When my wife showed me the first news article about “Carmageddon” I shrugged my shoulders with a noncommittal “meh.” Now that the nation has somehow managed to survive the two-day closure of a highway in Los Angeles, commentators are wondering what this reveals about our cardolatry. As a nation, the United States worships cars. Last week predictions were made that traffic jams of biblical proportions would disrupt the second largest city in the country and that not even God would be able to sort out the mess. In Norway, in the meantime, a right-wing conservative Christian decided to tip the scales of justice by becoming a mass murderer. Why do we glory in our own destruction?
Human beings only developed what we recognize as religion after the advent of the city. Cities require temples and temples require religious infrastructure. Priests had much to gain in antiquity by proclaiming the wrath of God—the angrier the deity the more offerings that roll in and the wealthier priests become. Religion has evolved over the five-and-a-half-thousand years of civilization, but it has never had a true conversion. It is one among many ways of coping with the stresses of becoming an urban population. We live in cities and we have traffic jams. We live in cities and learn from those far different from us. We live in cities and bomb our enemies in the belief that God finds those far different from us evil. Apparently God approves of the killing of teenagers. Just ask old Ramesses about that one.
Norway is among the most non-violent and secular cultures in the world. Los Angeles is a liberal city among one of the most religious cultures on earth. They experience the wrath of God in different ways, according to the media. Cities gave us religion. When we had had religion long enough, cities began to withdraw from that particular approach to life. When we can’t get our cars where we want, it is the wrath of God. When we can’t get the government to follow our personal religious quibbles, we take the prerogative to introduce the wrath of God. We long for the end of what we have created. No matter how we achieve such destruction, we’ll find religion planted squarely in the middle.