Their invention of monotheism has proven to be the curse that keeps on giving
No, don’t blame contemporary Israelis. Blame Bronze Age Semitic Canaanites circa 800 B.C.. When Yahweh whipped Baal in the battle of the barbecued bulls (1 Kings 18) the one-and-only jealous God began his ascendance. Except he didn’t stay one-and-only for long as Judaism metastasized into Christianity, Islam, and countless derivatives that have since delivered centuries of strife as zealots practiced the commandment “Thou Shalt Put No Other Gods Before Me” with a vengeance.
As long as a pantheon of gods and goddess rich with foibles cavorted about spawning fantastical tales that could be taken with a grain of salt, there was plenty of room to absorb new deities, rites, and traditions. Want to build a temple to your favorite local god? Knock yourself out. Conquer a strange new land full of unfamiliar deities? Welcome them to the family, or convince the yokels that one of your gods is really theirs under another name. (You have a god of wine? Waddya know, so do we!) Never foment rebellions by putting the local priests out of business. Just put them on the payroll, they can help collect taxes and pacify the natives.
Religion taught civic virtues, not personal redemption. And it certainly wasn’t used to recruit suicide bombers with promises of 72 virgins. Piety could be practiced with or without the intervention of paid professionals, festivals were frequent and fun, myths and legends both instructed and amused, sacred art, theater, and architecture flourished, and sex was celebrated, not twisted into a tool to peddle guilt, frustration, and abnegation.
But when the Romans came up against the Temple Cult Jews, there was no civilizing them. (You sacrifice bull, I burn entrails, make Yahweh happy. Uh, I eat the meat. Thanks for the hide. Next!) Even burning down their abattoir temple didn’t help. And once Paul of Tarsus spread the seeds of monotheism outside the Levant, discovering how to turn misery in this life into history’s greatest gold mine by promising everlasting joy in the next, clerics stumbled onto a business model that couldn’t be beat. Flowering in the detritus of the Roman Empire with help from a hallucinating warlord, monotheism multiplied then divided, as schisms, reformations, and fresh revelations spawned new generations of holy men who heard voices in their heads.
You can read the rest of the column in the HuffingtonPost here.