Religion vs. Human Life [Damanhur]
I had never heard of Damanhur -- an Egyptian city located between
Alexandria and Cairo. It is featured this morning in a NY Times
article on the Egyptian Brotherhood ("Egyptian Group Patiently
Pursues Dream of an Islamic State," 1/20/02). The editor's focus of
attention is on a Muslim Brotherhood politician who walks the streets
of poverty-stricken Damanhur, making promises of better things to
come with the arrival of a truly Muslim state, of a movement to
extend Islamic domination world-wide. Is there possible connection
of this movement to the violence of the Muslim terrorists?
What caught my eye, however, was the cause of Damanhur's abject
poverty: ". . . a town that has swelled to 650,000 residents from
140,000 in the late 1950's."
Damanhur's story is writ large around the globe where billions of
people crowd potentially rich lands with their poverty, which is
fertile soil for hatred and oppression and calls for the
expulsion/destruction of enemies.
The 'population bomb' has always been more threatening to human
welfare than even nuclear weapons, which at least would kill us off
Unhappily in the face of this challenge we have inherited religions
that are obsessed with death and dying rather than life and living --
as Freud noted, thanatos has a tendency to trump eros. Death is the
major human anxiety and so we have developed religions that feast
upon it as a goal, under the pretext that the "next life" is somehow
preferable to the present one. What a metaphysical scam!
St. Paul perverted Christianity as a life-affirming religion with
his death obsession -- the apocalypse to come, which he anticipated
might arrive even within his own lifetime. Slaves should be patient.
They would be liberated in the after life. Marry only if you are
burning with lust and can't wait for the rewards of the life to come
(How despicable!). Sister Teressa, much proclaimed as the savior
of dying children, was obsessed with caring for _dying_ children
and fervently, as did Gandhi, opposed state aid to such children
and others that might have saved their lives! Right wing
Protestants and the Catholic Church discovered only most recently
that embryos and fetuses were really babies in disguise to be
protected against abortion at any and all costs -- even the very
survival of humanity itself!
Up until the late 19th century the Western religions, following
Aristotle's lead, had designated some time frame after conception
as the moment that a soul implanted in the developing cells in the
womb -- earlier for males (40 days) and later for females. Even
this designation violated Aristotle's own conception of the soul,
not a separate entity, bur rather an internal 'principle' (bad
translation) of a body possessing the potential for life.
Quickening (when the signs of life became apparent to the mother
mid pregnancy), therefore, was the traditional cut off point for
abortions -- more or less where Roe vs. Wade restored things -- at
viability of the fetus.
However, what do we see around the world? Innumerable Damanhurs are
producing mind-bending poverty and human suffering as our population
explodes in numbers for which it is impossible to provide even basic
state infrastructures, let alone the conditions necessary for a
minimally decent life.
Our genetic evolution enabled humans to survive the hazards of
ordinary life with a capacity to produce a surplus of babies. But
with the advent of modern medicine, we have been letting this
capacity run amuck. I once asked one of my classes who had the most
brothers and sisters and a student raised her hand and said that
her family had as many children as our Lord had years. No, this was
not a polygamous Muslim family, but a Christian one in which a father
had married an additional wife (3 in all) following the deaths in
child birth of each predecessor! Jesus, lived for 33 years. I
recall not a few farm families in northern Vermont during my
childhood that had produced 15 to 20+ children in one marriage!
With the advent of modern medicine and our aging, population growth
in developed nations has naturally been reduced by the economic
costs of raising children. However, such is not the case in poverty
stricken zones where children -- many of them -- are the only
assurance of support in one's old age. Our most massive nations
have used various schemes to limit their population growth beyond
India for a time offered economic incentives to medical teams to
perform vasectomies, which were done with the offers of further
bounties to poverty stricken families. The program worked -- sort
of -- India became a net exporter of food rather than a total
economic basket case. The poverty there is still mind-bending and
affects at least 40% of its population -- the turf of Sister
Teressa. Official India only responds with government assistance to
catastrophes -- not ordinary human deprivation. "Self-help" was
Gandhi's slogan and (conveniently) remains official Indian policy.
China imposed its one child per family rule -- not mandatory
abortion, as is so often proclaimed as a right wing American
politicians' excuse (Reagan to Bushes) for sabotaging world
population control programs. The Chinese control is that families
do not get public funding for such as the education of additional
children. However, with the development of economic inequalities in
China, this curb is no longer as effective as it was for a time.
When I last looked at Roman Catholic dominated developing nations
such as Brazil, the population growth situation was disastrous. I
recall the figures for one of Brazil's poverty areas being an average
of 7 children per family born with half that number surviving early
childhood. Mothers spoke there of "G-d's little angels." If a child
was born to a poverty stricken family and seemed frail in any way, it
was thrust away to die of dehydration -- sent back to G-d. I forget
the exact number of many thousands of women each year in Brazil who
were dying of botched illegal abortions, trying to avoid bringing yet
another of "G-d's little angels" into an unwelcoming world. But it
The Catholic Church, which otherwise does many positive things,
continues to disrupt as best it can international conferences on
population control. Shame on such arrogant disregard for human
welfare -- particularly that of suffering women and children -- a
heritage of 'Saint Paul', not Jesus of Nazareth! "By their works ye
shall judge them!" Most practicing Catholics disregard the hierarchy
on this issue, but it is the hierarchy that sends representatives to
international conferences and lobbies with the pols.
Our failure to resolve the population explosion puts all of us at
risk -- from terrorists plotting revenge against our super
abundances and indifference to life threatening global diseases bred
in the depths of poverty. We in the US can no longer hide out from
either as though we were a national gated community!
P.S. I wish our media had the guts to take on this issue, front and
Ed Kent firstname.lastname@example.org 718-951-5324 (voice mail only)
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