My ideal religion
By Barry Tucker
Theistic religion* infuriates me. I would like to be able to ignore it. After all, I ignore a great many things I don’t believe in or follow.
I am constantly thinking about the effect religion has on communities and on people. I become angry at the sight of a crowd of believers. After thoroughly examining the concept of an almighty god, I am a non-believer.
I have recently revisited my relationship with non-believers, which caused me to question my contempt for them. I think my attitude is misdirected. My contempt should be for those who perpetuate this belief system, not for the poor souls who feel obliged to conform.
While I live alone and keep pretty much to myself (it’s a selfish way of giving myself more time to pursue my interests), I nonetheless describe myself as a humanist. If life is not about humanity, then what?
Life is about humanity and we are part of nature. And that’s where theistic religion parts company with reality. It is also the keystone for what I think is the ideal religion, one that deals with humanity as a part of nature, taking in our effect on the environment, the land, the flora and fauna, the oceans and their inhabitants. This is the sort of religion we need to take us into the future. Theistic religion passes the responsibility, the cause and effect and the cure on to something else and relieves us of the burden. Theism is the perfect religion for corporations and governments that want to ravage the environment for profits now and to hell with the future. Theism numbs the brain. Just pray and everything will be okay.
It’s ironic that the three major monotheist religions owe their existence to ancient stories of gods, heroes and heroines and long forgotten or modified seasonal and pastoral ceremonies – an acknowledgement of the workings of our solar system, the role of nature, and our part in it.
It annoys me that the churches haven’t been able to develop in line with scientific discoveries. Of course, it would mean admitting they have been wrong all along – something that is very hard to do. It took several hundred years for the Catholic church to admit that Galileo was right about the Earth revolving around the Sun.
I have read several books and articles and watched documentaries about the origins of the Jewish people and the development of their religion. It’s curious that one branch believes in the afterlife and the other does not. The Catholic church, its Anglican derivatives and Islam believe in the afterlife. The afterlife is an invention of religion, a vital part of the confidence trick. We own you in the afterlife as well as in this life, so you had better be paying attention. For me, the afterlife is as unbelievable as heaven or hell.
I had an epiphany of sorts when I read some of the work of an Australian professor who studies stories of miracles from the Middle East. One of them concerned the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The good professor has discovered that the Essene (a Jewish sect; Jesus was one and was educated by them) had a practice of excommunication for certain law breakers. The guilty person was dressed in grey (the Essene wore white) and placed in the “dead cave” overnight. Next morning the person had to leave the village and never return. They were “dead” as far as that community was concerned. The professor says Lazarus was also an Essene. When the relatives of Lazarus asked Jesus to raise him, Jesus understood that he had been excommunicated and called Lazarus to come out of the cave. Jesus, as we know from various stories, was an educated man, an unusual man, who was determined to end some of the practices of the Jewish church at that time. It cost him his life.
A story like that might encourage you to believe that Jesus was a supernatural creature and nothing like you and me. I believe Jesus was an unusual bloke who essentially followed the ideas of Moses, another rare character who came up with a pretty good lifestyle plan, known as The Ten Commandments. Mohammed and Buddha are in the same category, along with Genghis Khan, which you might think is strange. You could include various Pharaohs and I’d like to add the committee that put together the Code of the Samurai – another good plan to live by. If I extend this line of thinking, I have to include the Druids and the native peoples of Australia and North America. Not the Aztecs and the South American Indians because I can’t come to terms with their fondness for blood-letting ceremonies and human sacrifice, unless it was some weird form of population control – the numbers of victims are hair-raising.
Crucifixion, celebrated recently, was meant to be fatal, but not quick; an agonising death reserved for the worst type of criminal. Victims were rarely nailed to anything — iron nails being an expensive and rare commodity. They usually were tied to a tree (hence “cross”), a wall or a fence. Death was by suffocation, sometimes after hanging for some days, because the weight of the collapsing body made it increasingly difficult for the diaphragm to operate. Sometimes the process was hastened by breaking the victim’s legs – the agony doesn’t bear thinking about.
Jesus might have been an unusual man, but there is no way he survived the ordeal of crucifixion. It’s said he died on the cross – you’d better believe it. It’s also said he moved the boulder, escaped the cave and fluttered off to heaven – I don’t believe that.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why our theistic religions insist on perpetuating these fantastic stories. It must be something like “We own these stories, you must believe them; and then we’ll own you and your soul too.” Well, I don’t think we have a soul or a spirit. Any spirit we have consists of elements of our character rather than something that flies away to a non-existent heaven or hell in another undetectable universe.
Religion based on fantasy can only serve the purpose of exercising control of people’s minds. Mind control. How offensive is that? Why does religion and government still work hand-in-hand – a blend of fantasy and pragmatism – in spite of attempts to get religion out of the affairs of State?
I don’t mind having Jesus as a hero. He was a nice bloke and a bit of a rebel. I’m not as familiar with Mohammed as I should be, so I reserve comment. Buddha comes closer to my way of thinking, although contemplating your navel all day is not practical in the Western world.
The trouble with heroes like those is that other heroes may miss out on the recognition they deserve. In this list are the countless lab workers who helped advance medicine but were not named; the technicians who put men on the Moon. You get the idea.
My religion, for want of a better name, is centred on nature, of which I am a part. It involves caring about and for my fellows, for their well-being and for the well-being of the environment and the critters we share it with. These things, this Earth, matter because one thing’s for certain: we are not going to Alpha Centauri any time soon and we are not ever going to a non-existent Heaven or Hell.
PS. This is interesting: 9 out of 10 US citizens believe in god. Among Australia’s current federal politicians, more than 80% of those who responded said they believe in god. Read the story, Do Australian MPs believe in God?, in News.com.au.
http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/theogloss/theism-body.htmlTheism. Belief in the existence of a divine reality; usually referring to monotheism (one god), as opposed to pantheism (all is god), polytheism (many gods), and …