John Lilburne's journal about religious totalitarianism in Thomas Friedman's article.



About John Lilburne







1200 L Sat 1 Dec 2001

Today's first reading is Daniel 7:15-27

The prophecy of the beasts is interpreted. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary it is directed against the enemy of the Maccabeans at the time -- Antiochus IV Epiphanes at about 165 B.C. The fourth beast is the fourth kingdom, of the Greeks.

So it seems that at the time the approach to fighting an enemy was to produce stories with dramatic visual images of their downfall, attributed to a prophet of centuries earlier.

Today we have different approaches. Yesterday I read an interesting article by Thomas Friedman in The Age. He begins:

If September 11 was indeed the onset of World War III, we have to understand what this war is about. We're not fighting to eradicate "terrorism". Terrorism is just a tool. We're fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitariansim.

He describes religious totalitariansim as "a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated."

In fighting this war he describes Rabbi David Hartman as one of the generals:

And what impressed me was that he knew where the battlefield was. He set up his own schools in Israel to compete with fundamentalist Jews, Muslims and Christians, who used their schools to preach exclusivist religious visions.

The Rabbi is quoted:

"The opposite of religious totalitarianism is an ideology of pluralism -- an ideology that embraces religious diversity and the idea that my faith can be nurtured without claiming exclusive truth."

Is he making sense? Clearly it is absurd to say someone believes in a faith, but does not think it is the truth. To believe is think something is true. What does "exclusive truth" mean? That all truth is in a particular religion? That there are no new discoveries to be made about anything? I don't think anyone subscribes to that. It seems to me that he has gone in the direction of relativism. Proposing multiple truths: Jesus is "truly God and truly man" on Sunday, but just a prophet on Friday and Saturday.

Friedman asks the question:

Can Islam, Christianity and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays ...?

If religion were simply a matter of language and culture that would be possible. But it is more than that. There are religious beliefs that are opposed.

A few days ago I saw an episode of South Park that dealt with the issue. There is a magician who does miracles, forms a cult and marches on Washington to get "tax free status". The heads of the established religions are the "Super Best Friends": Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Joseph Smith of the Mormons, etc. They gang up to to defeat the magician. It was entertaining, but it also make a serious point: the religions are different or they are meaningless.

Yes, there should be religious tolerance. Yes, people should learn about other faiths and respect them. But there can only be one truth.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 1 December 2001.


Links to other sites: Episode 504 is Super Best Friends