I used to think, naively, that religion is arbitrary; that people are entitled to their opinions and beliefs so long as they don't abuse others. But, of course, religion is anything but arbitrary. Over the past week I have had three very different encounters with religious extremism. One from each of the main monotheisms.
The first was virtual and Islamic. I watched a documentary on SBS detailing how the Taliban are operating in Pakistani villages that they've captured. It revealed that first they use terror to frighten people into submission by beheading dissenters (an oldie but a goodie). Then they take over schools, kick out the girls and teach the boys with only one book, one way of life – Sharia law. The journalist asked a Taliban official why young boys were fighting this war and the response was, "they love to carry the guns for us" (as boys do), "we teach them to use the guns and when they're older to fight the infidels".
"Get them early!" It's the same slogan for all monotheistic religions and, of course, advertising.
The second was a little more personal and Jewish. I read newmatilda this week and made a positive comment on a Jewish writer's intelligent argument about both anti-Semite's and certain Jewish lobbyists' bigotry. I thought it was very good and clear-eyed. Whenever I make a comment online people can click on my blog name and it will direct them back here. Last night I received an abusive Anonymous comment attempting to upset my goyishness, especially by virtue of the fact he (or she) knew part of my family was raised Jewish. Right-wing Zionists can be so vulgar for chosen people, enlightened by God.
The third was my most direct experience and Christian. Today, in hospital (more knee troubles), an 83 year old Catholic man lay next to me and between life-challenging coughing fits proceeded to tell me that no one can live without God. I reminded him that the Djadjawurrung had lived in this area for 40,000 years before the missions and the state destroyed them. "Children today need to be caned by a priest or teacher", he ranted, "otherwise they will never know discipline". He later said, sensing he hadn't convinced me, "if you have no religion, you're no good; you're a communist". He had grown up in a country whose people were only given these two monological options – oppressive religion or oppressive secularism. In the end it's the same thing. We shared the air and we shared numbers. I am 38.
All three men are products of childhood propaganda. They've never grown out of it. They have suffered a similar thing to what obese kids suffer today – a life-sentence of being fed the fruits of industrialised agriculture, a new era of oppressive secularism I call pop-fascism. All of this is against nature, disembodied from wild nature, hateful of wild nature. The Taliban official was partially veiled to screen his face on camera, the Jewish Anon was fully and cowardly veiled behind his cum-stained digital screen, and the Catholic man, dying beside me, was fully transparent in his resoluteness that his God will soon offer him just rewards. None of them think of the soil when they fear death, the richness of microbial life. The possibilities for wild new life to rise from it.
Men require the silencing of others to make their mutable truths concrete. Today is the Twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the sole dance of the beautiful Tank Man (Tank Man Tango).
In the past few years I have many times dreamt of being tortured by men who hate that which is not in their own image. It's as though I'm preparing myself for my final hours. I'm hung up in a dark cell, I've been there for several days. (I have been in a hospital for nearly a week). I'm thinking that this will all end soon. I get lanced by a hot poker. I swallow. I choke. I like to think that none of this will hurt me, that I have my humanity. I'm punched in the groin with a metal glove. I will not hate these men, they are frightened, I have no fear today, they will not have my liberty today. I am free-dying. Then acid burns into my skin. I scream. Silence. 4 minutes and thirty three seconds. More screams, then –
to the care of souls,
He had smiled at us,each time we were in town, inquiredhow the baby was, had two centsfor the weather, wore(beside his automobile)good clothes.And a pink face.It was yesterdayit all came out. The gambit(as he crossed the street,after us): "I don't believeI know your name." Given.How do you do,how do you do. And then:"Pardon me, butwhat churchdo you belong to,may I ask?"
And the whole street, the town, the cities, the nation
blinked, in the afternoon sun, at the gun
was held at them. And I wavered
in the thought.
I sd, you may, sir.He said, what, sir.I sd, none,sir.
And the light was back.
For I am no merchant.
Nor so young I need to take a stance
to a loaded
I have known the face
And turned away,
as He did,
(With thanks to Ianian, Pete O, Meg and Z for their added love this week).
Charles Olson, from The Maximus Poems, 1960
Charles Olson, from The Maximus Poems, 1960