Over the last week, the international news media have once again underscored the depths of depravity to which the world’s religions can descend. Nothing new, perhaps, but so much at once: paedophilia rampant among Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy; escalating internecine warfare between Islamic sects in the Middle East; murderous conflict between Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim communities in Myanmar.
I confess to having little proficiency in religious studies. I have spent far too long trying to understand my own stumbling faith as a follower of Christ to have the temerity to comment on other faiths (including atheism which is, after all, another belief system). However, one thing I observe – naively perhaps – is that none of the preeminent religions of the world have at their foundations a doctrine of violence. Quite the contrary in fact, notwithstanding their religious writings being records of battles, punishment and – yes – misogyny. (One can only guess that religious scriptures were developed and written by men in an effort to re-make God in their own image: masculine and all-powerful!)
Conflict, it seems, stems from such cultural differences, and violence is born as a manipulation of cultural differences driven by greed. Cross-cultural differences wilt in the face of education – not just “book learning”, but being exposed to the cultures of other people and sharing knowledge and understanding with one another. It is that learned wisdom that can act as a prophylactic against the wicked, who thrive on achieving (or maintaining) power using the tools of division and fear.
Our cultures draw from our past, and are to be celebrated, shared, and never debated. The only debates worth having are about our future.
I didn’t write that title. Singer and songwriter Tom T. Hall wrote those words – indeed a whole song – about beer in 1975. Over forty years have gone by, and nothing much has changed: I still like beer! It has never defined who I am (although there were a couple of years when it came close) but it does tend to define my outlook on life and the people to whom I most easily relate, including key characters in my novels.
To understand this, I invite you to join me on a trip to the airport to pick up a VIP I haven’t previously met. When I suggest lunch – or supper – before a long drive home and they suggest a beer and a burger, I instantly learn everything I need to know about them: they are not trying to impress me, they care about their spouse and kids and neighbours , and in our shared context they feel their job and colleagues are more important than they are. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Such people are the ones who feature prominently in my stories. Such people intuitively understand that no matter how big and strong or attractive or brilliant they are, at least 55% of their body weight is just water (notwithstanding, of course, the effect of having a couple of pints!) Such people tend to live straightforward lives, rising to extraordinary heights of intelligence, endurance and bravery when called upon by their families and community, and accepting strangers as friends they haven’t met.
Such people form the vast majority of humanity, even if they don’t all drink beer and eat burgers (coffee anyone?) Every now and then, unfortunately, a singular black-hearted soul comes along who wants to suck the life out of everybody and everything in his path. The formula these black souls use is division: they focus on building their own strength by creating divisions between others. Such souls are pathetic, and happily are rare. Sadly, less rare are the enablers who support them out of greed and a lust for reflected power in the shadow of their master. And they pretend to be just like you and I, but claim to be wiser.
Those are the people I would like to see destroyed. My stories – and a computer keyboard – provide me with a safe alternative to an assault rifle.
I must be getting old.