Why is "Religion so...... WRONG even NEGATIVE"?
Hi Grace Marguerite Williams! How's it going? Thank you for the question, "Why is religion so........... WRONG even NEGATIVE?"
To start with, I must ask rhetorically: Has it indeed been established that religion is wrong even negative? If so, when and how was this assertion established as fact? When confronted with a question like this, we must always start with the question: "Wait a minute, is that true?"
What happens when we try to justify an assertion before it has been established as fact? Suppose I were to ask the question: "Why is Santa Claus so jolly? What's he got to be so happy about, living up there in the frozen North Pole?"
What if one were to actually try to psychoanalyze St, Nick in this way, before even establishing his existence?
Now, what do we mean when we call an element "wrong" or "negative"? Well, we mean that it is not "right" or "positive"? When one says that religion is "wrong" or "negative," she is really saying the religion is not "healthy" for people.
If religion is something that is not "healthy" for people, then it is something that we should only engage with in extreme moderation at best, and avoid entirely if feasible.
If religion, or certainly "too much" religion, as the case may be, compromises the social health of human society-----then we can, at some level, identify religion as originally foreign to human experience.
Does that sound fair so far?
Now then, if we think of a thing as "wrong" and "negative" and therefore originally "foreign" to human experience, we must ask this question: Why, then, have human beings persisted with religion for so long, if it is "wrong" and "negative" and originally "foreign" to human experience?
What do we say about a thing which we know is "bad for us," but with which we persist with anyway?
What we say is that there is something "addictive" about that thing, which we know is bad for us, but which feels so good at one level.
We can re-work your question, Grace Marguerite Williams, like this: Why have people persisted with religion for thousands of years, even though it is so "WRONG even NEGATIVE"?
Which is another way of saying: What explains the five thousand year human addiction to religion?
This line of logic imagines religion to be an addictive substance, which was originally foreign to the human experience. Religion is this thing we tried, got hooked on, and have been "stoned on" ever since.
If this is true, then it begs the question: Who was our ancestors' "pushers"?
Would this mean that extraterrestrials were to humanity as a whole, as the British were to the nation of China, during the middle of the nineteenth century, with the so-called "Opium Wars"?
The bottom line is this: In order for the question, as worded, to even be subject to evaluation, one way or the other (yea or nay), we would have to first be able to establish that religion was something originally external to human experience. This is the prerequisite for making the question meaningful.
I don't think scholarship can make that case. In my opinion, the history and anthropology show the exact opposite: that religion was intrinsic to the transformation of our species into our modern form, from one-hundred-fifty to one-hundred thousand years ago; and has been intrinsic to the human experience ever since.
I talked about this, at some length, in another piece for Hub Pages called "Religion and Human Experience: A Speculative Essay."
One might be tempted to throw out things like: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witchcraft Trials, and "Islamic Terrorism," and so forth. One might be tempted to say that the suffering that these events have caused, are indicative of the way in which religion is so "WRONG even NEGATIVE."
But what I would say to that is this: Those events are all political not religious, not generated by the text, not generated by any doctrine directly lineal to the texts---whether we're talking about Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.
Question: But you got to admit, human history would have been happier without those events, and those events would not have happened, were it not for the existence of religion.
Reply: In order to be able to reasonably make that statement, we must deal with the relationship of religion to human experience. Was the former intrinsic to the latter or not? If it was not, then we might say that it is regrettable that we human beings ever picked up the "addiction" of religion. If, on the other hand, religion is and was always intrinsic to human experience, then what? Should we have excised religion from our psyches, somehow?
Question: I want a straight answer out of you! Do you deny that if religion had not existed, humanity would have been spared the suffering caused by the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witchcraft Trials, and Islamic Terrorism today?
Reply: Alright, for you I will allow this short-circuiting of logic. Let us suppose that no religion had existed on the Earth. Stay with me now, but it is not entirely clear that if religion had not existed, that religion would not have come into being----which is another way of saying, "If religion didn't exist, it would have to be invented." Also, religion seems to come from a variety of what we might call, "psychic sources."
Question: That's two things, right? One: "If religion had not existed, it might have come into being anyway---at least it is not clear that the non-existence of religion, would have permanently prevented the manifestation of the social and cultural phenomena. And there is not necessarily one source where religion comes from, so that we do not from whence it may have assaulted our species.
Reply: That's right, you got it.
Question: You're making my head hurt. You know what to do.
