The other day I saw a distinguished looking gentleman in a turban which was covering his long flowing dark hair. I realized that the man was a member of the Sikh religion. All that I knew about this ethnic group was that they were usually from India, that they were often erroneously identified as Muslims and, most of all, that they were known to be ethical and tolerant of others people's beliefs. After some research, I found that Sikhism, unlike some of our more primitive Judaeo-Christian sects, was originally based on the concept of a "divine unity" and a sense of human equality, that is social justice and a quest for the welfare and prosperity of all men and women. Ironically, Sikhs, so often confused with Muslims, were actually severely oppressed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by "Mughal" Muslims in an attempt to convert the Sikhs to Islam.
Sikhism is a "monotheistic" religion with the concept of a "shapeless, timeless, formless" God, similar to the Buddha's or Spinoza's concept of a unified, pantheistic spirit. As the primary Sikh philosopher/prophet, Guru Nanak explained, the "Spirit of God" pervades everything and ties everything together into "one unity." Thus the ultimate goal of the individual is to study and understand and thereby unite with this spirit thus transcending the problems of the bodily existence. While Sikhism is a distinct religion and Sikhs are defined by their allegiance to their Gurus and to various idiosyncrasies such as not cutting their hair and to baptismal purification, they do not claim to have a monopoly on "truths," believing that members of other religions, practicing ethical behavior and meditation can achieve this "truth" of "oneness of spirit." Ironically, this concept of uniting with the spirit of God was also advanced in the second and third centuries by many gnostic Christians who believed that through study and meditation, and finally through understanding, that the Human Jesus became a part of God, in fact, finally making God "perfect." Utterly intolerant and threatened by these ideas, it took the early Church Fathers hundreds of years to finally eradicate these concepts from their religion and to destroy as much gnostic literature as possible.
"Thus Spake Zarathustra"
While most of us know very little about Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism, we may have heard the phrase "Thus spake Zarathustra" attached to this brilliant and magnificent Persian law giver and social reformer. We are not certain, but he may have lived as far back as 1700 bce. That is well before Heraclitus and Pythagoras, the ingenious Greek philosophers who introduced the concepts of unified spirit and probably the concept of "the soul" to Western civilization. Apparently, however, their formidable ideas were rooted in the teachings of Zarathustra. His "Gatas," extolling Ahura Mazda ("Goodness" or "The Wise Spirit") as opposed to Angra Mainyu ("The Hostile Spirit") and Asha (truth) vs. Druj (untruth), along with his battle against social injustice and for a monotheistic God clearly seem to represent the forerunner of the Abrahamic religions which leads me to the overriding theme of this article.
Zarathustra and many other non Islamic philosophers and prophets are either mentioned in the Quran or by tradition were revered as prophets and sages in the early stages of Islam. Their associated religions were tolerated (though perhaps penalized with special taxes for not converting to Islam) during the ascendancy and most successful periods of Islamic rule. In fact, one could argue that the gradual erosion and usurpation of Muslim rule by radicals has led to or contributed drastically to the precipitous decline of most Muslim peoples into what its essentially a "third world" ethnic group, with the occasional opportunity to reveal their underlying brilliance when otherwise exposed to a free society.
Thus, the religious and social intolerance, as well as the reversion of so much of Muslim society to the primitive pre Muhammad and even pre Zoroastrian blatant intolerance of free thought has thus far brought a once proud and brilliant society to its knees. Remember that as the Holy Roman Empire was so busily trying to destroy virtually all of human knowledge (the same type of prevailing evil that that ended the lives of Zarathustra, Socrates, and so many others and would later condemn Sikh Gurus to death), the Moors were busy trying to save that knowledge by supporting the greatest scholars of the era, no matter what their religion.
The pertinent question is, given the stark intolerance of anyone else's social and religious values and even their basic human needs, their censorship of scientific facts and total disdain for the actual context of even the simplest issue so replete among the members of the "Freedom Carcass" and the Trump administration, how is this any different than what led to the demise of the once proud "Islamic Empire?" And, is it also just a coincidence that the Roman Empire, once famous for its religious tolerance and reverence for knowledge, began its gradual decline as it became more and more intolerant of native social and religious customs? Is it just a coincidence that what followed was perhaps the longest period of utter ignorance and intolerance thus far in the history of mankind???
Are we now headed for the same path to oblivion?
I believe that a very strong case can be made that while religious and radical political extremists of various persuasions, if peaceful, can in many ways, continue to be a vital and beneficial part of society, they cannot be permitted to foist their views on an entire civilization- views often out of context with reality, common decency, including the blatant denial of the actual life and death problems that so many Americans face every day. Intolerance and authoritarian concepts have toppled civilization after civilization. Let us not permit the "Freedom Carcass" to lead us into their inevitable "Zombie Apocalypse" and the ultimate destruction of what has thus far been the most successful but hopefully unfinished experiment in the fight against intolerance. Can we really afford to leave this country's fate in the hands of a group of primitive superstitious twits who actually pray every day for the "end times" and the deaths of all those souls with whom they disagree?
Al Finkelstein, 5/27/18