Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!
In my racism/dehumanization entry I posted this survey printed in the New York times: It is far less likely for an American to support a political candidate if they do not believe in God… essentially this means they must be religious to some degree. If you believe in a God you are affiliated with some religion, that is the whole concept behind religion. In fact, according to this survey it is the thing that makes the biggest difference to American citizens… if you don’t believe in God, then I don’t trust you to be in office. The United States of America overwhelmingly agrees with this. Surprisingly, it does not matter if it even is the God the dreaded terrorists praise, as a Muslim president would still theoretically be about 20% more likely to be elected than a “Godless” one. My very simple question to this is… Why?
If you’re religious and reading this you might already want to continue on your journey across the internet with such blasphemy, but I implore you to stay and to read. I’m not Richard Dawkins. While I have my issues with religion (as I am not a religious person even in the slightest) I will not give my allegiance to the haughty atheists as I have a hunch not even many religious people know what a god really is, let alone the atheists. Atheists assert a faith as dear as the religious. However I also would not consider myself agnostic as I am committed to my beliefs. Intrigued at all? I hope so, I want anyone who is interested in religion in any way – whether you hate it or love it – to please read this opinion on the whole subject.
I’m a guy who likes to play fair. This means if you are a human, and you believe in any religion (and those who believe in none as well), then you are able to step up to my imaginary starting line because we are in store for a race! But… this race isn’t about how fast you run – it is about finding the right religion – so the only one that can finish is the one that can prove to me, with relative reason and logic, that they believe in the one correct religion. After all most religions are contradictory of each other which essentially means that I have to make an informed decision.
Now I know the reason why religion exists. Humans are not machines (exactly), humans have feelings. We are inefficient and imperfect, we also love, care, take pride, hate, and desire. Humans are creatures of pattern. We crave patterns and is why we have become so good at everything we’ve done. We’ve understood the pattern of the way something works, be it the wheel or physics. We even can, to an extent, internalize some of these patterns. It is our ability to recognize and work with these patterns with such dexterity that has made us a very powerful species. We learned (like most other animals) to move with the herd (of people or of the food the people are following). We figured out a pattern that would work to feed ourselves all year long and we could stop moving. We could use these patterns so efficiently we had free time to search around and play with other patterns. People were able to use their keen ability to recognize some of the most complex patterns. We all of a sudden realized one day when we looked around we had no more predators so long as we were in numbers. Civilization was born from our ability to recognize patterns.
With our clever minds, and with the Earth relatively tamed, we turned our questions (our unlockers of patterns) inside. While humans have thought about their origin well before any organized religion came in to being they weren’t anything like the mega-religions of the last few thousand years. While civilization flourished a problem occurred. Collaboration between people became difficult with so many different perspectives on or about the Earth. The more isolated a culture is the more time that culture has to identify with the planet in an entirely different way. However if there was a way that was the one right way then everything would be easier to figure out because we’d all finally know the truth. Essentially we’d have a template for human thoughts and action.
Basically we want to know the proper way to act. Is it okay to be greedy? Is it foolish to be generous? Is it appropriate now for me to attempt to have sex with this person? Is it right to depend on others to make important decisions for me? Can I kill this person if he offends me? Which actions should I be responsible for? These are all questions that we have attempted to find a pattern for. These are spiritual questions. I would go as far to define spiritual as those things in nature that do not have a pattern that we must create ourselves. How do we know how to act in a favorable way? Who are we supposed to be pleasing? Ourselves? Our family? Our culture? A deity that we’ve never seen, touched, tasted, heard, or smelled? Who trumps in importance? This is a question we must ask ourselves as humans because it is only inevitable until you have to choose. This will define who you are to yourself and others with the emotions of shame or pride (and everything in between) as the outcome. And it even goes further – when we’re shamed, how should we act? When we’re proud, how should we act? Who has the answers?
Jews, Christians, and Muslims:
GOD has the answer! At least thats what the Jews decided. The Jews had a religion with an origin that is obfuscated by history but certainly it was originated by a small group. While there has never been any serious evidence that the Jewish God has existed, it has certainly altered the actions of these people. They were self proclaimed “chosen” people who had a special relationship with God. Could this mean that the Jews were the first serious group to internalize and teach patterned morals in the Middle East? There is no evidence to the contrary. However it’s human nature to search for patterns and connections in people and if they decided that they finally had the key to the proper way to pattern human morals they began preaching some very serious things. They, in essence, found the single right way to live. They were not tempted by other Gods and their strength in numbers proved what power the Jewish God could yield as the Jews grew in number. Many gentiles were awed by the collaboration of morals and what strength, courage, and fruits could be attained from it. Now the real question is – did God make the Jews or did the Jews make the God?
