October, 2009

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                        BY  SY SCHECHTMAN 


         In the very recent past three  books with urgent anti God  messages were published  by Christopher Hitchens,  Sam Harris,  and  Richard Dawkins, three eminent, respected atheists.  Their titles, God Is Not Great---- How Religion Poisons Everything,  The End of Faith, and The God Delusion, aptly underscores  the substance of their message.   And also the exasperation of the rationalist message involved,  that humanity, through the continuing progess of scientific knowledge can reason its way to a higher path of enlightenment  that would at last enable the “lion to lie down with lamb” in the famous pious hope of   the Jewish prophet  Isaiah, in an eternal  bond of peaceful co-existence.   So far, in the wry wit of the modern  literary  satirist Woody Allen, this  pious hope,  when tried in actual deed has not allowed the lamb to get much sleep.   Science and  modernity  have so far not produced that increased meld of wisdom that   allows for  a more secure existence.  Especially  so as we go heisitantly forth on the path of the growing total threat of nuclear  proliferation.

        Indeed the blind “faith” in the reality of the cold,              impersonal   “oblivion before human birth and the total oblivion after death”  in a “God is Dead”  world as

have many despairingly pious pundits averred   after World War II, did not last long even though the war had caused more total human destruction and despair world wide than ever before.  Man is evidently a theocentric individual  who ultimately refuses to believe in the utter randomness and accident of human existence  and that somehow,  in Wordsworth’s still immortal words  “we come trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our father”  or in modern astrophysical poetry, Einstein’s  “music  of the spheres”.  Einstein  was not an atheist and in the mathematical  consonance of  all the major cosmic forces that he observed he divined  the transcendent  harmony and unity of the universe that  his E=MC2 hypothesis was a major factor in our growing understanding of the the vast seemingly ever expanding cosmos that we inhabit. His threshold understanding of the basic forces that propel the universe, while still beyond human comprehension still left one with a profound reverential feeling.     And that somehow humanity on planet earth was  not operating  in a vast,  aimless cosmic  void  but was an integral element in the universal epic of its continuous dynamic evolution. 

        Certainly this is the basic thrust of the new book “God Is Back”  by Mickelthwait and Wooldridge,  editors of that prestigious weekly magazine, the Economist.  And they quote very convincing facts to show that the vast majority of people  of the world agree.   That most certainly God is not dead.   There are more Bibles and Korans extant than ever before. “Over a hundred million copies of the Bible are sold or given  away each year…..Annual Bible sales are worth between 425 million and 650 million.   Gideon’s International gives away a Bible every second.  The Bible is available in 2,426  languages. Accessible to more than 90 percent of the world’s population.”   The Koran, too, is the most perused book in the Moslem world.   Both holy books, be it noted,  are being offered essentially  in their original rather difficult  form;  the Bible with all its” begats”   and lengthy  geneologies ,  and the Koran,  which is a much smaller version of Muhammid’s dialogues  with Allah, (God) is constantly recited throughout the  Moslem world.    Muhammid was an illiterate,  and his conversations  with God were dictated to scribes and in the Moslem world daily these most memorable dialogues are continually rehearsed.

        Thus we learn peripherally,  dear doting parent,  that a good career for your progeny to consider, besides the safe and conventional paths of medicine, dentistry, accounting and law, is being  a member of the clergy. The enormous   amount of basic religious literature that  has been sold and the innumerable commentaries and explications  that many times accompanies the sometimes puzzling meanings of the supposedly  basic word of God  makes for much expert religious counseling and time spent with the faithful flock.   And as stressful times many times are upon us, such as  now,   we  find many more times the safe snug harbor of  religious counseling a balm and blessing;  that God cares, too.

     More importantly,  as Micklethwait and Woolridge stress, is the disestablishment of religious  authority.  The founding fathers, particularly Jefferson and Madison, led the way by stating  in the  First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law regarding the  establishment of religion”.  They were well aware of the stagnation of European church life, stultified  by the rigidity  of the official imprimatur of the nation state.  With no direct financial aid from a governmental agency American religion remained open and competitive.  There are many Protestant sects ranging from strict constuctionist Lutherans to more liberal Episcopalians and Presbyterians with many dynamic Baptists and Methodists  holding more centrist positions.   And the dynamic heart of most of the Christian  movement today  are the Evangelical  and Pentecostal  sects—the”hot” sects---that have had impressive   growth recently.  Strong  belief in the efficacy of prayer and of the “laying on of hands” and  even  the miracle of faith healing are part of the  ritual of  hope in the prescence of the of the Living God,  and  in  the world famous Scopes trial
in Tennesee where the Evangelicals scored a Pyrrhic legal victory  enabling them to teach anti evolution theory in the classroom and so become the butt of many  “boobs of Tennesee”  sneering jokes.   Thus Evangelicals and related ardent and perhaps somewhat  fanatic sects in Christianity  today are not the major propelling forces they certainly have great influence in today’s political religious climate.  And perhaps an embarrassment to the more sedate older branches mentioned above.    Noteworthy today is the Bob Jones College of  Greenville, South Carolina  a bastion of conservative fundamentalist Christian education.  Here George Bush succeeded   in rallying  his faltering first presidential bid after the  Iowa primary ended in defeat.   A crucial week of  inner reflection and political  strategy revamping at Bob Jones college  resulted in a strong reemergence in the primary campaign and dynamic  march to win the Republican nomination in  2000.

