This was the title of one of my favorite essays by Lenin. The title itself is a powerful comment on the human condition. I can imagine early humans taking two steps forward as they left the canopy of the never-ending forest to see the clear blue sky overhead. Then they took one step back because the unfamiliar is frightening. Then they took two more steps forward. Then another step backwards. Eventually the bolder amongst them took three steps forward and one step back. Then four steps forward as the more timid fell behind. Soon the tribe broke up as the bolder went on to explore the savanna and the rest returned to the familiar gloom of the forests.
The more things change the more they stay the same. To this day we still have the explorers and the chickens. The explorers go forward into uncharted territory while the chickens huddle in the familiar as they are determined to fight change at any cost. The problem is that change is the only guarantee in life. The more the chickens fight change and huddle together for warmth and security, the more change happens. Back in the old days, the tribe that stayed in the forest was forced backwards as the forest receded to changing climate. The tribe that went forward founded the modern civilizations. The tribes who stayed in the forests tried to keep civilizations from happening.
Of course this is an oversimplification. Dynamics are rarely black and white. Absolutes do not occur in nature, but two steps forward and one step back describes life as we know it. Take Christianity for instance. I know Christians who are very progressive, yet Christianity as a whole is regressive institution. While Dr. King was leading the civil rights movement, Christianity as an institution was doing everything it could to hold him back. White preachers condemned him outright, or begged him to hold off until society was “ready” to accept African Americans as equals. There were many African American preachers who condemned him as a dangerous radical.
Today there are Christians who welcome gays into their congregations. There are Christians who will support a “separate but equal” condition for gays (“why do they have to call it marriage?”), and Christians who actively discriminate against gays. There are even Christians who will murder gays. Yet there are Christians who deny that there is any correlation between gay rights and Dr. King’s civil rights movement. Oh, how I remember the Southern Crackers who trotted out the Bible to tell us why civil rights were a sin! Gays are facing the same religious resistance today.
The few exceptions do not justify the whole. The fact that there are a few progressive Christians does not justify Christians resenting being classed together with other Christians. Very few progressive Christians do anything to protect their good names from being lumped together with Fred Phelps. Most progressive Christians are not doing anything to stop discrimination in the name of Christ. There are no Christians suing Pat Robertson for hate speech. At the very least I will say that progressive Christians are not active abusers. A very few are making a token attempt to improve their own ranks. The remainder are enablers who are allowing abuse to happen by trusting God to stop it rather than changing their lifestyles and stopping it itself.
Just so Christians don’t feel as if I am picking on them exclusively, I can toss in other religions as well. Walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown and you will see Buddhist Temples as ridiculous and bigoted as anything Pat Robertson could think up. The Islamic countries are famous for their discrimination against people outside of the tribe. Over the last twenty five years I have watched the Pagan movement become more and more like the Christians to the point where the Goddess looks like Jesus in drag (except in one notable instance where she was Joseph Smith in drag, but that’s another story.) My attempts to talk CAW into acknowledging the rapes and sexual assaults that happened amongst them have fallen on deaf ears. That’s the thing about religions, they think they can get away with anything because some make-believe higher power loves them.
I think that Starhawk made a huge mistake when she tried to graft anarchism onto religion. What she created was the social equivalent of a nuclear reactor. What is a nuke plant but a giant steam engine powered by the most unstable energy source on Earth? Religion is as reactionary as a steam engine, and anarchism is certainly a very unstable political system. The two have been in the middle of a meltdown where many branches of Paganism are taking on the most unsavory aspects of mainline religion: arrogance, intolerance, and the Protestant Work Ethic. Any religious movement, no matter how well meaning, eventually becomes a social anchor, and limits the believers to events that happened in the past rather than that which is to come. Be it Paganism or Christianity, religion is the force that makes us take one step backwards for every step forward.
I find myself coming back to this question over and over again. I think that this is because of the dialog I accidentally started with Church of All Worlds members. Maybe it’s because we are facing an even bigger financial meltdown than the crash of 1929. (How I regret some of my more optimistic posts.) Perhaps it is because I am reaching the age when I begin feeling the cold winds of my own mortality. It seems that the older I get the more I find myself agreeing with Richard Dawkins. Divinity is the biggest plague that humanity ever wished upon itself.
Well, maybe not the biggest plague. Maybe God is a gateway plague that leads to greater plagues. Belief in God leads to self -righteousness and morality. That leads to the greater plagues of bigotry and intolerance, and then before you know it you are invading Iraq and murdering gay college students. Of course, everybody has different tolerance levels. William S. Borroughs was a junkie all his life. He lived to be 79 and left a legacy of great literature. There are lots of people who are perfectly fine on God. God gives them a buzz that gets them through life. They go around doing good and smiling and bringing joy to people. These people can be seen as the happy hippies of religion. Then there are the Fred Phelps of the world. They can be seen as junkies who mug people for their fixes.
There are no clear boundaries between the good guys and the bad guys. The happy hippy could belong to the same sect, religion, or cult as the mugger. So when somebody says “It’s all the same God” it’s like saying “it’s all the same drug”. Like all drugs, people have different tolerances and different reactions to God. God makes some users violent and some users mellow. There is a school of thought that suggests that God’s gender makes a difference as to the effects. From my experience it makes no difference. I have met Pagans whose Goddess is Jesus in drag, and who are as crazy as any fundie I ever met.
At the risk of mixing even more metaphors, I suspect that belief in divinity is a social neurosis. God and invisible spirits were a good way to explain things that were not easily understandable. Babies came through sex, but nobody understood the unseen mechanism of sex. So when you had sex you made the invisible spirits happy too, and a baby came out of it. So when somebody dies, which is sad, the person comes back through the happy mechanics of sex. But over the centuries this coping mechanism changed to become the God of Fred Phelps and the lunatic pagan who screamed “monogamy is immoral” in my face.
Today we have the scientific method. We know the physics behind lightning and fire. We do not need God to explain the world to us. We have done a noble job on our own. We have outgrown divinity. Yet we do not abandon an outworn concept. Divinity remains a concept that guides our thoughts and actions. What really amazes me is how easily divinity can be used to manipulate the masses. Look at the support for the Iraq war. The Christianoid churches organized their brainwashed minions to wipe out the evil of Islam. Christians and Muslims are fighting each other over whose imaginary friend is greater.
As a nation, we have been way too tolerant of religions. We have allowed Christian religions to organize and take over our government and our military. It’s about time for us to take a stand against God. The Taney Decision of 1829 clearly gives us a right to curtail certain freedoms when such freedoms are proven to violate the common good. There is no doubt in my mind that the Christianoid right has definitely violated the common good. We have the right to stop them. In fact, not standing up to them only feeds into their delusions.