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The illusion of physical unification

By R.H. Joseph

It appears many are surprised both by the ravenous appetite for war among America's religious right and now, their exultant response to what was an inevitable victory.

To fully understand the psychological dynamic at work we must abandon the specific and embrace the general. Though this appears (and is defined by evangelicals as) a conflict between Christianity and Islam there is something far more profound taking place.

While organized religion permits the establishment of a consensual worldview, codified answers to metaphysical questions intrinsic to the human condition, its practitioners are commonly content within their particular articulation of spiritual awareness.

This awareness tends to promote a sense of human commonality, a sense of the universality of truth, and a sense of inclusiveness. Such individuals are not a threat to the common good. Their focus is spirituality and not self-aggrandizement.

The human stratum that should concern us is the group whose worldview is characterized not by the number 1, as those above, but by the number 2.

Religious zealotry is an ego driven phenomenon characterized by experiential dualism. In the midst of self reflection and a commitment to the perfection of the perceived those plagued by such pathological self-absorption regard all others as a challenge and a threat.

While it may be our nature as a culture to view phenomena as isolated events it behooves us to appreciate this volatile situation from a larger perspective.

America's religious zealots are not simply threatened by Islam; Muslims are merely this week's manifestation of evil. At one time or another our religious right rails against homosexuality, alternative economic systems, all forms of Christianity other than their own, Bill Clinton, Judaism (currently off the hook), spontaneity, sexuality, and that deliciously nebulous abstraction, the devil.

Most importantly, this pathology is systemic. The superficial focus of this dualistic obsession with Other is only significant to the demonized, for today it is their turn to die.

The true threat to those who remain is the danger explicit in an insatiable need to recreate the world in one's self-image. Ironically, this danger may be illustrated by the manifold branches of that which has been asserted to be the world's one true faith, Christianity. How many sects has it now?

While we're on the subject, how many faiths have asserted their singular exposition of truth over the course of human history? How many have died whilst nameless, forgotten zealots attempted to remake the world in their image?

With regard to our collective future it must be asked, as this destructive, ego-driven dualism is inherently devoid of certainty (hence the need for a commitment of faith), can it ever be sated, even in principle? The answer is resoundingly no.

Attend to the periods during which the religious zealots lack something or someone to revile. Reflect upon the relentless venom directed toward Bill Clinton both during his presidency and even now.

Regardless of his behavior, the unrelenting viciousness of the attacks speaks more of scapegoatism than moral outrage.

It must be assumed that George Bush's advisors appreciated this appetite among the president's zealous constituency and simply characterized Saddam Hussein as the devil. Bush's handlers utilized the hatred born of religious dualism to justify an unprovoked attack upon a sovereign nation.

Unfortunately, plagued as they are by a mind at war with itself the zealots can never be assuaged by symbolic physical unification. As long as we empower this predictable human stratum we endanger the world.

The Christian right can never be satisfied, even with global domination. (The same may be said of the Muslim zealots should they prevail.)

The uncertainty inherent in dualism will forever compel its proponents to fear a devil which is alleged to be out there somewhere influencing all those around them.

Ultimately, should such religious totalitarianism be established its innate dualism will inevitably compel those in power to turn on each other.

History demonstrates this same internalized fear and distrust undermined a thousand political dictatorships. Absolute authority cannot assuage the psychological uncertainties of dualism.

Despite their current exuberance, the Christian right will find the conquest of Iraq does not and cannot bring them any closer to a mitigation of that gnawing existential angst that frightens them and drives them to war.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily, the sister publication of the Daily Herald. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.