The Big Questions: Religion

So what makes the Biblical religion or the Christian religion or the Old Testament religion the be all and end all of true religion and associated religious deities for the multitudes? I mean there is as much written and archaeological evidence for the existence of Thor, Zeus, Odin, Apollo, Ares, Athena, et al. as there is for God. No longer are people devoting believers in the religions and associated gods of ancient Rome, Greece, or the Norse countries – why? The arguments for those religions and their existence were so weak as to be unsustainable. So, why not go one religion and one God further?

There have probably been more wars, deaths, executions, murders, torture, crime and suffering in general, perpetrated in the name of religion (God and associates) over the millennium than over any other specific cause. Anything and everything can be justified as long as ‘God is on your side’ or the Bible says so, as per holy wars, crusades and inquisitions. I like the point – not original to me by the way – that if there were no God, no religious moral teachings, no Biblical threats of punishment, or promises of rewards, then you’d have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. Add religion and associated baggage into the mix however and you now have some good people doing evil things – all in the name of their religion and their God. As the sayings go, and apologies to the originators whose names I’ve forgotten, ‘science flies men to the Moon; religion flies men into buildings’ (as per 9/11), and ‘atheists have never killed in defence of atheism, but, religious fundamentalists have certainly killed in the name of God’. That just about sums it all up. Has all the misery religion has caused, or has been caused in God’s name, been justified? I’ll state at the outset that, IMHO, the answer is an absolute NO, if for no other reason than it’s highly unlikely that God even exists!

So what’s then the origin(s) of religion? If there is no God or gods, no supernatural beings or deities, how come we got religions (plural since there have been and are hundreds of them)? Easy!

Primitive, ancient, cave, etc. men (and women), call them what you will, had little understanding of how the natural world, their environment, worked, including those events that most directly impacted on their day-to-day existence and survival. They had no sophisticated understanding of physics and chemistry, geology, oceanography, meteorology and astronomy. But it was obvious to them that something had to be responsible for what happened to them; maybe even more obvious that the responsible agent was probably someone – maybe plural. Since they didn’t have that sort of level of power or control, that someone (one or more) had to be a really BIG SOMEONE, yet a BIG SOMEONE who stayed out of obvious sight. Since ancient man had no way of naturally explaining things, but the existence of a BIG SOMEONE did explain things, thus a supernatural being(s) was created or born.

It’s equally obvious that you’d want this BIG SOMEONE to maximize good things and minimize bad things, and so you tried to converse with the BIG SOMEONE. But since the BIG SOMEONE wasn’t visible, wasn’t in your face and in person, conversation had to be one-way – call it prayer! It doesn’t take long for patterns and rituals to become established, and the most successful prayer person becomes a leader, a respected member of the tribe, a priest in other words. A religion is born.

This evolution of a religion is reinforced because of the nature of death. Everyone takes note of the fact that something that was alive is now something not alive – maybe it’s just the animal you killed for food, but also maybe it’s your mate or your offspring, or a tribal elder you knew and respected, or a neighbour in the hut or cave next to yours. Someone dies of old age or for no apparent reason. What exactly happened? Why did it happen? Who is responsible? Why, the BIG SOMEONE of course.

Associated with death is obviously noting that whatever is dead doesn’t respond to the environment any more, can’t eat, can’t breathe, can’t enjoy sex, or company, and the overall caveman equivalent of the good life. Also, the dead in fact will eventually decay, rot away and smell. So, death is something to be avoided, and if it can’t be avoided, well maybe there’s a continuation of the good life afterwards in some mysterious way that only the BIG SOMEONE controls. The BIG SOMEONE provides a home we all go to after we die. Tossing up the option of an afterlife, or no afterlife, when there’s no obvious evidence either way, well, it’s a no-brainer. Our number one prayer person, our priest, will tell us what we want to hear! That’s politics.

So it’s relatively easy to explain the origin of a religion and how it can take on a life of its own with loads of trappings, with do and do-not aspects, etc.

But, religions have not also come, but gone. Maybe the great prayer person had a streak of bad luck and so the BIG SOMEONE was replaced – as was the priest. The upshot is that in this age of enlightenment, we have consigned most of our historical collection of BIG SOMEONES, our gods and supernatural beings and deities to the dust bin. The prayers have failed, the priests have failed, the gods have failed or went away, so ultimately it’s now easy to accept that maybe there was no evidence at all for them in the first place – they no longer explain anything. Now all that’s basically left is now just one more final body to get rid of. It’s time God too was consigned to the dust bin.

What about our Religious concepts central to morality, ethics, values, right & wrong, etc.? It is presumed by those in a Biblical frame of mind that our concept of morality (and related) comes from God and Biblical preachings and teachings. Oh dear! According to The Bible, God commits, or commands others to commit, or condones what any moral person living today would term atrocities and crimes against humanity worthy of Pol Pot, Stalin, Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. In fact Satan comes across as a far more moral character in the Biblical texts than God. After all, it’s God who condemns people to eternal torture or torment, not Satan. It’s God who inflicts plagues on the populace, not Satan. It’s God who condones rape, slavery and cannibalism; it’s God who demands sacrifices, executions and torture, not Satan. Satan actually comes across as a bit of a trickster perhaps, but not really evil incarnate. God is depicted in Biblical texts as the personification of pure evil. Who does the smiting – God or Satan?

