If only we could put God on hold

15 September 2001 by Gordon McLauchlan

Quoted from The New Zealand Herald

What a shame the world couldn't have a moratorium on God for the 21st century, I thought after watching some young Palestinians dancing gleefully in the streets, celebrating the New York slaughter, and shouting "God is great".

It was a few minutes after Ariel Sharon, Israel's Jewish apostle of vengeful violence had pledged help for the United States.

Earlier in the week, I read that Muslim bodies littered a street somewhere, slaughtered by Christians who outnumbered them; and in Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants dipped again into the bottomless well of religious hatred.

On the Indian subcontinent, Hindus kill Muslims and vice versa, and Sikhs kill and are killed by them both as a side dish.

Earlier this year, we were treated to a story about some elderly Hindu men murdering young women who, they felt, were breaching their religion's moral code by dressing in a provocative manner.

Iran is still ruled by bigots, but slightly less savage now than a few years ago when dissent was a capital offence.

If you didn't believe in their version of the next world, they sent you off to it early to be convinced. And that's something that interests me: that so many religions speak piously of the ultimate judgment of God but insist on intercession on Earth for their own vindictive punishments.

Buddhists immolate themselves in protest against the coarse events of this world.

And the latest scourge is the Taleban, maniacal zealots who have arisen from the carnage that has been life in Afghanistan for the past few decades.

These people are the right hand of their very own savage, blood-lusting deity. Tens of thousands of people who don't agree with them have fled for their lives and clogged the refugee conduits of the world.

If all these people are right about God and they are all monotheists - then one can assume that, if we could identify and catch him, he would have to be tried for crimes against humanity.

As a writer I try to imagine myself in the minds and hearts of other people in an effort to understand their impulses and motives; so I think of the aftermath meeting among the conspirators that put together with detailed planning and some finesse these insane and barbaric acts in New York and Washington.

Do they sit around and say they have struck a blow for humanity? Or for their race? Or for their political party? Or just for king and country?

No, they could only justify this to themselves and others by invoking the will of God. Men can only be persuaded to die voluntarily and gloriously for their particular version of God and their imagined hereafter.

That's why George W. Bush and others are tactically astray when they talk in their understandable anguish and grief of hunting down and punishing those cowards who are responsible. Cowardice is a vice that exists only among normal people who fail to measure up to the standards of common, humane morality.

These mass murderers who kill themselves for the glory of their religion are beyond the concept of cowardice; and how can you punish them when they know they can outwit you by happily killing themselves for their celestial cause?

People's gods and their theology are reflections of themselves. Decent, kind, compassionate people see God that way. Brutal, pitiless, psychotic people may share a vengeful, ruthless God of the same name who justifies their inhumanity.

One of the things almost every religion traditionally has in common is exclusivity. We have contact with the deity and, therefore, we know we are right and you are wrong. You will be shut out from heaven, or Valhalla, or wherever, because ours is the one true God, not yours.

Religions traditionally focus on differences whereas all the humanists, all the agnostics and most of the atheists I know think inclusively and concentrate on the shared humanity we all possess.

So what a shame we couldn't get all people to put God on hold for a while, and rebuff visions of the next world in a bid to put this one right.

Then the psychopaths and the exclusivists would be seen to be what they are - murderers and bigots - and not be able to cite an invisible higher power as vindication for their violence and thus to hide behind the image of their God.

I think it was Arthur Koestler who said the main cause of the world's problems was not so much some innate impulse for violence in men but the need for people to be certain they are right about everything by forcing others to acknowledge that rightness.

Sadly, people won't go along with my idea because it seems the more insecure they are the more devout they need to be and thus the more spiritually naked and terrified they would feel without their protective dogma.