Free Web Hosting Provider - Web Hosting - E-commerce - High Speed Internet - Free Web Page
Search the Web

archive - return to homepage

Gore Vidal

on monotheism

 

 

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal--God is the Omnipotent Father--hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is not just in place for one tribe, but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god's purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers his authority and those of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family at home.

 

The founders of the United States were not enthusiasts of the sky-god. Many, like Jefferson, rejected him altogether and placed man at the center of the world. The young Lincoln wrote a pamphlet against Christianity, which friends persuaded him to burn. Needless to say, word got around about both Jefferson and Lincoln, and each had to cover his tracks. Jefferson said that he was a deist, which could mean anything or nothing, while Lincoln, hand on heart and tongue in cheek, said he could not support for office anyone who "scoffed" at religion.

 

From the beginning, sky-godders have always exerted great pressure in our secular public. Also, evangelical Christian groups have always drawn strength from those who have been suppressed economically. African slaves were allowed to organize sky-god churches, as a surrogate for earthly freedom. White churches were organized in order to make certain that the rights of property were respected and that the numerous religious taboos in the New and Old Testaments would be enforced, if necessary, by civil law. The ideal to which John Adams subscribed--that we would be a nation of laws, not of men--was quickly subverted when the churches forced upon everyone, through those supposedly neutral and just laws, their innumerable taboos on sex, alcohol, gambling. We are now indeed a nation of laws, mostly bad and certainly anti-human.

 

Roman Catholic migrations in the last century further re-enforced the Puritan sky-god. The Church has also put itself on a collision course with the Bill of Rights when it asserts, as it always has, that "error has no rights." The last correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson expressed their alarm that the Jesuits were to be allowed into the United States. Although the Jews were sky-god folks, they followed Book One, not Book Two, so they have no mission to convert others; rather the reverse. Also, as they have been systematically demonized by the Christian sky-godders, they tended to be liberal and so turned not to their temple but to the ACLU. Unfortunately, the recent discovery that the sky-god, in his capacity as realtor, had given them, in perpetuity, some parcels of unattractive land called Judea and Sumeria has, to my mind, unhinged many of them. I hope this is temporary.

 

In the First Amendment to the Constitution, the founders made it clear that this was not to be a sky-god nation with a national religion like that of England from whom we had just separated. It is curious how little understood this amendment is--yes, everyone has a right to worship any god he chooses but he does not have the right to impose his beliefs on others who do not happen to share in his superstitions and taboos. This separation is absolute in our original republic. But the sky-godders do not give up easily. In the 1950s they actually got the phrase "In God We Trust" onto the currency, in direct violation of the First Amendment. Although many of the Christian evangelists feel it necessary to convert everyone on earth to their primitive religion, they have been prevented--so far--from enforcing others to worship as they do but they have forced--most tyrannically and wickedly--their superstitions and hatreds upon all of us, through the civil law and through general prohibitions. So it is upon that account that I now favor an all-out war on the monotheists.

 

Let us dwell upon the evils that they have wrought. The hatred of the blacks comes straight from their Bad Book. As descendants of Ham, blacks are forever accursed while St. Paul tells the slaves to obey their masters. Racism is in the marrow of the bone of the true believer. For him, black is forever inferior to white and deserves whatever ill-fortune may come his way. The fact that some monotheists can behave charitably means, often, that their prejudice is at so deep a level that they are not aware that it is there at all. In the end, this makes any radical change of attitude impossible. Meanwhile, welfare has been the price the sky-godders were willing to pay to exclude blacks from their earthly political system. So we must live--presumably forever--with a highly enervating race war set in train by the one God and his many hatreds.

 

Patriarchal rage at the thought of Woman ever usurping Man's place at the helm, in either home or workplace, is almost as strong now as it ever was. According to the polls, most American women took the side of Clarence Thomas against Anita Hill. But then the sky-god's fulminations against women are still very much part of the psyche of those in thrall to the Jealous God.

