by Chris Volkay (e-mail: CVolkay@liberator.net) [April 16th, 2003]
Here is a potpourri of ideas that I have had swirling around my secular mind for some time.
Since war is so popular, let me broach this: Is war even possible without religion, or at least, war as we know it? Most likely what comes to mind will be the endless wars, crusades and the like that have been inspired by religion. But I'm talking about something different here. This question becomes especially weighty when you consider that at any given time there are something like 60 to 70 of these wars or skirmishes going on. The US vs. Iraq is just the headliner. There are dozens of "smaller, but significant part" wars going on on a never-ending basis.
“Disease was common for the soldiers during the crusades. Who knows, perhaps it was Richard the Lionhearted, leader of the 3rd Crusade himself, that brought some of it back with him.”
So, once the war has been initiated, (very likely with some type of religious underpinnings) you obviously need recruits, soldiers. Now, how do you convince a man to possibly die for you? Enter the mythology. Tell the soldier that if he dies, they're not really dying, he's just going to a better place than this rotten old world anyway! Lots of plump virgins, rivers of wine, exaltation by god and his heavenly rat pack all await him in the next life! Pretty sweet deal, no?
And what about his ability to fight? Take one soldier, imbue him with thoughts of immortality, glory and exaltation and tell the other one that death is simply what it is, final. Which one will be the more rugged man-at arms? The answer is, of course, manifest.
Before the religious apologists begin locking and loading their machine guns, let me quickly add that there are certainly other factors and influences that are swirling around in the calamitous cauldron of confluences. But I would say that the fundamental underpinning of it all is the religious mythology that says that I'm not really dying I'm just going to a better place where glory and exaltation surely awaits. Remove this mythology with secular humanism, science, reason and rationality and we may find that we have far fewer people willing to imperil their lives fighting religious zealots, flying airplanes into buildings and blowing themselves and others up in pizza parlors. The truth shall set us free!
By the way, there are times when fighting certainly is PC. But these "going to the happy hunting ground" underpinnings make it far to easy to employ this, what should be a last resort, far too quickly and easily. Let the soldier make their finding based on full and complete disclosure of all apposite facts. This should be on of our missions as humanists in our never-ending battle of educating.
As I write this, Utah teen Elizabeth Smart has just been released from her captor, a "prophet known as Emmanuel." Various people have come up to me and said how wonderful it is. "It's a miracle! See, Chris, prayer does work. Millions of people all across the country have been praying for her safe return and now it's come true. It's evidence of the power of prayer and by extension, the very existence of god. Praise the lord!"
Is everybody plastered?
Obviously I'm very happy she was found. Great. But the lord had nothing to do with it, and neither apparently did law enforcement. From what I saw from the media coverage, John Walsh's show America's Most Wanted was the catalyst in breaking the case. That's where the kudos should go. In fact, not only did the lord not bring her back, but it was the religious delusions of the kidnapper that actually caused the situation in the first place. Elizabeth was going to be one of his religiously mandated wives. But in the end, the sophistry of the religious mind has turned the entire event into a testament to the power and glory of the lord. Dolor, dolor is me.
Ever wonder about these stories where the ex-boyfriend blazes into his ex-girlfriends wedding party and shoots her and then himself? It's happened out here in California. Just what's happening here? He's simply acting upon the religiously based delusion of "going to a better place" once again. Kill her, kill yourself and you've got her away from her father, her family, her new boyfriend, the courts, restraining orders, jail and the like. "Spirit" your lady love away to a new land where you can have her all to yourself and leave the rest of them behind. Pretty sweet deal, eh? Law enforcement has actually found suicide notes to this effect, but I've noticed that the media rarely plays this angle up, even when they are salient aspects of the case. Hmm... I wonder why?
Texas wife Andrea Yates (take my wife, please) drowns her 5 children. She says she did it to spare them going to hell, had they lived. Yes, she probably was deranged, but still, had she not had these religious delusions running around her noggin, she may not have become another modern-day Medea. If she didn't have these hair standing on end images of hell in her head, perhaps she would have acted on more benign delusions. These types of cases are important because they tend to happen rather frequently.
