Authors like Mircea Eliade, who defined religion not as “belief in deities” but “an experience of the sacred”, and Emile Durkheim enlightened us on the place of the “sacred” in human history, as did Joseph Campbell, famous for his mantra “Follow your bliss” (see my post, December 28, 2014, “Happy New Year ? Follow Your Bliss !”). Ancient and modern mythology, from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” to George Lucas’ “Star Wars”, continues to fascinate us : the sacred is alive and well, and as we have recently been reminded, remains a formidable force in geopolitics.
The topic of Jerusalem is … topical at the moment because of Trump’s explosive declaration that the Sacred City is “obviously” the capital of Israel. Jerusalem, as everyone knows, is sacred not only to Jews but to Muslims and Christians as well. It is THE Holy City. All three of the world’s monotheisms apply the notion of sacred to either the Torah, the New Testament or the Koran. Like other religions, their sacred books are central in their ritual considered sacred, conducted by men considered sacred, with the aid of objects also considered sacred. Catholics will think immediately of the chalice and paten used at Mass, of priests’ heavily embroidered vestments, of paraphernalia like thuribles, monstrances and holy water sprinklers, as well as bits of bone and cloth associated with a Saint that we call sacred relics. As a priest, myself a sacred person (!), I considered all these objects as sacred. As an atheist, I consider them and everything else called “sacred”, including the Holy City, the trappings of credulity and superstition.
People who revere Jerusalem as the site of the ancient Temple of Israel, or as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, or as the lift-off site for the Prophet’s horseride into Heaven, all see the City as sacred, albeit for totally different reasons. Atheists do not see it as sacred at all.
The tragedy beginning to be played out in the Middle East and beyond is the result of a blind faith and blind folly that are unlikely to disappear any time soon.