Friends, ever since humans began to walk on two legs their minds have been muddied and confused by religion. It seems to be part of our genetic inheritance, this unfortunate predisposition to believe in things theological despite the fact that there is not the tiniest scrap of scientific evidence to support any of the improbable, wildly conflicting claims that various religions make. Religion, like a drug, enslaves us. And once enslaved, religious differences continue to divide us. Why do we allow it to continue? Where did it come from?
In ancient times, primitive man tried to come up with explanations for that which he didn’t understand. Human imagination has always been active and fanciful and humans are infinitely gullible so it wasn’t long before 'theology' began to intrude into the thinking processes of mankind.
Ancient theology often concerned itself with the worship of physical things like the sun and stars and distortions of animate things like snakes and lions and eagles. A trip to Egypt will reveal many strange objects that were once worshipped with extreme devotion. The Greeks moved away from the concept of worshipping objects and, in a burst of unusual irrationality, created for themselves an invisible, spirit-based group of Gods who, interestingly, possessed many human foibles.
In a parallel development, the Jewish people were developing their explanation for the mysteries of the world via the concept of Yahweh, a single, all-powerful God, one who was stern and punitive. Then followed the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Hindus, etc. Of course, all over the world, there are signs of a host of other religions, most of which, like humans themselves, came and went with great regularity and about which little is known.
But some things are fairly common to the hundreds of different religions (past and present) with their thousands of different Gods. Religion requires that people submit to the beliefs as prescribed by religious officials. Religion requires that people financially support the infrastructure of their religion. Punishment is promised in the next world for those who don’t submit to the demands and edicts of religion. Cruelty has often been part of religious ritual with the sacrifice of animals and enemies and virgins to appease the Gods being commonplace. Cruelty has frequently been used to try to force conversions or to punish wrongdoers (the Spanish Inquisition). And of course there has always been fierce competition between religions for disciples because the larger the number of converts, the more powerful and rich the religion became.
Of course, religious belief can be a powerful force. During a teenage period, I was possessed by religious fervour. I prayed devoutly, carried a Holy Book around in my pocket, bored numbers of people witless with my ramblings, even considered becoming a preacher. Then a voice inside me began to ask questions, things like: How come God, who made the world and everything in it, makes deformed babies? How come there is so much hatred and killing in the world? How come God made diseases like cancer and things like earthquakes and tsunamis? How come there are so many other religions, all of whose believers are going to burn in Hell along with unrepentant sinners? How is it possible that such a terrible fate as burning forever in a fire could be the work of a God of Love?
There were no convincing answers to these universal questions. Gradually my faith succumbed to my intelligence and, eventually, I wondered how I could’ve believed such anachronistic nonsense. I am now an atheist who generally adopts a live and let live approach. Except when it comes to war!
Unfortunately, different religions have all too often fought against each other trying to achieve domination. The Crusades are one example. The ongoing war between Christians and Protestants in Northern Ireland is another. The partition of India resulted from conflict between Hindus and Muslims and there is still hostility between them on the borders. The recent bitter war in the Balkans was fought between differing religious groups. The examples are many.
In our current world, wars exist in many places. In most cases, as in the past, it has a religious as well as a nationalistic and/or imperialistic basis. There is always hatred for those perceived as enemies who are called derogatory things like infidels or heathens or evil. So where does this leave peace? Nowhere!
In the Middle East, we now have the situation where Jews and Christian Evangelicals have combined under the leadership of the Bush Neocons who also represent the Capitalist Religion with its Great God of Greed. The whole of the Middle East is ablaze as Muslim nations, fearing annihilation and the loss of their oil, gear up to try to protect themselves. Worryingly, the Neocons and the Israelis have put nukes on the table thereby upping the ante. The world seems poised on the edge of nuclear war. Madness prevails.
If we could get all religion out of the human equation, ban it if necessary, allow people’s minds to clear, they would see the ridiculous reality of themselves arguing and fighting about nothing more than fanciful myths and primitive superstitions. Then we might have some chance of living together in peace.
But first someone has to locate the theological tap inside us that continues to drip its addictive, illogical, divisive poison and turn the bloody thing off!