Religion: Reasons Why It Has Failed and One Way to Fix It
A New View of Heresy
By: J. Marlando
Religions in Overview
No matter how devoted a people are to their religion—Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism—they must realize their “faith” has failed to bring peace, love and/or joy to the world. Indeed (historically) religions have done quite the opposite.: In very ancient times when there were gods for just about everything—wine to war—religion was more often than not the excuse for vicious, destructive fighting when the real motivation was mere greed by the religious-socio leaders of those times.
Indeed, by the time of Moses, the “one” god, that would eventually become the Christian and Muslim god, is said to have actually ordered Moses to attack a “disobedient” people who were called, Midians…and slay them! So Moses gathered up 12,000 soldiers who, for their “religion” and for their “god,” sacked the Midian people. Moses (god’s major warrior at the time) tallied up the practical rewards of his and his god’s efforts: 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 virgins.
I have shared this particular history before because it is such a great example of mankind’s greed for power and wealth in the name of his religious beliefs…morality and in the name of his god.
Most everyone that has ever taken a journey into the history of religion has clearly seen the hypocrisies, warmongering and greed of most religious leadership and the resulting ignorance of their followers.
For example, all historians know of the “bad” popes of the early Catholic Church—the so-called Church of Rome. And in thinking of Rome, we are reminded of the Crusades probably the most blatant unfolding of human arrogance, greed and cruelty that had yet occurred in all of so-called civilization. (Jerusalem was named the reason for the Crusades but the real reasons were expansionism, power and wealth).
Later there would be the Inquisition no doubt the most disgraceful mass-movement of any political or religious effort. An effort to control and manipulate the people while stealing from them through the art of confiscation. Because killing “heretics” (Heretics means holding an opinion that disagrees with the Church’s teachings) was so profitable it became widespread and lasted for centuries.
English Protestants were ever as cruel ad self-serving only on a more reduced scale—and the American Puritans—who came to America seeking religious freedom—tortured and abused non-subscribers to their particular faith…so much for “freedom.” And speaking of Puritans, we have all heard of the insanity of the Salem witch trials.
And in 1657 America it was against the law to be a Quaker—one of the few peace-loving cults on the face of the earth. That didn’t matter, if a male Quaker was caught, the Boston Court ordered one ear be cut off and prison sentence. A Quaker woman caught twice would be given the same punishment. And, any Quaker caught the third time (for being a Quaker) would have his or her tongue bore through with a hot iron and also sent to prison.
In the 1800s, the good hearts and gentle people of Christianity attacked the Mormons for their religious beliefs. A major grievance was the Mormons practicing “plural marriage.” Some reports say that the founder, Joe Smith had 49 women in his stable of wives. According to Smith, God commanded him to wed a17 year old lass by the name of Lucy Walker while Emma, wife number one, had gone shopping in town.
Although I tend to smile sardonically at all religions that encourage polygamy, I still maintain that under the U.S. constitution the law had no right to interfere with the beliefs or teachings of Mormonism—if “we” have freedom of religion but not freedom of religious expression there is no freedom!
As a quick aside, this reminds us of the terrible injustice and massacre that occurred at Waco when 74 men, women and children died in a terrible blaze for being Branch Davidians, a religious cult that wanted to live in isolation (not so far a distance from the Mormon people who attempted to build their own environment called Nauvoo, Illinois) but were hated for their isolationism and religious-socio idiosyncrasies.
Anyway, Smith ended up being attacked by a group of disgruntled Mormons who published a list of grievances against him. This angered Smith so he ordered the printing press destroyed that insulted him. Remembering the countries “freedom of the Press” clause, the retaliation resulted in the Mormon Founder’s arrestWhile in the Carthage, Illinois jail a mob burst in and shot him. The death made Joseph Smith a religious Martyr and the rest is U.S. history.
It wasn’t that Mormonism was right or wrong it is that religious moralizing leads to conflict and eventual neurosis. A first signal of religious neurosis is intolerance and intolerance has always been a cornerstone of the church, temple or mosque goer.
Religion, Gandhi and Tolerance
Actually the mob that murdered Joseph Smith demonstrates the intolerance of so-called religious folk—certainly the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City was an intolerable act by a so-called religious group. Historically all religious fundamentalism has always proven to be extremely cruel, demanding and destructive throughout history.
There have only been a few religious leaders (or religious teachers) to preach peace. At the top of the list are Buddha and Jesus.
Buddha who lived around 500 years before Jesus did not claim to be a god nor did he ever try to start a religion. His basic message was clear, simple and quite beautiful: Have compassion and be kind and mindful to all living things. Jesus taught a similar message and told us to love even our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus never claimed to be a god either and, like Buddha, never founded a religion. (I realize that a great many believe that Jesus founded Christianity but this is simply not historically true; Jesus indeed was a reformer not a constructionist).
Organized religion has always been a construct of bureaucrats and demagogues; self-appointed moralists and egocentric leaders. The closest to being an exception to these harsh observations are the Hindus. A major reason for this is because the Hindu Religion teaches one to avoid confrontation and remain willing to even exchange beliefs and traditions with others.
This made India vulnerable to the Muslins who became the ruling class from 1021 to the mid-1800s. Then when the Christian missionaries and merchants began to arrive, the Hindus were as receptive to Christianity as it had been to the Muslims: They (the Hindus) in fact added St Francis and St Thomas to their temple (devoted to all deities) as healers. And, when Hindus converted to Islam, they did not look at it as an abandonment of their own gods or beliefs but rather as an addition to them.
When the English Empire began taking control of India, creating India as a part of the British Empire—began as early as 1662 when Portugal ceded Bombay which became the first British colony.
As always the business of the British was trade and expansionism. And, back then, both Pakistan and Bangladesh came with the “India” package.
In any case, the religious waters in India soon enough became as “muddy” as they had been centuries before.—the tolerant Hindus became, in a way, caught between Christianity and Islam and began feeling ostracized in their own homeland. The Muslims it seems had reverted however from cordial to suspicious (of all) other religions. This psychological narrowing had tremendous impact on the Hindu psyche and now ideological centeredness was forming as it had been in bygone times. The first conflict between Hindus and Muslims begun with the jihad of the Umayyad Caliphate in Sindh in the year 711: At that time the Muslims had persecuted a vast count of Hindus and destroyed their temples. Time had healed a lot of this—at least on the surface, but war between the two was heating up again and there had already been blood spilled between the two religions by the time of British rule.
The history itself gets a little muddled but slowly the religions had become intolerant of each other; there was the rise of fear and distrust between them and where there is fear and distrust there is always hatefulness. Then Gandhi arrived!
Gandhi, who was destined to virtually change the world, was a rather weak and fearful child. It is said that he was forever afraid of the dark, of bandits and bad spirits. At the same time, he also wondered why all people couldn’t live in harmony with one another.
As the child he wanted to change the world of conflict and disharmony but regardless of his fantasies, he knew as long as he was a frightened person that was never going to happen. Then he came to an unexpected conclusion. He had to somehow find peace within and conquer his own fears. During this time a rather odd notion entered his mind: he decided that for someone (anyone) to become tolerant, that person had to become fearless. This became Gandhi’s personal goal, to become fearless and…therefore tolerant.
As a wise person of deep convictions for creating a better, happier and more cooperative world, Gandhi realized that people had to cure their inner-anxieties…and fears to create a peaceful, loving world. He knew that the only way to make political or community or religious changes was to change the self—after all, one can never change the behavior of governments, institutions or bureaucracies but they can change themselves as he had changed himself and by changing enough selves governments, institutions and bureaucracies would soon enough change on their own.
Gandhi’s human actions began to spread fellowship between religions and so nations. In fact, he became quite Christ like in many ways teaching that all people were his family and human love should be expressed by service and how we treat others. In fact, he would often volunteer his services doing menial work at hospitals practicing and so demonstrating exactly what he preached.