John Lennon was a personal favorite of mine. He was, of course, murdered by a deranged fan outside of his New York apartment. Case closed. Baa da bing. But is it? His killer, Mark David Chapman was probably psychotic, but many people are psychotic. Why the hatred of Lennon? It stemmed from the original remark Lennon made in 1966 about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. Chapman recorded this in his diary. He also used to sing the song, "Imagine... John Lennon dead" with other "religious" friends of his. Again, yes he may have been psychotic, but his motivations were religiously inspired. Had he not had these particular delusions running around his head he may have imagined himself Napoleon or Alexander. He may have created Barons and Earls to have high tea with. Delusions far more benign than the murderous delusions he ended up envisioning.
Remember these names, Jerrold Nadler, Robert Scott, Jim McDermott, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Gary Ackerman and finally Barney Frank. The new "Magnificent Seven." Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach? Time to move over.
In a rare and surprising testament of courage, the aforementioned seven house members all voted against the House's recent condemnation of the Federal Appeals Court ruling regarding the upholding of the banning of the words "under god" from the pledge of allegiance.
In the original movie, 7 rare men of courage came together to defend a town from a hoard of barbarians that were terrorizing the good folk of the town. There were literally hundreds of these unthinking conformist savages that kept attacking our heroes.
Oh, and by the way, did I mention that the vote in the "House" for this politically motivated, playing to the constituency, kissing the babies, nonbinding resolution was 400 to 7?
Stick with me here. What was the cause of the of the Bubonic Plague (Black Plague) that ravaged Europe during the 14th century killing approx. 1/3 of the population? The traditional cause has been ascribed to the Mongols, who, already infected, contaminated traders from Sicily who then began infecting Europe. But the were also other factors involved. Some have posited that members of the crusades, who ventured eastward to the "holy land" were a contributory factor in bringing the plague back to Europe. Disease was common for the soldiers during the crusades. Who knows, perhaps it was Richard the Lionhearted, leader of the 3rd Crusade himself, that brought some of it back with him. (The plague was known in Europe since the 5th century A.D.)
Of course it's speculation, but imagine the irony. Richard the Lionhearted, Crusader King, may have been responsible, directly or indirectly, chiefly or at least in part, for the Black Plague. Or possibly, at least in the sense that his involvement served as a beacon and catalyst to subsequent crusades that had many thousands of roaming men.
And why is this significant from a secular view? This disaster heralded, in part, the beginning of the end of the religiously inspired Dark Ages. Up until the plague, the nobles and monied of Europe had essentially been buying insurance policies with the churches. We contribute money to you and you, for your renumeration, will talk to god and keep us safe from all manner of nastiness. But as the plague began sweeping Europe, killing nobleman and peasant side by side, in equal numbers, the nobility slowly began to realize their insurance policies were written in the windswept sands. Disheartened by this insolvency at the clerical bank, the privileged classes began spreading their money into the more secular pursuits of medicine and science (such as it was), essentially hedging their bets. This in turn was the beginnings, at least in part, of the Renaissance and later, the Enlightenment.
With the re-emergence of man (The Renaissance), the somnolence of the dark ages began to be attenuated. At least to some extent. Our re-emergence (emergence?) from the dark ages is one of the most important and seminal events in all of human history. And to think, it may just possibly have been Richard or one of his merry men that contributed to the beginning of the end for the absolute stranglehold the church had on the western world. Their actions, inadvertent as they certainly were, may have actually help rescue humanity from the blood-soaked clutches of evil and darkness. Smashing. If true, anybody care to second my nomination of Richard the Lionhearted to the Secular Humanist hall of fame?
Resources and Avenues for Further Study
George Burson (Aspen High School): The High and Late Middle Ages
Click here to return to our Articles @ The Liberator