1. Religion: A Social Problem

 

This little essay is about religion, but there is nothing in it that is critical of true religion. The devoted followers of the true religion know the Truth, believe in the Truth, and live by the Truth. Followers of other beliefs - to the extent that their religion deviates from the True One - are in error.

Consult the chart below. Look in the leftmost column to find the one True religion. You will surely spot it right away.

Religion

Believers

% of Human Race

% of Human Race in Error

Christianity

2,100,000,000

31.43%

68.57%

Islam

1,300,000,000

19.46%

80.54%

Secular/NonReligious/

Atheist/Agnostic

1,100,000,000

16.47%

83.53%

Hindu

900,000,000

13.47%

86.53%

Chinese Traditional Religions

394,000,000

5.90%

94.10%

Bhuddism

376,000,000

5.63%

94.37%

Primal, Tribal, or Indigenous

Religions

300,000,000

4.49%

95.51%

African Traditional

100,000,000

1.50%

98.50%

Sikhism

23,000,000

0.34%

99.66%

Juche

19,000,000

0.28%

99.72%

Spiritism

15,000,000

0.22%

99.78%

Judaism

14,000,000

0.21%

99.79%

Mormonism

13,000,000

0.19%

99.81%

Bahai

7,000,000

0.10%

99.90%

Jainism

4,200,000

0.06%

99.94%

Shinto

4,000,000

0.06%

99.94%

Cao Dai

4,000,000

0.06%

99.94%

Zoroastrianism

2,600,000

0.04%

99.96%

Tenrikyo

2,000,000

0.03%

99.97%

Neo-Paganism, Wicca, etc.

1,000,000

0.01%

99.99%

Unitarian-Universalist

800,000

0.01%

99.99%

Rastafarianism

600,000

0.01%

99.99%

Scientology

500,000

0.01%

99.99%

Totals

6,680,700,000

100.00%

 

If you chose Christianity as the one True Faith, then you will have to further select the One True Denomination from this list.

Now that the True religion (and perhaps the True Denomination) have been identified, we can proceed.

Tonantzin - Aztec Mother of All GodsAs I said, I write not of the one True Faith, but of the thousands of false gods, false beliefs, and false holy books. It is not blasphemy, after all, to be critical of false faiths. Take another look at the list of religions to the right. Notice that the number of believers is listed, as is the percentage of earth’s population they represent. If you are a Christian - currently the most popular choice, though Islam is gaining ground quickly - then you believe that over 68% of the people on earth are in error and bound for Hell. To the Buddhist, 94% of the world is lost and must endure more challenging incarnations on this dreary clod. To the Mormon, more than 99% of us are lost, though that inventive church has a provision for posthumous salvation of the ancestors of current Mormons. The plain fact is this: no matter which belief is the true one, between 68% and 99% of the human race is lost in error - though no one, of course, consciously chooses a false faith.Confucius

This is a terrible problem for the human race. Set aside the theological problem of finding spiritual peace and a satisfactory afterlife. Don’t even think about the possibility that the only True Religion might be an ancient and forgotten one, whose altars have crumbled and whose Holy Books have been lost forever. Do not reflect on the possibility that the really real, truely true religion has not been invented by or revealed to humanity yet. Consider only what a problem religion causes all of us in this new global society. You believe that I am the puppet of Satan and I believe that you will probably be reincarnated as a garden snail. I believe that you should spend more time meditating and fasting. You believe that I should attend your tabernacle services four times a week and give one-tenth of my gross (not net) The Buddha at Thikseincome to your local holy man. Each of us believes that his particular truth is obviously correct and that the other’s is fundamentally flawed. A statistician might point out that the odds are that both of us are wrong. He might say the odds are at least seven out of ten that a particular individual will not be born into or choose the most perfect of all religions. If you believe in statistics, you have to agree that it is probable that both you and I have chosen an inferior path and rejected the True Way. Is most of the human race lost? How can we find our way?

Fortunately, if we put this terrible problem under the Machiavellian microscope, the solution becomes immediately apparent. All we have to do is determine which religion is the True One, or at least the Best One. Then we can all join that One. But, you say, how can we spot the Truth Faith among all those false ones? Surely it will be an easy task to distinguish Divine Truth from manmade hogwash. Let’s think it through together. 