Eventually he showed that one individual could actually change the behavior of over 500 million people; that he had been right all along—a person must become the changes he desires for the world.
The problem was that his “love and service” philosophy was not destined to last. In 1947 when a vast number of Muslims were murdered fleeing into Pakistan. As a result, the hatred between the Hindus and Muslims was beginning to boil over. At this time—at the peak of riots and fighting—Gandhi actually moved into the Muslim part of town in a Muslim’s house without police protection. This jester of fearlessness worked—within hours Muslims and Hindus were together in friendly chatter and once again worshipping in each other’s temples and mosques. The violence had stopped…one more time.
A major belief that Gandhi held was that all humans are part of the same universal soul so tolerance between humans was a natural vision for of our kind…at least in potential. After all, what most everyone wants is peace on earth and goodwill to everyone.
This belief that we are all connected in consciousness was an absolute from Gandhi’s prospective; it belonged to his deepest religious and world views. In fact, this belief was such a reality to the leader of the Indian people that he proposed to make a Muslim enemy—M.A. Jinnah, the leader of India’s Muslims—and make him leader of all India itself. What a demonstration of oneness that would be!
A great many Hindus were immediately angered by even the thought of such a proposal and as a result one fanatical Hindu assassinated Gandhi for his most controversial and unusual political decision; perhaps the strangest political decision in world history. Certainly a decision to ponder but the point here is that, as soon as Gandhi was dead, intolerance immediately returned to India and has remained there just as it remains in the rest of our world.
Can Religion Change
I believe it is safe to say that most people yearn to believe in (a) god. Many don’t because they confuse church dogma, doctrines and teachings with simple faith in a god of love and peace. And, many people also get swallowed up by the snobbery of science whose members tend to believe in a dead, clockwork universe and want the rest of us to see life in a robotic way as well. In light of this, I am forever quoting Richard Dawkins, who calls us all “survival machines.”
Take the resurrection of Jesus, for example. I have mentioned in other writing that this is obviously a story constructed by the Church of Rome to attract Pagans to the religion. Still it remains in Christian mythology and this again is why a great number of people cannot digest a belief in a god. The Christian god is said to have created the entire universe but couldn’t solve the problems of “his” world without manifesting himself through a virgin birth to suffer and die for the world of “his” own making. None of this story being unique to mythology but rather being a mere repeat of ancient mythology whose gods were often born of virgins to become saviors of the world.
How much easier to believe in a Jesus who prayed to a god and taught a philosophy of love and yes tolerance to the world; the teacher who said that he was “one with the father” a long way from saying that he was the father made manifest.
Religion, however, teaches obedience to the church or temple as being the gateway to god and his kingdom. Follow the rules (the doctrines and dogmas) staying on the yellow line and god will reward you…if you don’t….beware.
This principle of reward and punishment goes back to the ancient god/kings who ruled their worlds with superstitions and fears. Toeing the line or burning in hell is a form of blackmail yes but for the gullible mind, a real alternative. Ever hear a soap-boxing preacher talk about sin and salvation? “Repent, join and be saved—halleluiah! Yet, Jesus taught nothing of the kind. He told us that the kingdom of God was already in us and if we’ve “sinned,” we merely needed to continue on our way and sin “no more.” In other words we shouldn’t beat ourselves over the head for mistakes we’ve made in the past. And anyway, those without sin cast the first stone.
As a quick aside for readers who are very familiar with the gospel, I will quickly be reprimanded here for what I’ve just been saying. I will be told to read the New Testament in which God declares Jesus as his son (his only begotten son). Well this is true: for Mathew this happened when Jesus was conceived…for Paul when he was resurrected…and for Mark, the baptism. How can any thinking person not suspect pure myth here; a construct for pagan conversion?
In regard to all this, Karen Armstrong in her fascinating book, “A History of God,” reminds us that once Christians, Muslins and even Jews were thought of as atheists because they went against popular religious beliefs. It is ONLY in this sense that the term would apply to me! For one example, I am not a “god fearing person” and in fact detest the concept that a true god would be a personage to fear. My god is a god of love…not leverage and coercion. Does this belief mark or label me a “disbeliever?”
I also believe in a unifying god, not a god that creates oppositions and centers. In this regard, I am happy to report, that today even science is beginning to acknowledge that there is a unity and cohesiveness in the entire universe; that there is a web of life weaving a common thread through all things. To me, that thread is mind (call it consciousness) but I ask no one to agree with this or bow before any of my totems. After all, collective rituals, except for song and dance, have historically always been destructive in the long run anyway.
As for the question—has religion as we know it failed—the answer is absolutely yes since, as all so-called charitable institutions, religion too eventually becomes far more self-serving than other-serving while forever costuming itself in piety and righteousness. And so, as I think about it, what is basically wrong with organized religion is the people themselves and both leader and follower. After all, if each person was all he or she desires their religions to be, religions would necessarily be as positive and comforting as they now claim to be; they would beyond all else be tolerant, loving, compassionate, generous and forgiving.
Until that day arrives I will remain a heretic.
Heresy most basically means to hold on to a religious believe that is in conflict with the established religious Luther would have been a “heretic” to the Catholics as Quakers would have been to Puritans and actually as Mormons are to classical Protestantism and everyone who doesn’t except Islam is to today’s Muslims. Countless men, women and even children have been tortured and murdered in the name of religion. We have mostly heard of the Crusades but a great many wars have had their roots in religion—indeed, in some ways conflicts between Buddhism and Catholicism played a role in the grounding of the Vietnam War. Recall the hate and destruction caused by the Irish Protestants and Catholics in conflict and more recently, our own tragic 911 was caused by religious fundamentalists.
It is not even the ugly absurdity of war between religions that is so paradoxical. Religious fanaticism has created pain, suffering and death to unimaginable numbers of individuals. Indeed, the cornerstones of both racism and sexism are traditionally religious attitudes.
Even today, at least in some countries, people can be stoned to death for breaking particular religious rules, it wasn’t too long ago that in Western society an individual could actually be imprisoned for homosexuality and the state tried to rule what we did in our bedrooms—remember that the first lobbyist of the United States were religious leaders who desired to dictate the morality of the country and so of the individual. I recall a great many years ago a young lady committed suicide because she was so shamed and guilt ridden for getting pregnant out of wedlock. The narrow-minded church she belonged to had actually ostracized her for being a child of evil-doing. (She had believed them).
The horror stories continue but the point is that nearly every organized, major religion projects itself as being God’s representative on earth and so there rules become god’s rules. It is this very arrogance that the old god/kings used to rule the people 10,000 years ago and it is still being used to rule the people today. One problem is that society’s mores arise from religious dictates through superstition, social memes and direct influencing of the state—many of those mores become morals and those moralities often become law. In this way, church and state has never been truly separated even in the U.S. except perhaps for a few months after the Revolutionary War.
As long as the religions organization claims exclusivity to the knowing of God’s will, there will never be peace on earth. Indeed, the work of the church should not be controlling individual private life through the aspects of sin and salvation (the old crime and punishment ethic) but rather in freeing the individual from the chains of exclusivity itself.
Until god is recognized and fully realized as a Universal Presence, the world will never reach its potential of joy, peace and freedom. Indeed, as long as so-called religions exist in their own centers and reaffirm the “us and them” concept, human conflict and not cooperation will prevail.
All churches, temples, synagogues—every so-called place of worship—should be busied opening the doors of god’s kingdom wherein poverty, hunger and all other unnecessary suffering is vanished from the planet as opposed to pretending to be God’s Caesars of morality.
How could such a world actually occur? The answer is so simple and is already taught by Buddhism Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism and Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so even unto them. Now all that needs to happen if for religions to, as the saying goes, walk as they talk.
Aries, Philippe and Georges Duby (General Editors) * A History of Private Life * Harvard University Press
Armstrong, Karen * A History of God * Alfred A. Knopf