13) Religion

“When it comes to truly major league bullshit, we have to stand back in awe of the all-time heavyweight champion of bullshit. The heavyweight champion of false promises and exaggerated claims – organized religion! It’s no contest! Religion easily has the best bullshit story of all time. Religion has convinced people that there is an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do every minute every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things he will send you to a special place of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish, for you to live forever and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you!

He loves you – and he needs money! He always needs money. He’s all powerful, all knowing, all present – all wise. But, he just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions and billions of dollars. They pay no taxes, and somehow always need money. You talk about a good bullshit story. If I may be permitted a small pun – Holy Shit!”- George Carlin

As a measure of human susceptibility to hypocrisy, our proclaimed dedication to establishing democracy in Third World lands is perhaps exceeded only in the area of our professed dedication to religious ideals or doctrine.

A majority of Americans attend churches, and proclaim a belief in the teachings of a man called Jesus. This man disdained wealth, (“‘tis easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to attain the kingdom of heaven”) and counseled against violence and war. (“Turn the other cheek”..”Love thine enemy.”) Upon viewing the behavior of Americans today it shouldn’t require 20/20 eyesight to notice that something here is very remiss! What is out of order, and what must be done to put it back in place?

One thing is clear. The means by which we strive to motivate economic and industrial progress appears to be in direct conflict with the main tenants of the expressed religious beliefs of a majority of Americans. It might seem, then, that a stronger adherence to religious convictions might lead to a more compassionate and cooperate attitude regarding our economic endeavors. Let us then proceed to explore the outlook for any change in religious attitudes in America.

Prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession. Another candidate for this honor is perhaps more appropriate. That would be organized religion! From the time of the high priests of Egypt in the days of the Pharaohs, to the time of guardians of the temple in the days of Christ, to the Crusades of the Middle Ages, to the Spanish Inquisition, to the televangelists of modern day America, religion has been used as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement, power and profit, as well as enslavement. And, as we may well know, hardly a crime or indiscretion can be found which has not been committed in the name of religion, at some time or other. Even today as religion plays it’s roll amidst the murderous conflicts festering in such diverse areas as Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, India, and Northern Ireland, most will regard this as an aberration or exception, and not something to lead to serious questioning of the value or importance of organized religion.

Religion is generally used to justify, or excuse the most basal of human instincts. Jim Jones at Jonestown, and David Koresh, the Wacko at Waco found it convenient in the justification of extraordinary sexual excesses. Moses enlisted religion to justify the bloodiest form of vengeance. Check Numbers, Chapt. 31, King James Version of the Holy Bible. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites’ … And Moses said unto them (The Israelites) … ‘Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that has known man by lying with him.’” Pretty vicious advice for one who espoused the “Ten Commandments!” (“Thou shalt not kill.”).

This is not to deny that religion may not and should not be an essential aspect in our lives! However a few distinctions need to be considered. One being that there is a difference between organized religion and personal religion. Another has to do with what we mean by religion. What passes for religion today is generally some hodgepodge of superstition, mysticism, ritualism, and wishful thinking, rather than an honest attempt to deal with the “ultimate reality”, or “the hereafter.”

The vast majority of the humans on our planet appear to have accepted a religious belief based on or influenced by the family or the society they live in. And they generally feel that theirs is the one true and real understanding of God and the hereafter! Is there something wrong with this picture? If any group of aliens were to land from outer space and view this phenomenon, wouldn’t they have a laugh! Yet this is the hold that organized religion has upon us. There are, of course, many who adopt a more personalized faith. They are much less inclined to manipulation, and control by those who prefer to use religion for materialistic, neurotic, or selfish pursuits.

It must also be realized that what we mean by the words, religion, and God, have somewhat different meanings for different people. Webster’s Dictionary states it this way. For religion, we have: “The service or worship of God or the supernatural.” For supernatural Webster lists: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible, observable universe”. In dealing with God, Webster has: 1) “The supreme or ultimate reality”, 2) “A being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers, and to require man’s worship”.

