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The ten plagues?

The world’s been a pretty messed-up place lately. We’ve got fires, we’ve got floods. There are unusual heat waves and cold spells. We’ve got SARS epidemics and mad cow disease. Not to mention the pervasive threat of terrorism.

Okay, that last one is caused by people, not nature. But the rest of the occurrences – while some argue that global warming can account for the more extreme weather – all seem to be just a coincidence. And probably no worse than the kind of things that happen all the time.

But if I were a religious person, I might start to get a bit suspicious. Some of the stuff in the headlines lately has been way too biblical for my taste. I think I’d start wondering whether G-d was punishing us for something or other.

And that, to me, gives considerable insight into the psychological roots of religion in the first place. It must have just seemed too weird to people to think that natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods, would happen naturally and coincidentally. It was easier, perhaps, to attribute them to the greater plan of some supreme being. Because belief in G-d – like natural disasters – has the effect of making us feel small. I can see how it would be comforting to people – especially centuries ago when even less was known about these things than we know now – to think that someone was holding the controls upstairs, and that there was some rhyme or reason to the whole thing.

So then, the next thing to question would be, what exactly are we being punished for? That’s where it all began, I bet – finding targets. I can just see the allegations now:

“We’re being punished because of of the witches!”

*Killing spree with ‘witches’ burned at the stake*

“We’re being punished because of the nonbelievers!”

*Crusades, inquisitions, torture and forced conversions*

“We’re being punished because of the infidels!”

*Planes crash into buildings*

Hmmmm. So maybe we can’t relegate this kind of irrational behaviour into the dark ages. Or maybe the dark ages are threatening to swallow us up again. Certainly, if groups like Al Qa’eda are allowed to win this war against society, then that’s what will happen.

Is that what is at the root of it all? Simple human fear? It seems so simple, doesn’t it? I mean, it has to be more complicated than that. Doesn’t it? The explanation for centuries of war and religious persecution has to be based on more than the search for a scapegoat for G-d’s wrath.

But the bible is full of it. The ancient Israelites would lose a battle and a prophet would tell them it was because they had “displeased G-d” in one of many ways. Perhaps by not being religious enough, or united enough, or by assimilating too much into the surrounding population. It’s a common theme throughout the whole book that is the root of the major monotheistic religions.

Even today, the Vatican is threatening Catholic politicians with eternity in Hell if they don’t push forth a political agenda that continues the legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians. I somehow don’t find it so far-fetched to see the religious right campaigning on the basis that the SARS epidemic or the Mad Cow scare were “punishments from G-d” because of homosexuality. Or abortion. Or any of the other things they get all up in arms about.

We need to take a collective deep breath and use our brains before jumping to conclusions. Let’s recognize these events for what they are – either natural disasters, or man-made problems with reasonable cause-and-effect explanations.

And, more importantly, let’s recognize that, just because we can’t explain it yet doesn’t mean it can’t be explained. Human knowledge is progressing every single day. What made no sense whatsoever 1000 or 100 years ago can today be explained using modern science, technology, or understanding. Imagine how much more knowledge is still out there, waiting to be discovered! And isn’t it time to stop blaming religious vengeance for anything that we simply have yet to discover?

Update 08/07: It’s gotta be just a coincidence that the Gazette’s Mike Boone was thinking along the same lines when he wrote his column.

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