Think of this as Volume 17, Number 1 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
No one knows the nature of God. We each take the final step alone, and no one has reported back anything but an emptiness or a bright light that drew them in briefly, before life in the form of a science-taught doctor pulled them back.
Faith replaces understanding. We choose to believe this or that. And faith is organized through religions. Faith represents “revealed” truth, stories that may be true or may not be, but are believed by their adherents because we're all afraid to die and we all want answers before we go.
There is nothing wrong with faith, but religions are human institutions. As such they are subject to the same forces that drive businesses, universities, and states. You're either growing or you're dying. A business that stagnates starts to die. Without growth you go backward. The process can seem invisible, to those inside, but it's an inevitable unraveling in every case.
You grow by getting more. More money, more power, more customers or adherents. To grow you contend. You must be aggressive, even ruthless at times. The result is conflict. Those who lose conflicts die quickly. Those who withdraw die more slowly, but they do die.
Trouble is, this is incompatible with the nature of God. Sure, I said that's unknowable, but almost everyone agrees that the nature of God is not human, that human nature is not God's nature. What makes you successful in building an institution is not what brings you to a higher understanding of God. Any man or woman of faith will tell you that.
So Buddhism was driven out of India by the more aggressive Hindus. So the Bahai' and Zoroastrians were driven out of Iran by the more aggressive Muslims. So animism was driven out of the Americas, and Africa, by more aggressive Christians and Muslims. So it is within Christianity – passive groups like the Quakers, Unitarians and Episcopalians lose adherents to more aggressive, fundamentalist sects that demand more of their members and constantly evangelize for more.
Powerful religions make demands of their adherents. To grow, they make more demands, and demand more adherents. They demand obedience. The power of a religion is directly related to the amount of crazy stuff its leaders can convince adherents to do. Acts of greed, of brutality, or murder, are routinely committed in the name of religious power, and these acts go unpunished. In fact, groups that don't engage in these acts fade away, they lose adherents, they die.
This was and is a nonsense. The nature of Islam lies in the word submission. Submission to faith, to God. Not to men. But only men can interpret the faith, and so – as with Christianity – the submission of the Islamic faith has always been to men as proxies for God. That God needs no proxy becomes irrelevant. The world of religion is a world of men.
The fatwa was about this struggle within Islam. Salman Rushdie was mainly an innocent bystander. Sure, his father's name came from the philosopher Rushd, an early critic of Islamic orthodoxy. But “The Satanic Verses” was just a book, just a collection of words, just a story. What's the use of a story that isn't even true?
In demanding that its adherents hunt down and kill this innocent man, just as they hunted down all dissidents, the Iranian mullahs were contending for growth, acting on behalf of their religion, and committing grave crimes against God. God doesn't need Salman Rushdie to die. Rushdie will die, in his own time, in his own way, as we all will, and then he and I and you and the mullahs and the pederastic priests and the bishops in Rome who cover for them will all face the true nature of God alone. Khattam Shud. The end.
When any religion takes the power of a state it becomes the state, and in that instant loses all its holiness. America is a land of religious faith precisely because we don't allow this. All may contend, all may compete, but none may compel. And so Americans go freely to religion. To all sorts of religions.
But we also see, here, conflict between the nature of religion, which is man-made, and the nature of God, which no one can know. The more passive religions lose power and money and adherents. Those that demand more gain and grow. Those that demand power over man gain more in the world, and compromise their nature, eventually losing track of it completely. But believers don't care about that. Instead, we believe.
For practicing the only faith that is true, the free inquiry of a free mind, Salman Rushdie was imprisoned behind state protection for over a decade. And out of that came what I think is his greatest work – “Haroun and the Sea of Stories.” A childrens' book, written for his son, who didn't understand the nature of his father's captivity, Haroun answers the question, what's the use of stories that aren't even true. From stories that aren't even true comes the courage to stand up to authority, to take back the night, to become fully human in the face of oppression, whether that of a state, a religion, or religion acting in the state's name.
Stories that aren't even true bring us closer to God. Until, that is, the faith they inspire organizes around the story. Then it becomes a religion, something man made, and something very different indeed. If it grows, and becomes something more than a story, what is true inside it begins to die. Turn a story that isn't even true into a religion and it can gain power, but it loses its plot, and ultimately its power. It becomes something else. It becomes what it was written to protest against.
The nature of God is unknowable. But we do have one way of at least creating a user's manual. It's called science. Science may be, in some ways, incompatible with religion. But unlike religion, in which we must believe, science works. We don't have to believe in gravity, or evolution, or quantum mechanics. It just works. It leads us on, with more questions, and more questions, important and unimportant questions. Unlike the institutions built by religion, those built by science pile fact upon fact, building value, building technologies, building, together, God's user manual.
Science is not religion. Science need not be believed. But science is a far truer expression of man's faith in God than any religion, if only because in science we answer questions that have answers.
Religion can imprison art. Religion can imprison men. Religion can seek to imprison science, to prevent its dissemination. Religion can seek to keep this Internet – a humble product of science – from doing its work of liberating mens' minds. But I don't think it will succeed. I can't say why.
I guess I just have faith.