Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Monday, May 6, 2002  Print Edition, Page A17

God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent -- it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable
of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No cheques please. Cash, and in small bills.

Robert Anson Heinlein

A few years ago we finally persuaded psychiatrists to remove homosexuality from the list of recognized mental disorders. Maybe it's time we started lobbying them to add belief in God to the list. Belief in an angry, intolerant one, anyway.

I'm told 81 per cent of Canadians believe in God, or at least claim to when asked by a pollster whose expression makes it clear the only other possible stance is Satanism. I believe what that statistic actually means is that most of my fellow Canadians realize the universe is larger than themselves, sense there is something higher and better to aspire to, yearn for a deeper understanding of suffering and mortality, have difficulty accepting that 12 billion years of blindly bumping particles just happened to produce their love's left eyelash and Lennon and McCartney, and are capable of awe and wonder.

I refuse to accept that four out of five of my neighbours believe in a bearded paranoid in the sky who enjoys having His feet regularly washed in the blood of heathens and then licked clean, and who plans to torture most humans for eternity.

It seems to me that if a religion decides, with an entire planet to pick from, to select as its most sacred spot one already in use by another religion, and to kill for possession of it . . . then and there, that religion is disqualified. Revealed to be bogus, whatever else it professes or does, until the day it recants. It cannot be a genuine, bona fide religion if it permits (much less requires) spilling human blood for God -- it must be either a fraud or a severe mental disorder. If the religion already in possession of the sacred spot spills civilian blood to keep the place . . . they're disqualified, too. Any shaman who believes God wants children orphaned or maimed over the zip code of His temple is by definition out of touch with God and incompetent to preach.

I'm calling for minimal standards of shamanic competence. Physicians must swear to "First, do no harm," before we let them use a scalpel on a dead frog; it's time we started requiring that much of our soul-doctors.

"First, kill no unbelievers . . ." Any faith that won't go at least that far should forfeit tax-exempt status.

All four of the world's major religions are currently in disgrace, and all are hip-deep in denial. How many imams have publicly denounced Yasser Arafat or suicide bombing? How many Israeli rabbis have loudly repudiated Ariel Sharon or provocative settlement? How many Hindu or Muslim leaders in India have spoken out against the madness there? How many Catholic cardinals have condemned those who murder abortionists, bishops who cover for pedophile priests, or Pius X's quiet complicity in the Holocaust?

I'm sick of all four allegedly godly gangs: I don't even use their product, and I'm disgusted by the shoddy merchandise they peddle. I demand assurances that a given religion will not cause or potentiate mass homicidal psychosis or priestly pedophilia, before we let it indoctrinate helpless children and vulnerable adults. Bloodthirsty, authoritarian theology threatens Canada as much as tobacco, obesity and booze put together. It endangers our planet more than global warming, nuclear winter or rogue asteroids.

I have not been what most would call religious since I left a Catholic seminary at the age of 15 (still a virgin, oddly). But I get along very well with people who are religious, even profoundly so. I can prove it: I've been happily married to a monk for 27 years now. I'm not a Buddhist myself -- I use Irish whiskey -- but I greatly respect my lay-ordained wife's Soto Zen faith. As far as I can tell, Buddhists don't seem to go in for holy war, though there are as many flavours of Buddhism as there are sects of Christianity. Get a Buddhist totally outraged, and he tends to set himself on fire.

Siddhartha Gautama's message has spread across the planet, mostly by example and adaptation rather than by blood and conquest -- altering to fit the local culture as it passed from India through Tibet to China, thence to Japan, and most recently to North America. Most Buddhists seem far more interested in achieving the real state than in acquiring real estate.

I note that Buddhism is one of the rare religions that does not have a central god (though Tibetan, Korean and Burmese varieties did incorporate pre-existing pantheons of gods and demons). Buddha is not divine; the name means only "Awakened One." The historical Buddha was the seventh in a series of 21 buddhas. There's no UberDaddy, no paradise to bribe with, no hellfire to threaten with, no Satan great or small. There are hells . . . but they're states of mind. Tolerance appears built into Buddhism's very bones; it seeks only freedom from delusion. Buddhists may belong to other religions -- that sort of says it all.

I don't object to people believing silly things; I believe some silly things myself. Where I draw the line, where I suggest all civilized residents of this crowded starship must soon draw the line, is the point at which someone's God tells him to go kill those unbelievers in the next valley. That's the basic litmus test I'm proposing. A God who says He wants you so much as arguing theology with your neighbor, much less trading punches, let alone bullets, is not God at all, but: 1) a damnable hypocrisy invented to excuse villainy, or 2) the same voice all the other schizophrenics hear if they stop taking their medication.

My friend Stephen Gaskin once said, "Religions only look different if you get 'em retail. But if you go to a wholesaler, you'll find it all comes from the same distributor anyway."

Fine with me. But I want minimal consumer safety standards instituted in the metaphysical marketplace. Caveat emptor just isn't working.
B.C. writer Spider Robinson can be contacted at

Brutal mythology

Tuesday, May 7, 2002  Print Edition, Page A18

Strathmore, Alta. -- Spider Robinson (Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition -- May 6) decries "Pius X's quiet complicity in the Holocaust." A quiet complicity indeed, given that Pope Pius X died on the eve of the First World War.

Were ironic reminders needed, the Old Testament contains many passages in which God unabashedly demands genocide, enslavement and wholesale dispossession for Israel's enemies. Via such hoary, grisly texts as Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Kings, we have been bred to one of the most brutal war mythologies of all time.

In fact, the very prototype for the Muslim suicide bomber is the Jewish hero Samson, who, it is said, killed thousands of bystanders after he levelled the pillars of the building to which he was bound. The Old Testament exults (Judges 16:30): "Those he killed at his death outnumbered those he killed in his life."

Brutal mythology

Tuesday, May 7, 2002  Print Edition, Page A18

Toronto -- I was taught by a famous rabbi that "It is not the case that religion is the opiate of the masses" as Marx would have it, but rather, "The religion of the masses is an opiate."

The problems of opiates are well known -- it is the responsibility of religious leaders to make sure religion does not become one. This is something that Moses, Zoroaster, Isaiah, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Luther and others taught. Spider Robinson's logic would blame Bach for Barry Manilow.

Copyright 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.