That question should be really simple to answer. God made the Jews – hence their longevity, their wisdom, their strength. But then one day, a few hundred years after the inception of the Jews God had a strange change in heart. God decided to send his son down to Earth in the form of a human. And, as legend goes, his son preached a whole new set of rules from the very same God the Jews have been worshiping. The Tanakh, that the Jews found so sacred, was actually only part 1 of the two part series God meant to give out. He made sure his people knew this by sending down his “son” and teaching people to turn the other cheek. The new testament overrides any of the more ancient, severe, old testament and love and patience was the new order of the day. On top of it all, it was predicted in the old testament that this messiah would come and change the world. To top it off, in case you weren’t sure, he suffered unimaginable pain, nailed to a cross, thrown in a tomb, and even came back to life a few days later. And in case you didn’t believe him to be the messiah still, it’s important to know that Christ let everyone know about eternal hell that will ensue if they don’t accept him has their savior. Now the real questions are – was Jesus the messiah or wasn’t he? How can the Jews be sure this isn’t a trick? Why did a benevolent loving God allow his people to rot in eternal hell for being mere humans? And lastly… are we still sure this isn’t made up?
Well many Jews for the next 2000 years decided no, Jesus was not the messiah, and it is why we still have Jews today. Okay, but many people decided yes! Jesus is the messiah and is why Christianity is the most popular religion in the world today. Perhaps there are just a few stubborn Jews who refuse to accept this fact? Let’s work on this idea for a moment. Let’s say Christianity is the right religion, the Jews are stubborn, and we finally have our prophet who has allowed us to share his love and power or rot in eternal hell for living in darkness. A few hundred more years pass and Christianity is flourishing, people really are catching on to the idea… but then something happens. Another prophet has come from the heavens! This time it’s not any small time prophet like Jesus, no, finally God has given us the ultimate prophet! Muhammad. So the story goes – yes the Jewish God exists, and yes Jesus is most definitely a prophet, but there is an essential piece of the puzzle missing… there is a final prophet, the prophet that speaks more truth than any other prophet previously. And just like Jesus he carries the newest most revised edition of divine rules – the Qur’an. The first two were dry runs skewed by the people who had followed them. Muhammad came to make the rules clear as a desert sky and thusly Islam was born. So now, seriously, what do we believe? Islam is the second largest religion in the world behind Christianity but Christianity is allegedly older and more incorrect than Islam… so do we follow the crowd on what’s biggest? If we did that with the inception of Christianity then Judaism would still be the major religion. Are we supposed to convert to Islam? If so then why are there so many Christians still? Does this mean the Jews weren’t necessarily stubborn but that they kept doing what worked for them and allowed the Christians to do what worked for them? If so, who goes to Hell? Am I going to be eternally damned for not following one religion or the other? How am I supposed to know? How do I know which messages have been skewed over time by the translators or writers?
And lastly… again… the nagging question… could this all just be made up? Are we taking our internal beliefs on the way we should interact with other people which make ourselves grow and attaching them to invisible deities that allegedly will punish those who do not submit? I mean think of all those people in remote parts of the world where missionaries never got to people, are they to be punished? And should we seriously expect a person to just nonchalantly give up their original beliefs because you’re insisting you know the correct way? Organized religion has a lot of serious questions that are consistently glazed over with the desire to bring more people under their umbrella.
Now let’s take a break and think about human nature again. While there are many things we do not know about people or that we may be perceiving incorrectly about people, we do know this: When people are very familiar with something they tend to become comfortable with it. This works in all sorts of situations – some people will stay in bad relationships or repeat bad relationships because they are comfortable with the actions… though they may not always be happy. When you become more familiar with a partner you do love and are happy with you tend to become more comfortable with them. And while that relationship may even sour later down the line and you are not happy with it, but yet it is familiar (perhaps a daily annoyance) whether or not you like it you become comfortable with it to some degree. You see- it doesn’t have anything to do with emotions. When we wake up and see the sky blue, we’re pretty damn comfortable with that, when we wake up and the sky’s green… you’re probably going to feel a little uncomfortable.
Now you’re right! This is not true for every last person in the whole world. But we can most certainly agree on that familiarity breeds comfort, negative or positive. Being comfortable can be negative, it could imply laziness or apathy on taking charge of the things that incessantly dissatisfy you. There is positive comfort as well, just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. This can be agreed upon to a strong degree because people are affected by both (positive or negative comfort) every day. With that being said… we have a major problem with religion. People become born and raised into religious families and become comfortable with their faith (whether or not it’s the most positive and progressive thing for them) and defend that comfort adamantly with vigor because it is the definition of how to live your life. If someone has the audacity to remove that definition, be prepared for the consequences of removing a human beings reality.
