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The Problem With Religion


“Most religions are based on the assumption that opinion is the same as fact.”

Xenocrates

Which is the right religion? Is that even a valid question? When you consider the possible ramifications, the possibilities are staggering. How does someone who feels they need to add some sense of spirituality to their lives even begin to go about narrowing down their choices? We already know why religion exists – or at least, we know what the motivations for the creation of religion are. We covered that in the last post which described the true nature of God. But really, how does one even begin where this is concerned? Before you do that, we need to quickly examine two schools of thought where this is concerned; namely that of Religion and of a Philosophical Way of life. If you think that the two ideas are the same, then you’ve been grossly misinformed:


Religion is a system of control, a theocratic form of politics with mostly inexplicable rules borne out of the cultures in which the faith originated, with both extreme forms of reward and punishment. Religions are subscribed to by hordes of emotionally overwhelmed inviduals with desires for spiritual fulfillment. All religions are cults, since they all center around the personality of one or more personalities. For Christianity, it’s Jesus. For Islam it’s Muhammed. For Buddhism, it’s Buddha – and so on. Religion aims to bring out the best human characteristics through it’s reliance on some deity through worship.

A philosophical way of life is a self adapted methodology for personal well being. A philosophical way of life has the same objectives of religion, but doesn’t require a deity to achieve any of the objectives set out in therein. Examples of philosophical ways of life include Zen doctrine, Yoga, Taoism and other eastern philosophies. PWLs are centered around the idea that the individual is responsible for their own development through the achievement of what could be termed a state of “enlightenment” through works, meditation, exercise and other activities.

All religions started out as philosophical ways of life, until as their dogma would dictate, some deity was “discovered” through their direct interaction with mankind. However, over the years, as they would say, the “tale grew in the telling“. As each generation played Chinese Telephone with what was the original context of the philosophy, new rituals and requirements grew out of each telling, until a full blown religion was formed. This is true for virtually every faith based system on earth – including Christianity. If you find this reality shocking, then you haven’t seen anything yet…

The Problems with Religion

There are several well documented problems with virtually every faith. Many of these you may already know. Some of them you probably only recognised with your subconscious mind, but you probably let the emotional rush from the last worship service wash that all away – until it crops up again when you’re asked a tough question you’re unable to answer. The following are the most prominent issues with all religions:

1. Similar Ideologies

Judeo-Christianity and Islam are so close in what they believe that it’s hard to imagine any substantial differences between them other than that which appears to be entirely cultural. So which religion is the right one? The answer is deceptively simple: NONE – The question is intrinsically redundant. All religions are designed to achieve the same objective. Each religion is however heavily influenced by the culture in which it was spawned. Christianity is Jewish in origin, Islam is Arabic in origin, Buddhism is Chinese in origin and so on. So asking which religion is “right” is the same as asking which country makes the “correct” car. Many first world countries manufacture cars – and virtually every car has identical components and design principles. The only differences between them are non-functional specifications which are heavily influenced by the cultures in which the cars are manufactured. Similarly, depending on the culture which spawned a particular faith, names, practices and rituals will differ, but the functional requirements and expected results are all identical.

If you’re asking which religion’s god is the the right god, then the answer to that can start with some simple logic: It is logically impossible for there to be more than one god (as we examined in the first post). Therefore any religion which subscribes to multiple gods or indeed, an anthropomorphic God (i.e. a human-like god) is automatically false. Based on these simple requirements, a number of faiths immediately fall from the board. However, because each of the remainder’s descriptions of the one true God is so close, it seems like a fair assumption to say that where one says, Yashuweh, or another says Jehovah, yet another, Yaweh and still others Allah, it would highly illogical to assume that they are referring to separate beings. If there is logically only one God, then what each people calls him is probably irrelevant, since the name they choose to use is subject to their respective languages and cultures. Therefore any argument made by any theist defending his faith as the one true faith is logically absurd and should be considered as philosophical quackery.