 

The ongoing psychopathic hatred of same-sex sexuality has made the United States the laughingstock of the civilized world. In most of the First World, monotheism is weak. Where it is weak or nonexistent, private sexual behavior has nothing at all to do with anyone else, much less with the law. At least when the Emperor Justinian, a sky-god man, decided to outlaw sodomy, he had to come up with a good practical reason, which he did. It is well known, Justinian declared, that buggery is a principal cause of earthquake and so must be prohibited. But our sky-godders, always eager to hate, still quote Leviticus, as if that loony text had anything useful to say about anything, except perhaps the inadvisability of eating shellfish in the Jerusalem area.

 

We are now slowly becoming alarmed at the state of the planet. For a century, we have been breeding like a virus under optimum conditions and now the virus has begun to attack its host, the earth. The lower atmosphere is filled with dust, we have just been told from space. The climate changes; earth and water are poisoned. Sensible people grow alarmed but sky-godders are serene, even smug. The planet is just a staging area for Heaven. Why bother to clean it up? Unfortunately for everyone, Mr. Bush's only hope of winning in the coming election is to appeal to the superstitious. So he refuses to commit our government to the great clean-up partly because it affects the incomes of the 100 corporate men and women who pay for him and largely because of the sky-god who told his slaves "to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Well, we did just like you told us, massa. We've used everything up. We're ready for heaven now. Or maybe Mars will do.

 

Ordinarily, as a descendant of that eighteenth-century enlightenment which shaped our republic, I would say live and let live, and I would try not to "scoff"--to use Lincoln's verb--at the monotheists. But I am not allowed to ignore them. They won't let me. They are too busy. They have a divine mission to take away our rights as private citizens. We are forbidden abortion here, gambling there, same-sex almost everywhere, drugs everywhere, alcohol in a dry county. Our prisons are the most terrible in the First World and the most crowded. Our Death Row executions are a source of deep disgust in civilized countries where more and more we are regarded as a primitive, uneducated, and dangerous people. Although we are not allowed, under law, to kill ourselves or to take drugs that the good folk think might be bad for us, we are allowed to buy a handgun and shoot as many people as we can get away with.

 

Now, as poor Arthur--"there is this pendulum"--Schlesinger, Jr. would say, these things come in cycles. Every 20 years liberal gives way to conservative, and back again. But I suggest that what is wrong now is not cyclic but systemic. And our system, like any system, is obeying the second law of thermodynamics: Everything is running down; and we are well advanced along the yellow brick road to entropy. I don't think that much of anything can be done to halt this progress under our present political-economic system. We lost poor Arthur's pendulum in 1950 when our original constitution was secretly replaced with the apparatus of the national security state that still wastes most of our tax money on war or war-related matters. Hence, deteriorating schools, and so on. For some years, I have proposed that we hold a constitutional convention on the ground that it would be better to get the whole business out in the open for discussion. Unfortunately, every one of us has been conditioned by school and pulpit and media to believe that the original constitution is perfect even though it no longer functions except as a sort of totem like the flag. Congress no longer declares war or makes budgets. So that's the end of the constitution as a working machine. The thoughtful are also afraid that if the religious folk could review and revise the constitution, all our liberties would go. Certainly, they will try. But I don't think they'll win. Madison's iron law of oligarchy is too strong. The Few, presumably enlightened about their rights, will guide the Many, as usual. In any case, it is better to lose our rights dramatically at a convention--thus provoking civil war--than to lose them gradually and furtively, as we are now losing them.

 

Another of our agreed-upon fantasies is that we do not have a class system in the United States. The Few who control the Many through Opinion have simply made themselves invisible. They have convinced us that we are a classless society where anyone can make it. Ninety percent of our newspaper stories are about winners of lotteries or poor boys and girls who, despite adenoidal complaints, become overnight millionaire singers. So there is still hope, the press tells the folks, for the 99% who will never achieve wealth no matter how hard they work. We are also warned at birth that it is not polite to hurt other people's feelings by criticizing their religion even though that religion may be damaging everyone through the infiltration of our common laws. Happily, the Few can not disguise the bad times through which we are all going. Word is spreading that America is now falling behind in the civilization sweepstakes. So isn't it time to discuss what we really think and feel about our social and economic arrangements?

