Why would I write about religion? It’s very simple. I find myself living in a world, with historical and current day issues, many of which are detracting to the peaceful existence of us all, and many of which can be blamed upon religion, and particularly, organized faith. Religion divides people and nations, just as politics, skin-colour and nationalism do. For all the good it might do, it stirs up hatred and condemnation of those outside of a particular belief system. Religion has no right not to be attacked or ridiculed when it can so easily be, and indeed is, used to condemn. More than that, I’m angered by the hypocrisy that these religions, and consequently many of their followers, consistently demonstrate whilst accusing the innocent.
I would like to think that we could all be compassionate, thoughtful and respectful. I’d like to think we could each do good things unconditionally, and not through fear of damnation, and not for hope of reward. We should simply treat each other well…because it’s the right thing to do. And we don’t need religion to do that.
My goal in writing this is simply to encourage people to appreciate the argument of people like me. Some may not be aware that not everything about organized faith is good if we are to have a peaceful world and existence. It may even encourage some to take another look at their faith, and at the very least, make a bigger effort to live by the standards they advocate.
Like growing numbers of others, I’m tired of having my values questioned based upon iron-age thinking. I’m tired too, of seeing victims of religious bigotry and hatred…inflicted by preachers and others who often benefit financially in ways that are, frankly, abhorrent. In my opinion, it’s time society moved away from religion, particularly in terms of social policies, and looked toward a simple common-sense approach that we can all benefit from.
And so, with that said…I’ll continue:
How Did Religion Start?
Imagine 50,000 years ago, and you’re sitting in your cave, having enjoyed a very tender mammoth for lunch. Suddenly, bang, crash…it’s like the world is exploding. Looking out of your cave, a nearby mountain is dripping fire over the landscape…and suddenly…water falls from the sky! You’re scared…and why? Simply, because thunder, lightening, volcanoes, and even rain…had never been explained to you! And, as a human being, you’re looking for leadership, and the strongest usually took up the cause. Even today, we can divide people into leaders and followers, it’s a natural human trait that most humans like to be led or guided. We have gangs even today, who follow a leader, usually the strongest, and will abide by all he says. We have nations, led by democratically elected leaders, nations led by less democratically elected leaders too. And we have any number of faiths, churches, associations, clubs and teams…all satisfying our human need to unite and be led.
All over the world, these tribes developed and wondered about the world around them. Beliefs in some super-natural gods and spirits gradually evolved, each in some way different to the other. Some beliefs were more feasible perhaps than others and flourished where others didn’t. Reasons for such ideologies are debated. It might be man’s wish to have everlasting life, a search for a “creator”, or a simple farmers pleas to the heavens for his crop to flourish.
Organised faith also got lucky. It appeared at a time when with no formal schooling available, education, or at least some wisdom, was the privilege of the few. Eventually, it gained strength in the words of a few scholarly, and probably manipulative individuals, who took an illiterate and ignorant population, who through fear, ignorance and a safety in unity, threw their arms in the air and said “ok”. Then, the knowledgeable folk got together, joined forces and Christianity and others were born. Great numbers of people, with a shared belief or fear, can enforce a change, though usually by war or crusade. This gives a leader power, and with that, material gain and prosperity.
But how do you keep a clear message? How can you lead these “followers” anywhere you deem necessary? “Of course, let’s write a book, tell everyone it’s inspired by a “god”, let them interpret that as we instruct, and in it we’ll put all the rules and lessons to adhere to what we want!” Then they gave this book to the few that could read…and sent them out to spread the “word”…or at least an interpretation!
Now of course, in the case of the Bible, long before the book came the scriptures, none of which now exist. And in it, stories, lessons…the instructions. Stories included Moses, who after 40 days and nights on Mount Sanai, came down with 2 stones, engraved by the “finger of God”. 40 days and nights…? I could have scraped a few commandments myself in that time…and if it was chilly, I might even have set fire to a bush….just to keep my toes warm! If a guy walked off a mountain now with a couple of rocks, chiseled with messages he claimed were from a “god”, and that he’d seen a burning bush…we’d call it a bi-polar disorder and have him evaluated!
Soon, preachers poured fear into congregations, including children, that a lack of faith in “God” or his son or messenger will result in you burning in a fiery hell. “Do not sin, for ye will burn in hell”. The concept of sin was invented by preachers of these faiths to rule by fear…who also then decided that you could sin, repent, be pardoned and go back to the beginning, promising to be good! That’s called “covering your arse”!
…to be further discussed…!
