Got into a discussion/argument with a random Internet pundit yesterday.  He did a post on his blog about Islam, in which he stated that he thinks ‘Islamophobia’ is understated.  He seems to feel that we should all live in mortal fear of Muslims.  I wasted a few minutes of my life trying to reason with the poor guy, but realized that I was being stupid when he professed to have read the Koran, specifically referring to ‘the nasty parts’.  He actually tried to convince me that within the pages of the Koran lies adequate reason for all right-minded global citizens to fear the ‘Muslim Threat’.  Painfully obvious that he had never actually read the book.  Or if he had, he had done so with extremely prejudiced eyes.

I actually kind of like the Koran.  As religious texts go, It’s not too terribly offensive.  It’s extremely dull, but not too offensive.  The fact that it belongs to a western religion is a strike against it, but it’s actually more interesting to read than the perennial favorite of the western religions:  The Bible.

Two quick facts, little-known to most Americans:  1)  The Koran is not the only scripture of religious import to Islam.  The Old Testament also plays a prominent role.  2)  The word ‘Jihad’  makes an appearance a grand total of four times in the Koran.  In none of those instances does it refer to an armed conflict (or a conflict of any kind).  In the Koran, the term ‘Jihad’ refers to a struggle – specifically a spiritual struggle.  And any idiot can tell you that a spiritual struggle is, above all, a personal one.  It’s not something you do with a group.  Especially a group with machine guns.

Anyway, this guy I was arguing with kept trying to convince me that Islam poses a threat to the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Eventually, I realized where he was coming from.  He had pretty much told me everything I needed to know with the first word he used.  Or, rather, the second part of that word:  phobia.  The guy is just plain living in fear – even abject terror – of Islam.  Or, more accurately, of Muslims.  And his fear is irrational, a fact that obviously bothers him.  So he professes to a knowledge of the Koran, which gives him the ability to claim his fear is a rational, reasoned fear.  It’s kind of sad, actually.

Since I’m aware of the fact that this guy is not alone in his fears, I started to wonder about the nature of those fears, and their genesis.  To be sure, they have roots that go back to the Crusades (you remember the Crusades – when the Pope saw that too many Christians were being killed by other Christians, so he invented an outside enemy for his flock to focus their considerable homicidal energies on), but while the seeds may have been planted in the Middle Ages, the Bush-Cheney cartel did a fine job of pouring Miracle-Gro on it.  But the propaganda alone doesn’t really explain the fear.  What – exactly – are so many Americans afraid of here?  What is it about Muslims that strikes so much terror into the heart of Joe Sixpack?

Belief.  Real, intense, white-hot belief.  The Kind of belief that Americans never see in their own lives.  The kind of belief that can drive people to obliterate themselves because they feel their faith demands it.  Americans don’t get this.  America has a different kind of belief – the kind that just asks you to show up on Sunday and perform the proper rituals.  Americans feel drawn to religious institutions not out of any spiritual drive but rather out of a simple need to belong.  And when we Americans are confronted with people who are willing to die for their beliefs, they scare the crap out of us.

Before anyone starts shouting, let me just say that I’m not talking about ALL Americans here.  Just the majority of them.  I know there are people in this country who are truly religious.  I also know that there are people in this country who are truly spiritual.  And I know that sometimes these are the same people.  But I know that these people are – by far – the minority.  Most Americans subscribe to one religion or another out of fear.  Simply because they’re afraid that the Beard In The Sky will punish them if they don’t.  Which is also the only reason most Americans behave themselves.  The average American (possibly the average person) is lying, thieving, raping, murderous scum, and the only thing keeping them from acting upon it is the threat of retribution.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at any situation in human history in which the rules were removed.  Riots.  Wars.  Show me any break-down of the social order, and I’ll show you the true face of human nature.

Now, this all got me thinking about the nature of belief.  Specifically, the nature of American belief.  What, if anything (I wondered) do Americans believe in strongly enough (or love strongly enough) that they would be willing to die for it?  Religion?  Not likely.  Sure – there have, on occasion, been Americans who have willingly chosen to die for their beliefs – but they are so rare as to be statistically nonexistent.  Their country?  Another big ‘no’.  While there are (and have been) plenty of people who will stand in line to fight and kill for America, those who have actually willingly died for it are intensely rare.  Family?  Sadly (and inexplicably, to my mind), also no.  Hell, I know many, many people who can’t even be bothered to give up their bad habits for the sake of their family.

Which brings us to the True American Belief System:  Hedonism.  This is the belief that burns strongly enough in America that its adherents are willing to die for it.  Americans have proven – repeatedly – that the one thing they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives for is their own pleasure.  Here we drug and drink and smoke and eat and sex ourselves to death every day.  Here we willingly risk our lives just to achieve the pleasure of the moment.  This, my friends, is the true American object of worship:  Personal pleasure.  It is this, not money, that we – as a people – love most.