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Shalom. Good faith requires that I suppose the best of my antagonist. When he said that religious people voted more often, I believe he meant to say more diligently or more thoroughly. It could be said that Tammany Hall was a Catholic defense organization and a generally confessional and faith-based outfit. However, I know that’s not the level to which we’ll be descending tonight.

I think it would be far better if I explained why I don’t find it terrifying to imagine that we are alone, and how much more terrifying and horrible it would be to imagine that we were permanently supervised and invigilated. So, I’ll have to begin from exactly the opposite end of the moral and ethical spectrum from the one that Rabbi Walpe chose.

Thomas Jefferson once said in a phrase that’s so haunting that once you’ve heard it, you can’t forget it, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” He thought he could discern a pattern. He was a deist and did think that there was meaning in the observable universe. He wrote these unforgettable words in the notes on the state of Virginia. You can guess the subject that he’s writing about and you can guess what revenge he thinks the divine might take on these United States for its original sin of slavery.

But I would reply in the following terms: if you presume that there is a just God, then really, what is there to tremble about? Think of the thing that’s worrying you most this evening. Think of the things that upset you most this week or that you’re most afraid of for yourself or your loved ones or your children, your relatives. It would dissolve into a tiny concern if you knew there was a just God. Everything would assume a completely different proportion at once.

But if there isn’t a just God, if there isn’t a permanent supervision that’s all for your own good, and if you don’t think that’s a sinister idea as I do, then it will follow that you may have to get rid of slavery on your own account. You may have to take the responsibility upon yourself as a human. You may have to invoke humanism and human solidarity and say, “This cannot stand. I cannot live as a human while another person is in bondage.”

I submit, just to begin with, just so you understand our difference properly, that this is a much more noble, ethical, and logically probable position than the idea that one can refer these dilemmas upward to a supernatural dictatorship, to a celestial totalitarianism that may or may not be just, but we had better hope, since we believe in its existence, does care about us.

In other words, that reduces us to the abject and much more to the random and the unconsidered than any scientific concept would do. Think about that little girl in Somalia. Think of what Jefferson said on another occasion about how only by one vote, because one man was sick, the Northwestern Ordinance on the abolition of slavery didn’t pass. He said one man was sick and missed the vote and it went the wrong way, and he said, “And heaven was silent. Heaven was silent in that awful moment.”

Well now, just you transfer yourself to Somalia last week. A girl of 13, probably out for the first time unsupervised in her life. Things must have been very bad if she was allowed out without male supervision to begin with, but there’s enough chaos to explain that. She’s immediately pounced upon by a group of older men and very thoroughly raped and sodomized and beaten. She goes to the religious court for redress and the religious court knows its business and it knows its texts very well.

It says, “We don’t know that it’s true that what you say, that men abused you in this manner, but we can tell you’ve had sex. In fact, judging by your injuries, we can tell you’ve had a great deal of sex lately. But you’re not married, so you’re guilty of adultery. So now, before your wounds have stopped hurting, you’re going to be buried up to your waist in hot sand and laughing men will now take part in the only other cultural activity that gratifies the male sex in that part of the world, which is stoning a young woman to death.”

The people who did this knew exactly what they were doing and they were in perfect conformity with their holy books. They absolutely do not believe that anything happens randomly. They are not under the illusion that heaven is indifferent. They’re not under the illusion that we are biologically created, that we’re here because of the laws of natural selection and random mutation. They don’t believe anything of the sort. They’re utterly consoled by the idea that heaven intervenes and cares about every action. Otherwise, they wouldn’t put themselves to the trouble of raping, torturing, and murdering a 13-year-old whose last moments you might want to take just a few seconds to imagine.

It is not true, as is sometimes suggested by the people who’ve misread The Brothers Karamazov and the speech by Smurgiarkhoff in that great book, who says that if there’s no God, then anything is possible. To the contrary, make the assumption that there is a celestial totalitarian dictator and then absolutely any crime and cruelty is not just thinkable but maybe required of you.

Is the suicide bombing community a secular community? Is the genital mutilation community a secular community? I don’t think you’ll find that it is. What are the historic justifications of slavery and genocide? There was slavery and genocide before monotheism, but monotheism codified and said that it was acceptable to do and carry out these appalling atrocities.

You may be an atheist and be a nihilist. You may be an atheist and be a sadist. You may be an atheist and be a moral relativist or a fascist. Very unlikely the second the last one, I mean most fascists were very devout Christians. But it’s almost mandatory if you’re a sovereignness to be an atheist. It’s not a position on its own, but it avoids the absolutely critical cruelty which is that that says that we owe a duty as original sinners to someone who created us ill, created us sick, and then ordered us on pain of torture and death to cure ourselves. And in the meantime, mandated every kind of violence against womanhood, contempt for womanhood, a cruelty against our fellow creatures, superstitious and crazed belief that is possible to imagine.

So, I think that in the struggle for emancipation, which is where I began and the one in which Mr. Jefferson, with half his heart and half his head, was able to take part, the very first cruelty and shackle to throw off is the man-forged manacle that is religion. Thank you.

