It would seem that "God" has returned to the public consciousness, with a verve not felt in quite some time. All attempts to account for this phenomenon point the finger at 9/11, suggesting that the religious rhetoric of the attackers has upped the ante and div-speak has become ubiquitous- for and against- whether related to the issue of terrorism or not.
Atheists, for instance, are breathlessly cranking up their intellectual engines, and just when they were in the midst of finding other jobs. Their belief is that God is the problem. Not a philosophical problem. A social problem. Patterning their approach after the "If there were no guns, people wouldn't have anything to kill each other with," argument, they preach that if we could just do away with the idea of God, all would be well. Christopher Hitchens is plugging "God Is Not Great," and Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion," has spent a good bit of time on bestseller lists.
Meanwhile, leaders of some of the larger religious streams are positively salivating at the sudden relevance of their rhetoric. See, we told you that other kinds of religious people were bad, they cry. Of course you should be afraid, they say, especially of God, but you should be afraid the same way we are.
Catholics have long published lists of legislator voting records on issues they consider central, the American Jewish Committee has been putting out pointed radio spots for years, and Southern Baptists have always worried about whether and where candidates go to church. But there is a new urgency about such concerns now.
The coalescence of religiosity getting the most attention is referred to as the Religious Right. Directly and indirectly, we are reminded over and over again that they're the folks who helped bring us the Protestant work ethic. Be afraid of what will happen to you in the afterlife, we're told, but turn your fear into self-discipline and productivity. That way, you get rewarded here and there. Just look at what it's done for the economy.
Historians will tell you that the themes of all these groups, believers and nonbelievers alike, are the same as ever they have been- pick a century, any century. Our way is the right way. Your way sucks.
Who is benefiting from this new state of affairs? Certainly the membership chair people in all these organizations. International reports indicate that terrorist groups are doing well in their recruiting efforts, too.
Also benefiting is anyone who would rather have you thinking about whether your view of divinity is superior to whatever al Qaeda may opine than have you thinking about health care, global warming, or the growing disparity of income levels between and among all the different slices of American society you might care to come up with.
Nor should we leave out those who care a little less about the religious side of the new world. It would make no sense to suggest that the war in Iraq was undertaken for religious reasons. Still, the climate in which it was begun was one to which freshly stoked religious energies clearly made their contribution.
Conspiracy theorists are delighted with all the new dots they have to join together. They preach that the attacks on 9/11 were allowed so that a pretext could be developed for invading Iraq, producing a quagmire from which we could not withdraw because, quite simply they will say, there is too much oil at stake. And here's the part where they will claim that Iran is next. After all, when it comes to nonrenewable fossil fuels, two quagmires must be better than one.
Then there's Halliburton. Rebuilding a country can do wonders for a corporate bottom line.
Who is not benefiting? The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have been killed or deprived of the wholeness of their bodies and previous lives, and their families. More Americans have been lost in Iraq than were lost on 9/11. As for Iraqi civilians, estimates of the number of dead range up to one hundred thousand. That is difficult to comprehend. Nor do we want to talk about it. So, as a rule, we don't.