A Call to Arms

(Version 3.2)


Treating the Disease

Copyright © 2001, 2007 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

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The attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington DC by Muslim Fundamentalists on September 11, 2001 c.e. crystallized a number of ideas that had been drifting around in my head for several years. These attacks were a sign that the Culture War between Modernity and Fundamentalism has become irredeemably deadly. Though there were multiple non-religious motives behind that day's terrorism, this essay will focus on the religious factors sanctifying and justifying mass murder. Parts of this essay have been moved to Some Thoughts on Terrorism elsewhere on my website.

The Problem of Fundamentalism

As I discussed in another essay, Understanding the Religious Reich, Fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian, or Islamic (or Marxist, for that matter), has become the primary threat to world peace and even to civilization itself. Let’s put this as clearly as possible: a bunch of religious lunatics murdered thousands of people on September 11, 2001 c.e. There is absolutely no reason to believe that they (or others like them) won’t do something just as awful over and over again, if given the opportunity.

I strongly suggest reading that essay first, as I defined there a lot of the terms I will be using here.

Regardless of what happens in the so-called “war on terrorism,” regardless of whether Osama bin Laden and his associates are caught and killed, this war will never end. Why? Because military action abroad and police state security measures at home will still be treating the symptoms instead of the diseases. I have some secular opinions about that in my essay Some Thoughts on Terrorism. In the meantime, let me return to the area of human behavior I have devoted my life to studying: religion. I believe that a necessary step to creating a world in which no one lives in fear is to eliminate religious fanaticism as a socially acceptable form of belief and behavior. So here is my...

Call to Arms

Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Fundamentalists have long been waging a “culture war” with the Western world’s concepts of justice, science, democracy, and pluralism, which they refer to as “the Forces of Evil.” It is well past time for liberal, moderate, and even conservative Jews, Muslims, Christians, Neopagans, Unitarian Universalists, Atheists, Agnostics, and everyone else who isn’t a religious fanatic, to start consciously fighting back against deliberate ignorance, religious bigotry, and sanctified violence — that is to say, against Fundamentalism.

As I said before, it is time to take effective action to “contain, subvert, and dethrone Fundamentalism wherever and whenever it oppresses its own and other peoples.” What does this mean? To begin with,

  • Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and secularized Jews have to stop respecting those Orthodox and Hasidic Jews (at home and abroad) who advocate violence against non-Jews in Israel, who attempt to revoke the civil liberties of those who have different moral visions, who oppress and abuse their wives, who deliberately keep their kids ignorant, and who use money and weapons to oppress, enslave, and kill other human beings.
  • Liberal, moderate, conservative, and secularized Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians have to stop respecting those Fundamentalists in their communities (at home and abroad) who advocate violence against abortion doctors, who attempt to revoke the civil liberties of those who have different moral visions, who oppress and abuse their wives, who deliberately keep their kids ignorant, and who use money and weapons to oppress, enslave, and kill other human beings.
  • Liberal, moderate, conservative and secularized Muslims have to stop respecting those Islamic Fundamentalists (at home and abroad) who advocate violence against heretics, who attempt to revoke the civil liberties of those who have different moral visions, who oppress and abuse their wives, who deliberately keep their kids ignorant, and who use money and weapons to oppress, enslave, and kill other human beings.
  • Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Gnostics, New Agers, Neopagans, Unitarian Universalists, and members of other belief and non-belief systems have to stop pretending that Fundamentalism is just another belief system, entitled to full social and political respect, one that will eventually “go away” as people become more enlightened.

It isn’t and it won’t. Fundamentalism is a mental and spiritual illness that endangers and oppresses billions of innocent people around the world. It is a dysfunctional form of belief that deliberately attempts to control its victims to prevent them from ever becoming more enlightened, because its leaders know that scientific education, exposure to other lifestyles, gender equality, and spiritual awareness all spell the end of their dictatorships. In fact, ancient and modern Fundamentalism is the most dangerous collection of “cults” in history.