        The exact number of Evangelicals  and Pentecoastals in the Christian faith is questionable but not necessarily a worrisome conjecture.   They are certainly a dynamic  but still loyal segment.    Even the Catholic Church  in the open competition for new recruits years ago had priests in welcoming committees at Ellis Island,   the eastern prime portal of entry for European immigrant entry.  And when John Fitzpatrick  Kennedy became the  first Catholic president  a new level of dynamic country integration   was achieved,, and even transcended now with Barrack Hussein Obama!   Which is to say that  up until now the United States has managed its’ immigrant populations very well--- layering them   like an almost delectable political  confection of compatibility,  relative cooperation, and nourishing vigor.

        Besides the many “normative” Protestant sects mentioned above the Evangelical and Pentacostal segments  make up about another 20 percent of “fringe” Protestants.   The total Catholic population  is somewhat less, and they have several  divisive views on aspects of the trinity and  theological fundamentals.    The Jews,  make up a mere 2 percent of this so called “Judeo Christian culture”  ----about five to six million people,  and the Moslem people,  somewhat less.  Arab women    world wide, however,  are more fecund: culturally and perhaps intellectually, too, many  Jewish women prefer higher education  prior to child rearing and hence have less children.   Therefore, soon  Jewish and Moslem population in the United States will be  about equal.  But the Moslem total here is still  too small to be much of a factor in public policy.   In Israel,  however,   Muslims comprise at least 20% of the citizenry now  and in about  twenty years are expected to be at  least 35% of  the eligible voters.    This is the worst scenario imaginable for the so called “ Jewish State”.   To  accommodate a voting bloc so large would be to negate many of the cherished wishes of  the now diminished Jewish majority.   Most probably  the Moslims will tend to vote as a bloc,   while the fractious Jews already have six viable dissenting segments---Reform, Chassidic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructonist.!

 The wry joke is that the “Reconservdox” position resulting in a Jewish political compromise  with the burgeoning Moslem minority  will be very “reform” indeed!   At best the idea of an autonomous Jewish State would be much mired by unacceptable compromise that might make a mockery of the Zionist ideal of an  Israel secure in its borders when  still surrounded by enemy states still vowing to “drive the Jews into the sea”.

        In essence MIckelthwaite and   Woolddridge  see Christianity and Islam in competition for world supremacy in the sphere of world spirituality.   Hinduism and Buddhism  while significant do not strive for such preeminence.   The two western faiths evolved from the original Jewish spiritual template of ethical monotheism,  evolving in different ways to attract millions of devoted people beyond their original divine inspiration.   Almost eons ago Islam was a dynamic force,  conquering a good part of the civilized world,  even into southern and central Europe in the middle ages.   Today it is like a spent force, living mainly on the “dole” of the oil revenues they have by the blessings of fortunate geography.   But despite the blessings of oil the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Arab  League, with about three hundred million people is about the same size as that of Spain.  Tiny postage stamp neighboring Israel has the 44th GDP  in the world,  probably 50 times that of the Arab League and  has only 7.5 million people, including its Arab Israeli citizens.   

        There are positive forces, however, making the Muslim position more tenable.  The large mass of Moslems outside the middle East—mostly more moderate  Sunni tribes—about 80% of all Muslims and not the more radical Shia groups of Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and the Levant.    Attempting to face and master modern technology  and also the inferior status of women and very poorly educated children.   And over the last century Islam has grown remarkably, keeping pace with the equally rapid growth of Christianity world wide.  (Now about two billion Christians to one and half billion Moslems).   But we all aware of the sometimes lethal dregs of extremism  that can distort  the thrust of change and progress and the holistic, positive Idea of God.    The jihad of 9/11/01  and the indiscriminate suicide bombings, and    virulent anti Semitism  of Iranian  mullahs and  Ahminedinejad,  the president who was just very dubiously  reelected, continuing to vow to “wipe the Jews from the face of the earth”.    Indeed, besides Israels’ rather measured response, we have now renewed talk of the “clash of civilizations” and   “Islamofacsism” And heightened demands to stop Iran’s bomb development before it is too late, even of encouraging, surreptiously,  a repeat of Israel’s solo l981 bomb strike,  then roundly condemned.   In some grim, sardonic way the Jews may have been backed into a corner,  politically and religiously,  and may in desperation have the thought and promise of atomic destruction as their last but worst hope.  

        Their best hope, and  humanity’s,  is some sort of messianic age as in the Torah, when we remember the brotherhood of man and that we were all created in  the image of  God.   Failing all  those ultimate pious thoughts   how do we craft a more workable  community of nations which  condones religious  difference but not at the expense of peaceful dissent?