Monday, November 28, 2005

People of the Book

Big Daddyism

People of the Book

A digression from the hydra-headed Meme series: a few weeks ago there was a small controversy in the blogosphere wherein some asserted that the Stalinism and Nazism showed the perils of, and the ultimate extension of, secular humanism. The idea was, apparently, that unless moral ideas are undergirded by religion and/or the prospect of eternal damnation they are quickly discarded and atrocities ensue. Some objected that Nazi Germany was highly Christian and that the churches were often complicit in the rise and crimes of the Reich. But this aside, the idea that Stalinism or Nazism are not religions is absurd on its face – if you look at it from the standpoint of the anthropologist and not that of the zealot. Both are paradigm Western monotheistic cults; they have a lawgiving Prophet (or demi-god), a Book (Das Kapital and Mein Kampf), litany, livery, rituals, feast days, prescriptions for how to live and die, and crusades against the heathens who have false gods. Objectively they are perfect spinoffs of Christianity (which is of course a spinoff of Judaism), just like Mormonism and Scientology.

These are not religions only to people who think a “religion” requires, sine qua non, beliefs like theirs. But religion, as Thomas Szasz points out, is more aptly and simply ‘what people do to give their lives meaning.’

The question remains for the social scientists: do such hierarchical, paternalistic structures incline their inheritors and adherents more to sexism, intolerance, genocide, etc. than less paradigmatic modes of belief.


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