Questions & Interpretation
Religion is always a sticky subject. Atheists are accused of aggression, devil-worship and no idea of “moral goodness”, whilst theists are accused of blind delusion, ignorance and hatred. Most people of faith will vilify you for questioning “their” god…but become equally dismissive if asked about any of the other 2600+ man-made “gods”…because despite a total lack of physical evidence….there can only be one….theirs! Christians get equally defensive, but it’s worth noting that their god, the “creator of all”…actually says in the commandments; “Thou shalt have no other gods before me“…which begs the question;
“If you’re the god, the one and only…and you created everything…where did those other gods come from that you don’t want us to have?” But of course, that’s an interpretation. It can also mean there are “no other gods”…according to interpretations of just about anyone, of faith, who’s actually read the Old Testament.
It was questions like that that first had me removed from worship at Sunday School. I was just 7 years old, and though making scones and fairy cakes was all very well, I was full of questions about aspects of the bible that I was being taught. With arm waving in the air, I’d shriek “Sir, did you say…Jesus…WALKED on water?” and “Sir, how many fishes, how many loaves…and how many people?”. Unsatisfied with the answers, I’d raise my hand again…and with torment in the vicar’s eyes, I was continually ejected to the corridor outside. Above my head, on a long shelf, was a row on neatly stacked bibles…and so I’d read, thoroughly. As my understanding increased, so did the number of questions I had.
At age 12, and knowing the world was round, I’d ask my Religious Education master, Mr Eardley, how Satan could have taken Jesus up onto a mountain….and actually have seen the whole world…particularly all “four corners” of it! The last straw for him was when, after answering several of my questions with “Ray, not all of this is literal…it’s there for us to learn from, to interpret boy!”, I retorted, “So, why not simply make a set of rules for human behaviour…literal? What is this…a stone-age quiz?!” And it wasn’t long, before me and my flailing arms were once again removed from the class, this time permanently.
After that, I was respectful of people’s faith, but quietly dismissive. It really wasn’t important to me, and I saw no benefit in those who partook, and no obvious punishment for those who didn’t. But as the years pass, and the world throws itself in front of you in news, media and television…I realized I’d started to resent, not believers, but the organized faith behind them. Whether a god actually exists or not seemed like nothing I could ever prove one way or the other, though if he was real, I was dismayed by his lack of compassion for the innocent. For me, “free will”, or “God’s will”, were no excuse for the suffering I was seeing around the world. In 1984, horrific pictures of children dying of starvation in Ethiopia flooded my television and conscience. How could an “all-powerful” god see this, and not intervene? When HIV and AIDS attacked an entire generation, including millions in Africa, I’d stopped attempting to blame a god, and was now questioning the Vatican for it’s banning of condoms, that not only could stop the spread of AIDS, but could lead to less children, and hence, less starvation. When a girlfriend took me as a volunteer visitor to a children’s hospital, where children died slowly of cancer…I really began to wonder how an “almighty god” could tolerate such pain in a child’s eyes. And yet again, I’d hear how this was “God’s Will”.
By that time, I was openly questioning anyone who showed sufficient arrogance to actually think they knew what “God’s Will” actually might be.
During the first Gulf War, I’d been dating a Muslim woman, and one day, surrounded by her sisters and brothers, I became the target for Islamic blame, as the only descendant of “Western Colonialism” in the room! In that conversation, religious based hatred spewed, and I realized that religion was about so much more than differing beliefs. It was inbred in the culture, a unifying flag under which people could co-join…and attack. I’d witnessed how a religious fervor could incite people to kill from within different nations, but here, religion was inciting similar hatreds in my own kitchen! On that afternoon, I resented not only being targeted as “Western”, but wholly resented any statement that my lack of Islamic belief made me any less of a human than they were. Far from it in fact. I calmly questioned each accusation, whilst denying, and rightly so, any responsibility for actions not taken in my name or on my behalf. But as we see with the arguments for reparations for African slavery, I was to be blamed, since it was “my people that had benefited from Western Civilization and it’s crimes”. Of course, after that incident, I went off looking for information about these “crimes”, crimes administered on the whole, by the Catholic Church. More reading, including the Quran, and I became totally frustrated with what appeared to me, to be approximately 6000 years of absolute nonsense in the names of gods, greed, profit and power. With 9/11, came a reality which shook almost everyone. Terror had become a tool of those seeking religious-based power, and their disciples would not think twice about martyring themselves for the cause. A few hundred years previously, you might imagine people living in similar fear of the Crusades.
A Personal Belief
Now I don’t have an issue with people believing in a “god”. I myself once believed in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus…and yes, that was a cheap shot! A relationship with a god is a personal choice. We enjoy freedom of speech, expression and religion. It can be a support, a comfort, effectively the adult version of the child’s “imaginary friend”. And this is perfectly natural in human beings.
