A quote from Bertrand Russell in a book I was reading caught my eye:
“Cruelty lurks in our instincts, and fanaticism is a camouflage for cruelty.”
And antismoking fanaticism is indeed very cruel. Smoking bans are acts of cruelty to millions of smokers (and to quite a few non-smokers), as they destroy communities and networks of friendships.
Another phrase on the same page – “an assault on decency” – also caught my eye. Smoking bans are an assault on decency.
It occurred to me today that these modern fanatical religions almost always seem to identify some evil that needs to be expunged. Hitler’s Nazis identified Jews as a ‘racial poison’ that had to be expelled or eliminated. Our modern Nazis are the same, but they identify different evils. Antismoking fanatics identify tobacco as a plague on humanity, and the cause of almost all disease. Global warming zealots identify carbon dioxide, and perhaps even the element carbon, as a threat to continuing human existence, and demand the decarbonisation of western economies. In each case, something (and usually someone closely associated with it) is demonised: Jews, smokers, CO2 polluters.
And in each case, the zealots gain their moral strength from fighting evil. They regard themselves as good precisely because they are fighting evil. And the greater the evil they are fighting, and the more valiantly they combat it, the higher their self-regard. They aren’t really ‘do-gooders’ so much as ‘evil-undoers’.
And in every case, they are trying to stop something rather than start something. They are trying to stop Jews taking over the world. They are trying to stop people smoking (and drinking and eating as well). And they are trying to stop carbon dioxide emissions heating the planet.
But their religion only ever has a Devil, and always lacks a God. It has a Supreme Evil, but no Supreme Good. They only aspire to eliminate evil, rather than do any positive good. In fact, they don’t have any particularly clear idea of any sort of good at all to set against their carefully worked out and immensely detailed idea of evil. After all, the antismoking zealots seldom wax eloquent about the delights and pleasures of a smoke-free utopia, and neither do the global warming zealots sing the praises of a carbon-free world.
And one might contrast these negative religions with a positive religion like Christianity which is, in its highest manifestations, a religion of love: love for God, love for humanity, love for life. Indeed the very first of the 10 Commandments is an injunction to love God. And, aside from Christianity, it might be said that even the fans of a pop group or a football team have an admiration and even a love of something, rather than a hatred of something.
And, if these negative religions had their own correspondingly negative churches, they would be filled not with depictions of a God whose praises they would sing, but with representations of a variety of Devils, at whom they would scream abuse – rather like in George Orwell’s 1984 “two minute hate.” Above their altars there would rear monstrous figures of Satan, black wings outstretched, crimson teeth bared.
And, because they are Devil-hating religions rather than God-loving religions, it is solely hatred that motivates them, and solely hatred which determines how they will behave. And it will be the depth of their hatred which will promote zealots in the ranks of the negative clerisy of their negative churches. For their goodness-in-fighting-evil is measured by the strength of their hatred for that evil. And this ensures that they will act with extreme cruelty, and indeed utter barbarity, the deeper that hatred becomes. And they will be completely blind to their own cruelty and barbarity. In fact, in ferociously fighting evil, their own ferocity will appear to them to be wholly virtuous.
Another feature of these negative religions is that there always seems to be some sort of botched ‘science’ that is used to identify their respective Devils, and justify their subsequent demonisation. In the case of antisemitism, it was half-baked Nazi racial ‘science’. And in the case of antismoking ‘science’ it is a crude sort of epidemiology. And in the case of global warming it’s computer simulation models of ill-understood physical processes. It’s through their ill-constructed telescopes that they first spot their respective devils, and proceed to describe them as carefully as canals on Mars. And their ‘scientific’ discoveries then serve to awaken and lend new virulence to older prejudices – against Jews, against smokers, against industry.
The Nazis demonised Jews, yet now it’s the Nazis themselves who are instead regarded as demons. The demonisers in turn become demonised, once the depths of their depravity becomes known. And this will likely be the fate of the antismoking and global warming fanatics. In the case of the antismokers, the depth of social division and dislocation that they have caused will one day become as apparent as the Nazi concentration camps , and the scales will fall from everyone’s eyes.