Sunday, December 25, 2005

The World's Most Dangerous Disease


It Isn't AIDS, SARS or Even the Bird Flu. It's Religious Extremism -- And It's Threatening to Destroy Humanity

By Skeeter Sanders

This is the one week when religion and spirituality figure more prominently in the lives of billions of people around the world than any other week of the year. It's Christmas Day as this week's article is being posted. Hanukkah begins at sundown this evening -- the first time that Christmas and Hanukkah have coincided since 1978.

And as 2005 draws to a close, almost everyone is thinking about making their resolutions for the new year that will dawn on Saturday. It's only natural for people to hope that life in the year that's about to begin will be better than in the year that's about to end.

I, unfortunately, do not share in that optimism this time around. Indeed, for the first time in my life, I am pessimistic about the coming year -- and for the next several years to come.

Why do I feel this way? Because there's a storm gathering that will make last summer's hurricanes look like a picnic in the park. Only this isn't a storm in the meteorological sense. Actually, it's more like a killer disease.

A Global Epidemic

A deadly virus is sweeping its way around the globe. It's already killed thousands of people and has wrought havoc on the lives of many millions more.

No, it isn't the bird flu, although it would be foolish for the world to drop its guard about the possibility of the H5N1 virus mutating and infecting humans on a mass scale.

It's not HIV/AIDS, even though it is ravaging the lives of 40 million people worldwide -- more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

And it isn't SARS, which drove the world to a near-panic in the winter of 2003-04.

In truth, this virus is not physical in nature -- but its wildfire spread is nonetheless having unimaginably horrible physical effects on our planet. And because this virus isn't physical, it's extremely difficult -- perhaps even impossible -- to kill it.

It's so deeply rooted that to get rid of this virus will require nothing less than a radical redirection of one's life -- a redirection that, unfortunately, most people consider too radical to make and many would even prefer to die rather than make this vitally necessary change.

The reason this virus is so difficult to get rid of is that its source is one of the most important institutions in the world -- organized religion.

Karl Marx wrote in his Communist Manifesto that "religion is the opiate of the masses." Actually, Marx didn't know the half of it. Religion -- particularly fundamentalist religion -- is indeed the opiate of the masses, because more often than not, it is devoid of spirituality.

Religion and spirituality are, contrary to popular belief, not the same thing. Spirituality is the very essence of Deity, the Force that makes life on Earth worth living. Ideally, it is spirituality that keeps religion a vibrant, life-affirming thing.

Without spirituality, religion is nothing but dogma. No religion can survive on dogma alone. Dogma is to religion what a poisonous addictive drug is to the human body -- and fundamentalist extremist dogma is the crack cocaine of religion.

In the past 25 years, we have witnessed the poisoning of religion by fundamentalist extremism. We have seen time and again how that poison wreaks a deadly psychological -- and physical -- toll on its victims.

The Jonestown Massacre in Guyana in 1978. The Temple Solaire self-destruction in Quebec in 1994. The rise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1996 and its brutal tyranny during its five years in power. The rigid determination of fundamentalist Christian extremists to persecute gay people and destroy the right of American women to freedom of reproductive choice.

Now there is a very real danger that the so-called "war on terror" that's been ongoing since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 could morph into a global religious conflict, pitting Christians, Muslims and Jews against each other in the name of God; a war that, I am absolutely convinced, God wants no part of -- and a war that could go thermonuclear.

Religious Extremism Not Limited to Islam

If you believe that the disease of fundamentalist religious extremism is limited to the Islamic world, you are being dangerously myopic and naive. The disease is bubbling up in the Judeo-Christian West as well -- Indeed, it is already an epidemic here in the United States, as the "culture wars" that have been raging since 1979 are reaching ridiculous lengths, including Christian fundamentalists' claims of a "war on Christmas" by "secular humanists."

The virus of religious extremism comes in three distinct strains -- all three of which are poisoning our politics, as well as our culture and spirituality:

1) Christianium fundamentalistii, which has so thoroughly infected the Republican Party that it poses a grave danger to our democracy. This particular strain possesses an utter contempt for our constitutional separation of church and state -- not to mention people of other religious and spiritual pathways -- and is hell-bent on imposing a totalitarian theocratic Christian dictatorship in the United States.

2) Islamium fundamentalistii, which has swept across the Muslim world like a malignant cancer since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It has proven to be the most violent of the three virus strains, killing hundreds of thousands of people -- maybe even millions -- just in the past 10 years. We've already seen how this strain has destroyed Afghanistan during the Taliban's reign of terror and is now viciously mowing down anyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in Iraq -- and beyond -- that stands in its way.

3) Judaiium fundamentalistii, which has so thoroughly poisoned politics in Israel that it has transformed the Jewish state in ways that its founders could not have possibly imagined or wanted. No one could have foreseen the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a fundamentalist Jewish extremist. Nor could anyone have foreseen the current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quitting the leadership of the conservative Likud Party he helped found in 1973 because the party is now under the firm control of Jewish fundamentalists.

The Gathering Storm

With Christian fundamentalists exerting undue influence over America's governing Republican Party; with an anti-Semitic Islamic fundamentalist now in charge of an Iran that the world is losing patience with over its nuclear development program; and with Jewish fundamentalists vying for power in Israel's March elections -- and the specter of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities -- perhaps you can now understand why I am pessimistic about 2006.

I cannot shake off the Nostradamus prophecy of three world wars, two of which have already taken place -- and that the third world war would be a religious conflict triggered by a "King of Terror" who rules over a Persian Gulf country.

And while all this is going on, what are the good people of faith who do not adhere to the hate-filled extremism of the fundamentalists doing to prevent it from happening? Why have they been silent? Their silence is deafening.

For the survival of humanity, the fundamentalist extremists must be challenged in 2006 -- and thwarted. God help us all if they're not.

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Volume I, Number 4
Copyright 2005, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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