Charles Wooley, in The Australian, 1 June 2017, where the title reads “When Blind Faith crosses out Reasoning”
I was watching the aftermath of the Manchester bombing on television when there came a knock on the door. I answered it to find two conservatively dressed and smiling women, one young and the other considerably older. I got in first: “Ah, religious people, I am guessing.” They agreed that this was the case but, before they could tout their sectarian wares, I explained politely that I wasn’t interested and closed the door.
On the way back up the stairs I experienced what the French call esprit d’escalier — literally, the spirit of the stairs. It means the apt reply too late, the realisation only after you’ve left the room of what you really should have said. And what I should have said was: “I am watching Manchester on the news and you have come uninvited, peddling your medieval superstitions at the worst possible time. Even at the best of times I find it annoying that you insult my intelligence with nonsense you should properly keep to yourself. But presumably you are not doing this for my benefit so much as to get yourself a little higher up your imagined stairway to heaven. But at a time innocent children have just been killed by a religious maniac, I really don’t want to hear from any of you.”
I didn’t say it. I only thought it. But was that too harsh? They probably would have claimed they weren’t religious maniacs but (presumably) Christians. And I would have replied that I remember Christians indiscriminately blowing up innocent civilians during the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland. They believed God was on their side, so any atrocity was justified. And then my missionaries would have argued that their God was a God of love and I would have argued that the fanatical clerics of the Irish Republican Army and the Unionists would have said that too.
And so it would have gone, back and forth all morning, to no point. They would have quoted apocryphal texts and in return I would have quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that religion is a disease of the intellect. And because we come from different planets, they would have said: “Who is Emerson?”
That was why I politely closed the door. You can’t argue with zealotry and blind faith, any more than you can argue with the Lindt cafe siege’s Man Haron Monis or with Manchester’s equally crazed Salman Abedi. The problem in Western society is that somehow we are going to have to find a way to have a rational discussion with the irrational or it is only going to get a whole lot worse. There seems little doubt now that Manchester is coming to Australia and it’s already too late to stop it.
Not for a moment am I saying all believers will kill you for their faith but clearly all people who kill for their faith are believers, even though probably deranged. What is common to moderates and extremists in Islam as in Christianity and most other religions that divide humanity is that they all believe in life after death. At the extreme it manifests horrifically in Islamic State’s frightening doctrine of fanatical hatred, “As you love life so we love death”. But from Roman times through to the Middle Ages, Christian martyrs often made similar declarations of indifference to this life.
It is the mindset of self-sacrifice that allows a deluded young man with his whole life before him to blow himself up and take a large number of innocent people with him. Abedi believed he would live on after death and be able to see the earthly consequences of his actions while enjoying the rewards of Paradise. In the afterlife the martyr gets to sit beside his god and to look down on the rest of us. Sound familiar? Even my annoying but I hope fairly harmless proselytisers probably believe in a similar reward for their rebuffed efforts at my doorstep. So perhaps I shouldn’t feel too bad.
Fortunately for us, Christian fundamentalism has been moderated by the progress of Western history, although you might have scarcely noticed that during Tasmania’s euthanasia debate. There were the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the scientific Enlightenment — despite which US Vice-President Mike Pence is still a creationist. We have seen the rise of democracy and the universal vote, feminism and now the gay movement. All of which fundamentalist Islam fervently rejects.
Hence the recent barbaric spectacle in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where two young homosexual men each received 82 strokes of the cane, having been sprung on the job when the religious police kicked down their door. The baying mob at the flogging loved the spectacle.
It reminded me too much of descriptions of the public burning of heretics and perceived witches in England in the 1600s. So we should never feel too superior about the irrational prejudices of other cultures. It is salutary that as late as 1727 the last witch was burned in Britain to the glee of the religious fanatics, gathered like festive drunks at a barbecue.
Watching the televised painful humiliation of those young men in Aceh, whose only crime was love, I could only conclude that apart from the iPhones and video cameras not much had changed in the past 300 years. Everywhere, it seems, the dark tide of fanaticism is rising. How ever will we stem it? Perhaps it’s time for rational people to start knocking on doors.
Charles Wooley is a reporter for the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes…. also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wooley