How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Religious Fundamentalism and the Relativity of Good and Evil

Then the Lord God said, “See the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”- therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3: 22-24
According to legend, when Earth’s first woman Eve partook of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil and persuaded her gullible husband Adam to do the same, sin was born. It is interesting that scripture defines good and evil and sin according to knowledge. It is also interesting that the first sin recognized in the Bible was nakedness. Presumably, although Adam and Eve were naked and frolicking in the garden before original sin, their nakedness only became a sin once they were enlightened by the serpent and subsequent consumption of fruit.

Today, knowledge still defines the boundary between good and evil. Adherents to fundamentalist faiths are told that only one truth exists, the truth proscribed by a rigid and literal reading of scripture, further defined by powerful religious leaders. All other interpretations of scripture or rejection of scripture entirely as “fact” are evil. Individuals are discouraged from quests for personal knowledge and to question the rigid reality defined by church autocrats is heresy.

Fundamentalism, is not unique to America or Christianity. Within Islam and Judaism strict fundamentalist views are also prevalent. While these ideologies may be separated by geography and the religious dogmas they adhere to, they have a number of characteristics in common including:
  •  A belief that their view of the world is the only “truth”
  •  The subjugation of women and feminine values
  •  A view of the world that is defined by polar absolutes – good and evil, black and white, male and female
  •  Violent rhetoric
Every religious fundamentalism on Earth subscribes to the belief that it holds the exclusive monopoly on “truth.” With this view of the world, all other beliefs are not just misguided, but evil. The American fundamentalist Christian movement, which traces its roots to Calvinism, began in revival tents on the American frontier. Through creative reading of Biblical scripture, combining “prophecies” in Daniel, Thessalonians and Revelation, American Christian fundamentalists believe the world will end in an epic battle between good and evil at Armageddon. Those who subscribe to their rigid interpretation of Christianity will be saved and raptured up to heaven with Jesus, while the vast majority of people on Earth, Jews, non-fundamentalist Christians, non-believers, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and all the indigenous cultures that are left, will be left behind on Earth to endure seven years of unspeakable hardship and tribulation. At the end of seven years, Jesus will return to slaughter those who have still not converted to fundamentalist Christianity and have joined forces with Satan and the Antichrist. What would you call a philosophy that would subject the vast majority of people in the world to torture and genocide?

The fundamentalist lust for end times is not a position of virtue by any measure, but those seeking the Rapture and wishing tribulation on the rest of us believe they occupy a moral high ground. For the most part, earnest believers sincerely believe their position is the only righteous one in the world of black and white and good vs. evil.

On April 4th, 2004, a telephone caller identifying himself only as “Officer Scott” persuaded a McDonald’s manager to strip and body search an employee, an 18 year old high school student, on the grounds of suspicion that she stole a purse. The call later turned out to be a hoax, but what is most alarming is the McDonald’s manager’s willingness to follow along without question the insane and degrading demands of the caller. The manager, like many in our culture, was accustomed and programmed to submit to authority. When the caller identified himself as law enforcement, the manager blindly followed his instructions without question (1). Blind faith often leads to unspeakable acts of evil rather than good.

The fundamentalist rhetoric is spattered with claims of moral superiority. The righteous few, according to their own dogma, have an exclusive monopoly on happy families and chaste teenagers, but statistical facts (real facts) paint a picture of exactly the opposite. Teen birth rates are highest in states that have the highest rates of Christian fundamentalism, the classic red states, while teen birth rates are lowest in the “liberal” states of Vermont, New York and the Northeast (2). Similarly, while the Southern Baptist Convention boasts that the divorce rate among born again Christians is only “1-2% (3),” in reality U.S. Census data reveals that divorce rates are higher among born again Christians than any other religious group and that divorce rates among atheists and agnostics are the lowest. I guess the family that prays together doesn’t really stay together at all. Massachusetts, a liberal state that has legalized gay marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the country, while Texas, conceivably the most conservative state in the country, has the highest. Clearly gay marriage is not the pariah to the institution of marriage that conservatives paint it to be.

