The Magazine

Belief Control, Not Gun Control

After all, ideas are more dangerous than guns

May 29, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 35 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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ROSIE O'DONNELL IS RIGHT: It is a shocking fact that guns kill people. But if we are concerned about people getting killed, we must realize that mere gun control will not put an end to tragic violence. During the past 300 centuries millions of people have died because of the negligent possession of religious beliefs. "And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea. . . . And the water returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh," for starters. Then there's the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, communal violence between Hindus and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, additional trouble in the Middle East, mass killings in the Balkans, Jonestown, Waco, and the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie. That is to name only a few examples of what happens when people take religion into their own hands. A national campaign for Belief Control should therefore be a first priority among morally engaged and politically committed Americans.


We can start by advocating a few basic positions that almost all Americans can be expected to support:


P Restrict the import of dangerous and flimsy foreign religions such as the Sun Myung Moon Church.


P Ban small, inexpensive religions -- so-called "Sunday Morning Specials" -- practiced by the more obscure televangelists and people with Confederate flag bumper stickers who go to church in cinder block buildings.


P Enforce existing laws, especially those that keep our children safe by making schools and other public institutions "Faith-Free Zones." (Much remains to be done. Too many teachers still end the school day by uttering such oaths as, "God, I need a drink.")


Of course, this is simply a beginning. We need a national system of accountability requiring all spiritual dogmas to be registered with the government lest they fall into the wrong hands the way Christianity did with Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye. Some elements of this program are already in place under Internal Revenue Service non-profit rules for church organizations. But the IRS only concerns itself with the money that church-goers give. What about the credence that people give to their religions? Shouldn't this be investigated, too?


We also need a nationwide seven-day waiting period for prayer. This would give people time to cool off and reconsider reverence and supplication and maybe call their local social-services provider instead.


All religious believers should be licensed to make sure that they are competent to hold opinions and viewpoints and that they don't believe in just any old thing, such as creationism or a flat tax. Perhaps existing state motor vehicle departments could be expanded to provide "vision thing" exams and written tests in multicultural awareness, so that intolerance issues such as those between Moses and Pharaoh will be avoided in the future. And Skepticism-Ed classes ought to be a requirement for high school graduation.


All religions must be made child-proof. Our teachers' unions have done good work in this field, K through 12. Delaying first communions and bar mitzvahs until age 21 would be another positive step. Religious marriage ceremonies also should be postponed until the children by that marriage are old enough to handle the behavior of their parents in a responsible manner.


Convicted criminals and people with a history of mental illness need to be encouraged to play golf on Sunday mornings.


Easily concealed religions such as Anglo-Catholicism should be restricted.


And certain hymns that have only military applications could be prohibited or radically modified:


Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,


He is marching through the vineyards where a really excellent cabernet sauvignon is stored.


Some will say that America is such a God-fearing country that individual religious beliefs can never be contained or eliminated. Yet millions and millions of Americans, in their everyday behavior (not to mention their television viewing habits), show us that this is no longer the case. Nonetheless we must face the fact that there will be tremendous opposition to even the most commonsensical Belief Control laws.