Michael Parenti is the author of 23 books. He is one of America’s most prominent progressive public intellectuals. His newest book published this year is: God and His Demons, a book for which I am very proud to have acted as the agent. It is a critical analysis of organized religion. He approaches it from a historical, political, sociological, and theological perspective. As always, the breadth of knowledge of the subject is remarkable and he pulls no punches.
Andy: A lot of people have said that this is a book advocating atheism, not unlike recent books by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. But that isn’t quite what you are trying to do here, is it?
Michael: My book is not an atheistic diatribe against religion for the sake of showing how improbable and nonsensical religion might be. I do recognize that religion has played a real and powerful role in the human psyche and in history and society in general. And I note that there are religionists who have fought the good fight for social justice. My quarrel is with the theocratic aggrandizers and their theological intolerance, dogmatism, violence, hypocrisy, and repression.
Andy: Michael, your reputation is not as scholar of theology. But you engage in a considerable amount of analysis and exegesis on matters of theology. And it is clear that you have dug deeply into these subjects for this book. Did you find this subject challenging? What new insights (incites) did you gain from studying this?
Michael: Reading the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, was a compelling and revelatory experience. Along with the beautiful and loving segments and phrases here and there are the horrendous passages and whole books filled with violence and cruelty, much of it perpetrated by the deity himself. The best case you can make against biblical devotion is the Bible itself.
Andy: You pretty much take to task all organized religions from a variety of angles. Are there any heroes in this subject? Any arch-villains? In the best of all worlds, is there any positive role that religion has to play?
Michael: There are some very wonderful people in the world of religion for whom doing God’s will is more than a matter of ritual and piety; it is a matter of serving humanity and working for social justice right here on Earth. The entire Social Gospel movement of the early part of the last century, the Catholic Workers movement, the whole liberation theology movement that swept most of Latin America and other countries before it was destroyed by Pope John Paul II and the CIA death squads— these heroes worked on the side of the poor and downtrodden, quite at variance with most of organized religion whose hierarchies historically allied themselves with the rich and the powerful. These latter readily qualify as the arch villains you inquire about.
Andy: You dedicated the book to Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar of the 16th Century who ended his career in religion by being burned at the stake. What is it that you admire about him?
Michael: His remarkable honesty and deep insights. Not only did he not believe in the divinity of Christ and the virginity of Mary, he said as much – rather than spending a lifetime hypocritically mouthing beliefs that he did not really hold. Bruno also believed that God was not a separate force apart from the material world but inhered in the existing cosmos, a very pantheistic viewpoint. He also believed in a heliocentric system rather than a geocentric one, and correctly held that all stars were suns and our sun was a star—all this some 30 or 40 years before the telescope was invented. Most important of all he believed in love and tolerance, this above all is what people should have for each other.
Andy: Ok. Let’s talk about some issues that are in the news. You spend some time talking about the pedophile priests. But there have been a lot of developments since then. A new pope. Startling revelations about John Paul II (soon to be made a saint). And a rather classic cover-up strategy. Thoughts?
Michael: People still do not know the vicious role that Pope John Paul II played in laying down a policy of cover-up and protection for the pedophile priests. The cover-up continues today. The Church still refuses to hand over its records regarding sex crimes within the ranks of the clergy. Please recall that I also talk about the Protestant pedophiles; it’s not a peculiarly Catholic problem. There are Baptist ministers and clergy of all denominations who prey upon the vulnerable. Such predators can be found in public youth agencies, Boy Scout clubs, day care centers, wherever they can acquire access to defenseless children. Pedophilia must be criminalized. As of now there is no cure for the child rapists—but the threat of imprisonment for long duration is the best deterrence.
Andy: Is there anything new that you want to say about the goings on in Israel and how it fits in with your understanding of religion?
Michael: I mentioned the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in my book only in passing. It might do well to point out that the Zionists have transformed the Old Testament from a theological text to a property deed which allows them to make claim to land that has been possessed by Palestinians for 500 years or more.
Andy: And Islamic Fundamentalism?
Michael: Islamic fundamentalism is as dogmatic and intolerant as Christian fundamentalism. The only difference is that the Christian fanatics are still struggling to take over this and other countries while the Islamic extremists already control a number of countries, for instance, Saudi Arabia. And we can see once they gain state power what it is they are capable of doing. The nightmare becomes a reality.
Tags: andy ross, ask the agent, BIBLE, book publishing, CATHOLIC WORKERS MOVEMENT, christophr hitchens, giordano bruno, god and his demons, history, john paul ii, michael parenti, NEW TESTAMENT, OLD TESTAMENT, pedophile priests, pope john paul II, religion, richard dawkins, social gospel