Religion, Totalitarianism, and the Repression of Sexuality: A Secular Perspective

I am once again willing to establish a common ground, and I will say that you’re right. Nothing to do with my penis should be taken lightly. However, if you read what the sages say about the recommendation of circumcision, particularly by monarchies, about the Periyamasitsa, you will find that it’s exactly the same as the Islamic and Animist’s recommendations. In the case of the female, the point of it is not to protect against a disease no one had then heard of, but as far as possible, to blunt the feeling of the sexual organ, male or female.

If you allow your minds and imaginations free play, comrades, brothers, and sisters, and ask yourself how much crime, misery, and suffering has been the result of sexual repression, which is one of religion’s main businesses, and the repression of the female gender, another of religion’s main businesses, I think you won’t lack for examples.

By the way, what the World Health Organization is talking about is a bit of loosening of the foreskin. Let’s not go into too much detail here. It’s not the full excision, the tearing off, the blunting, the dulling of the whole organ, if I may borrow an expression. And there’s all the difference in the world. And by the way, this should matter to women as much as to men.

If you ask me right now, I knew that it would come up at some point. We may as well get it out of the way now. It always comes up with these discussions. What about the relationship of secularism to totalitarianism? I invite the question.

Obviously, the Rabbi put his case very well, but he overlooks the three or four most salient points about 20th-century totalitarianism. I’ll be quick. If you take out the word “fascism” or “fascist” in any account of 20th-century totalitarianism and just put in “Catholic right-wing,” you don’t have to change a thing. From Portugal to Croatia to Spain to Vichy to Bavaria to Slovakia, where the head of the Nazi puppet state was actually a priest in holy orders, it’s the same. It’s the Vatican right-wing. That’s what fascism is, national socialism.

And by the way, the Vatican had a concordat with every single one of those governments, from Franco and Mussolini to the Ustaše in Croatia. Fact, pure historical fact. Nothing secular about fascism, which is the origin of national socialism.

National Socialism, Hitler never renounced his Catholicism. The Vatican also had a concordat with his government. That was the first treaty the Nazis ever signed. Prayers were said on Hitler’s birthday by order of the Pope in every church in Germany, every Catholic church. The Protestants joined in so as not to be left out. The ideology of anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism was borrowed by the Nazis from the Catholic ideology of the time. Nothing secular about that.

I’m sure Hitler wanted in the end to replace Christianity with the worship of himself and the restoration of some Nordic gods, but don’t you be calling that, Rabbi. Don’t you call that secular.

So that’s for the so-called right-wing. I’ll be quick on the left. Picture yourself being Joseph Stalin, a graduate of a seminary in Georgia. He would have made a perfectly good bishop if he’d stuck around that seminary. He’s in charge of Russia, which for hundreds of years has been told its peasantry has been told the Tsar is a man above men. He’s not just the head of the state, he’s the head of the church. He’s not divine, but he’s a little more than human. Serfdom and Czarism justified completely by the Russian Orthodox Church.

You have a huge reservoir of credulity and civility ready for you to exploit. You shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you don’t mimic that. Stalin invents an Inquisition, he invents the show trial. He doesn’t have to invent it, he borrows it. He invents, borrows the idea of the devil, the permanent evil trying to undermine his rule. The idea that the leader is always to be thanked, that there are miracles in the form of Lysenko’s biology. It’s nothing but a religious state in mimicry and simulacrum.

I could go on and describe why I know from experience that North Korea is the most worshipful state in the world. For your point, Rabbi, to stand, you’d have to say and prove the following. You’d have to point to a society in which the ideas of Epicurus, Galileo, Spinoza, Jefferson, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein had become the dominant ideas of that society and show why that adoption had led that country into slavery, bankruptcy, tyranny, and paranoia. And you won’t ever be able to point that out because the more the societies do gravitate towards those ideas, the more they thrive, flourish, and prosper. Because they’ve left the childhood of our species behind and the dark myths of religion along with them. Thank you.

Religious Pluralism and the Power of State Religion: A Comparison of South and North Korea

Listen, South Korea is not a Christian country. It is partially Catholic, partly Confucian, and largely secular. One of the reasons for its success is religious pluralism, with no official state religion or state inculcation of religion.

In North Korea, the leader of the country is a deceased person. When George Bush writes to Kim Jong-Il, the ‘Dear Leader’, he addresses him as ‘Mr. Chairman’, not ‘Mr. President’. Have you ever noticed this? It’s because Kim Jong-Il, the son, is the head of the Communist Party and the armed forces, not the president. The office of president is held by his father, who has been dead for 15 years. So, it’s a necrocracy, or a thanatocracy, or a mausolocracy. These are the terms I’ve tried.

The official teaching is that the son is the reincarnation of his father. Both their births were miraculous, so they’re just one short of a trinity. Everyone has to worship all the time. How can you tell it’s religious? Because they have to express gratitude all the time. They have to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve done for me. Thank you, dear and great ones, for all you do for me.” This is just as they say will happen in paradise.

But the difference is this: at least you can die and leave North Korea. You can defect that way. You can’t escape monotheism that way. It’s when you die that the supreme leader really starts to work on you.

Do you think this is freedom? This is emancipation? I pity you if you do.

Now, I’ll ask you the question I posed at the show in Park Avenue. If you could have your way and you saw a new child being born tonight in Saudi Arabia, would you wish that child to grow up as a Wahhabi Muslim or would you hope that he became an atheist? I think a lot depends on your answer.

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