People of faith will claim they get their moral code from scripture, a philosophy and standard by which to live. This is all fine and many individuals of faith do great things in their communities and overseas too, helping others less fortunate than themselves. I’d point out here, that so do many non-believers. The crucial point here is…who really wrote that scripture, why, and is it really the best way to live? People of faith will also pray for guidance, assistance and for the aid of themselves and others. Again, this is great…though affirmative action, with tangible effort…will of course guarantee a more positive outcome. It’s yet to be proven that a single prayer has been answered, given that an absence of coincidence…is not a measurable thing!
Prayer is an oddity though…why would you pray to your god in an effort to change his will? Surely he knows best? What intervention could there be? Would a god change his plan to suit your wishes, or would your wish mean a god had to change the free will of someone else, in order to suit you?
But as I say, I don’t have an issue with people’s personal beliefs. If folks talk or pray to a “god”, that’s clearly their own business…and who am I to judge?
God or “god”.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. I can’t dismiss the existence of something, or someone, simply because I’ve never witnessed them, or it, personally. How do you really prove something doesn’t exist? In most cases, it’s much easier to validate the existence of something you can see, touch, feel, or in the case of oxygen…breathe! And let’s face it…the burden of proof is on the believer if that person wishes to either debate me, or prove their philosophy is the correct one.
And of course, some folks are hurling themselves at their ipads with screams of “He talks to me!”, and “I feel him every single day”! Well, bully for you…the world is full of lunatics claiming they hear voices too! But, sarcasm aside, we each have a “voice” inside…or at least I hope we all do! It’s that doubt, that niggling fear, that self-questioning that we each do every day.
When I was a teenager, I related my feelings about “god” to my conscience. I didn’t need to be told if I had done something good or bad, I already felt it. When times came for difficult decisions, I’d talk to myself, debate…then act. I’d then feel good, or perhaps bad…and learn from the experience, as we all do.
I myself, and many folk I know, learnt our morality from life, by learning, watching, feeling and sensing. We each develop conscience, morals, a way of distinguishing between right and wrong. Many folk do not need a priest or preacher interpreting his own ideals to make us aware of a way to lead a good life. And that’s what I like the most about my position. It wasn’t forced into me in childhood, it wasn’t a result of geography or class. Nor was I converted in later years by some pseudo evangelical preacher or other. I decided my very own moral code…and I’m proud of that.
But, if there is a “god”, isn’t it about time he came and made some repairs to his creation? Thousands of years of evolution, and people still murder, torture, punish, war and hate in the name of their “god”. But then, we’re told that sin isn’t “god’s” fault, that he gave man the choice. And we’re warned, that with a wave of his mighty hand, he can wipe us off the face of the planet. So, why does he do nothing? Is it because, as many believe, it’s all “God’s Will”? If we’re all sinners as some say, just wipe us all away, start again! Personally, I think the position of “God” should be a democratic choice. And let’s face it, when you stack up the ills in the world, questions should be asked. With a seemingly delusional congregation in every church, mosque and temple in the world, in the majority, who give only thanks and never blame, it’s disturbing that so few of these devotees ever considered an alternative. Then again, there are a lot of religions, and subsections too. There are over 10,000 denominations of the Christian faith alone.
Where I believe the serious issues occur, are in organised faith, where the many, can be so easily manipulated by the few. And so, because “labels” are so common…I guess you’d call me an “anti-theist”. I like to think of myself as “Almost an atheist…but, who put a little more thought into it!”
The problem is, it’s all too often easy to sin, over and over again. You find “God”, you sin, “he” forgives…and you sin again…so back to church you go and repent…and the circle starts over. You don’t even need church or a “God” for that. Just sin, repent, sin and repent until you’re spent! But no, faiths like Christianity preach forgiveness…you can forgive everyone, no matter what they do!
On an island (St. Lucia), with a crime rate with figures higher than most, where abuse against women and girls is higher than you could believe, or the country will admit, it’s ironic that the number of people who are of a faith here is a massive figure. Are all those prayers falling on deaf ears? Are the churches and chapels full of hypocrites? Do they sin for seven days, and go repent on the 7th?
US Government statistics show that christians are vastly over represented in prisons for sexual, violent and fraudulent crime!! The Catholic church is paying millions in compensation for the sex/pedophile crimes of their priests alone!! And, Christians are vastly over represented in the divorce courts!!
The Bible is a great work. On the one hand, it does contain some good ideas, and a bunch of great stories. On the other hand, it’s also the easiest way to dismiss a faith that I have ever found. When people ask me why I’m anti-theist, I usually reply, “Because unlike most Christians, I’ve read the Bible, cover to cover!”
The Bible as we all know, is 66 books, by 40 authors, written over a period of around 1500 years. It’s worth noting too, that none of those original scriptures exist today. Worth noting too, is that the King James Version, the “official version of Christianity, is known to be flawed in many areas due to repeated poor translations of the Greek translations, themselves questionable by all accounts. Imagine yourself how are own memories are diluted or embellished over time, without even being verbalized and translated!
…to be continued…