Religion is killing us. I’ve said that before and now it seems even-more true. Just take a look at the current events of the past 48 hours. A presidential candidate is questioning the First Amendment’s mandate of separation of church and state. After 11 years in Afghanistan, the people there are are rioting and killing because their so-called holy book was burned. Today Israeli officials say if they decide to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, they will do so without the prior consent or knowledge of the US.
The Israeli Torah is better than the Muslim Koran. But we Americans ‘know’ that the New Testament trumps every other holy book. Why? Because ‘they’ told us so. [expletive deleted]
Religion: How banal. How tribal. How deceptive. Yet today in the state just 5 miles north of me, thousands of religious adherents will cast their vote to nominate a theocrat for president of this nation. Yes, a theocrat. I do not have the time or interest in proving my point. Thousands of Michiganders though ‘believe’ that religion ought to mix in with government- that it would be best for The People to insert religious tenets into our Constitution.
If there is a universal [or multiversal] Deity, and the jury is out on that one, that Deity is in no way represented in these so-called holy books. It couldn’t be. A Universal Deity would not be represented as an earthly, tribal god. Or gods, as the reality plays out. This Universal Deity would not be masculine. In fact, not humanoid at all. The Universal Deity would not be emotional nor divisive. Yet we humans projected all of our fears and prejudices upon our tribal god and raised him to the level of Universal Deity. How sad. How scary. How tricky.
Author and bishop John Shelby Spong says in his newest book, Eternal Life: A New Vision, “Religious rituals were defined as part of the human need to deny, to cope and to pretend that all of these techniques are useful when reality presents us with something that is beyond our ability to manage emotionally.” He refers to that moment in time when homo sapiens at last became aware of their self-consciousness.
I had never thought about that moment those many millennia ago. What was it like? What was it like to look into a pool of water and realized it was I? Dolphins, elephants and some great apes know this, too, but they probably don’t know the rest of the story. The rest of the story is that at that moment we began to figure out that being alive was risky. That we died. That if we didn’t forage or hunt, we, too would be dead. And that the forces of nature were not always kind to the species. And the darkness of night. Much of all of this is retained in modern children- the childhood fears of the things that go bump in the night.
Life was a living nightmare at the moment that humans ‘knew about it.’ Survival was paramount. Gone were the days of unawareness. Spong believes that the myth about Adam and Eve actually tells this very story of enlightenment in the human species. Erich Fromm wrote, “Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.” The mythical Garden of Eden is a substitute for early human unconsciousness. We didn’t know what we didn’t know and that was bliss. But when we became aware, it was game-over! We were swept out of the ‘Garden’ and into the real and often savage world. No going back. Sin had nothing at all to do with it; religious shysters added that for control purposes.
I will never imagine the Garden myth otherwise; it was human awakening out of our animal slumber. No god, no serpent, no apple, no misogyny, no sin. Spong writes
If the species Homo sapiens had not found a way to lower the anxiety that self-consciousness brings and to transform it from chronic trauma into meaning and hope, I am not sure that this step, which we think of as an inevitable part of the evolutionary journey, would have been sustainable. From a survival point of view, it matters not whether that meaning and hope were real or delusional; they were necessary for the maintenance of human life.
To lower their anxiety, he said. Naturally, as my readers expect, religion was invented as that coping mechanism. “If God is an entity whose primary purpose is to still our trembling hearts, then can God really be anything other than a creature of our own making?” Spong continues, “Must this insight not drive us to the conclusion that God can no longer be viewed as anything other than a figment of our imagination, created in our own image for the sole purpose of providing a cushion against the emotional shocks brought on by self-consciousness and the knowledge of our inevitable mortality? No one can look openly at our human beginnings and not wonder in this manner about these things.”
No one except literalists. Or fundamentalists.
One final quote from Spong:
Is the very function of religion calculated to provide us with a believable denial of the angst that accompanies self-consciousness? Beyond those questions is the deeper probe into religion’s origins. Was the development of the various religions a human inevitability? Is the anxiety of self-consciousness so great that only the belief in the existence of an external supernatural deity, who has the power to come to our aid, will ever quiet our fears? Is God or is religion itself now revealed as little more than a human creation?
Great questions to ponder by those of us who are willing to ponder then rather than believing.
If Spong is correct, and I have no reason to question his motive, then religion was invented to quell our angst after we discovered that death is our final destiny. And that nature does not always work towards extending our lives.
Rather than the line I memorized back in 3rd grade, We were created in God’s image, the truth is exactly the opposite.
Returning to my thesis of burning all of the so-called holy books- why not? After all, they are not at all holy nor, I might add, wholly. They are a collection of man’s cumulative fears about life and especially death. A book of angst and fantasy ‘solutions’ to those fears.
Burn them all! Then, after the ashes settle, let us all probe the real meaning of life- to live it fully!