It is well known in polite company to not speak of certain topics – religion and politics being 2 of the ones I remember correctly. Talk about the weather, instead.
And yet somewhere in the recesses of my unconscious mind, I have concreted this. Someone, somewhere, once told me this was the ‘right way’ and I then, with no connection to whether that was my truth or not, agreed and took it on board. “Do not speak of topics that create conflict and discomfort.”
So now, I am challenging that part of myself.
With the onslaught of suicide bombings in recent years, it appears particularly prevalent in the past 6 months. Only a couple of days ago, there was one in Brussels (Belgium). A week ago, there was another in one of my all-time favourite cities of the world, Istanbul (Turkey). I was saddened and disappointed (& fearful for one of my friends who lives there), but I was mostly disappointed in the lack of Australian media attention. I wasn’t surprised by this, though. But not only that – suicide bombings in Paris (France), Ankara (Turkey), Beirut (Lebanon), Yemen, Baghdad (Iraq), Mali & Ivory Coast (West Africa), Somalia (East Africa), Tunisia (North Africa) and Jakarta (Indonesia) – all between November 2015 to now March 2016.
And that’s only the suicide bombings.
Most are ISIL-claimed, others are linked to other Islamic militant groups who are linked to al-Qaida. Some of the Turkey bombings were linked to the long fight between Kurds & Turkey & its neighbouring countries like Iraq and Syria.
The desire for war by ISIL confounds me – they attack not only Christians but Muslims as well. Civilians get caught in the mix, and they quite happily give up their own lives to cause terror and promote war, in the name of... something...
The immediate classification of all Muslims being extremists who want to cause violent destruction & suicide bomb ALSO confounds me. If this was the case, then there would be great chaos – as Muslims account for approximately 1/5th of the world’s population. I just found a facebook group called “Ban Islam in Australia”. And various meme posts on my wall about banning Sharia law. I’m assuming these people are lumping ISIL and countries with extreme ideas about Islam to ALL the rest of the Muslims in the world, otherwise we have a real problems in Australia with the general population being taught by the media.
A country where we can trace back the cause of the ISIL uprising – back to the Gulf War in the 90s and later, the 2003 hunt down of Saddam Hussein. What’s done is done, I’m not saying that it was all peaceful beforehand or that Hussein was a good man – but by far the biggest mistakes by the USA was the reckless war mistakes which cost innocent Iraqi civilians their lives and the insufficient rebuilding of a stable leadership structure in Iraq before shipping out.
Gone are the days of the Inquisition through mass invasion and torture – passed are the days of religious witchhunts and trials – now there are more high-tech methods to make your religious intolerance known. And not-so-subtle and individual means to force religious beliefs. We may be far better educated now, but we are still easily affected by emotion and threats. This may lead to possibly new ways being created to push religious fanaticism. Or perhaps not creative at all.
One thing remains: extreme and rigid, my religion or the highway, “this is the right way” attitudes all-round.
Fighting Over One and the Same?
My obvious confoundment is that Christianity and Islam were founded by the same religious roots, classified as Abrahamic religions branching from Judaism. Christianity and Islamic (& even Jewish) religions have such basic similarities such as:
- The belief in one God – a monotheistic religion
- The belief in Angels and Arch-Angels
- The belief in Satan
- The belief in Adam & Eve as the first man and women, kicked out of the Garden of Eden by eating the forbidden fruit
- The belief in heaven and hell
- The belief that Jesus existed (although differences in opinion about him exist)
Sure, there are also great differences between these religions such as references to different Holy texts, key religious leaders, places of worship and completely different rituals and celebrations. Rather than focus on their similarities – instead the media focuses on us versus them.
And do these differences create enough justification to reject the other faiths as wrong. Or start a war?
Each of the other shall be cast into eternal damnation, and denied a place in the eternal paradise of heaven. And it seems the same Lord (God, our Father, Allah, Yewah, YHWH, Jehovah) will rejoice when the other religious followers are cast to hell and damnation!
I detest most of all the ignorance and the righteousness to create an “us and them” mentality. In fact, some of the most hateful attitudes can be between the two major opposing Muslim faiths – Sunnis and Shiites. But don’t just categorise bomb technology to Muslim faiths only – the long standing fight between the Protestants and the Catholics of Northern Ireland had over 16,000 bombings or attempted bombings during its 30-odd years.
