truly enlightened.” Priniciples such as “right to life”, “the Trinity”, and various conflict between obvious norms of behavior and religious texts, exist in all religions. Really spiritual beings manage to observe these conflicts and resolve them without being trapped into insanity. Fundamentalists of all religions tend to seem to ignore the fundamentals of textual interpretation and never penetrate beyond surface meanings. They seem to get locked into resolving conflicts between material reality and religious text – by rejecting material reality. This happens largely because their teachers are manipulating them. And it makes a point on which others can take advantage of them.
An example of such a conflict is the mandate, felt by most Moslems to protect the name and reputation of the Prophet. The result of this mandate is that Moslems get tricked sometimes or miss the point of the mandate completely.
I’m not a Moslem so I won’t offer any literary suggestions for those who would honor folks who stab, attack or blow up critics of the prophet. But I can offer the suggestion that if you feel that way someone is manipulating you. And the ease with which religious charlatans and demagogues from within a religion can manipulate believers is directly proportional to the maturity with which religion is interpreted and believed in. It doesn’t reflect well on Islam or modern times that people can provoke wars, riots and authoritarian revolts by deliberately creating a movie to criticize the Prophet Mohammed. You are being played folks.