"Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.''

_ Ambrose Bierce, ``The Devil's Dictionary''

Most people thought Nietzsche was crazy before his time, 125 years ago, when his Madman ran through the village, lantern in hand, declaring that God was dead.

Well, if that diagnosis of the human enterprise was accurate _ and it was _ then it is just as applicable today as our endeavors persist in a world of our own making, despite our divine declarations to the contrary.

The Madman merely looked at people and their societies, and, observing their behaviors, came to the logical conclusion that all but the weak and meek were living as if a Creator had no connection to our lives on this planet.

But most people still profess a belief in that link, and organized religions of people sharing similar explanations of the Unknowable continue to dominate political and social life.

About 90 percent of Americans consistently say they believe in God or some divine power, according to surveys. And almost 60 percent of Americans say religion is "very important" or "extremely important" in their daily lives, a 2006 CBS News poll showed.

Returning today, however, the Madman would say that God is still dead while religion is still as deadly and as ungodly as ever.

The Middle East region yet again is the stage for the playing out of a modern-day version of the Crusades, with Christians, Muslims and Jews responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the last five years.

Our president professes a divine sanction for his war against Iraq, while many Muslim fundamentalists believe their religion dictates their fatal aggression against other sects and the Western ``infidels.''

We finally have peace among the Christians in Ireland, but not quite for the Hindus and Sikhs. Then there was the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a three-way contest in slaughter between the Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.

And in this country, the role the Supreme Court played for Bush in 2000 was taken on by the Christian conservatives in 2004, which handed him another election. How many more people have died because of that election? How many hundreds of thousands would still be living today if Bush had not been granted the presidency in 2000?

It is no surprise then that non-believers have had enough of the killing in God's name, or Jesus' name, or Mohammed's name, or for Allah. The age of religion is over, and it is by keeping such obsolete notions alive that they become deadlier.

Let's get with it; it's the 21st century. We are no longer insensate beasts sitting in the dark and shuddering about all the unexplainable phenomena going on around us. Shooting stars, lightning, thunder, fire _ and, yes, death. It was a pretty scary world.

In fact, it was so frightful that we invented gods _ and finally a God and paradise, and applied divine origins to great thinkers and teachers.

Today, science can explain much of the unknown, and we have complex religions to take care of the rest. But what has changed? Certainly not our propensity for killing, violence, greed and deceit.

The non-theists are on the rise, however. Evidence and studies suggest that more non-believers or atheists today are willing to speak out, perhaps illustrating that their numbers are increasing as an antidote to the religion-based militarism and materialism rampant in the world.

They are being called by some the New Atheists, while they might be seen as New Madmen approaching our Christian society with fingers pointed, saying, ``Look at what you've done. You don't really believe or we wouldn't be still living in a world beset with the same moral outrages as in centuries past. It is time to move on.''

Even religion journals have taken note in response to the publication during the past 18 months of books such as Richard Dawkins' ``The God Delusion,'' ``God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything'' by Christopher Hitchens, and ``Letter to a Christian Nation'' by Sam Harris.

The New Atheists are bolder and more militant than the Madolyn O'Hairs and Ayn Rands of earlier decades, some say.

However bold they might be, nothing is going to change overnight. Tens of thousands of years of fear and faith are not going to wither away without a natural process of evolution.

Aggressive atheists, however, may be part of that process _ helping push consciousness to higher levels that not only don't need religion to live, but don't need it to kill and make war.

Can you imagine, as John Lennon did, no religion and no countries, and people thereby finally able to live in peace?

It is not easy to imagine, and certainly no closer to conceivability than it was when the song was written more than 35 years ago.

Maybe the growing number of New Madmen will help turn the tide and make apparent what we have done to ourselves.

___

Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at cary@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 217.

Trending Video

Recommended for you