Michael Baigent is the co-author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the book that provided the underlying idea behind The Da Vinci Code (that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child and the bloodline lives on). In fact, his last name is an anagram for a main character in Dan Brown‘s book. His work has been both revered and vilified and, in 2007, he was on the losing end of a lawsuit against Brown.
Baigent has just released his new book, Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World, which is about… well… you can figure that out yourself.
Here is one excerpt from the prologue:
At its heart fundamentalism is a relentless progression deeper and deeper into intolerance and ignorance, which, unless opposed, will by default achieve its aims. Judged and measured against their own pronouncements, we must conclude that the fundamentalist religions of all denominations are opposing the free will and vibrancy of human life — they are, paradoxically, performing the very task they attribute to the feared Antichrist: they are attempting to convert a distorted view of reality into such a skillfully packaged shape that it might be taken as truth.
Fundamentalist religions are humanity’s greatest enemy. Blunt speaking, certainly, but time is short, and I see no reason not to call it as I see it. The fact we all have to face is that the fundamentalist religions leave no room for human frailty, for compassion, for forgiveness, or for creative freedom of thought. They are trying to return us to that time of darkness we thought was left far behind, where blind belief was considered more important than farsighted discovery, where the dogmatic was more valued than the tolerant and the false was more important than the true.
You submitted questions to Mr. Baigent about his current (and previous) work and his responses are below:
You have made a name for yourself promoting supposed conspiracies. Why do you think these alleged conspiracies are so secret? What do they have to gain in utter secrecy?
The nature of conspiracies is that they are secret; or, at least, they try to be. But the fact is that most people are not capable of keeping a secret for very long and so pieces of all conspiracies tend to leak out.
And there are others which are hidden in plain view –- my colleagues and I have always argued that certain of the Grail stories are of this type. For example, the Perlesvaus and the Vulgate cycle is focused upon the perfect knight whose bloodline reaches back in the past to Jerusalem. We see this as a literary packaging of a little known historical fact entangled with the deliberate medieval aspiration for the institution of knighthood being made into a spiritual calling.
In the end though, if we define a conspiracy as a group of people meeting unobserved and unreported to decide events which affect all of us, then we can see many commercial and governmental decisions in this way. We are told very little of the reasons for most of the decisions which directly affect us. And we accept this as normal. Why?
I think that people with power tend to act in this way quite naturally which is why it is so important that we maintain the institution of democracy with its checks and balances and insist at all times upon as much transparency and freedom of information that we can.
If decisions remain unchecked and uninvestigated those making them will all too easily slip into a self-interested way of operating. Secrecy allows them to more easily act without oversight; to more easily act in accordance with their own agendas rather than that of the people they supposedly represent.
If these massive conspiracies are true, what should the average person do about it? How can anyone fight against shadows that only a handful even know exist?
Ask questions of everything. Demand answers from even the most powerful. Publicise your investigations. Fear no one.
What do you believe about these religions you write about? About Jesus? Are you a skeptic or do you have any beliefs in the supernatural? Do you believe there is one true God we should follow?
I had a very powerful experience in my twenties which was of a spiritual nature. It was not, however, linked to any single belief system or religion. And this has driven me ever since. So I consider myself deeply committed to the spiritual but as deeply opposed to the manipulation of religion and belief structures.
So far as Jesus is concerned: according to the testimony of Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, he did exist. Fine. And some fine words have been attributed to him. Whether he actually said them or not is actually irrelevant as far as I am concerned. However, one thing is clear, Jesus was never God. For a Jew to claim this would have been so outrageous that he would have been stoned to death as an heretic rather than crucified by the Romans as a political agitator — a crucifixion [that] the evidence (such as it is) suggests he survived.
I am also opposed to any suggestion that [there] is one true anthropomorphic god we should follow although this does depend heavily on how you define God. I tend to avoid the word since it is a male noun and this tends to exclude the feminine as well as separate “God” from “his” creation. If the word is to have any real meaning then it must tend towards unity rather than separation. Language is an imperfect tool but we do our best with it: I tend to prefer the word “Divinity” since it seems to me that it has a wider embrace and avoids the dangers of the sectarian.
To whom do you aim your books? The people following the major religions in your new book? The atheists and skeptics? The people who tend to believe in conspiracy theories?
I aim all my books at people who have questions but do not perhaps have the time or the opportunity to investigate them. I am, if you like, doing it for them. The most important thing we can do is to keep asking questions. We should tech our children to ask questions rather than fill their heads with dogmatic belief structures.
In this latest book, though, I am also trying to provide ammunition for moderate theists to oppose the excesses and errors of the religious fundamentalists.
