TACTICS OF ORGANIZED RELIGION
By Roland Watson
I ended the last article by considering some of the messages and values that underlie religious form. Organized religion further makes use of a number of different tactics. In this talk, I will review these tactics. I intend to begin with the inflexibility of religious belief - of dogma. Said another way, the "Word" is The Word. Religious truth cannot be questioned.
For example, for Islam, and according to the Washington, D.C. Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed was the last prophet - there will never be another, and his revelation was "God's final message to man." For Christianity, and again from Bertrand Russell: from their establishment "the Churches, everywhere, opposed as long as they could practically every innovation that made for an increase of happiness or knowledge here on earth."
The reason for this resistance and inflexibility is that it enables the religions to protect their power, over us.
Here's another relevant quote, from George Orwell and 1984: "In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance."
Opposition to spiritual speculation
My analogy about the ant-farm illustrates the limits of human understanding. However, within these limits there is still plenty of room for speculation.
Religions, though, take the diametrically opposed view. Everything that is worth knowing about life is known, and it is available solely from them. No important questions have been left unanswered, and hence there is nothing left to learn.
Religions are absolutely resistant to change, which is ironic since Christ, and the Prophet Mohammed, and also Buddha, were rebels. To the modern Church, though, rebellion is anathema.
Inflexibility and resistance to change inevitably lead to persecution, and this brings us to the other major religious tactic, which is us versus them: the creation of a common enemy. Indeed, the most important practical consequence of religion is the intolerance that it engenders toward others, and this is a very sad commentary, that it is not increased love for one another, or a common aspiration to find truth and enlightenment.
For instance, regarding "them," the Jews are the leading them of all time. They have been vilified and persecuted throughout the ages. Christians, for instance, began their persecution of the Jews as early as the fourth century, as soon as the Catholic Church was well established.
They were also one of the primary targets of the Inquisition, and, of course, the leading target of the Nazi holocaust. (Germany is Christian.) Even today, they are attacked by far-right hate groups, many of which are nominally Christian.
Indeed, whenever and wherever Christianity has been in power, political power, it has engaged in persecution. This is because, according to Russell, it is underlined by a revenge psychology. Our circumstances here on earth are the revenge of god for the original sin. An eternity of torture in hell is the revenge of the "good" over the "evil." And persecution of others, such as of the Jews, who failed to recognize Christ as the savior, who actually crucified him, is a revenge as well.
All of this raises the question: What would happen if Christianity were in power again?
Of course, there are other explanations for such revenge. The first is that it is very effective as a form for persuading people to join the religion. As Russell also pointed out, everyone understands revenge, at getting back at someone, and for whatever reason. It is not an abstract and obscure ideal. It is not difficult to comprehend. Rather, it is an appeal to our most primitive behavioral patterns, something that we all have and know.
On the other hand, revenge often has other psychological derivations, such as to hide from your own inadequacies. In this way it is a transference, of frustration, about yourself, or your beliefs, to others. Perhaps the revelation of faith is not enough. Perhaps it does not fully explain: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
As many people will be aware, this was Christ's lament while he was suffering on the cross, according to the gospel of St. Mark.
This raises an interesting question. At the time of Christ all popular religions professed the ability to accomplish miracles. Indeed, many still do - to become a Catholic saint you must accomplish three miracles. This is because "miracle-working" is one of the best ways to manipulate uneducated populations and, once manipulated, it reinforces their belief, or fear, that the leaders of the religion truly do control access to life after death.
Was Christ a fraud?
But, to the extent that a religious leader pretends to have supernatural recognition and power, he or she is a sham. The quote from St. Mark would lead us to believe that Christ himself thought that he was the son of god, which is fine. He was either right, or deluded. The real problem is his miracles. If he did accomplish what is said about him, including raising the dead, curing lepers and the blind, and multiplying fishes and loaves of bread, then, again, that's fine. He is the Son of God, and we have much to fear. The universe is the product of a vengeful deity. But, if he did not, then he may well be a fraud, even if only a self-delusional fraud.
