Saturday, March 26, 2016
Sam Reads: Disciples of Destruction by Charles W. Sutherland
Disciples of Destruction, by my good friend and writing mentor Charles W. Sutherland, is, in my opinion, more fascinating and relevant to read today in 2016 than it possibly could have been when it first was published thirty years ago. Sutherland meticulously tracks the use force to attain religious goals by the three main Abrahamic religions from their founding texts and mythologies to contemporary time. In doing so, he shows how lofty ideals have rarely prevented religious institutions and states from seizing an economic or political advantage. My favorite chapter is the final one on Marxism. The author tracks this movement from theory to revolution to the Soviet state in its death throes. During this course, it becomes apparent that the leaders of communism used tactics usually associated in history with major religions in order to maintain their position: establishing dogma and orthodoxy to consolidate their own power, engaging in wars of conquest, encouraging xenophobia, and repressing free expression of ideas, all contrary to their professed philosophy. Furthermore, the required violent struggles to bring about the conclusion of Marx's dialectical materialism and the dawning of a utopian communist society reflects the justification of other religions for holy wars and the belief shared by all four of the groups that their community of righteous believers will emerge victorious in the end. This final chapter is not just a criticism of Marxism, but also shows that any ideology sufficiently popular can inspire fanaticism and the willful suspension of rationality of its followers.
Our course has not deviated much in the three decades since this book first appeared. Religious violence is alive and well. It is on the front page of newspapers and the lead on cable network shows. It is a state of affairs that could have been easily anticipated from a careful reading of this book. Its commentary is always insightful and at times prescient, especially concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Muslim terrorism, Christian fundamentalism, and the crumbling of the Soviet Union. The intervening time shows that we are still trapped in this same paradigm of at least the last two millennia.. To escape from it we will need to stop turning to corrupt institutions for the answers to life's hardest questions and learn to come to grips with our own existence: material, mental, and spiritual.