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Have Some Madeira, My Dears? It's simply like Paradise here.........

Different in the Particulars Only

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 14, 2001.

I suppose distinctions between religions can be argued till either martinis or AK-47's appear on the table, but it is to be wondered if any clarity can be obtained by this method if neither party fully or even partially understands the other. Cutting to the chase, perhaps the easiest and clearest road would be to discuss what the end result of life is and how it is viewed by the competing notions. Few religions shrug and suggest the end result of life is death and worm food, that's all folks, although it's really quiet hard to tell what, say, the ancient Hebrews thought about an afterlife or Unitarians or Hindus today. There is this reincarnation thing, but it's hard to put aside the notion that this was just a metaphor for the noticed natural process of decay and transformation into dirt and plant life.

Westerners, like Warren Hastings in India, have always tried to unify a newly discovered religion's various incarnations into coherence, and then to glorify it, perhaps in response to their own wavering faiths in western thought, and then to descend into creating a mythology after the fact, and often without the facts. Hastings created the notion of a distant Hindu Golden Age, which fascinated foreigners and Indians both, but for different reasons. Archaeology has proven there was no Hindu Golden Age, which the Indians knew all along. Europeans long ago gave up their vision of Greece and Rome as nations of ethical and political gods, but even as I entered school fifty years ago, the impetus was still there. In any case, we need to be careful when dealing with assumptions about religions.

Today, we wrestle with the notions about Islam. We are still ham-fisted about it, but the fueling issues reflect well on the West. Until very recently, nobody went to war without desecrating every aspect of the enemy as venal and awful. Just look at the World War Two propaganda against the Japanese. It is racist, yes, but it is worse. The Japanese are shown as inhuman, insects, and something to be exterminated. The propaganda against the Nazis was different, and there was a very weird sexual slant we used against Hitler that wasn't far off in intent from what Hitler used against the Jews.

But in this war, everyone - including those who obviously think otherwise - has been very reverential about Islam, and making no unpleasant noises about this religion. Still, on the radio today, there was a segment about Islamic martyrdom, specifically what the Taliban say about a soldier dying in a Jihad. It is accepted that he goes to Paradise, and can petition God to bring a certain number of people with him, including some that may be in Hell. This is very different from Christianity, where nobody would dare do more than quietly pray that a soul might enter heaven, and nobody outside the few Saints gets face time with the CEO of CEO's. But there is something else. A Taliban martyr gets seventy celestial virgins for his use.

One can only assume that these are female, but some texts (which might be disinformation) suggest that the martyr (always a male) gets girls AND boys. In any case, Paradise is very clearly a place that Hugh Hefner would love, and if the virgin thing could be set aside and simply seventy beautiful and experienced women, I'm willing to listen. This is very different from the Christian heaven, where you get to spend time and spiritual moments with relatives and friends and enjoy good company and divine love. There are no, to my knowledge, suggested toga and keg parties or quickies in Christian heaven, although there is great boredom and reruns of Touched by an Angel plus those hysterical outtake shows.

According to the early Billy Graham, however, there is gold. The streets are paved with it and you drive around in a Cadillac made of it. Graham, among many others, used to say this sort of stuff. And if the grotesquely tasteless trend in monstrously ugly churches continues, there is little to dissuade me that what Christians want for their eternity is to be rich: rich and in community with their rich friends and loved ones. What the Taliban want in their afterlife is, well, different.

It takes no genius to suspect that what religions promise the believer is what they cannot deliver in this lifetime. Till very recently, the vast majority of Christians have been poor, starving, and at war with each other and everybody else. Hey, but attack the enemy and get slaughtered you are swept to heaven with choir and angels and garbed in Tyrolean purple and driven into heaven in a golden chariot where all the children and friends you never met or had will surround you and all will be wonderful, the way you wanted it here.

It is hard to see the Muslim view of Paradise as but different only in the particulars. What the particulars are disturb, and need very much to be factored into our thinking. The distance between men and women in fundamental Islamic societies (as in all fundamentalist societies) is a major, major issue, and is in fact much more of a root cause of Terrorism than the economic monstrosities and the political trivialities that the media claim are in need of attention when Bin Laden becomes a Jay Leno punch line just like the Bobbitts.

This is Dark Cloud. >