FROM SPIRITUALITY TO FORM
By Roland Watson
I ended the last article by describing how some religions - this includes Christianity and Islam - have used the tactic of creating a common enemy against Jewish people. Moreover, the enemy tactic may be implemented in a number of ways. For instance, it often begins with labeling "them" with a pejorative name, such as Muslim use of the word infidel. Christians in turn have commonly labeled indigenous ethnic groups as heathens and savages, in part because they are unbaptized. Also, some Jews themselves refer to non-Jews as gentiles. As another example, far right Israelis demonize all Palestinians.
The use of force
Following from this, the enemy tactic proceeds to force. The hatred of them is used as an excuse for attacks. Indeed, it may even be necessary to fight a Holy War, to do anything at all to ensure the dominance of your faith.
What this shows is that religions are not above using a little violence, commandments and other ethical rules notwithstanding. In fact, probably a majority of all the wars that have ever been fought have had a religious component. Christ, the Prince of Peace, would be appalled at the violence that has been committed in his name. He would turn over in his grave, if he had one!
My apologies to Christian viewers. Christ, in his omniscience, "is" appalled. My apologies again. I made this joke, which will be viewed by some as a blasphemy, for a number of reasons. But one thing I want to make clear is that I did not do it to be vindictive. I have no intention to insult the Christian faith, and the many, many Christians who have performed good works, particularly all those who died in the process. Also, I will add that I have focused on the Christian tradition to a greater extent than those of other religions, because it is my tradition, the one I inherited at birth. Had I been born Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, I would likely have found more to criticize with them. In fact, I will offer a few additional critical comments on Eastern beliefs in the last part of the website.
Christianity and the dominance of the West
I would say, though, that as much of the modern social system is a product of the West, and since Christianity is the dominant religion of the West, it deserves great scrutiny. Religions in the East, for example, seem to be taking on aspects of their Western counterparts. They are sacrificing their humility to the idea that bigger is better. Also, many of their leaders have become corrupted and are pursuing lavish lifestyles. What this reflects is that the modern system co-opts all dissent, from individual rebels, to the family, and even to religion.
However, while I may not want to be vindictive, I do want to be strong. I am angry at this form, at this "cross" I have to bear. And, I believe that Christians, and the followers of all other religions as well, should also be angry, too: at all of the unethical beliefs and actions of their faiths. Such anger is completely justifiable. It is legitimate.
I am particularly angry at the Church for its totalitarianism. There is nothing more totalitarian than "infinite torture." In a dictatorship, you may be tortured, but it can only be for life: until you die. Under Christianity, for the mildest of sins, including the sin of free belief, which is also a crime in a dictatorship, you will be tortured, and forever.
The abuse of faith
Said another way, I get angry when people break a bond of trust, particularly a public trust, since such a trust grants them great power. When power freely granted is abused, when it is redirected back at us, by the police, or by any other institutional officials, including religious leaders, this is reprehensible.
And, it is not just Christianity. It is all acts of faith. I object to the entire facade: to the belief in prayer; in heaven and hell, and nirvana; to the belief that the Dalai Lama was reincarnated; and to the myth of Islamic martyrdom.
If you are a believer, I am sorry if I have caused you any hurt. I simply want to show you the power of the form that you have accepted, which in most cases was actually imposed on you in childhood. I believe my criticisms, and this joke, are the best way, quite possibly the only way, to get you to understand the seriousness of what I have been talking about. Behavioral form completely penetrates, permeates, and overwhelms our society. The only way we can change our behavior, and society, is to reject it, starting with the most powerful form - the strongest and most entrenched belief system - of all.
If you keep believing in a dogmatic faith, in something that causes as many problems as it solves, the problems will never go away.
To have as a cultural tradition the fact that you formerly accepted a supernatural belief is fine, and of great interest and value, and which can be viewed with pride. But, you should recognize that to continue such a tradition, knowing what we now know, while it is a decision that is completely up to you, is essentially insupportable.
Religion versus spiritual philosophy
In summary, I am an advocate of philosophy, not religion; of speculation and inquiry, not dogma. I also want to emphasize that the results of such inquisitiveness should remain speculation. They should not be allowed to become entrenched. We must retain our skepticism, and our wonder - the famous perspective of through the eyes of a child - as we search for deeper understanding. Anything that presents itself as truth, including my analogy about the ant-farm, should be subjected to the closest examination. We must recognize that as with any scientific theory, any such speculation will quite possibly fall by the wayside as further, more sophisticated explanations, even paradigm shifts, are developed or occur. Indeed, new philosophical speculation will likely follow, mirror, or even precede, new developments in basic science.
As this demonstrates, I am not "secular," at least not in a narrow sense, and I am certainly not an atheist. And what, after all, is atheism? Is it not believing in your god? You are the theist and I the atheist, which is a form of bigotry. Or is it not believing in any god, or creator? The universe is an illusion, and meaningless.
Both of these positions, theist and "real" atheist, are non-demonstrable. Agnosticism, accepting that we will never know the complete truth, but realizing that we can nonetheless use our abilities, our reason, to search for it, particularly for a workable purpose, seems the obvious alternative. To pursue such a search even appears to be a purpose in and of itself. The purpose of life is to search for its purpose.
In other words, you should experience life and as you do apply your reason to it. Combine empiricism - the scientific method, with reflection and insight, and see what you can learn.