The Abrahamic religions are only one branch of the many possibilities of spiritual beliefs. Although, at this point in human history, the Abrahamic religions combined hold much of the majority of religion in the 7.5 billion people of the world (~54%). However, they do not constitute the only possible concept of non-physical and spiritual reality.
There are many choices available. Of the 12 main religions, there are Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. Then, there are the atheists, agnostic and general non-religious stances. There are many more including Spiritism, neo-Paganism and even newer religions such as Rastafarianism, Jediism and a favourite of mine, Pastafarianism. :-)
Religion is not necessarily only that which you were born into (i.e. someone else decided for you = indoctrinated). The pull towards a religion for you could be due to one particular aspect or many:
- One god or many, including hierarchies or the concept that god is not a separate entity but infused in everything
- A spiritual leader or idol, or even denunciation of a leader
- The option of an opposing deity
- The concept of a creation story and an explanation of what happens when we die, including reincarnation of the soul, rebirth or just one life (with or without judgement)
- A wide variety of rules, rites and rituals – spiritual practice, usually combined within a spiritual text
- A social order or spiritual community
And some choose to not believe in anything at all – or just not to know.
Religion acts as a way to understand that which cannot be understood. Possibly, in the times when schools and other educational institutes didn’t exist, it was a way to educate the uneducated masses.
But now we have schools.
All that remains for religion is to provide an answer for the unknowable. And a place for people to feel like they belong.
Moving With the Times – Fixed Religion is an Outdated Concept
Reading or watching religious propaganda bores me. When it slanders another religion – I am horrified. I’m not against the sermons or teachings, as such – in them can contain such wonderful wisdom and beautiful gratitude and faith. But to reference a holy text written thousands of years ago? What does the holy text tell us about the internet and smart phones, cars and the use of petroleum, climate change or toilets?
Whether it be the Bible, Qur’an or even Old Testament – it seems a bit behind the times. Sometimes there is great wisdom – and phrases like poetry. Other times, the statement is just plain outdated – possibly relevant only in a time of a few Centuries ago.
For example, I decided when I was 15 that I would read the Bible. The whole Bible. So, I started with Genesis and read on and on. It was a long read. Some stories were interesting, most were severely boring. I got to possibly the third book in the Old Testament – to a part where women are unclean during their menses and should be kept from the Temple for 5 days (or something) – and that was it! I couldn’t stand it anymore and that was the end of my reading. I didn’t care whether it got better or worse, I couldn’t read something so apparently sexist.
Perhaps, in those times, it was hard for women to keep themselves clean – where running water, sanitation trucks and sanitation product production didn’t exist. In such a different time from now, we are now far better educated about sanitation and hygiene. I’m sure a lot of the Christian or Jewish religions no longer abstain women from Church and other religious rites during their menstruation. But that begs the question – who gets to decide on what part of the Bible, Qur’an or any other religious text is still relevant and what isn’t?
Does the pope or the caliph or anyone else get a say what time you eat dinner, poop in the toilet or choose your life purpose?
It is time to move with the times.
Fixed religions and a ‘right way’, justifying religious based wars is an outdated concept – it is a thing of the past.
Once upon a time, in the middle of the 19th Century, the art scene in France was limited to academic paintings of portraits and historical/religious scenes – painted in a studio. Realistic painting was the ‘right way’. It took early Impressionists, such as Monet and Renoir, to start to shake those rigid foundations. The Impressionists wanted to express their perceptions of nature, rather than create exact representations. Ah, the outrage!
Over time (& a bit of persistence), the world changed and the art scene loosened up. In fact, now, art moves even beyond the social norms – expressing that which normally cannot be allowed to be spoken about in ‘polite’ company. Art has become a freedom of expression – a celebration of diversity.
And why could religion not be like this? Why not let it be a celebration of diverse imagination and faith – rather than a competition or a power game to be the leading religion and enrol as many sheep as you can. Instead a freedom of choice? The freedom to believe not only just one faith or none, but many simultaneously?
And with that, we can educate children on multiple faiths and religions – and let them decide. Instead of just learning one religion at school like a doctrine – why not learn the basis of many sparking brilliant imaginations? What is school if not an expansion of the mind?
There is a multitude of examples highlighting the brilliance of the human imagination through creation stories:
- Christianity/Islam/Judaism: In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. On the 1st day he created light and dark, day and night. On the following days he created waters, starts, land masses and all the animals and man until the 6th day, making man in his image. On the 7th day, he rested. Then, Adam & Eve were naughty and got kicked out of paradise for eating some forbidden fruit
- Hinduism (one of many): The primeval cosmic being (Purusha) is all that ever existed and will ever exist – being the origin of 4 kinds of people. Born from Purusha was the mundane egg (combined male-female energy), from which Purusha was born again – and the gods performed a worship, leading to the creation of all things from his body parts and mind
- Sikhism: an all pervading spirit (“God”) that has no gender, beyond time and space and without form, creating many worlds and life. When God willed, the entire cosmos was created and God nurtured "enticement and attachment" to illusion (the human perception of reality)
- Jainism: There is no creator, there is only the entity of loka (the universe), existing in various forms with no beginning or end. There is only the wheel of time containing all living and Heavenly beings, all subject to change and must eventually die – each working to attain enlightenment
- Shinto: The first 3 deities came into existence at the time of the universe’s creation, followed shortly by another generation of 2 more – Earth and Heaven. Seven more generations emerged, 12 deities in total with male/female pairs and brother and sister family structure. The last 2 deities mated and formed the islands of Japan, including a number of nature deities. Later on, from the gods, the first ancestors of the imperial family were born
- Pastafarianism: an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe after drinking heavily, causing a flawed Earth, with all evidence for evolution planted by the FSM in an effort to test faith (with his Noodly Appendage)
(OK, you may have realised by now that Pastafarianism is not an actual religion - but I still think it's cool).
Vivid creativity springing from the tension of the unknowable. Perhaps someone out there will create a gallery of paintings revering the world’s religious and local creation stories.
Or perhaps I just had a million dollar idea?
Follow Your Own Inner Truth
I don’t detest religion – I celebrate it. I celebrate the diversity. I celebrate the allowance of multiple religions, faiths, traditions and beliefs to exist in our world. I celebrate the freedom to choose whatever beliefs about our creation or our destruction- because we can never 100% know while alive on this planet.
I love learning about yet another creation story, about rituals and traditions that have been carried forth over centuries.
I don’t love the violence and the intolerance. The extremist, dogmatic, doctrinaire, inflexible regimes that are the shadow side of spirituality and its beliefs. The control and the denial of our humanness.
Religion is purely a man-made human construct. And you know what else is a man-made construct – science.
And like science, there is nothing wrong with religion. There is only the possibly of it being interpreted to suit the reader’s needs and wants. And sometimes, with religion, the underlying desire is there to defy social structures – create war, gain power, denigrate women and whatever else takes their fancy.
My point is not to reject religion. But I do say it is time for us as a human collective to stop looking at religion as our salvation, our avenue of hope. It is no longer the “right and only way”.
It is time to look within, to determine if what you are being taught is your own deepest truths – not some misguided morality from several millennia ago.
Go to Church and follow Christianity if that’s what you’re drawn to. Or go to a Mosque and follow Islam if you love it. Do both or neither – if it takes your fancy. In any of it – make it YOUR choice, not obligation, fear or a right to belong with your family or country.
Above else, do not fear a god that you know nothing about. Be alarmed, instead, that you have lost touch with the inner divinity within.
And no matter whether a religious sermon, scientific paper, political speech or new age workshop, never lose your connection to your own heart and your own truth.
The glory of your own heart is by far more powerful and all-encompassing than some holy text written and rewritten from an outdated time eons ago.
You would hope that the human race has gotten smarter – but maybe we haven’t.
The only place you can truly be a prisoner is the prison of your own outdated and unconscious beliefs. The part of you that sleeps, following like a sheep, being herded into ideals and concepts that hold nothing and will never be aligned with the love in your heart. That dreaded monotonous clicking of the ‘like’ button on facebook.
In your heart, there is no comparison – there is no us and them. There is only what inspires you, drives you and brings you joy. If you follow nothing else, follow that.