2. Religion is man’s interpretation of God’s righteousness

For most major religions there is a sacred text. Christianity has the Bible and Islam has the Qur’an. In this text, the respective God is alluded to by various writers. All of these writers are human. Most of these human writers were not very well educated – or at least, not philosophically well balanced. You can tell that most of their descriptions about miraculous events suffered from the “Caveman” syndrome, where they sought to describe what would appear to be fantastic events using their limited understanding of the physical world. If these same people lived in the 21st century, the Bible probably would never have been written in such hyperbolic terms. However, 3 – 5,000 years ago, men did not understand electromagnetism, extreme weather patterns, volcanoes, astronomical phenomena and the sciences of physics and chemistry virtually did not exist.

It is therefore highly likely that in their time, these ancient people would describe 40 day floods (monsoons), God sending an angel to block out the sun (solar eclipse), water turning to blood (river bacteria overgrowth), parting the Red Sea (tidal shift and wind sheers) and turning water into wine (dissolving dried fruit concentrate into water) as being truly miraculous and fantastic. The mere fact that humans wrote the Bible explains why God is described as having such human propensities, such as love, hate, favour, regret and so on. It is thus no small wonder why so many people have a hard time believing many tales written in the Bible.

3. Cultural Influences

The major religions of the world are driven almost wholistically through the cultures that spawned them. Therefore, each religion in their respective sacred texts denote requirements and practices which are highly unrealistic outside of those cultural domains. Take Christianity for example. It is recognized as a sin for anyone to have sexual intercourse prior to marriage. However, in Jewish cultures, most marriages are pre-arranged. Very little courtship actually occurs and economic restrictions are negligable. Fornication is punishable by death in many Jewish cultures or a very strict fine in others. As such, it is highly unusual for any male to be unmarried by their mid 20’s. Most girls are married in their teens (Mary had Jesus when she was 14 – which is fairly common in Jewish cultures of the day). Yet, most people who practice Christianity quite literally torture themselves trying to live by these principles based on foreign cultures which clearly make none of these requirements even remotely practical. The same can be said of Islam and similar systems systems of belief, because they share the same cultural origins.

Either way, adopting many of these religions often means adopting cultural practicies as well. For example, many western muslims still walk around in the traditional arabic garb in concrete cities, even though such clothing was designed for sandy desert environments while some Christian sects still worship on Saturdays even though Saturday is regarded as a work day in many western and European cultures. If a religion requires the subjugation of a foreigner’s culture to facilitate adoption, that is the same as cultural indoctrination. For this reason alone, many religions will never fully propagate beyond certain cultural lines unless the target culture shares enough similarity with the culture of the religion in question.

Any religion which seeks to penetrate a culture such that it tries to superimpose its source culture upon another will not be considered worthy of adoption by most inhabitants of the target culture since that is the sort of thing that inspires religious extremism. That is also the sort of thing that makes religion dangerous, because subscribers to that faith will feel the need to form a movement to force others into believing what they believe. This gives way to acts of terrorism and other acts of oppression which aim to purge non-believers and establish religious conformity. This is where religion becomes a truly ugly thing, as this often becomes grounds for war.

4. Conflicting Dogma

Because religions are effectively man made (irrespective of their influences), there comes the inevitable occurrence of conflict in each religion’s dogma. This is particularly evident in the big two: Christianity and Islam. In Islam, the prophet writes that Muslims should be peaceful, and endear peace unto others in every facet of their lifestyle. Even their casual greeting to each other quite literally goes a salaam alaikum (peace be unto you) to which a respondent would say wa alaikum a salaam (and upon you be peace). Yet, in the latter parts of the Q’ran, we see where the prophet very explicitly admonishes brazen violence against those who have wronged any muslim, irrespective of the reasoning.

There are two schools of thought on these passages in the Q’ran, and they are pretty much split right down the middle between those who are considered ‘Active’ muslims (the ones that will strap bombs to themselves for 72 virigins) and those which are considered ‘Inactive’ Muslims (the ones who prefer to uphold peace, irrespective of the explicit commands to violence in the Q’ran).Needless to say, Christianity has a myriad of conflicts of its own. However, none of them are anywhere near as profound as that found in Islam, which seems to conflict its very nature through its own confusing text. The message of Christianity remains relatively consistent throughout (particularly in the Gospels), but it is bogged down with hordes of semantic and philosophical conflicts. We will discuss some of these in a subsequent post.

