- Religion and Philosophy»
- The Role of Religion in History & Society
In sects we trust
At present a debate is going on in Godzone, and I use that word advisedly, about the teaching of religion in state schools. I shall immediately declare my hand by saying that I am totally against the teaching of religion in state schools. A course teaching respect for oneself and others would be something I would support, but not religion as it is too easily used to control people through fear.
There can be few things that divide people more dramatically than religious views and I don’t imagine many religious zealots ever grasp the inherent irony in that.
It has always baffled me why people who espouse such ‘good lives’ seem to think their own idea of piety entitles them to chuck tolerance and understanding of others out the window.
I know a small amount about the teachings of several major religions (I know; a little learning is a dangerous thing – but then I do like to live dangerously). From my general understanding, you would be hard pressed to find a religion that actually says it is a good thing to hurt others. Admittedly a literal reading of some selected tracts might give that impression, but when those passages are set in context, both historically and in terms of the narrative, they are more often revealed to be allegorical rather than literal.
It amazes me that people try and take a literal meaning from what are alleged to be the words of prophets, seers and sages (the angels of the ages) – with apologies to Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrine –Took. Anyone who has ever engaged with or even heard others engaging with a holy man will know that such people frequently use parables and allegories to make their point. And because most of the religious writings that are relied upon by the major religions of the world were all written a very long time ago, their parables and allegories are of the sort that would be readily understood by the people of those times.
Popular belief would have it that Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the people”. However as with many popular quotes this has been paraphrased and the editing has removed something of its true meaning. The precise quote was, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people" which I think explains a lot more about what he was actually trying to say.
I think he was actually saying that when people feel a deep sense of desperation they turn to religion for comfort. This is not unusual as most people I have spoken to or read of who have had a religious conversion have said that it came at a point in their lives when they had virtually lost all hope and were drowning in despair. This is of course quite a lot different from taking up religion to get one’s jollies and laying around in a pool of one’s own vomit as might be interpreted by the better known but abbreviated quote from Herr Marx.
However I don’t think Marx used the opiate analogy lightly because as we have seen throughout the ages, for some people it does have that sort of effect. The fact is that under the influence of religion some people get pretty fucked up. Take for example some of those fire and brimstone type preachers whose eyes are bulging out of their heads as they foam at the mouth and speak nineteen to the dozen (or in tongues). Likewise the behaviour of those who have killed others “because he/she was possessed by the devil” or who have gathered together armies to invade and kill heathens/infidels and forcibly convert them to their own particular sect.
Three obvious examples of this would be Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and Shi’a and Sunni.
Another man of German origin; Eckhart Tolle spiritual teacher and the author of a book called The Power of Now (which I must read sometime) came up with the memorable quote, “Man Made 'God' in his own image. The eternal, the infinite, the unnameable was reduced to a mental idol that you had to believe in and worship as 'my god' or 'our god'.”
I love this quote because I think it explains pretty well why there is so much argument around religion. It goes a long way to explaining how churches have managed to get such a firm hold on their parishioners. Everybody deep down wants to belong and those who don’t follow the leaders of their particular sect are made to feel like outcasts. Churches such as the Roman Catholics have told their followers that the head of their church is infallible. This means he cannot be faulted no matter what he might say or do, because he has been anointed as the spokesman for God him/her self. Anyone who challenges him is treated as an outcast. They are not the only ones to do this and similar charges can be levelled against most of the others.
This is where it gets dangerous and fanaticism finds a crack in the chapel door and shimmies its way in. The problem we have is that religious leaders are ordinary folks. Some of them make claims to divinity, but at the end of the day they are just as flawed as the rest of us and subject to many of the same pressures and a few more besides. It is little wonder some of them go off their rockers and others become drunk on the power of it all and start to manipulate their followers for their own ends. In some cases that manipulation does involve hands and their own ends.
Of course some very well meaning people get into the priesthood, but then some very well meaning people get into politics too and look what usually happens to them. Unfortunately as my mother used to tell me you are judged by the company you keep, and I would add that you are also influenced by the company you keep. Hang out with ratbags long enough and their behaviour will cease to alarm you and might eventually become acceptable to you.
I have nothing against people holding religious beliefs; in fact I would encourage it if that makes them more compassionate, more tolerant and more considerate of others. But let’s have a bit more peace love and flowers folks and no more outbursts like the one from that ignorant shite from Invergargoyle the other day. And let’s keep religious studies and observance out of state schools. There’s plenty of opportunity for the kids to learn intolerance at home.