Take the morality or ethics of what God dos to Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve understood that it is evil to disobey God and good to obey God, then Adam and Eve already possessed the knowledge of good and evil, and had no need to give in to temptation and eat that apple! God, being all-knowing, knew this. There would have been no moral reason to punish them. If Adam and Eve did not understand God, if they didn’t comprehend the difference between good and evil, then God punished them, and all their descendents through to and including you, quite unfairly.

I think it is safe to say that animals do not, and can not, read the Bible. Animals and humans are supposed to be separate creations, with mankind somehow something extra special – we’ve had morality bestowed upon us by God (a God who basically says do as I say, not as I do). There’s no mention of God bestowing morals (and related) onto animals. Yet, there are numerous first hand observations of animals exhibiting behaviour which we would describe as moral or ethical or showing distinction between right and wrong. Now either this behaviour in animals evolved naturally, and by implication our morals evolved naturally too, or else God breathed good behaviour into animals – again no mention of that in the Biblical literature. So, humans aren’t a special creation based on morality.

Rather than give second-hand examples of animal morality, here’s one of mine – first hand. My two companion cats hate each other and will engage in a cat fight at the drop of a proverbial hat. However, no attack will even occur when either cat is eating, sleeping, or using the litter box. Then it’s truce time. In human society it’s considered immoral and cowardly to attack someone when they are sleeping – ditto the cat community. In neither case has that come from God or Biblical teachings or passages.

As recent and even not so recent revelations have made clear, it has come to pass that not all members in the employment of the inner sanctums of the Church (pick a church, any church) are especially moral beings. If church Vickers, priests, parsons, rabbis, bishops, and associated clergy types are to be believed, as reported in the media and acknowledged by the Church, well let’s just say they don’t apparently always do the right thing by those in their care.

Speaking of all things moral and ethical, the Church has blood on its collective hands, right up to its proverbial elbows. There’s the Inquisition, the Crusades, all manner of Holy Wars, etc. The Church is guilty of murder, legal death by execution (being burned at the stake, being stoned to death), torture, imprisonment, exile, ridicule, harassment, and all other manner of atrocities, etc. The Church is in no way in any position to cast the first stone, as it were.

Further examples of religious atrocities now include religious terrorism. Once upon a time, I used to view terrorism as a political act, mainly for the purpose of overthrowing the government-of-the-day; the powers-that-be, by ‘well meaning’ revolutionaries. It wasn’t an attempt to slaughter the average man-in-the-street. The violent revolutions that led to Castro’s Cuba or the overthrow of the pro-Western government of Iran are but a few examples of revolutionary terrorism, terrorism with the goal of a forced change of government. Those are but two of many that have taken place in Africa, South and Central America, etc.

Today however, terrorism appears to have a decidedly less political edge to it and way more of a religious context or motivation behind acts of terrorism. It’s also more ‘personal’ since there are millions around the world who wish you dead (and some who would be happy to be your executioner if they could) all because you don’t belong to their religious faith – you’re their infidel. The spate of suicide bombings, the events of 9/11, were (or are) examples of terrorism generally carried out in the name of religion.

While it might be true that some extremely militant fundamentalist Christians might like to eliminate moderate Christians, what I had in mind here is more one faith vs. another – Catholics vs. Protestants (say in Northern Ireland); Muslims vs. Christians, as say in the Bali bombings. Those terrorist bombers, in Bali, wanted Australians, Americans, anyone not of their faith, dead! I believe there is equally faith vs. faith terrorist acts on the Subcontinent, probably of the Hindu vs. Buddhism kind.

How many around the world, who do not share the faith of the average Australian (or other Western democracy), would be happy to see lots of Australians dead? Not the majority of course, but a sizable enough minority, and worldwide, that amounts to millions. That minority of course ultimately form the core of suicide bombers, or at least those who encourage, sanction, condone, support, etc. their actions.

That’s somehow even more disturbing than outright political terrorism. If this is the sort of trait that separates humans from animals, maybe it might have been better to have been born an animal – at least until such time as you’re slaughtered as a sacrifice to someone’s God! You can’t win.

Then there are those religious vested interests. Let’s face it; organized religion is at least a multi-million dollar industry, if not a multi-billion dollar interest to all and sundry. Religious organizations employ lots of people. These people have a lot invested in the subject matter – money and time and probably training. There’s lots of money tied up in religious real estate and infrastructure.

If someone could conclusively prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no supernatural God, no supernatural JC, no dastardly Devil, no white-picket-fence heaven and no fire-and-brimstone hell, thousands would be out of work and lots of both big and small business (religious publishers and bookstores, religious institutions/schools for example) would go broke. Not to mention all those individuals, from the popes to your local clergy, having lots of collective egg on their faces. In fact, if God were shown not to exist, that religion was a fraud, it would have a major impact on the economy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off