An entity descends to earth and takes on human flesh, proclaiming human flesh, spreading the “good news” that all humanity can be one, war can be ended, and peace and unity can prevail.
If this story sounds familiar, you must have seen The Invasion, the most recent remake of The Body Snatchers, this time starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
The parallels to what religions seek and/or claim to offer are noticeable, as is the fact that the spore that infects humanity seems to offer so much that humans claim to want. But at what price? May it in fact be the case that in order to achieve such goals as utter tranquility of spirit, total ending of all conflict and tension, we would have to give up that which in fact makes us human? And if so, then are those things really desirable as ends in themselves? Are they even genuine possibilities?
In his book God’s Problem (Harper Collins, 2008, pp.12-13), Bart Ehrman in fact notices an issue along these lines that is often neglected in discussions of Christian theology, free will and the afterlife. Christians have historically claimed that the afterlife will be akin to what I’ve described: no stress, no war, no evil. But can such a world be realized with human free will intact? If so, then why did God not simply make such a world to begin with? If not, will freedom be eliminated? But then why give us free will in the first place? Or will it in fact be possible for the order of eternity to descend once again into chaos, a never-ending cycle?
It is tempting to draw the comparison further between the spore in the movie and the “meme” understanding of religion. But as John Gray puts it in his recent article “The Atheist Delusion” in The Guardian, “the theory of memes is science only in the sense that Intelligent Design is science. Strictly speaking, it is not even a theory. Talk of memes is just the latest in a succession of ill-judged Darwinian metaphors”.
So what is wrong with the “solution” to human ills offered by the spore? The son of Kidman’s character is immune, and the spore-infected humans state clearly that there is no place among them for one who cannot become part of their collective consciousness. In other words, they can only achieve peace and harmony by eliminating diversity. There is no conflict with the other, because there is no other, is the way it is put at one point. This is not the “unity in diversity” that the New Testament and many other traditions speak of. This is the utter uniformity of fundamentalism, conformity of the sort Steve Taylor sang about in his song “I want to be a clone”.
I came across a nice description of fundamentalism in B. Alan Wallace’s book The Taboo Of Subjectivity (Oxford University Press, 2000, p.186), and it is worth sharing to close with:
The last gasp of a religion that has forsaken its contemplative heritage is fundamentalism, which throws logic to the wind and defends its beliefs with a raw appeal to authority. All forms of fundamentalism, religious and scientific, regard themselves as self-sufficient, displaying no interest or concern for external challenges to their dogmas. The contamination of science with scientism and of religion with fundamentalism constitutes a lethal infection, which, if left unchecked, is bound to result in the death of its host; and the aftermath of that fatality bears little resemblance to any genuine science or religion.
We need to check from time to time to see what we have: religion, or a dangerous infection. The latter cannot be cured by religion, or science, or knowledge per se, since such approaches can themselves be infected. The only cure is the recognition of the value in other perspectives, in diversity, in the existence of the other, and a refusal to flatten it out through a dogmatic drive for uniformity.