It is not easy to make human pleasure the enemy. It is not easy to induce people to sacrifice the creature comforts of bodily life for the wasteland of spiritual existence called heaven: paranoia and fear are required for the task.
To create the necessary conditions requires the presence of a dangerous, virtually undefeatable enemy. Satan, who is so powerful that God apparently needs our assistance to defeat him, fits the bill perfectly. And the devil is the sort of ubiquitous, wily adversary that can’t help but make believers paranoid at every momentary lapse from the battle, at every voice that isn’t an obvious paean to God.
That is the real reason we invaded Iraq. It is the reason we threaten Iran today with two major carrier groups sitting in the Gulf ready for attack. Fundamentalism relies on struggle with a dangerous adversary. The state of the world in 2007 is the direct result of putting a fundamentalist in the White House and giving him the most powerful position in the world.
After the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, nearly every country on earth offered to help the United States in the effort to find and capture the terrorists behind it. The offer of assistance came even from Iraq and Iran. In the case of Iran, their interests and ours meshed well together. The Taliban who ruled Afghanistan had long been a thorn in their side – there was no love lost between the leaders of Iran and the leaders of Afghanistan. The Taliban tolerated and even seemed to support not just al Qaeda but also anti-Iranian terrorist groups like MEC.
Iranian/US cooperation against terrorists operating in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East seemed natural, and the Iranian government made overtures to the Bush Administration to set up just such an arrangement. There is a poem by Edwin Markham that perfectly encapsulates the opportunity that was suddenly available.
He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in
The tragedy of 9-11 had a silver lining: it created an ideal opportunity to bring former enemies together in a spirit of cooperation against a common enemy. That enemy, suicide Islamic terrorism, was being condemned even in Tehran and Baghdad, and civilized people of all religions including Islam wanted to join us in stamping it out.
But that, unfortunately, would have left an adversary too small and weak to satisfy the needs of the fundamentalism inhabiting the White House. One can’t be involved with God in a cosmic struggle if the enemy is minor and easily defeated. Where’s the fear, the risk, the paranoia necessary to make people reject creature comforts and pleasures, the bodily satisfactions of life on earth, and embrace heaven?
You see, that is the fundamental challenge of afterlife. How to get people to stop loving the good things of the body, the social pleasures of food and sex and the genial enjoyment of the company of others, and get them to turn their allegiance toward what comes after death? Love, in all its forms, naturally draws us toward the embodiment of life, toward each other as body-beings.
To transfer our allegiance elsewhere, fundamentalism has to find a way to break people up, replace love with strife, condemn bodily pleasures as “sin”, create exclusive circles to drive people apart, divide human loyalties between “us” and “them”. Only by creating inordinate fear and dissonance is it possible to re-make something as undesirable as death into something to be worshipped.
That’s all heaven is: death marketed as something wonderful.
Death is eternal all right. Non-existence is the only thing that can be eternal. Call it heaven, give it wings and violins, declare the wasteland of non-existence “paradise”: that is what the cult of afterlife is all about.
Life, on the other hand, can only be temporary. Pleasures must be temporary or else they would cease to remain pleasurable, would become tedious and eventually a nightmare. Imagine having sex and being forced at the moment of orgasm to endure that sensation constantly and unchanging for weeks, years, centuries, a million billion centuries. It would utterly destroy the pleasure of it. It would transform the initially wonderful sensation into nothing less than torture.
Pleasure has to be temporary to be pleasurable. Life must be fleeting to be wonderful. We have to be able to die and cease to exist in order for life to be valuable and good for us. That is the simple reality. And our lives are good, our pleasures are supremely wonderful.
But fundamentalism has to find a way to make us forget that. It has to sabotage our human desires and pleasures. Has to, because fundamentalism is committed to worshipping not our existence but our non-existence, and calling it heaven.
It is not easy to make human beings turn against life, but fundamentalism has been successful at doing so. The fundamentalists who flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center were so turned.
The trick is to create a climate of fear and paranoia peppered with the threat of a virtually undefeatable enemy, a Satan, a devil incarnate. That is what is required in order to motivate human beings sufficiently enough that they will abandon the pleasure of life for the mirage of afterlife. It is the modus operandi of fundamentalism.
And that is why the fundamentalist in the White House has positioned two carrier groups in the Gulf armed and ready to pummel Iran. It is why the administration manufactured a reason to invade Iraq four years ago. Fundamentalism must have as frightening an adversary as possible in order to turn us against life.
I doubt President Bush or the fundamentalists in his administration even understand their need for a powerful enemy. If they understood their actions, if they comprehended the fear and paranoia which pushes them to draw circles to shut others out and create enemies, that itself would be a step toward self-enlightenment.
It might even be a step toward comprehending the fundamental flaw of the cult of afterlife.