The question is: to what extent were Christ's miraculous powers publicized while he was still alive. The earliest books of the New Testament were written decades after his death, and what they say, although it is revered as the uncriticizable truth, cannot in fact be trusted. But if Christ did claim miraculous abilities in the knowledge that he did not have them, then he was a fraud. However, if these powers were appended, written in, perhaps to make the story more convincing, then this is not the case.
Religions and women
At this point, I want to make three other comments regarding Christian form. The first - and this applies in principle to most other religions as well - has to do with the treatment of women. Women under Christianity are the weaker sex, and are in fact derived from men; specifically, from Adam's rib.
Even more, man is in God's image. Men have His form, and therefore are closest to Him, and best. Also, a woman caused the downfall of man, through eating the apple. Furthermore, since the mother of Christ was a virgin - if this is to be believed, such a life represents the ideal for women, perhaps even the only way that a woman can be good. And sex itself is bad, particularly when a woman wants it.
All of this has led to a typing of women as inferior, and subordinate, and even evil, and given us a legacy of sexism that we still must fight today.
But, as I said, such attitudes are hardly limited to Christianity. Here is a quote from the Saudi Arabian rules of evidence, from the Appendix of the book Princess, by Jean Sasson.
"Why women are forbidden to testify in criminal proceedings.
One. Women are much more emotional than men and will, as a result of their emotions, distort their testimony.
Two. Women do not participate in public life, so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe.
Three. Women are dominated completely by men, who by the grace of God are deemed superior; therefore, women will give testimony according to what the last man told them.
Four. Women are forgetful, and their testimony cannot be considered reliable."
Christianity and nature
My second observation on, or criticism of, Christian religious form is its view that nature is wild and undisciplined, in other words, sinful, and that it therefore needs to be controlled. This belief has served as further justification for the rampant environmental destruction that accompanies commercial development. Such destruction is not even viewed as a negative. It is actually seen as an improvement.
Turn the other cheek?
Thirdly, I want to comment on Christ's saying that we should turn the other cheek, which is remarkable in a good way because it is a clear focus on our greatest ethical challenge, to forgive. However, it also must be noted that this is at odds with the revenge motivation of god, and therefore that the message of Christianity contradicts its appeal.
Also, this maxim has another problem as well. It conflicts with the basic rule of life, that actions have consequences. If we love one another even when we are harmed, then there is no consequence for the person responsible for the harm. It is an admirable saying but, if only because of this, unrealistic and unworkable.
Persecution of the Jews
To return to the issue of tactics, if you want to understand the concept of us versus them you need look no farther than the Jews. They are a small, independent, and self-sufficient cultural group. They are well educated. They have had great economic success.
Given these attributes, it is guaranteed that they will be viewed as an ideal target by the leaders of other groups. These leaders have persecuted the Jews by creating volatility. They have unified their own groups by creating and inflaming a hatred of "them." In this process they diverted their groups from their own problems; they created new problems for them; they consolidated their own power; and they stole the wealth, and the lives, of the Jews.
It can be a very effective tactic, and it has great appeal to megalomaniacs everywhere.
Of course, every story has two sides, and certain actions of the Jews have worked to their own disadvantage. Their belief, for example, that they are the chosen people actually serves to define them as Them.
However, this tradition also underlies their immense cultural loyalty, which is a positive. The Jews have survived when many other cultural groups did not, and this is the reason for it. They are actually one of the oldest surviving cultures on the planet. And, to counter their insularity they have reached out to others, as through their activism and philanthropy.
The problem is, if some elements of a local majority whip up sentiment against them, create volatility against them, there is little that they can do to stop it. Indeed, you might ask: could a group be so generous as to forestall bigotry? The answer is, perhaps, but that such generosity would be akin to ransom.
The problem, ultimately, is not with the Jews. It lies with the people and groups who create and use hatred of them, for their own purposes.
In the final article in this series, I will summarize the consequences of religious form.
© Roland Watson 2014