Reply: Well, religion is not purely a matter of doctrinal faith, is all I'm saying about the first point. It is also a shaper and preserver of cultural identity. It is perhaps The means by which human beings were able to separate out of the primordial, undifferentiated mass, and start to make identifications of 'we' and 'they.'
Look, its like this: "God" was not kind enough to deposit us human beings on this Earth, with proper labels, maps, signs, directions, and specifically laid out domains. He didn't drop one group down and say, "Okay, you guys are 'Nubians,' and you're gonna hang out around central Africa. Africa is the continent shaped like a shoe-horn down there. See it?"
Human beings didn't get anything like that. Identity is something we have had to create. The Jews, for example, were perhaps the world's first people to be bound together by a common faith. This common faith and cultural practices is the central reason that their identity did not fade away, in the way of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Amorites, Phoenicians, Sumerians, Amalekites, and so forth.
For the Jews, then, religion defined "we" and "them." Whatever else religion is, it is a kind of identity-glue or identity-cement.
And speaking of identity-glue or identity-cement, you should know that the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was a political exercise in fostering and strengthening Spanish national identity. It was felt by the crown that the way to build a modern, strong, cohesive nation-state, you had to have, at its core, a unified religion around which to rally----politically.
The Spanish Inquisition, according to scholar Joseph Perez (author of The Spanish Inquisition, translated by Janet Lloyd), the Inquisition was about the crown's efforts to demonstrate to the populace that the Jews---specifically the "conversos" (the Jews that had duly converted to Catholicism)---were "A-Okay," keeping their noses clean, as it were, and not secretly "Judaising."
"Judaising" meant that a converted Jew would publicly proclaim Catholicism, but behind closed doors continue to practice Jewish ritual. The Inquisition was the crown's effort to keep the country from being torn apart over the question of the Jews (specifically the "conversos"); in other words, it was a political act to maintain and strengthen national unity.
Reply (continued): Is that quite clear?
Question: No but why don't you move on to the second point?
Reply: About "religion" having many, multiple, and unpredictable sources of manifestation?
Question: Sure. By the way, we're putting religion in quotes now?
Reply: Why not? You italicize and I quote---tomato. Tom-ah-to. Anyhoo.... take Christianity. Where did it come from? Isn't fair to call it the abstracted, virtualized, and therefore theological repackaging of the Jews very concrete, practical, flesh and blood hopes for liberation from the relentless oppression and despotism of the Roman Empire?
Question: Is it?
Reply: I certainly think so. What did the Jews want? They wanted to be free of Roman tyranny and to return to a restored Jewish kingdom of Israel and Judah. And they wanted to be led by a genetic descendant of King David. The historical Jesus fit the bill, did he not? But this hope became abstracted and virtualized; so that Jesus was no longer so much of a temporal leader (warrior), as a spiritual one (Christ); and his job was no longer to lead the Jews back to the Earthly kingdom of Israel, but to a "Heavenly" kingdom; and it was not just the Jews any longer, but all people, much of whom were represented by the subjects of the Roman Empire.
It seems to me that this hope became abstracted and virtualized, as the concrete hope for a practical Jewish restoration to an Earthly Jewish kingdom receded further and further away.
Question: Tell me, teacher, why then didn't all of the Jews convert to Christianity?
Reply: I don't know. I guess many of the Jews refused to give up the concrete hope of a practical Jewish restoration. But the phenomena of what is called Christian Zionism, is striking to note, is it not? As you know, Christian Zionism both strongly pro-Israeli and profoundly anti-Semitic. For it says that the Jews must have possession of Israel-Palestine, so that Jesus can return and save all humankind; but that at the point of his return, the Jews must give up or renounce their Jewish-ness, in order to be saved as well.
What we can say, therefore, in a weird, twisted way, to be sure, that Christian Zionism actually justifies the Jewish split over Christianity, on a temporary basis.
Reply (continued): Finally, as you know, Christianity's origins differ from that of Islam. Islam was revealed as a series of otherworldly auditory inspirations which struck an Arab businessman called Muhammad. The entire Koran was given to him in this way, from On High, as it were.
We cannot really identify any such transcendentally-directed source, in the case of Christianity. Yes, there was Moses. But, as I understand the matter, his only revelation lead to the Ten Commandments, in addition to the miracles which allowed him to secure his peoples' release from slavery in Egypt, and so other "signs and wonders," and so on and so forth.
Okay, that'll do it.
Thank you all so much for reading!
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