February 9, 2006

On Religion

Posted in Rants and Ruminations at 11:17 am by jyesis

I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field of theology, but with the current state of world affairs, I think a little discussion of the benefits and flaws of organized religion may be a good thing. I say “organized” religion to distinguish socio-religious organization from individual or communal spiritual quests. It is not spirituality I question, but the physical entities that have arisen in it’s name. Religion is a framework in which spirituality can be developed. As with many manmade creations, however, it is too easily abused. Organized religion does not require spiritual depth or even a desire to develop this depth. It merely requires faith and specific behaviour. This is not to say that organized religions mean to do harm, or even that harm is an inevitable result of organizing the human spiritual quest. The vast majority of world religions will accept any person who is willing to (at least in name) proclaim certain tenets. Religion is a great motivator of people and provides a strong social conscience to many who are seeking to better develop their own mores and values. If religion (by which I still refer to organized or semi-organized religion) were to limit itself to the spiritual, it would indeed be the driving force for “good” that it believes itself to be.

Unfortunately, religions rely on “leaders” to interpret messages that were designed to communicate tolerance and peace. These leaders too often have political, physical, and economic interests that conflict with the deliverance of an unbiased message. Even if it is not their intent, the conflicts of interest that arise when the powerful disseminate information to the weak can lead to the dilution or distortion of an otherwise pure truth. In many arenas, this would be viewed as it exists. For instance, we often expect our political leaders to be corrupt and to distort information to better affect their own interests. Why then, do we not view our religious leaders the same way? We see the flaws in the leaders of “other” religions or sects all too clearly, yet we blindly follow the guidance of our own with very similar results to those we criticize. This is evident at times in other arenas, albeit to a lesser degree and with more debate. In politics, for instance, a person may believe that one specific leader can “do no wrong” as it were, but others within the same political party will freely criticize specific decisions of the same leader. This makes it difficult for political leaders to achieve power over a “critical mass” which consolidates power to such a degree that they engender the same fanaticism and narrow focus that religious leaders so often create.

The “obvious” cause is the “faith” of the followers. The vast majority do not have faith in our political leaders to do what is “right” all the time, or even most of the time. Our religious leaders, however, have (in theory), reached their position by demonstrating in both deed and word their commitment to the tenets of their respective religions. Add to this the unifying nature of an old saying….

“Me and my brother against my neighbor. Me, my brother, and my neighbor against a stranger.”

There are other variations on this saying, but the concept is nearly universal. It allows for sects of the same religion to fight each other and yet unify to fight an “outsider”. Faith, plus a unifying doctrine makes for a mass of people who are willing to die for what they “believe”. When that outsider is designated an “enemy” by religious leaders, followers extend the faith in their religious beliefs to faith in the “righteousness” of a political cause. God ceases to be the driving force in believer’s lives (although his name is used and abused more than ever), while the eradication of the outsider and the support of religious leadership is seen as a duty. Leaders transition from having “earned” their position from faith, word, deed, and sacrifice, to having been “granted” this position by divine mandate. This transition is often subtle, but the leaders are given the symbolic power of the entire religion. This has nothing to do with spirituality, and everything to do with power and intolerance. Both sides argue for their religion and it’s values, and swear that the “other” is the antithesis to all they believe. Extremism drowns out the quiet protest of the rational and the messages of God are placed second to the “interpretations” of religious leaders. So begins the jihad/crusade (circle one).

So what’s my point? Merely that each of us needs to consider, meditate, and pray on each word and action we do or neglect to do in the name of our religion. The world teeters at the brink of the next world war, crusade, or both. To ensure the peace and tranquility that is conducive to meditation, prayer, and spiritual development we must disassociate ourselves from the “name” of our respective religions and dedicate ourselves to the underlying tenets rather than the message of the day. The vast majority of religions advocate peace. It is strange, that these same religions are the cause of so many wars, and so much repression and destruction. It is time that I stop rallying to my neighbor’s cry of “foul” and start studying the message of God for myself. Let us rally instead to a new cry – that of a common need to develop our spirituality in a safe, quiet, and peaceful world. Rally to the cry of peace and turn your back on the power games that have overtaken organized religion.

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