Should we be worrying about one religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) more than the others when it comes to their views on Armageddon?
Well, we should worry about all religious bigots: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, to give a few. In pragmatic terms Judaism is perhaps the least offensive in this respect since It is not trying to set up a world-wide domination as is Fundamentalist Islam and Christianity. And Judaism has no concept of Armageddon although it is hard to see how they might destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount in order to rebuild the Temple without precipitating the worst jihad yet.
In layman’s terms, what should we look for if the end of the world is near? What are religious people doing to bring it about?
Let’s be clear: the world is not going to end, though we might if we are stupid enough! Those who believe in Armageddon might cause this prophecy to be self-fulfilling and instigate a major war in the Middle East. That is the danger.
One reader wanted to know how you felt about Dan Brown’s atrocious prose and ham-fisted storytelling.
I don’t really have an opinion. How do you feel? [Hemant says: I wouldn’t assign Brown’s books to an English class, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t all addictive little page-turners.]
Speaking of Brown, how have you dealt with losing the lawsuit against him? Have you been able to pay off your legal fees? Have you recovered from it or are you still upset/angry about the ruling?
I was never upset or angry about the ruling. My colleague and I considered that Brown had stolen our Intellectual Property and so we had no alternative but to mount a challenge. We were either going to win or lose; we lost. In these situations, as James Lee Burke has observed, you need to walk upright out of the cannon smoke with a smile on your face.
The release of this book coincides with the release of Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol. Is that a publicity move or mere coincidence?
So far as I know it is a coincidence though [it] does seem strange to me how my last book also came out with the paperback version of Da Vinci Code. Perhaps there is some celestial marketing strategy which is linking our books together? Or perhaps there is a conspiracy?
Is there a place for moderate theists in our world? Or do you, like many of the “New Atheists,” believe that they simply lend cover to the extremists of the major faiths?
I am not an atheist but a mystic. I think that the search for spirituality and meaning is as much a part of being human as the need for water, air, food, sunlight, love. But I consider that people can worship whatever they like from an anthropomorphic god to a lump of rock but I object if they begin insisting that I should share their belief. In essence I consider belief to be intrinsically dangerous. I contrast it to knowledge.
If someone tells me not to put my hand in a fire because it will burn and be painful then I can believe this and so never act in this way. But I cannot say that I know what this pain is. However, if I decide to experience it for myself and put my hand in the fire, get burned, and feel pain then I am in a better position: rather than believing in pain as an abstract concept, I now know pain through personal experience. Both approaches end with avoiding the fire but one comes from belief and the other from knowledge. Knowledge is wiser than belief.
I feel about spirituality in a similar way. The spiritual is personal and experiential; religion unfortunately very quickly becomes a power structure promulgating belief using dogmatic texts and ruling with sacerdotal hierarchies.
I think that there is certainly a place for moderate theists in our world so long as they are not evangelical in their approach to others. It is not for me to tell them what to believe. But I think also that moderate theists can too easily find themselves lending cover to extremists because, in the face of the extremists’ certainty, self confidence and aggressiveness their initial response is to step back rather than to oppose. One can say that they are too tolerant of intolerance.
I conclude from this that it would be a good idea to try and strengthen the hand of moderate theists since they are a huge group potentially able to reduce the power of the extremists — they speak the same language and use the same texts. By opposing moderate theists one is attacking a major ally in the fight against extremism.
In your new book, you warn against the danger of a society in which we are so tolerant of faith that we allow these extremists to run amok. What’s the remedy? What can we do to stop these religions from destroying the world?
I don’t think that there is any sure remedy. The basic situation is that we are all human beings living on this world; how then can we get along together — without feeling the need to blow ourselves up on buses or aeroplanes?
In my book I suggest that the era of one god has come to an end; that it is causing more problems than it solves. People with only one god tend to argue aggressively which is best.
But in the end I think that all these differences are superficial: religions always had an inner and an outer aspect. All the problems of extremism arise from an obsession with the outer form of religion; the inner is deliberately ignored and if not ignored, derided. So long as we find ourselves locked into the outer forms then, I fear, peace and harmony will be elusive.
I write in my book: “To have a society that accepts different expressions of Divinity is one that allows a path for everyone. No one need fight over the name of the god -– or goddess –- one worships; if others do not like one, they can seek another. It doesn’t matter. Ultimately, all these paths lead to the top of the sacred mountain, though some are perhaps rockier than others.”
Racing Toward Armageddon is now available in bookstores.
A trailer for the book can be seen here.