Listening to the cacophony of the Republican nomination race, and now the presidential hopefuls, I cannot help but think that religious people really have it easy. They have only one enemy: evil. Whatever argument you bring against their intransigent, intolerant beliefs, they can always argue that you are the devil.
But it's hard to beat religiousness when it comes to simplification. A Catholic priest is now seriously suggesting that suspected Aurora Shooter James Holmes was possessed by a demon. The continued presence of such childishness in the media is highly corrosive and hinders serious debate. Sometimes, American public discourse reminds me of the infighting medieval factions were famous for. Arguments based on superstition, religious nonsense, and intentional misdirection of a highly gullible audience.
For the pious, the devil comes in many disguises: higher taxes, abortion, Palestinians and gays are some of his favorite incarnations. Now even mass murderers can be keenly explained away by satanic possession. The rhetoric of the religious right is very fundamentalist and often truly medieval. If you would translate it into Farsi and change a few proper nouns, you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to the Ayatollah.
Talking up 'evil,' and more so, believing in it, is cheating. Politics and life itself are much more complicated, and human society much more variegated than a simple creed of good and evil can express. There are no absolute truths, and there is no absolute Evil. (Careful, don't read on! Satan would say so, wouldn't he!)
The infantile habit of binary thinking (good or evil, right or wrong, gay or straight, sugar or no sugar) is one of the major curses in almost all civilizations. It leads to insufficient education, lack of self-examination, mistrust, racism, all kinds of phobias, sexual repression, and war ('with us or against us' doctrines, as any strategist will tell you, are always bad.)
If you allow 'evil' to dominate your thinking, as an abstract threat, either in 'axis' form, or lurking behind the smiles of gay people, or to excuse a brutal murder, then you will live your life in fear. You will see the 'enemy' everywhere. You will constantly be on the run, trying to avoid the great demon around every corner. But here is the good news: there is no Evil.
Good and evil are not two poles. Contrary to what the scriptures of the major religions, the Lord of the Rings saga, and Star Wars, would have you believe, there is no 'Evil' side to the world from which to flee towards the absolute good. Hollywood and popular culture perpetuate the fear of Evil. The glorious happy endings of American movies are purely religious statements: the light will win. Yet even partly-enlightened anti-establishment artists like Lady Gaga are guilty of portraying the mysterious, unfathomable Evil as humankind's prime enemy (see the nonsensical prologue to "Born This Way"). It isn't. It does not exist.
Good and Evil are variable facets of almost every decision we take, of every aspect of life. What is good and what is evil is not always clear. I used to believe in the good of biofuels for many years, until I realized the bad impact on the food supply. What is good for one person, may simultaneously be bad for others. There almost never is a clear-cut choice between right and wrong. Insisting that abortion is always wrong (i.e., 'evil') turns a reasonable concern for human life into infantile dogma traumatizing innocent women.
We struggle so hard with most classical moral questions because we are trained to believe that there always has to be one good side and one bad side, one right and one wrong outcome. Our brains have been polarized by centuries of religiousness, warfare, and closed societies. A society which accepts the concept of Evil can never be inclusive or open. Tolerance, acceptance, and progress are all contradictions to the binary tyranny of religion.
Unfortunately, in a country like the United States, with only two major parties, it is even easier to fall into the binary trap. By default, the parties take opposing sides. One side becomes evil, the other good. Take your pick, and believe firmly. Best ignore all reasonable argument too, lest ye be tempted by the dark side.
The belief in absolute Evil is one of the worst forms of voter manipulation (since biblical times!) Every authoritarian form of government, from Communism to fascism, has used the idea of outside, foreign Evil to justify repression and the hoarding of power by a small elite. To use it as a explanation for the actions of a single deluded individual is callous and irresponsible.
Blaming gay marriage, abortion, or the Aurora shooting on the devil doesn't help anyone, least of all the victims. It certainly doesn't help us grow as human beings: instead it keeps us in bondage, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I'd like to think that voters are more intelligent than the people of the bible. They don't deserve to be treated like children who cannot grasp complicated issues. They don't deserve to have every single issue reduced to a yes-or-no, good-or-evil choice. They deserve not a mysterious good, nor an unfathomable evil, but the naked facts.
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