Effective action means that the full resources of modern nations and modern people as individuals must be used to overthrow Fundamentalist governments, even if the leaders are financially helpful to American corporations and the Pentagon’s plans for world conquest. There are no Fundamentalist democracies, so we aren’t likely to be going against the “will of the people” in so doing. We need to swamp the Middle East, Ireland, China, Southeast Asia, and American radio and television talk shows, with accurate information about the world outside, about modern science, about modern liberal attitudes, about absurdities and atrocities in their scriptures, about the crimes of current Fundamentalists and their theocratic plans for the future. Air America is beginning to fulfill this role in the USA and over the internet, but it will succeed only when it sees itself as something other than a voice for the Democratic Party, dualistically mirroring Faux News and the right-wing radio stations.

Our Central Intelligence Agency has shown that it’s really good at assassinating democratically elected officials, overthrowing liberal governments, and training death squads to torture, rape and kill liberals and moderates. Let’s see how good they can be at overthrowing Fundamentalist dictators (where their people have no legal options) against the will of their oil-rich supporters, now that they have the free hand they were begging for. Oh! I forgot, it’s the oil billionaires in Saudi Arabia and Texas that the CIA really works for!

Computer hackers could become true freedom fighters by destroying the electronic walls that Fundamentalist dictatorships have erected between their populations and the internet, and then flooding their previously closed networks with accurate information about science, democracy, and critical scholarship about their scriptures and the real history of their religions.

When Islamic Fundamentalists crashed jumbo jets into the World Trade Center, they weren’t just declaring war on the United States. They were declaring war on the entire modern world. When American Fundamentalist Christian ministers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed the September 11th, 2001 attacks on liberals and secularists in American culture, they weren’t just making asses of themselves, as they have done so many times before, they were declaring their solidarity and sympathy for the insanity that is Fundamentalism:

“I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’ ” (Jerry Falwell)

“I totally concur.” (Pat Robertson)

As more than one political cartoonist put it, while Osama bin Laden and his friends were rejoicing that “God has punished America for her sins,” Falwell and Robertson were saying, “Amen, brothers!” Randy Cassingham, author of This is True, in a break from his usually humourous writing about weird new stories, called them America’s Taliban. Said he, “I consider those two men’s comments downright treasonous.” I couldn’t agree more. Let us never forget the words of hate and divisiveness they spoke at a time when a shocked and reeling America needed words of comfort and unity. Don’t let their later denunciations of the barbarism of nations living under Islamic law blind us to the fact they they themselves advocate many of the same medieval punishments for similar crimes in their longed-for Christian theocracy.

The first, and perhaps most crucial, step to stopping terrorism is to stop Fundamentalism. Then we can deal with those aspects of terrorism that are rooted in political, ethnic and economic conflict, past and present. But terrorism can ultimately be defeated only by a massive, unrelenting, worldwide campaign of education in the modern principles of pluralism, relativity, secular politics, and economic justice for every living human being. The first three parts are blasphemy to Fundamentalists; the last is blasphemy to the multibillionaires who run the First World. But that’s a topic for another essay. For now, I’ll just point out that leaving a fifth to a quarter of the world’s population in the thrall of Fundamentalism — ignorant, uneducated, and hostile to the rest of the world — is not a cost-effective way to run a planet. The hundreds of billions of dollars that will be needed to repair the physical damage of September 11, 2001 is just a down payment on what Fundamentalism will cost us in the years to come if it is not stopped.

Now, on to a few related topics:

What about “Nice Fundamentalists?”

I receive complaints from some Fundamentalist readers that, “I’m a nice person and I’m a Fundamentalist. It’s those nasty ones who aren’t real Fundamentalists.” I’ve said many times over the years, I have known nice people who called themselves Fundamentalists, but none of them was considered “a real Fundamentalist” by other Fundamentalists. Nice Fundamentalists find that they must bend the rigid theological, social, or political rules of their denominations to allow themselves to be kind and decent. If they are lucky enough to live in a social and political situation that allows them that freedom, they may never know the difference. If they aren’t, they get ostracized, banned, a cross burned on their lawn, stoned to death, or dragged from their homes and murdered by religiously motivated mobs.