The power of religious form
My final point about the power of religious form is that you know it - a form - is strong, if you cannot make a joke about it. I can also add, your form is really, really strong, if you get your own system of time! But, for jokes, there are lots of jokes about rabbis, priests and ministers. However, there are very few about mullahs. People are afraid of Islam. After all, if you say the wrong thing you could even have a fatwah, or religious edict, issued calling for your death.
Muslims are serious. They have been taught that the world must be conquered for Islam. This is a form. They further have been taught that if they die in the process, they will be "martyred" and immediately ascend to heaven. This is also a form, and a lie.
Let's be honest. No one who has committed murder - this includes all the extremist Islamic suicide bombers - is going to heaven. Can you imagine: someone who was murdered, meeting their murderer in heaven. How would that work?
However, one faction of the Muslim world believes this - all of the worst forms of Islamic conditioning - and so fervently, that many non-Muslims are afraid of the entire religion. Because of this, we look the other way when they practice the worst forms of dictatorship, intolerance and sexual discrimination, and we disassociate the religion from blame when these adherents commit terrorist acts.
On the other hand, and to follow up my earlier point about the wide variety of practices for any given religion, again, from the Washington Saudi Arabian Embassy: "Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith."
What has happened is that there is a fundamental split in Islam today, between fanatics and ordinary followers. As I said earlier, while non-Muslims certainly must oppose the fanatics, the primary responsibility for restraining them lies with the ordinary followers.
The last negative aspect of religious form is the high prevalence of corruption within any given faith, starting with its "spiritual leaders": all of the evidence that shows they care only for themselves.
Of course, this is not that surprising. Given the power of religion, it inevitably attracts people desirous of abusing it, and, it also leads to the corruption of many whom initially come to the faiths with a noble purpose. In addition, the leaders of all faiths have regularly conspired and intrigued against each other, to protect and increase their power.
Also, in the modern world the power of religion has come face-to-face with the power of money, and in many cases it has lost. Evangelists beg for money on the TV. Buddhist monks sell good fortune, even lucky lottery numbers. In fact, the whole set-up for religion is the best possible design for abuse. A religious "professional" is basically saying: "I can't work, since I have to devote myself to the spirit. And, you should pay me so I can do this, and thereby 'make merit.' And, the more money you give me, the more merit you make."
Religious leaders have even given us a new perspective on death. It is something from which to profit!
Finally, there is the common man. Not only are many religious leaders corrupt, this holds for many of their followers as well, from the so-called only on "Sunday Christians," to the many Buddhists who have forgotten their renunciation of desire in their lust to acquire the trappings of the modern world. You have to wonder, given all that has happened and all that now takes place, if in today's world Christ would be a Christian; Mohammed a Muslim; or Buddha a Buddhist?
Because of this, and all of the good deeds notwithstanding, the use of religious belief as a foundation for ethics is fundamentally flawed. Religion is based on mysticism, not reason, and as such it is a barrier to creating an advanced ethical system that is harmonious with our needs, and also those of the planet and other forms of life. Indeed, the essence of religion is that it has no faith in humanity. This is why we must have faith in the supernatural, and also why Christianity and Judaism require a savior.
This is defeatist, determinist, and totally unacceptable. We do not need a savior, or even God, to be good. Further, any services offered by religion can be provided without the religious aspect: the mandated belief. Religious charitable and activist organizations should evolve into general philanthropic groups.
In summary, anything that gets in the way of reason, including faith, will make a truly ethical society more difficult to achieve. Ethics must be derived from reason, not form. Religion is form.
Jesus, Moses and Mohammed worked out their philosophies with their reason, and in the context of the prevailing opinions - the forms - of their times. Because of this - these forms - they felt obliged to cloak their philosophies in voices from the supernatural. And, their ploy worked.
Their willingness to include such forms as attachments to their reasoned arguments made the latter more persuasive to the uneducated people to whom they preached. But now the public is no longer so uneducated. It is less willing to accept such forms. These religions, therefore, should update themselves. They should rid their systems of the supernatural and of faith, and instead focus on what they have to offer that is reasonable.
From spirituality to form
The record of the human experience shows a passage, from spirituality to form. And, this form was made up a long time ago, and it has been refined ever since. The need for religious solace is great, and it increases in intensity as you age: as you approach death. We must beware. This is one of the foremost forms that we must fight. These people are out to "pray" on you.
Please recall that your best defense is education. Beliefs in superstition are rife among the uneducated, but very few people with PhDs accept such things as astrology, channeling and ghosts.
For religious activism, if you are a believer, you should reject the us versus them messages that your religion purveys. Ask why such people are your enemies, and why they have to be converted. Your goal should be to reform your faith, to get it to concentrate not on issues that enhance its leaders' power and prestige, but rather on the real issues of religion and life: how to be ethical; how to help other people and species; and how to solve real world problems.
In particular, you should feel free to disagree with the leaders' views on intractable social problems. And, regarding the deepest questions of existence, you should encourage the faith not to concentrate on the fear and uncertainty of death, but rather on the celebration of the universe and of life.
Indeed, if you want to believe in a superstition, pick a fun one: be a pagan! Early pagans believed that the universe was the product of a primeval sacrifice, or of a union, usually sexual, between the gods. Following this tradition, but without the sacrifices, and with birth control, neo-pagans celebrate the Earth as the creator of and the provider for life. And this is a good religious form, one that you would do well to emulate. Revere the Earth, and do everything in your power to protect it.
Closing note: An extensive presentation of an alternative basis for spirituality is given in the final part of the website.
© Roland Watson 2014