Saints and Sinners On The Road To Damascus
“Saint Paul the persecutor was a cruel and sinful man
Jesus hit him with a blinding light and then his life began
I said yeah — I said yeah”
– Rolling Stones
The world has many religions; some large, some small. The so-called Great Religions are considered the great religions because of the number of adherents they have. Between them just four, Christianity (2 billion), Islam (1.5 billion), Hindu (1 billion) and Buddhism (0.5 billion) comprise 71% of the world’s population.
In addition to these there are another 1.5 billion people who are members of other, smaller faiths, including Judaism, Sikh, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Wicca and a number of smaller, regionally-specific faiths. In total, just over 80% of the world’s population subscribes to some faith or another.
As significant as the membership of some religions may be, however, all of them pale in comparison to the fastest growing religion on the planet – Political Ideology.
Many theists accuse those of other faiths to be extremists and fanatics, and to be fair, there are still some of those in all religions to this day. They tend to be the people who pervert the teachings of their faith, creating God and his teachings in their own image rather than the other way around. They are the people who most easily compromise their principles through the distortion of the values and morality of their religion.“Love thy neighbour!” Screw that. He’s a Republican. Hand me stick and I’ll whack him.
“Go forth in peace” Are you kidding me, they’re Jews. We need to obliterate them from the face of the earth.
“Be kind to one another” No way – they’re gay and that is an abomination!
“Hate Muslims”, “Kill Jews”, “Protest gays”, “Kill abortionists to preserve life” “Stone the adulterous woman”, “Shoot those who disagree with us”
“Blow them to Hell ‘cause that’s where those Godless heathens and infidels are going anyway. I know because God, or the prophet or my pastor or my rabbi told me that personally.”
Most people of faith aren’t like that, of course, thank God. Otherwise there wouldn’t be too many of us left walking around. Most people of faith either follow the teachings of that faith with more understanding or at the very least, take a more benign approach to the practice of their faith. Nonetheless, it is the extremists that give all people of faith a bad name and that is just as true of the fanatical adherents to a political ideology who distort and pervert the political system in the same way religious fanatics distort and pervert their faith.
Fanatics, whether political or religious, all share something in common beyond their extremist actions and viewpoints. They are mindless. Their belief systems are so shallow that if objective thinking and critical analysis were the same as swimming, they wouldn’t dive deep enough into the pool to get wet.
They are the self-righteous and the sanctimonious regardless of the issue. They are the self-professed saints who see all with whom they disagree as sinners.
They share a common belief that only they know the righteous path and all who refuse to follow that path are liars, heathens, infidels, fascists, traitors, communists, fools, and morons or, as Ann Coulter so politely and sensitively put it; retards. Unlike an ancient Jew named Saul who was struck by a blinding light on the road to Damascus that made him realize that the course of his life was wrong, fanatics are blind to the light and consequently they ignore or distort the truth to suit their own perverse beliefs. In fact, they don’t even search for truth. The truth is whatever they choose to think regardless of facts.
They are the people who don’t simply believe, but absolutely know, that everyone else is wrong. Whether their Messiah came down from Heaven or simply from Hawaii or Detroit, he is the chosen one, the anointed and all must bow and follow for the good of humanity. Everyone else is a heretic and going to hell. Everyone else must be denied any claim to decency, truth or equality.
Political ideology has become the new religion, the faith that embraces extremism and welcomes the willfully blind; the more fanatical, the better it is for an increasing number of its adherents.
The Democrats accuse the Republicans of being racist and then attack a young black actress for exercising her constitutional right to vote as she pleases. They use racial slurs against her and even utter death threats and all but a few of those who don’t, remain silent; refusing to speak out against the ideological hypocrisy within their own ranks.
A Republican senate candidate waxes poetically on the ability of a woman’s body to prevent pregnancy as a result of being raped but those who support him just nod their heads in agreement while attacking the beliefs of the opposition.
Criticism is deflected, truth is ignored and you can always tell how close to the real truth you are by the volume of those calling you a liar. The louder the screams of those trying to shout you down, the closer to the truth you are.
But just as it has in religion, that fanatical and blind interpretation of real facts is precisely what turns faith from its true purpose and teachings.
Democracy is about equality and the right to freedom of choice and expression but to the ideologues, that only applies as long as you agree with them. Once you voice a dissenting opinion, you are burned at the rhetorical stake, a heretic who must be cleansed from the earth even if it is at the expense of what all that screaming was originally intended to protect on our behalf; our freedom and prosperity.
The American Presidential election has become an orgy of ideology where facts, independent thinking and even just common sense have been discarded for blind and willful self-delusion. Principles and values are discarded, reason is ignored and nothing matters but winning. Nothing is too shallow to condemn and criticize whether it is binders or Big Bird; nothing is too big to ignore including the death of four American diplomats and the subsequent cover-up by an Administration seeking reelection.
Truth is always the first casualty of ideology and religious extremism because the truth often threatens to undermine the superficial beliefs of extremists. They who are most aware that the truth sets us free and they fear that freedom.
In the end, just as with religion, extremist adherence does not unify, it divides; it does not strengthen, it weakens and it does advance us as a people or as individuals. It compromises who we believe we are and who we want to be.
There are as many political ideologies in the world as there are religions and just as with each religion, each has some truth within it but it is those who pervert and twist those truths in willful blindness and fanatical ignorance that prevent the rest of us from benefiting from those truths.
There are many paths to achieving successful government just as there are many paths to God and to secular enlightenment but none of those paths are the ones created by fanatics and extremists. They only create paths that are filled with anger, intolerance and hypocrisy. Unlike Saul who would later become St. Paul, we are not on the road to Damascus; we are on the road to Perdition and unless we cast off the extremist fanaticism that threatens to overwhelm us, I doubt we’ll ever experience a blinding light to show us the way home.
While the extremists and fanatics among us are very quick to make saints of those they support and sinners of those they don’t; try as they might, my friends, they will never make a saint of me.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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