So who does get to define whether certain actions and beliefs are representative of a community? Only the (poly-)theologians? I choose (the root of “heresy”) to take into consideration the observations of historians, sociologists, political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other trained and more-or-less neutral observers. Then, like other (poly-)theologians who use secular sciences and scholarship to inform my beliefs, I express my conclusions.

Based on those secular observations and my own personal experience, I see anger, hatred, fear and bigotry as core Fundamentalist characteristics, with violence never very far beneath the surface. Self-identified Fundamentalists who differ with that view are in the same situation as those in the Neopagan movement who understand that “witch” isn’t the correct historical term for what Wiccans believe and practice, and that it has far too much negative historical baggage to ever be completely rehabilitated. Hate-mongering, violent, abusive Fundamentalists long ago ruined any positive value the terms “Fundamentalist” or “witch” might have had. Nice Fundamentalists can either leave their denominations or be ready for a very long and very dirty fight with their co-religionists for the heart and soul of their faiths. Let us know if you win.

Islamic Fundamentalists = Bad
Ordinary Muslims and Arab-Americans = Good, Bad, Middling

I hope I’ve made it clear that I don’t like Islamic Fundamentalism any more than I like Christian or Jewish or Marxist Fundamentalism. But as a committed advocate of religious freedom and pluralism, I try very hard not to treat specific individuals of those faiths as enemies until such a time as they show themselves to be such. Because the September 11th, 2001 attacks were perpetrated by Islamic Fundamentalists, it is all too tempting for Americans of all faiths (and none) to lash out and attack our Islamic and Arabic neighbors, assuming that they are all, “just the same.” Try to remember some important facts:

  • Most Muslims consider their Fundamentalist fanatics to be just as crazy and evil as most Christians and Jews (publicly or secretly) consider their own Fundamentalists to be. Yes, the liberals and moderates in these faith communities are usually too cowardly to denounce their fanatical brethren, but that doesn’t make them supporters except in a negative philosophical and moral sense.
  • As Clovis Maksoud, a Muslim college professor said on MSNBC Sept. 24, 2001, every religion has its lunatics and, “Just as all Christians should not be judged by the Ku Klux Klan, or Jim Jones, or even Jerry Falwell, all Muslims should should not be judged” by their Fundamentalists.
  • A major reason that many Muslims move to the United States or other Western nations is precisely because they aren’t Fundamentalists and don’t want to live in a Fundamentalist tyranny.
  • A large number of American Muslims aren’t Arabic in ancestry (lots of them are African-American or Pakistani-American) and many Arab-Americans are Orthodox Christians (not to mention agnostics, atheists, and yes, Pagans).

Or to put it as simply as possible:

What about Liberal Muslims?

For over 150 years, every attempt made by educated, liberal Arabs to modernise their peoples by Western standards, has been systematically undermined and resisted by corporate and political interests in the same West that piously touted the virtues of mass education, democracy, etc. In this the Arab world is just like the rest of the Third World.

Educated people in real democracies try to control the worst excesses of the corporations operating in their nations. They create domestic corporations that compete with the foreign ones. Their citizens demand more than pennies per day to work in foreign subsidiaries. They decline to give away valuable raw materials to foreigners for dirt cheap prices. They start paying attention to environmental issues and worker safety. All this is seriously detrimental to the profit margins of multinational corporations.

Arab rulers keep their people poor, ignorant, and powerless because that’s how Western corporations and governments like them. Islamic Fundamentalist preachers, like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, support these same goals for their own reasons: to ensure their populations remain isolated from other worldviews that would challenge the preachers’ power.

Liberal Muslims, like liberal Christians and liberal Jews, have become spiritual and political cowards when it comes to fighting against the repressive tyrants in their religion. Of course, Fundamentalists of all varieties usually have lots of guns and bombs, and they are quick to use them against those who dare to disagree with them. I am not advocating religious civil war within Islam, I am saying that it will happen sooner or later, and that it is the only way that Islam will ever drag itself out of its Middle Ages and into the modern world.

American secular Arabs (and everyone else who is sick of the killing in the Middle East) could start pressuring the American government to stop supporting the sleazy oil dictators we installed as “kings” and “princes”. They could finance a pro-democracy movement for the Arabic world, broadcast liberal Islamic views and Koranic commentaries into Islamic nations, and otherwise subvert the dominant paradigm in that part of the world. They could help the internet hackers I mentioned earlier to break the stranglehold the Fundamentalists have on public knowledge.

