In earliest Peru, in Greece, even in cynical Rome, gods wielded forked lightning, evoked thunder, inspired tsunamis and started wars. The sudden rush of more sophisticated religions in 5 BC used fairy tales as a way of upholding tribal discipline.
That said I stand at the barricades shoulder to shoulder with a former Archbishop of Canterbury defending the right of Xtians to wear the cross, the symbol of their belief, and for their right to talk and behave towards Muslims and homosexuals as freely as they behave towards us. Even though I have little wonder that religion is losing its grip in the Western world when it continues to rely on myth.
In the less sophisticated East discipline is rewarded with gifts of spectral virgins. Or a handful of nuts – for vegetarians presumably. Yet even here the grip is loosening on all but the Wahabi-inspired zealots. In his book ?Shadow of the Sword. The Battle for the Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World? I read that historian Tim Holland disputes the Muslim belief that the Koran is literally the word of God handed down to Muhammad. He points out the Koran existed many years before the Prophet?s birth but the edition which has become the global version, he argues, was published as recently as 1924.
Nor does he believe Mecca was the place where Muhammad was born. Multiple references to cattle and olive trees which would not flourish in such a dry place suggest a site further north.
The most heartening aspect of this inquiry is that Omar Bakri Muhammad, the Muslimist who threatened the West with 9/11 every day, commented on the book: ?People are entitled to write the books they like as long as they do not insult the honour of the prophet… He can say he does not believe or even that the prophet does not exist and Muslims will just laugh. It?s all in the scriptures.?
Not all religions take such a relaxed view. A devout Jew Peter Beinhart has published ?The Crisis of Zionism ?in which he warns Israel will have to decide whether to be a Jewish state or a democracy.? Its occupation of the West Bank and aggressive settlement building there means that Israel is two countries?, he writes, ?a democratic one in the West where Arab and Israeli citizens can vote and move easily as near equals, and a non-democratic one on the West Bank where Palestinians are cut out of any democratic governance ?.
This fairly obvious statement has produced a vitriolic response from the Zionist establishment. Beinhart is accused of being one-sided, part of a privileged elite, and haughty. The Head of the Anti- Defamation League Abraham Foxman claims that a boycott of the West Bank will only worsen the anti Israeli campaign round the world which Beinhart opposes.