Go Ahead, Blame the Jews for All the Troubles in the World

Their invention of monotheism has proven to be the curse that keeps on giving

No, don't blame contemporary Israelis. Blame Bronze Age Semitic Canaanites circa 800 B.C.. When Yahweh whipped Baal in the battle of the barbecued bulls (1 Kings 18) the one-and-only jealous God began his ascendance. Except he didn't stay one-and-only for long, as Judaism metastasized into Christianity, Islam, and countless derivatives that have since delivered centuries of strife as zealots practiced the commandment 'Thou Shalt Put No Other Gods Before Me' with a vengeance.

As long as a pantheon of gods and goddesses rich with foibles cavorted about spawning fantastical tales that could be taken with a grain of salt, there was plenty of room to absorb new deities, rites, and traditions. Want to build a temple to your favorite local god? Knock yourself out. Conquer a strange new land full of unfamiliar deities? Welcome them to the family, or convince the yokels that one of your gods is really theirs under another name. (You have a god of wine? Waddya know, so do we!) Never foment rebellions by putting the local priests out of business. Just put them on the payroll, they can help collect taxes and pacify the natives.

Religion taught civic virtues, not personal redemption. And it certainly wasn't used to recruit suicide bombers with promises of 72 virgins. Piety could be practiced with or without the intervention of paid professionals, festivals were frequent and fun, myths and legends both instructed and amused, sacred art, theater, and architecture flourished, and sex was celebrated, not twisted into a tool to peddle guilt, frustration, and abnegation.

But when the Romans came up against the Temple Cult Jews, there was no civilizing them. (You sacrifice bull, I burn entrails, make Yahweh happy. Uh, I eat the meat. Thanks for the hide. Next!) Even burning down their abattoir temple didn't help. And once Paul of Tarsus spread the seeds of monotheism outside the Levant, discovering how to turn misery in this life into history's greatest gold mine by promising everlasting joy in the next, clerics stumbled onto a business model that couldn't be beat. Flowering in the detritus of the Roman Empire with help from a hallucinating warlord, monotheism multiplied then divided, as schisms, reformations, and fresh revelations spawned new generations of holy men who heard voices in their heads.

Having just come back from two weeks in Canaan, today known as Lebanon, a country where 18 recognized religious sects clamor for power -- each claiming to worship the one-and-only God -- you have to wonder how they all get along. The answer is, badly. And Lebanon is the bright spot in the Middle East, perhaps the last great hope of crafting a pluralistic democratic model that can tame the blood lust of Abraham's descendants. Looking at the intractable arc of violence that extends from Egypt through Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Iran one has to wonder, what is the matter with these people? What do they have in common that makes them so determined to kill each other? Only their God knows for sure.

The United States was the first country to dodge the bloodthirsty heritage of monotheism by separating church and state, offering every cleric the following deal: Abstain from violence and you can peacefully proselytize to your heart's content. No one sect will get an unfair advantage over another, secular law will take precedence, and everyone will be invited to participate in its making. The founders encouraged 100 religions to bloom, leaving it to the market to decide. Despite periods of sectarian bigotry, only the Mormons ran into serious trouble. At least until they toned down their apocalyptic rhetoric, moved to Utah, and gave up polygamy. Now they run for president.

So let's not keep pretending that all these common believers in 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' have a clue how to practice what they preach. Peaceful monotheism is the historical exception, not the norm.(See the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Thirty Years War to list but a few.) As we watch the Middle East descend into chaos, the borders of artificial nation states melting away under the hot breath of a vengeful God who brooks no rivals, we'd better come up with a better plan for dealing with these crazies. Because they are going to have the bomb soon. And nuclear weapons in the hands of people who believe that this life is merely a transitory stage preparing us for the next is even more dangerous than nuclear armed communists, who at least recognized that they couldn't build a workers' paradise on top off radioactive ruins.

The preceding is a mixture of satire and analysis. The balance between the two is left as an exercise for the reader.