5. Preference becomes religion

Religion is not a hard science. It has no hard and fast rules which govern its dogma. It is based entirely on subjective interpretation. Remember, religion is man made. As such, all religions lend themselves to multiple interpretations, each of which collectively reduces the validity of the given religion. This is why within each religion, there are a number of break away groups called sects or denominations. The number of sects is directly proportional to the size of the subscribership and the lack of specificity in their respective holy texts. While each sect more or less believes in the core principles of the umbrella faith, individually, there are essential differences. Some of these are so substantial that practitioners of the umbrella faith tend to describe these deviants as ‘cults’. This is really a misuse of the word cult. A cult is any system of belief centered around one or more personalities. That effectively describes all religions.

Since religion is so highly subjective, two people can read the same teaching and come away with two completely different interpretations. What’s really hilarious is that these two people will spend hours trying to convince each other that their view is right, even though religion really requires faith to accept. If the intrinsically redundant paradox in that isn’t immediately obvious, then you have no sense of humor. Needless to say, what each man believes in each religion is really a function of emotive preference. There are no rules or any logically traceable rationale to their opinions, aside from what is most convenient to them. That’s why you will visit some Christian churches that worship on a Sunday and others that worship on a Saturday – even though they’re both using the same Bible. Better yet, some will have a strict dresscode which they’ve somehow extrapolated from scripture, while others completely leave the issue alone. Similarly, you will find western Muslims which do not conform to Arabic culture, while there are others that do. There are Muslims who are peaceful with Christians and there are others who are not. Collectively, religion is so highly subjective, that subscribing to any of it is really a risk in and of itself. Buyer beware.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, what is one to believe? Does one throw their hands up and say “to hell with it all“? Ofcourse not. If you haven’t subscribed to Christianity, then you probably don’t believe in hell either, so that statement is likewise redundant. Either way, what we believe has the power to heal and to destroy. What many people fail to realise is that religion is really nothing more than a cognitive placebo to get your mind to work in marvelous ways. If you believe that some power higher than yourself exists, and that power can give you the ability to do inhuman things, then chances are, if you believe it enough, you can probably pull it off. You can also believe in Tao, Zen, Yoga and many other philosophies, in lieu of a deity and still pull off those things because of your belief. But here’s the clincher:

You did not need to believe in a higher power or a philosophy to do it.

Jesus himself taught that people are healed through the power of their own belief. He said it so many times in the Bible, that it’s absolutely fascinating to me that so many Christians still feel that the healing power actually came from Jesus himself. There are many philosophical ways of life which teach enlightenment and self healing using specific exercises and meditation which work just as well as attending a faith healing session with your favourite loud-mouthed eccentric pastor. They all achieve the same goal – just like any car in the world, irrespective of where it is made. However, people are so gullible, that they will always be ready and willing to gobble up the newest wind of doctrine to blow their way, like the recent Scientology fad that swept through Hollywood.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter what you believe. So long as you believe, then the end purpose of your faith has already been achieved. Just don’t go around trying to indoctrinate anyone through force without seeing to their needs – for that is one of the key expectations of all religion: To promote peace, brotherly love and social well-being. If you’re doing that much, then you’re probably doing the right thing. If you still feel the urge to spread what you believe, even after all that is said here, at least do us all a favour:

Do so by your works and not with your mouth.

Cheers.

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  1. Phil
    January 25, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Fascinating, well written and good sound logic.

  2. Dan
    June 12, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Excelent, very well written and with a well balanced content and perspective!

  3. zorba
    July 27, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I agree with your thoughts overall.

    I like this one “Do so by your works and not with your mouth.”, although I admit I have fallen into that one on occasion.

    Life is a never ending and never fulfilling education process, and when we think we are getting close to knowing it all, dementia or Alzheimer’s sets in and we can no longer remember what we learned. Yet it is still possible to survive somehow as witness to the people who suffer from these ailments and are still opening their eyes every morning..

    That is the paradox of living on this planet, with or without religion.

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