Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Religion vs. Using Religion to Control Others

Too many people seem addicted to the need to judge and control others based upon their own personal beliefs. We have lots of admonitions in the New Testament on the subject (I was born and raised a Christian), such as these quotes from Matthew: 7“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Strangely enough, Karl Marx, who turned on religion, started out as a committed Christian. He and Frederick Engels philosophized and wrote together, and as they observed how religion was actually used by society, they felt less negative out the teaching of the Bible but of how the relevant religious teachings were being used by those in charge to control the lives of others through threats, intimidation and passing vile judgment on behavior that they wished to control. Oddly, they seemed to embrace Biblical teachings (although they came to reject religion itself), partially noted above in the quotes from Matthew, that proselytized against self-righteous misuse of faith in judging and controlling others.
Both men came to the conclusion that religion historically seemed to be just a tool used by an elite to control the masses, and thus, organized religion could no longer be trusted. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” said Marx.
Indeed, historically, religious justification has been routinely used throughout history, from the Japanese Shinto faith that was used to justify atrocities in Korea and China in the first half of the twentieth century, the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, human sacrifices throughout primitive and tribal history, the Salem witch trials in 1692 and most recently the slaughter of innocents by Muslim Islamist groups such as al Qaeda, al Shabaab, al Nusra Front, ISIS, Boko Haram, Haqqani Network and the Taliban in general, and the Houthis, to name but a few. Religious missionaries from all sorts of religions have brought literacy and care to impoverished and ignorant peoples all over the world… but usually with strings attached that often required both religious commitment and perhaps even a willingness to die in the service of the new masters who imposed that conditional faith upon them.
Strong condemnation of non-believers seems to allow oppressors to command, control and even cause the new supplicants to kill in the name of the new faith. That some deeply pious and morally-committed individual was born in some village in India, where the only practiced and accessible faith was Hinduism, is condemned to an after-life of hellfire simply because of the accidental place of his or her birth does not make sense if morality and goodness are the aim of most organized religions.
Non-believers are often viewed as less-than-human, fodder that allows evil terrorists to justify slaughter, such as we have been witnessing of late in Africa and the Middle East. Small pockets of diehard zealots believe it is not only their right, but their mandate to cull non-believers from the earth, to spread their “word” as the only faith, and to look at all others as condemned deniers of God and their interpretation of faith. There is no tolerance for any other belief system.
Lest we get up on a moral high horse, the United States has a significant Christian force that rejects most of humanity as hapless non-believers who can never ascend to the heavens as God’s chosen people. But that force is, when looking at the world as whole, a tiny dot of a belief system among the religions of the world. “There are an estimated 285,480,000 Evangelicals, corresponding to 13.1% of the Christian population and 4.1% of the total world population. The Americas, Africa and Asia are home to the majority of Evangelicals… The largest concentration of Evangelicals can be found in the United States, with 26.8% of the U.S. population or 94.38 million, the latter being roughly one third of the world's Evangelicals. The next most populous is Brazil, with 26.3% or 51.33 million.” Wikipedia.
American Evangelicals accept Israel and Judaism as necessities in fomenting that Armageddon in the Middle East that will bring the Second Coming of Christ, but their intolerance of other faiths is powerful, despite the fundamental tone of brotherly love, forgiveness and not sitting in judgment of others that literally defines the New Testament, and hence Christianity. What is clear is their absolute right, under our First Amendment, to practice and believe as they wish. Indeed, in the pantheon of diverse religious beliefs, who can declare that their tenets are false? The issue, then, is seldom with the underlying beliefs, but with the seemingly uncontrollable urges of humanity throughout the ages to use their religious beliefs as God-mandated obligations to impose their beliefs on others.
Most certainly, one can appreciate their passion in fighting against abortion – an extinguishment of life vs. free choice – but it is hard to understand why they feel a need to deny others the right to protect themselves against man-induced climate change, since attempting to fix the issue cannot negatively impact upon their lives even if their belief were to be found correct… no harm, no foul. Business interests, wanting as few costly environmental regulations as possible, have embraced this “social” issue as a convenient method to avoid the restrictions.
I was raised a Christian, in the Episcopal Church, even served as an altar boy for several years, and still adhere to the general teachings of the New Testament. I am not commanded by the precise language of the Bible these days, but my faith in God continues as I pray daily and seek a moral vision of my own life. What I cannot and will not do is force my view of religion on others, and I deeply resent those who try to impose their beliefs on me, particularly by distorting the American political process to force their ideology on me.
I will close this rather personal blog with a story, an event that occurred two decades ago on one of my many trips to India. My then-girlfriend and I were touring Udaipur under the rather excellent guidance of a gentleman, educated as a lawyer and exceptionally well-read. He was erudite, worldly and we spent many days together. I noted that every time visited a Hindu temple, he was reverent, humble and always sought a blessing from the Brahmin cleric, marked by a Bhindi dot placed in the middle of his forehead each time.
I finally mustered by courage to ask an impudent question. “How can you, educated and worldly, be so deeply pious in a religion that, at last count, had roughly four to five million known gods and goddesses?” When he smiled, I knew I was in for a very interesting response. “I believe as you do that there is but one God… but He has an infinite number of faces and reaches each of us in so many different ways.” Other than, “what a great answer,” I was humbled… learning what faith could mean when it is not deployed to control or hurt others. It was a lesson I never forgot.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wrote this little blog on Easter Sunday as I contemplated the meaning of God in my own life.

No comments: