Saturday, December 15, 2018

And So Say All of Us

"My city is a sea city, always full of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Persians. My family’s sect was the Pah-nami. Hindu of course. But in our temple the priest used to read from the Muslim Koran and the Hindu Gita, moving from one to the other as if it mattered not which was being read, as long as god was being worshipped."
from the film Ghandi, 1982

There was a time in America, Canada and other places of the world where a Catholic priest and a Protestant reverend could meet in the afternoon at a tavern and discuss the holy writ of the Bible with a Jewish rabbi, with none of the three being in full agreement with the other but all three fully respecting one another's beliefs, accomplishments, responsibilities and efforts in bringing aid to a community that relied upon their guidance.  While interpretation mattered, none were prepared to judge or condemn the other, since the greater struggle was not what god wanted, but how to enable the parish, the congregation and the synogogue to overcome the constant misery of domestic abuse, crime, poverty and ignorance that plagued all three of those institutions.

Of course, today, we have other religious institutions who encourage misery and fear, who are less interested in curing the world's troubles than putting them on a placard to scare the shit out of the weak and the desperate, as a way to fill their pockets.  In the last scrabbling throes of the dying religious institution, steadily being eroded away by science and technology, the evangelicals and fear-mongering moralists care only about how much coin they can glean from the fields before they're caught.  Religious is a convenience, a cherry-picked rod of correction and a balm, where ninety-nine percent of the holy word is ignored in favor of those choice phrases that are bound to squeeze the flock for another buck when the plate rolls around.

Naturally, in an atmosphere like that, other religions are a natural enemy, a great fear-worshipping flag to be unfolded when the time is right for the sheep to be fleeced.  It is no wonder that religions look like dogs snapping at each others' throats, when that is the best image to be shared on Twitter and Facebook to get paying customers in the pews.

I received an extremely good question from Rec that I'd like to address:

"I've always been super interested in your posts regarding religion/faith, but here's a specific question:  How do different sects of Christianity (or any religion), e.g. Catholicism and Protestantism, reconcile the fact that the other guy also gets miracles/divine aid?"

Inherent in the question is our recognition that if we're Protestant, we don't like the other guy.  One of the things that brings us a great deal of comfort is knowing that Our God is a great guy, but that the other guy's "god" is a big pile of bullshit.  People who believe in god (I don't) have no trouble reconciling this completely baffling conclusion, because in reality, they don't really give a damn about their god.  They just don't like the other guy.

It is a pervasive misconception, pervasive because it is fed to us on the daily by people who have an agenda that makes our eating this shit of particular benefit for them, that hatred between religious groups has to do with what we each believe or what god we imagine exists.  Yet we should notice, when the groups we don't like DO worship the same god, in the same edifices, with the same words, arguing the same sentiments and religious logic, the hatred doesn't go away.  White baptists in the American south hate black baptists.  They hate 'em.  Not because they worship god "wrong."  No.  Because they're black.

Remember what the white supremacists at Charlottesville were chanting?  It wasn't a theological argument.  Theology, god, who believes what, none of that is actually important.  Those things are just occasionally used as crutches to defend hatred that is fundamentally indefensible.

If it were true that gods really existed ... that there was a real Christian god, and that he passed out spells to both the catholics and the protestants alike, one side would scream that "we get spells because we're honest" and that "they get spells from satan."  It wouldn't matter where the spells actually came from.  All that mattered would be where we said they were from.

And if the other side said, "We get our spells from god, just like you do," the one side would say, "You're lying."  And there we are again.  We hate you.  We don't want to be like you.  So we see this our way, and god be damned.

If Jesus Christ appeared for real and redrew the congressional districts for Georgia, then magically transformed every bible in the world so that the definition of those districts appeared in the Second Book of Judges, we wouldn't have to wait a day before some "christian" began finding a way to fuck with those districts again.  I have no idea why this isn't obvious to everyone in the world, but it ought to be.

My game world takes place in 1650 ... two years after the Thirty Years War, which is THE war where it comes to killing the other guy on masse over the principles of religion.  In every way imaginable it is a free-for-all of butchering your next door neighbor that your family of 400 years has been putting up with their family of 400 years.  It is the Montagues and the Capulets to the 24th power ... millions were killed, Europe was burned to the ground and when it was finally put to an end, the result was ... nothing.

No religion was eradicated.  No fundamental belief was changed.  No religious institution changed their service and no side embraced the other like a brother.  But ... continental Europe mostly decided that maybe it would be a good idea if we stopped killing each other.

England continued to go at it for another century, mostly because the English, the Scots and the Irish really, really hate each other.  The Irish kept on, not calling it quits until 20 years ago.  Brexit is threatening to give them a reason to start again.  But understand: the religion was incidental.  The fight was about "They're not us" ... which, incidentally, is still the argument for why people voted for Brexit.

This is the long way around the barn to explain that the other guy justifies miracles/divine aid by calling it evil curses and a plague brought upon us by demons.  We, us, the good guys, we get miracles ... because we're the only ones who are entitled to get them.  And so say all of us.


JB said...

Which is why I never liked the idea of spells like "detect good" and "unholy symbol." To a capital-E Evil cleric, his symbol IS holy, his church IS sanctified, his rites ARE good. It's the other's guy's stuff that's "evil" and "unholy."

[I realize this is kind of beside the point...just something that bugs me about AD&D: t seems to consider that evil characters are all twirling their mustaches and reveling in being villainous scoundrels]

ViP said...

One of the key realizations that come with adulthood is finally understanding that EVERYONE thinks that what he/she does is "good". Funnily enough, Moldvay's Basic D&D nails it with its Law/Chaos axis, explicitly letting the DM determine with the players what "Detect Evil" does. This clear moorcockian influence is one of the subtle reasons Moldvay's is my favourite iteration.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I think you'll find that it was John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Hobbes before him, who "nailed" the law/chaos axis, which is why it resonates so clearly with the consciousness of the Western mind. Yet, yes, Moldvay had obviously done his reading.

I think you'll appreciate the 21st or 22nd class of my RPG 201 class, ViP, as the presence of law and criminality (which I prefer to use as a term) figures in the work I'll be doing there.

JB said...

Ah, Hobbes...memories of freshman year Humanities come flooding back.
; )

ViP said...

Here in France philosophy classes are compulsory in high school so you'll probably find many people who, while acknowledging the chaos/law, rise/fall, light/darkness dichotomies that have structured the English worldview since the Roman left, will contend that Hobbes saw Law and Chaos as two primal forces between which an equilibrium must be sought. This last bit comes from Asia-infused sixties' conterculture (via Moorcock for many fantasy fans of that period) and would have seemed very odd to classical thinkers.