There are two basic concepts. One involves the more structured and dogmatic father-type view of God. The other, leaning more towards the philosophical, recognizes the existence of a power, and order in the universe, but places it’s faith in a less dogmatic, but more humanistic service or worship of that power. It would stand to reason that those who adapt the former concept are more vulnerable to manipulation by those who would use religion for the purpose of manipulation.

Religion, much like many other institutions or facets in our society, forms a fertile ground for escapism. In the psychological view, almost every person will deter, at times, from the normal pursuit of satisfaction of the basic drives (hunger, sex, sleep) to contemplate such concepts as the hereafter, the supernatural, or the fundamental meaning and purpose of life. For many this becomes, of course, a very agonizing task. Often the only apparent relief being, of course, the acceptance on faith of one of the pre-packaged religious doctrines promoted by surrounding groups. Often the larger the sponsoring group, the more reassuring the choice. Or perhaps material advantages to be gained from the choice would determine the affiliation. Seldom, it seems, does the choice of faith stem from an objective, logical, analysis of reality. Most would consider that to be an impossible task. And it probably would be if one felt that there had to be absolutely no doubt about the validity of the choice upon which one’s faith is placed. On the other hand, don’t we make many choices without requiring absolute certainty! An act of faith is required whenever we take a seat on an airplane. We place our faith in a choice of playing or folding a hand at poker. But we use our best judgement. Perhaps that’s all we can, or should expect when choosing a faith in that “higher power”!

Indeed, it would appear that without reliance on some form of religion the case for human survival in the atomic age is weakened. However the type of religion required is perhaps best exemplified in Time Magazine’s (May 19, ‘97) depiction of Tim Berners-Lee who is credited as the original creator of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee appears to be a man of modest means, who quite unlike most in his field and perhaps society as well, has somehow managed to escape addiction to money, power and materialism. ‘He likes the minimalist Unitarian dogma – theologically vague, but believing in the ‘inherent dignity of people and in working together to achieve harmony and understanding.’ He can accept the notion of divinity so long as it is couched abstractly – as the asymptote of goodness that we strive toward – and doesn’t involve characters with beards.”

Development of religious feeling rather than simply belief would best describe what is being suggested here. Too often a belief is accepted in response to social pressures, or as an attempt to overcome anguish evoked by the frustration arising from the search for an answer. While the act of acceptance in this case provides a measure of relief for the individual, it often results in a diminished feeling or fervor to actively pursue that belief. The essential goal, thus achieved, (escape from anxiety) he’s generally inclined to devote attention to other interests. On the other hand, those who accept a religious commitment based on personal and logical analysis (albeit, recognizing the possibility of fallibility) may sense a more personal stake in the choice, and thus feel more inclined to action, and less inclined to engage in hypocrisy.

Since religious beliefs or convictions generally contain tenants encompassing the concept of human brotherhood, it makes sense that a resurgence of personalized religious beliefs would provide a greater hope for action disposed to further human survival.

A strong case for this concept: the bonding of religion to human survival, is marvelously expressed by one of the central characters in the movie entitled “Mindwalk”. The character, a scientist played by actress Liv Ullman, displays strong ethical behavior grounded on her studied perception of recent discoveries in the science of physics. The scientific analysis of the ultimate make-up of matter indicates that it really consists of “relationships” rather than any trackable or even identifiable entities. Therefore, Ullman’s character reasons that we exist only as a part of that mass of interrelationships. As humans, we are all part of one another. Our destinies are somehow tied to each other, just as is all matter. The satisfaction in the service of fellow humans could be characterized as personal religion.

The intelligent choice of religion is one of the keys to human survival. We must learn that the choice must not be made due to “outside pressure”. It must come from within. When we place our faith in religion it should be with the understanding that one does not own the monopoly on infallibility. Religious intolerance is, of course, a more serious threat to survival these days than it ever was in the past. The question arises: can we adopt a faith in the hereafter that is, to some extent speculative, and feel comfortable with it? If this be possible, a great stride towards countering the survival-threatening intolerance fostered by organized religious groups existing today might be achieved.

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