Sunday, April 13, 2014

Personal announcement: appeal to my non-religious readers

Dear friends,

Several of you have expressed your puzzlement and even annoyance at the fact that in one of my recent posts I have quoted the Book of Genesis and I think that it is important for me to speak to this concern.

First and foremost, and this is really important to me, I want you to believe me when I say that I honestly understand your point of view.  I have lived all my life in the West and, believe me, I know from personal experience the kind of Christianity you have been exposed to.  I have seen many of my close friends struggle with huge dissonance between their attraction to the Christianity they saw in the New Testament and the kind of Christianity they could see around them on a daily basis: the money making hypocrites, the Bible-thumping screaming preachers, the pedophiles and the cover-ups, the clergy always on the side of the rich and powerful, the clergymen who preach celibacy and have their own "wives" at home, the churches who ban divorces but gladly "annul" marriages just to please a personality, those who stand for nothing, and those who only stand for hatred.  And worst of all, the clergyman and churches who are lukewarm, tepid, spineless, vapid and disgustingly subservient to the world.  Some of you said that when the read the worlds "and the LORD said..." they felt like gagging - well believe it or not, I think that this is a completely healthy reaction to the kind of religion you have been exposed to.  It's accepting that sort of religion which I find actually un-healthy and un-natural.  

But I ask you to please hear me out with as much objectivity as you can.

First, this blog deals primarily with two regions: the Middle-East and Russia.  The reason for that is because these are the regions where, in my opinion, most of the important "action" is happening.  Recently this blog has been "wall to wall Ukrainian", but that is only because something really important is happening there.  Before, for *years* I did not post a single thing about the Ukraine.  In the past, I posted mostly about the Middle-East and, especially, Iran and Hezbollah.  I did that because I considered that they played a crucial role.  Eventually, when I realized that Syria had become the front line, I did a huge amount of coverage of the civil war in Syria.  If tomorrow something massive happens in Australia or Iceland or Tahiti, I will try to cover that too.  But the fact is that for the foreseeable future the Middle-East and Russia are the two spots on the planet where the most important things are happening.  It so happens that these are also regions were religions play a crucial role.

Now, you do not have to believe in God to realize that there are some regions where religions are the single most important factor.  Furthermore, you simply cannot understand, say, Hassan Nasrallah unless you become acutely aware of his "system of reference" which is Shia Islam.  Finally, all religions have their own ethos, which often affects not only the pious faithful, but even those who are very superficially religious or not religious at all.  Russian Orthodoxy and Shia Islam both a very strong religious ethos inside them one which "reaches out" far beyond the narrow confines of the truly religious folks in Iran or Russia.  Why is that so important?

Because if you really want to understand Russians or Iranians, even the not very religious ones, you better get used to verses from the Bible or Suras from the Quran.  I am not saying that you have to agree, accept or endorse these texts, but you have to become conversant in the "language" and ethos they convey.  Just hating scriptural quotes is understandable, but not helpful in the Russian or Middle-Eastern context.

Second, you can easily view religion as a cultural phenomenon, something purely man-made which uses a symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical language to convey philosophical, social and moral issues.  Holy Writ can be seen as a system encoding historical, normative and legal notions.  The fact that some people "fill" these notions with a spiritual dimension does not at all force you to do likewise.  Bertrand Russel once wrote that "God created man in his image, and man returned him the favor". So consider religions as a man-made thing which, for some reason, seems important to the more naive and simply of us.  That's ok - no need to hate it then, no?

Third, I am confident that the majority of those who are disturbed by religion have had little - if any - exposure to traditional Orthodox Christianity (I am talking about the real thing here, not the ecumenist or "eastern rite" kind of nonsense) or truly traditional Islam (I don't mean the Wahabi crap you can see on TV).  One is 2000 years old, the other 1400 years old.  Compare that to, say, the Latin "traditionalists" of school of Archbishop Lefebvre whose "traditions" go back as "far" as the First Vatican Council of 1864-1870, i.e. less than 200 years ago.  By Islamic or Orthodox standards, Latin traditionalists are recent hyper-modernists, a religion in its infancy.  Almost all the denominations you have seen around yourself have their roots in very recent history, even those supposedly "traditional".  So here is what I want to submit to you: don't lump into one category those religions who are essentially recent inventions and those who have more than 1000 years of history behind them.  That does not mean that you have to admit that the older ones are necessarily "better", only that they are qualitatively different.  To put it most simply - it's not our folks which made you gag on the words "the LORD said" so please do not judge us by your experience with the other ones, don't just lump is all into one group called "religion" as religions come in a great variety of types and flavors.

Finally, you have to understand a simple thing: if this blog has any quality at all it is the fact that I never try to please anybody or to cater to any one constituency.  I get people pissed at me on a regular basis.  Many say that they don't agree with this or that, but that they are grateful for my honesty, and I fully accept that.  I am what I am, and I call it as I see it.  For me, religion is BY FAR the single most important element of international relations, culture, history, ethics, politics, justice, etc.  And I, the former military analyst, like to say that all warfare is inherently spiritual.  Others, say Richard Dawkins, believe that religion is just about the worst thing ever produced by mankind.  Marx thought that it was the opium of the people and that it was used by the ruling classes to keep the lower classes passive, easily subjugated and oppressed.  But this blog is not Dawkin's or Marx's blog - its mine, and it would be emptied of its substance if I tried to use the language and system of reference of a world which I comprehensively reject.  My religion shaped me, it shaped the way I think, the way I act, how I look at things, what I try to achieve and what I try to avoid.  How could I possibly have a blog not featuring regular religious references?!

I therefore want to ask you for your understanding and patience with me.  Even if I do quote the Scripture or make religious references, please judge what I write at its face value and don't let your past experiences obscure my message.  I am not Jerry Falwell, I am not Osama Bin Laden, I am not the Pope, I am not L. Ron Hubbard, I am not Sun Myung Moon, I am not Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, I am not Ian Paisley, I am not Jim Jones or David Koresh.  I am just a guy how happens to be very religious and whose religion is really ancient and different from anything you have seen in your life.  I am not asking you to endorse or accept that religion of mine, only to let me speak the way I normally do, without trying to look or sound like somebody else.

In other words, let them be them and let me be me.  I am a Russian Orthodox Christian, of a very traditionalist kind of persuasion and I have nothing, really absolutely nothing at all, in common with the rest of them.  Please accept me as I am and judge me for what I do.  That, I think, would be only reasonable and fair.

Many thanks for your understanding and kind regards,

The Saker