The most frustrating thing about Christian fundamentalists is their blatant hypocrisy. They distort the facts, painting fiction as “truth,” all the while viewing themselves as morally-superior to all others, when plain scientific data reveals them to be as flawed and ordinary as the rest of us.

Good and evil do not exist outside the psyche. Good is not dictated from a pulpit or the pages of a book, and evil does not arise from an external Satan harvesting human souls and influencing the world. Within each of our minds exists a dichotomy of admirable and not very impressive compulsions. We all exhibit selfless acts of kindness, gratitude and generosity, while simultaneously harboring feelings of pettiness, selfishness, greed, jealousy and rage. Nobody is immune, and those who pretend they are above the fray are just lying.

At the very heart of morality lies the simple Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Variations of the sentiment can be found in almost all human cultures across time. Interestingly, humans are not the only organisms with the propensity for compassion and good will. Dolphins, apes and elephants have been studied and found to exhibit the ability to engage in selfless acts of kindness. These animals, we know, are not being influenced by a scriptural hand of God or the Devil. They are acting and behaving as we all do, according to their own conscience where the only real capacity for good or evil actually resides.

2- Teen birth rates
3- Divorce rates





  1. have you read, 'terror in the name of god' by jessica stern? she did some brave investigation of violent fundamentalists of various beliefs.

  2. I haven't read it Nancy. Thanks for the recommendation. I will add it to my reading stack.

  3. In the new testament, Jesus talks about an unforgivable sin. It is that which calls evil good and, good, evil. For example, in Matthew 12:31-32

    And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

    There's a lot of talk and "scholarship" about what this means but I think it's very similar to this:
    As the woman came closer, they could see that her buckskin was wonderfully decorated with sacred designs in rainbow-coloured porcupine quills. She carried a bundle on her back, and a fan of fragrant sage leaves in her hand. Her jet-black hair was loose, except for a single strand tied with buffalo fur. Her eyes were full of light and power, and the young men were transfixed.

    Now one of the men was filled with a burning desire. ‘What a woman!’ he said sideways to his friend. ‘And all alone on the prairie. I’m going to make the most of this!’

    ‘You fool,’ said the other. ‘This woman is holy.’

    But the foolish one had made up his mind, and when the woman beckoned him towards her, he needed no second invitation. As he reached out for her, they were both enveloped in a great cloud. When it lifted, the woman stood there, while at her feet was nothing but a pile of bones with terrible snakes writhing among them.

    Another thing I want to say is that elephants are among my very favorite animals. I LOVE the documentary The Secret Life of Elephants Absolutely fantastic.

    But it brings to mind a job interview I had a few years ago. I'd applied at a broadcast television station (at which I'd worked prior to maternity leave). It was for a position as Sales Secretary. During the interview, I was asked what my favorite wild animal was (or some such idiotic nonsense. See? I'm not cursing). I knew he wanted me to say "Lion", or some such other predator, but I said, "Elephants. I love elephants."

    He didn't seem very impressed with that answer and I didn't get that particular job.

    Anyway, thank you so much for the video.

  4. Tsisageya, I love the passage from Matthew you quoted. I believe it is a remnant of the early Christian mystical tradition before it was methodically purged by Emperor Constantine and the orthodox Church.

    The Gnostics believed that Jesus brought the good news that we are all divine and that the Holy Spirit dwelled within each of us. I agree. But I diverge from the Gnostics in that they believed the body was a degradation and not divine. They believed the Holy Spirit was liberated in death to be reuninted with God.

    Einstein first expressed how energy and matter are just different manifestations of the same thing. According to this theory, our bodies are part of the universal energy too, not separate from it. This is true for the bodies and spirits of all living creation, not just humans.

    I also love elephants. Some new research has uncovered an intricate elephant language. They talk to each other, but because it is at a frequency below what our ears can pick up, we never heard it. A female scientist noticed while she was working with the elephants one day that they seemed to respond to eachother without any cues. This prompted her to do some low frequency recordings and voila! The elephants have a language that is probably more complex than that of the whales and maybe on a par with human language.

    Thank you, as always, for your contributions.