As we entered the 21st Century I hoped, like many around the world, that the United States would be able to lead us to a better place than one we left in the last Century. I sympathized with my predecessors who must have hoped for a better world 100 years ago. For the 20th Century began as the bloodiest yet, with an initial backlash on religions and superstition supplanted in a few decades by quasi-religious totalitarian regimes. The fragile peace of the post World War II era was created only through the Cold War fear of total annihilation.
Unfortunately 2001 dashed my hopes with the re-empowerment of the fundamentalist, xenophobic religions using ever more deadly technological weapons against their perceived enemies. Citizens of the United States are increasingly trying to weaken their constitution’s secular base. Guerrilla terrorism is spreading as a reaction to increased state terrorism, exacerbating a vicious cycle that will end in ever-greater perils for humanity. A leap in logic I often encounter declares that humanity has survived so long that, naturally, it will do so in perpetuity. The odds are increasingly against us. Primitive ideologies, greater lethal technology, population growth, and environmental breakdown are the wrong combination at the wrong time.
We have not simply embarked on a new mandate for an old political administration, but on a sanctioned reversal of what this nation was built on and has reinforced over the past two centuries. The founding fathers were mostly men of faith, but had the foresight to know that such a diverse populace could not ever thrive unless a strictly secular government were in place. They were realists not liberals. Fatal political experiments throughout the world have proven them right. Government has to remain above religious and ethnic strife.
Margaret Atwood’s masterful novel The Handmaid’s Tale comes to mind. Canadians have always been reasonably fearful of their neighbors to the South. In her book Atwood describes the plight of women in the Republic of Gilead: an extreme fundamentalist American theocracy where, civil war rages and fertile women become handmaids or surrogates for those elite commanders’ wives who are infertile due to environmental contamination. I always felt that an American dictatorship, much less a theocracy, would be entirely unlivable. In her book Atwood compares Gilead to Iran as the other theocracy of the 21st Century, though the latter pales in comparison. The difference is that Gilead was a cruder form of the more sophisticated machinery which is sweeping up many Americans through fear of the world and who as a relative majority are bringing it to being, rather than a more concentrated coup.
Most religions’ basic doctrines lie in humility, not intolerance. However, the fundamentalist extremes of any religion make secular government a necessity. We are using religious ideology to impose our rule on the world and divide the citizens of our own country. The ever-increasing cycle of violence we are experiencing throughout the world will reach our shores with devastating consequences and impoverish our nation. The trend has unfortunately begun. The 20th Century was the American Century. Only God knows who will own the 21st.
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