So pick your own religion and determine what it would take for you to start believing in a different one. Certainly nothing less than irrefutable proof right? You like your religion! You’re comfortable with it! Most likely your community shares it with you even! So even though nobody has that irrefutable evidence it does not detract away from what is comfortable.
Notice I haven’t spoken anything necessarily bad about religion. I’m sure it’s understandable for a non-believer to be confused on which religion he should join. The obvious answer would be to look for what feels right to you and pick it. But that doesn’t explain the fact that there’s conflict. Obviously all religions are attempting to promote a perspective they see as positive attribute to their religious culture. When a Christian missionary goes off to a remote land to convert some tribes to save them from Hell, it’s never thought of that he’s breaking down the diversity of this world which made it thrive so well. Some of these native cultures are older than all the major religions and they will faithfully convert every last one of them if it’s possible virtually shelving a whole history and culture into a lightless room never to be opened again. It’s never thought of that way. Muslims don’t question a woman covered from head to toe, it’s promoting modesty, they never think of it as oppressive- which it is for those who must follow it and are not allowed to opt out. And even while the Hindu hook piercing festival may only just simply be downright cruel and crazy, they actually can withstand pain many would normally go into shock over and can show seemingly super human strength, which is why the festival remains so popular.
So ultimately while religion can create negative consequences they are generally trying to promote positive things. Positive things are generally agreed upon across cultures though there is a lot of subjectiveness on whats too much or too far. But people generally tend to agree that not being greedy is good, patience has its rewards, kindness and respect are valued, don’t lust too much, try not to be a hypocrite. Basically they’re all different equations to breed trust, order, and safety with one another. The idea is outside of this way of doing things people can be deceitful. I think this is entirely arguable especially with all the documentation and history we have of people within the same religion being deceitful (priests and young boys as the most overt example of this) as well as people of different faiths being extremely generous for one another (Christians helping Jews escape Nazi internment).
In The Fate if Africa by Martin Meredith, a comprehensive book on Africa’s history since colonial independence, Meredith does an excellent job at explaining the complexity of the Rwandan genocide as well as its gross public misunderstandings. After explaining the obvious that many clergy in the country did what they could to help save the Tutsi ethnicity from slaughter he tells this unnerving fact:
“But some priests actively aided and abetted the genocidaires, assisting them in rounding them up for slaughter. The church president at Mugonero, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, urged Tutsi refugees to gather at the mission station there. Some 2,000 were packed into the hospital there when soldiers from the Presidential Guard and militiamen sealed off the premises. On the evening of 15 April the refugees were told that the hospital would be attacked the next morning. Seven pastors among them wrote a letter to Ntakirutimana asking for help.”
And I can promise you the letter is endearing, they ask him how he is, they speak of being strong, and they respectfully ask him to save them from being murdered. His reply was as follows:
“There is nothing I can do for you. All you can do is prepare to die, for your time has come.”
Religion has by no means been an oasis from corruption and oftentimes, sadly, it becomes an oasis for corruption. People allow themselves to be stricken with greed and power using it for manipulation to their advantage. Oftentimes religion is used to dehumanize those without the same religion. Some people believe that because a person does not believe in the same religion as their own then that person isn’t as equal as them. Unfortunately this is not the case as you are both humans and while some individuals may prove to be dangerous it is never a certain religion, race, gender, age, or ethnicity. This is discrimination and we have to come to recognize that everybody here shares the same feelings, desires, needs, and wants to some degree. But this did not stop religions from creating wars and laws persecuting those just because they were different in what they valued and how they valued it. It did not stop the crusades, it did not stop Muslims converting by the sword, it did not stop the Christian witch hunts, or the stonings of those deemed impure.
None of these things make religion necessarily a negative thing as these attributes do not just manifest themselves via religion. But the fact is religion has been a source for some of the most passionate actions. So while being spiritual, even through organized religion, is something that should be encouraged in individuals we, as humans, have to be responsible for ourselves in making sure we’re not suppressing another belief just to legalize our own. Remember these are standards you are holding to yourself, and while you may share them with others or even attempt to convince others to share them with you, you ultimately don’t have the right to force these things on people who do not recognize the value in it by the way you do it. And this is okay. Differences and imperfections are what make us unique and worthy. Had we all thought and acted exactly the same there might as well be nothing happening because every move we make could be predetermined because of the lack of anomalies.
Diversity might get an entry for itself someday but right now it’s important to recognize and embrace diversity. Now this is not meant to be a condescending talk to anyone religious like they don’t promote or enjoy diversity, this is directed towards those who drunkenly crave homogenization at all costs. The ones that create genocides, the ones that refuse to recognize their victims as humans, this section is for you. Diversity in religion is a good thing, so long as your religion is in your heart and you have the ability to practice it by yourself and with those who share the same beliefs then there is no reason to start attempting to bring these beliefs to law. We just have to accept different ways to live and make sure, as best we can, there is an escape for those who feel persecuted by the situation.
