Religious Intolerance

I read a newspaper article a few months ago about an Amish guy and his stalwart band of reeeeaaaallllyyy un-merry men who got arrested for forcibly cutting off the beards and pony-tails of other Amish people he accused of not being Amish enough. NOT AMISH ENOUGH? Let that sink in for a second. That’s like an orthodox British butler slicing the tuxedo tails off of another butler for not being properly servile or a meth-head getting harangued by meth purists for only staying up for six nights in a row. “Dude, you’ve got to get into fights with at least four teleporting CIA agents per week if you want to live under this bridge.”

Religion may just be the mask, the excuse, for internecine violence and having standards of what’s devout enough to qualify for being actually considered devout, but it’s a very common excuse. Look at any Catholic country in the middle Ages. Look at any Muslim country now. Look pretty much anywhere at pretty much any time.

“You’re not being Amish enough, so we’re going to make you even less Amish.”

“You’re not denying reality to a point that the rest of us are comfortable with, so off with your beard, you living-closer-to-the-reality-of-the-moment unbelieving bastard.”

Since we’re currently fighting a Crusade, even though we don’t call it that, we hear a lot about the Muslim purists versus the moderates. In case you can’t tell the difference, the moderates are the ones who think you shouldn’t stone a 12-year-old girl to death for the heinous crime of being such a deranged slut as to allow herself to get raped. Cut off a finger or two of hers, sure, but the guys who think she should be beheaded, those guys are crazy.

Human beings are big on religion. We’ve always been into the idea of creating a belief structure with rules and stories and heroes dying horrific deaths and good guys and bad guys and a flood. There’s always a flood. Why is there never an avalanche? We all have mountains, too, not just water. Mountains are big and scary and mysterious, too, and make us feel small. Same psychological mechanism, right?

The weird thing, to my way of thinking, is that all of these religions eventually become such cartoonish parodies of themselves. They usually start off as us versus them where the “us” is small and dedicated and right and the “them” is big and powerful and have no morals. The evil “thems” beat the crap out of the early “uses” and it only steeled the resolve of the moral and dedicated “uses” and they banded together and made more “uses” who learned the back story. Jews versus Romans, Muslims versus Persians, Buddhists versus the unenlightened, The Empire versus the rebellion. It’s all kind of the same thing.

Then the story gets more interesting. Some of the “uses” think that other groups of “uses” aren’t “us” enough, that they’ve starting acting a little too much like those evil “thems” who persecuted our “us” ancestors which created “us” in the first place. They’re now more “them” than “us.” This simply cannot stand. We’ve got to kill their daughters, cut their beards, make them stop dressing in long, black Dickensian factory worker’s wife frocks.

A part of me can’t help but respect the Amish. Their stubborn resistance to the automobile alone makes them admirable. I don’t personally make any distinction between the real Amish and the pretend wanna-be, flashy button-wearing, secular ones. I’m not a PETA activist or a button manufacturer, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I do, however, have a friend who’s a professional dog trainer who hates the Amish with a passion most people reserve for Nazis or reality TV stars. I rode with her last summer in her van in Western Pennsylvania, carting around her seventeen dogs. She’s devoted her life to the proper care of canines and the Amish don’t give a crap about the ethical treatment of animals, or children for that matter, and I got to ride shotgun with her for a week. As if that scenario weren’t surreal enough, we were driving around IN Amish country, so we wound up passing more horse-and-buggy combinations than we would have had we been in Chicago, Dallas, or say, literally anywhere else in this century. My friend would roll down her window and shout something unkind at them. I kept telling her that that wasn’t an effective strategy for defeating her enemy. I told her that she should’ve at least translated her epithets into conversational German, but she didn’t listen.

The world treats religious purists kind of like it does fire. We’re scared of it, to be sure, but we also can’t look away. We know that there’s power there, but most of us don’t want to walk barefoot over its coals. We know that those guys are crazy and somehow both vastly superior to and insanely inferior to the rest of us non-fire walking realists. We want to both shave cliché Madison Avenue slogans into their heathen beards and make warm cozy afghans out of them to keep us warm on rainy nights.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this news clip, but an Amish guy forcibly shaving other Amish guy’s beard is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard of.