The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. – Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal died this week. He was eighty six years old. He was a “man of letters” as they say; but more than that, he was a cultural critic — a novelist, playwright, essayist, memoirist, screenwriter, and political commentator. He was known to many, even those who had never read his works. He was loved by many, and hated by many more, perhaps. He was never one to mince words, although he knew how to use them to greatest effect. For me, his most memorable piece was a short, eight-page essay entitled Monotheism and Its Discontents. Excuse me for using a goodly portion of his own words here to celebrate his acerbic wit and to say a fond farewell to a fellow traveler on a road less traveled.
He opens this essay by reminding us of our predicament here in modern America.
But then a ruling class that has been able to demonize the word ‘liberal’ is a master at controlling – indeed stifling – any criticism of itself.
And, he continues…
Plainly, the ownership of the country is frightened that the current hatred of politicians, in general, may soon be translated into a hatred of that corporate few who control the many through Opinion…
Note that Vidal wrote these words in 1992, almost twenty years before the Occupy Wall Street movement ever took to the streets. But here Vidal was just setting the table, so to speak, with some morsels to titillate a taste for our national failing as prelude to launching into the “root of the matter,” as he calls it.
“The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism,” writes Vidal.
From the barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three antihuman 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 in place not just 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 that of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family at home.
Vidal’s distaste for Christianity, however, runs deeper; it is borne of his sense of the deranged evangelists’ own presumption to lord it over the planet, at the expense of the rest of humanity and the earth we all depend upon.
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 forcing 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… So it is upon that account that I now favor an all-out war on the monotheists.
And he later adds, “I preach, to put it bluntly, confrontation.”
But, it is not just monotheism’s scorn for women or for the darker races of humanity in general that inspires Vidal’s vitriol. It is this religion’s underlying presumption of stewardship (i.e., control) of the earth and all its delights that sticks in his craw.
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 our satellites in space. Climate changes; earth and water are poisoned. Sensible people grow alarmed; sky-godders are serene, even smug. The planet is just a staging area for heaven. Why bother to clean it up? Did not the sky-god tell 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.
Certainly, Vidal’s cynicism was tempered by his great wit and intellectual ferocity. He was an uncompromising challenger to William Buckley, as well as an early and influential figure in the critical life of the late Christopher Hitchens. As Hitch told it, “Vidal advised him never to miss a chance either to have sex or to appear on television.” And unlike yours truly, Vidal was capable of insulting while remaining squarely on the high road.
Ordinarily, as a descendent of the 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… 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.
Too much talk, Vidal thinks, about this being a country of free and equal persons. All our talk of a classless society, he says, is just another of our agreed-upon fantasies. “The Few who control the Many through Opinion have simply made themselves invisible,” while the press tries to convince the other 99% that there is always hope. But, as far as re-establishing a fair and representative government, grounded firmly in human kindness, well:
The party of God will have none of this. It wants to establish, through legal prohibitions and enforced taboos, a sky-god totalitarian state. The United States ultimately as prison, with mandatory blood, urine, and lie-detector tests and with sky-godders as the cops, answerable only to [their] God.
Rest In Peace, Gore Vidal. Your voice will be missed. August 1, 2012 – kulturCritic.
(I commend to all of you this piece in its entirety, as found in The Selected Essays.)