Ten Questions for Michael J. Baigent on Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World, (HarperOne, 2009).
What inspired you to write Racing Toward Armageddon?
An outrage. A sense that the lunatics were taking over the asylum and no one seemed to care. I spent years talking to journalists trying to get them interested in chasing this story but to no effect. In the end I decided to write it myself.
Politics is the art of the pragmatic; if we are all to live together on this planet then we need a political system which is flexible, compassionate, and accommodates differences in people. Political systems which become dominated by hardline religious principles lose this ability to encompass a wide variety of attitudes. The danger then is that politics might cease to represent the people and instead represent only a dogmatic certainty about the future. This is self-evidently dangerous for our democracy.
Also, it is useful to remember the lesson of the Balkans in the 1990s: our culture is very vulnerable. It can so easily disintegrate and allow a raw savagery emerge. We need to nurture and protect our democratic culture by keeping paramount its flexibility and tolerance. The extreme fundamentalism which I am writing about in my book is like a destructive virus infecting our culture. We need to stop it.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
Keep asking questions; especially of those who express belief systems which make claims of certainty and truth.
Is there anything you had to leave out?
Naturally. I was aiming at simplicity and bluntness in order to focus upon the main issues so that the reader could quickly understand the issues involved and the lies being spread by aggressive extremists. I was not writing for academics but for an audience which had very basic questions and wanted some idea of where the answers might be found.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
That religion is irrelevant to politics. Or that politics can solve disputes which are religious at heart.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?
Yes. Those moderates who feel threatened or tempted by the aggressive certainty of the extremist fundamentalists of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Are you hoping to inform readers? Or to entertain? To piss people off?
To inform readers, so that they can pose the correct questions and seek considered explanations, is a big enough ambition for any book. I hope that I have at least travelled some of the way down that path.
What alternative title would you give to the book?
I rather like “Sleepwalking into Armageddon.” It has less punch, I suppose, from a marketing point of view but it is closer to how I feel that we are edging our way towards what could so easily prove to be a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy.
How do you feel about the cover?
I find it rather busy and aggressive. I prefer simple covers that can be recognized from across the aisle of a bookshop.
Is there a book out there you wish you had written?
Yes. I would love to have been the author of Metamorphoses by Apuleius since it would mean that I had been given the opportunity to be initiated into one of the greatest mystery traditions of the ancient world.
What’s your next book?
I am about one third of the way through it but you will have to forgive me for not wishing to talk about it right now.