It is so completely hard for me to believe how upset many people would get over this mindset. There would be outrage over it, a call to action if this was implemented and embraced, People would demand their right to entitlement, power, and comfort. And while it’s understandable that no radical changes can take place in most places for fear of instability, there is nothing wrong with addressing differences and coming up with a mutually agreeable way of interaction. This way we don’t have to have nuclear rich religious countries pointing nukes threateningly at each other (India and Pakistan). The question everyone should be asking constantly to each other, rich or poor, big or small, powerful or weak, is: Where is the positive progress? death, rape, poverty, and plundering are negative things to avoid yet much of the world revels in this and clings to religion as their savior. On many occasions it has provided the strength to stand up to dehumanizing oppressors and this is the positive aspect about religion.
The positive aspect about atheism is that you have nobody to kill or die for but yourself. However atheism does not provide the sense of moral base that religion does. Without the sense of moral base provided by religion you have a susceptibility to negative attributes such as greed, cynicism, spite, or apathy. However this does not mean a person is unable to come up with his own moral code that promotes positive attributes and decides to be accountable for himself. Many atheists and even myself have chosen this route. There is nothing wrong with (and actually a lot could be argued right about) coming up with your own sense of positive morals. Just like people within religion people outside of it are susceptible to negative or regressive things. Atheism however inherently implies the knowledge that there is no deity, and this, as well can not be proved. God and deity have such complex definitions that depending on what perspective you’re looking at it you might be looking at the same thing from different sides. The point is as bullheaded as atheists or religious people can be the two groups can still find agreements to work under without attempting dehumanizing the other group. This is simply the action of being an adult, it’s using your years of wisdom to try and collaborate a mutually agreeable way to work with or around each other because it’s positive and progressive.
Using hate to make decisions and eliminating diverse options is divisive in nature and leads to mutually agreeable negative consequences. Hate, apathy, greed, power… these are things that you must lose your moral character to revel in the agony they create. So while someone might find it cute or pithy to accept these things with arrogance and apathy, it’s a game that leaves others, who are simply just trying to live their lives like you are, in agony or distress that you created. This isn’t moral in action and it’s not positive or progressive. Murder, fear, ignorance, and walls are never progressive. While we may encounter and use some of these things it should always be with the deepest desire to correct what has created the situation.
So what do I believe then? As I stated above I’ve created my own moral code which I and I alone answer to. I’ve determined, after much thinking, that if there was a God and he decided to punish me for eternity for living up to my own moral character (the things I felt were right) then I will gladly accept the punishment with the knowledge that anybody who shares his space in heaven deserves it no more than the greedy spiteful fat King who shares his wealth with those who support his arrogant ruthless treatment of his subjects. If you can fault a man for doing the best he can with what he’s got, and he’s honest with himself about it, then that divine being is not the all-knowing, kind and generous God people proclaim him to be. So when the fact comes to me that no religion is without blood on their hands, and I look down at my clean hands, I know I’m going to come up with my own rules to keep them clean because it should be known that you shouldn’t expect anybody else to take care of things for you. If you allow this to happen you may propagate ignorance that can be transmitted to scores of people. We have example after example where negative and regressive attributes have corroded all of our organizations. Many people have a hard time feeling such a sense of individuality, but in cases where persecution could be involved why not focus on that and consider how to fix that?
My belief is that while I don’t know if there is a deity up in the sky or not (though it sounds childish to me, it’s true at one point Zeus was considered real) I do know the things that have provided for me and they become the things I believe in. I know the Earth has provided me with everything in my life in combination with the sun. Why do we not treat the Earth and Sun as Gods for they both have literally given us the power of life. Why worship something intangible when you have the actual providers beneath your feet and in your sky. Yet every day we take a little more of the Earth and turn it in to something man-made, ignoring the diversity of the world and creating an artificial world.
Could it be argued that in our artificial world we must create an artificial God? For in the real world our Gods provide for us tangibly every day. Just because we collaborate to do the work does not mean we created it. I know I come from the Earth and I know I will return to the Earth and that makes a lot more sense to me than coming from heaven, for example, and returning there upon my death knowing absolutely nothing about it. Are these just illegitimate thoughts? Is it seriously not okay to believe in different things but still collaborate for mutual benefit without attempting or fearing swindling of trust?
This entry took me days to work on and it just frustrates me that our world has become so cold and hard that violence to promote ethics has become so commonplace. Religious people just have to face up to the fact that they are susceptible to the same temptations as everyone else therefore making no religion better than any other. Remove the supremacy from religion. While there is nothing wrong for being proud about what you believe in, you don’t have to tout that you are more than human for it.