 

The authors of a recent book, The Day Americans Told the Truth, gave it a try. Unfortunately, they revealed that 92% of those polled confessed to being habitual liars. This is a bit like the oldest recorded joke: a citizen on the island of Crete said, "All Cretans are liars." Proposition: is what he said true or false? So the book's information on attitudes may not be useful. But the pollsters should have examined the reason why people are so frightened that they must habitually lie about their true feelings and thoughts. Tocqueville suspected that the instinctive tyranny of the American majority would produce a terrified conformity. He seems to have been right. Certainly, nothing of any importance may be discussed in our political life.

 

Even today, with two anti-establishment candidates in the field, only Brown has begun to examine the amount of money that the national security state siphons out of the economy to pay for Pentagon, CIA, SDI--as well as the potential cost of the latest scenarios of possible upcoming wars in the future. Though the specifics of these wars are absurd, the implications are grim: because the Ownership will make those wars happen, as they always do, whether comically in Grenada or tragically in Vietnam. War is all that they know and all that they care about, because through the demonizing of this or that enemy they can keep the money flowing to them--while depriving the people at large of all those things that other First World people possess--from schools to health care. Now the war budget is the only subject for a political campaign at the end of what has not turned out to be the American century after all. In fact, the year 2000 will not only mark the end of American primacy but the end of the hegemony of the white race. We shall comprise about 16% of the world's population in eight years. Let us hope that the other tribes, particularly those of Asia, in their triumph, do not treat us as badly as we have treated them.

 

Although we may not discuss race other than to say that Jesus wants each and every one of us for a sunbeam, history is nothing more than the bloody record of the migration of tribes. When the white race broke out of Europe 500 years ago, it did many astounding things all over the globe. Inspired by a raging sky-god, the whites were able to pretend that their conquests were in order to bring the One God to everyone, particularly those with older and subtler religions. Now the tribes are on the move again. Professor Pendulum is having a nervous breakdown because so many different tribes are arriving to live here and so far not one has had time to read The Age of Jackson. I think the taking in of everybody can probably be overdone. There may not be enough jobs for too many more immigrants though what prosperity we have ever enjoyed in the past was usually based on slave or near-slave labor--new arrivals who would work in the sweatshops much as they do today in every restaurant kitchen. No wonder the Ownership has always denied us a strong labor movement and that the 14% of the work force that is organized is constantly demonized as tools of the Soviet Union of yesteryear or of the Mafia today.

 

On the other hand, I think Asiatics and Hispanics are a plus culturally, and their presence tends to refocus, somewhat, the relentless white versus black war. Where I am as one with my friend Pendulum is that the newcomers must grasp certain principles as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Otherwise, we shall become a racially divided state like the old South Africa, while enjoying, of course, the new Brazilian economy.

 

For 30 years I have drawn attention to the fact that we do not have political parties in the United States. This always caused distress among the media who are in place to make us think that we have a choice every four years to elect a president who will represent the people at large. Instead, we get someone like Bush whose only program, other than war, is cutting the capital gains tax, the price demanded of him by his 100 angels and their friends. I am happy that, finally, my views have begun to seep into the public debate. Even the dullest newspaper reporter now agrees that there isn't a lot of difference between Democrats and Republicans. Also my idea of limiting election campaigns to six weeks has been noted favorably, while there was actually a discussion on the admirable Crier's program that if networks and cable and radio were to give free time for the candidates they would not need to raise so much crooked money. Sad to say, my noblest cause--the taxation of all religions--has not surfaced this year, while the legalization of drugs is a non-subject since drugs have replaced communism on the Pentagon hit list.

 

But to revert again to the unmentionable, religion. It should be noted that religion seemed to be losing its hold in the United States in the second quarter of this century. From the Scopes Trial in '25 to the Repeal of Prohibition in '33, the sky-godders were confined pretty much to the backwoods. Then television was invented, and the electronic pulpit was soon occupied by a horde of Elmer Gantrys who took advantage of the tax exemption for religion. Thus, out of greed, a religious revival has been set in motion, and the results are predictably poisonous to the body politic.

 

It is usual, on the rare occasions when essential problems are addressed, to exhort everyone to be kinder, gentler. To bring us together, oh, lord, in our common humanity. Well, we have heard these exhortations for a couple of hundred years, and we are further apart now than ever. So instead of coming together in order that the many might be one, I say let us separate so that each will know where he stands. From the one many, and each of us free of the sky-god, as secular law-giver. I preach, to put it bluntly, confrontation.

 

New York Review of Books, 1998.