Such a campaign could dethrone Islamic dictators, unleash the creativity of what was once one of the world’s greatest cultures, and allow millions of women to be treated as if they were actually human beings. It would also cost oil companies trillions of dollars in lost profits, leading them to charge Americans as much for gasoline as Europeans routinely pay, costing American car makers more billions as their customers switch to fuel efficient vehicles, etc. Therefore we should expect more resistance from the American government towards any groups who might try to liberalize the Islamic world. The Bush regime will support only the sorts of “democracies” that they can firmly control.

How Should We Begin?

There is a slogan that civil rights activists have long used, “No justice; no peace.” Unfortunately, that slogan is true on many levels. Poverty, despair, hunger, and injustice are all too easy to manipulate by terrorist organizations. This is why I agreed with (and advocated) the policy of American and European troops in Afghanistan bringing food, tents, and medicine to the Afghan people. Afghans were starved and brutalized by the Taliban regime, which was not an elected government supported by the Afghan people, and reacted well (at least in the beginning) to genuine help from outside their nation (when we weren’t bombing wedding parties). I believe we should watch and continue to support the process of creating a genuinely democratic government there. But we can and should also say, “No justice; no peace” to the terrorists as we hunt them down.

Also in the short term, it’s time for the mass media and the vast majority of Westerners to treat all Jewish, Christian and Islamic Fundamentalist leaders who preach hatred and violence against competing world views, and who scripturally sanctify murder, with contempt — not respect. Let’s not fall for the ingenuous argument that we shouldn’t be biased against them — we should be biased against bigots.

It’s time for all those who truly believe in freedom and democracy to use every kind of power that they have, whether political, economic, military, social, cybernetic, spiritual, or magical, against the specific individuals who promote Fundamentalism, enslave entire nations, and commit mass murder.

Talk about this with your friends. Write letters to your political representatives. Send harsh feedback to popular media figures who whitewash violent Fundamentalism. Do binding spells on the villains responsible. Subvert the would-be dominant paradigms!

Final Clarifications

When I advocate a “war” against Fundamentalism, I am NOT  advocating physical violence against your nearest Fundamentalists. I am using the phrase in the same way as the (abandoned) war against poverty or the war against breast cancer. Yes, if our hearts are filled with hatred and revenge, we are in danger of becoming similar to our enemies. But we must still fight vigorously and unrelentingly until Fundamentalism is no longer the threat to freedom and democracy that it is now. This is an intellectual war of competing memes. All who believe in freedom, democracy, genuine science, and pluralism must work against sanctified ignorance and bigotry, which is to say, against Fundamentalism.

Likewise, I am not advocating hatred towards Fundamentalist individuals, though that is their (overt or covet) attitude towards all who are unlike them. I am advocating honesty and forthrightness about expressing the meme that Fundamentalism is not worthy of respect as a religious path because it is all too easily turned to violence and oppression. Creedism has got to become as socially unacceptable as racism or sexism, and Fundamentalism is creedism.

And, yes, I know that this essay doesn’t sound very spiritual or New Agey. I’ve already received plenty of commentary from fluffy-bunny types who want people to respond to terrorism by holding hands and sending white light and love to the whole Earth. They have been saying the same thing for many years and nothing has changed in world politics or the Religious Reich as a result. I will send out good vibes when that is appropriate, but loving your enemies when they are trying to kill you is suicidal.

I have written and spoken elsewhere about the ethics of magic and prayer. Most beliefs that these activities somehow require a separate set of ethics from the ones we use in our secular lives are rooted in the Western Dualism that separates spirit from matter. The touchstone I use in teaching is that any action that is ethical when using physical, artistic, intellectual, or social means, is ethical when you are using magical, psychic, or spiritual ones. Follow your own spiritual beliefs, but remember that refusing to take action is itself a decision that will reap karmic consequences for you and all the Earth.

Do we want to end terrorism in the world? Then we have to remember one core concept:

We can break the equation, and we must.

Copyright © 2001, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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