 

1. Look at the believers - Those who learn The Truth know about the origin of the human race, the meaning of human life, the existence of One or More Deities, the nature of life after death, and the purpose of the earth and all the cosmos. All other religions teach their false or inaccurate versions of these truths, but surely those followers of The One Truth would be head-and-shoulders above the rest in many ways. Their knowledge would surely give them many advantages in life. Like Harvard graduates, they should be noticeably more successful - by their definition of success - in society. The followers of the True Religion may not all be rich or powerful, but perhaps wealth and power are simply not interesting to the Enlightened (and in this way they would be unlike Harvard graduates). JesusThe Enlightened would surely be better adjusted to their lives. Psychologists would surely have noticed that - as a group - they have a lower percentage of mental illness than members of other groups. Mohammed as Imagined by a Western ArtistThey should be able to recover from bad luck, illness, or injury with more determination and skill than the rest of us. Their children would be noticeably happier and brighter than average, surely. They would handle difficult situations more skillfully. They might even seem luckier due to the invisible forces guiding their lives. The beliefs of the followers of the True Path would not change much over time. What was true a dozen or two dozen centuries ago should be equally true today. In short, because the believers of the One Truth are guided by a true wisdom, they would surely display some visible manifestation of that great wisdom in their lives. And surely the rest of us, who base our lives on inferior teachings, would be less adept at the art of living and thriving in this world.

Now, all we have to do is look around us and see which religious group’s members stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of us. They should be immediately noticeable to demographers and other social scientists by their superior adjustment to life. Their specialness should be obvious to us. Unfortunately, I can’t see such a religious group. Can you?

All religious groups seem - to me at least - to be composed of a familiar mixture of scalawags, good people, scoundrels, crazy people, bullies, sweethearts, wise men, liars, good cooks, wise women, sickly people, capable parents, homosexuals, religious fanatics, jerks, wife-beaters, martyrs, child molesters, stupid people, athletes, ungrateful children, leaders, followers, assholes, and other familiar types that we all deal with every day. None of the religions seem to be composed of people who are obviously smarter than the others, except for atheists and Jesuits - who do tend to be better educated than average.  Even the atheists look pretty much like Baptists six days a week (a comment that will annoy both groups). Other than that, the believers of all the various religions seem to be equally ordinary.The Godess Diana

 

2. Look for miracles - If we can’t find the One True Religion by looking at the various communities of believers, then we can surely spot the actions of the One True Deity (or True Deities) - those uncaused events we call miracles. Most religious groups cite a history of miracles as evidence of their specialness. Let us look among the various religions for true miracles. That will surely reveal the true religion to us. Miracles, unfortunately, have been pretty scarce in the past few centuries. Hands no longer write on walls, the seas no longer part, the blind do not see (they learn Braille), the lame do not walk (they take to a wheelchair instead), Zeus no longer flies to earth and impregnates mortal women (UFO’s do that now), angels no longer deliver golden tablets to the prophets of Mormonism, firewood no longer splits itself at the command of Buddhists, and Lord Ganesh, Remover of ObstaclesAtlantis defies Edgar Cayce’s prophecy by remaining “way down beneath the ocean.” It was written that Daniel was saved from the fiery furnace of Babylon by an angel, but the angel who was assigned to save Daniel’s descendants from the ovens of the Third Reich went AWOL instead. The walls of enemy cities no longer fall at the sound of the trumpet (we have to use bunker-busters now). The dead who once burst from their tombs to preach the Gospel now molder in their coffins, mutely refusing to testify. Altars no longer ignite spontaneously to confound the heathen. 

What’s even more irritating is that the miracles described in the holy texts of long ago left no evidence of themselves. The sea which parted then closed, washing away Moses’ footprints. The earth which instantly stopped rotating at the command of Joshua instantly resumed its rotation, and the smartest astronomers and historians cannot prove that it ever stopped. The golden tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni cannot be viewed in the great Tabernacle in Salt Lake because Smith gave them back to the angel after copying them.

The modern world is void of miracles and no CSI team can find the evidence of past miracles. While many of us believe in the miracles of our own preferred religion or tradition, we casually dismiss the equally improbable claims of other religions as childish fables or outright lies. Yahweh by the English Poet and Mystic William BlakeCan the stories of miracles all be just stories? How can one tell the difference between a lie in one Holy Book and the Truth in a competitor’s Holy Book?

 

3. What about the “miracles” of science? Science has never claimed to be a religion, but it is clear that the followers of science have accomplished greater miracles than any described in all our holy books. Scientists can bring rocks back from the moon, prevent tooth decay, destroy a large city with a single bomb, sort five million names into alphabetical order in a couple of seconds, make diamonds from coal, routinely resuscitate the dead, make the lame walk, invent a light bulb, clone a dog, take water apart, and put water back together again. The scientists who perform these miracles are not saints, though. They seem as flawed as any other group despite their miraculous inventions. Their big IQ’s and their highly specialized knowledge do not seem to make them into better, happier men and women. Their personal lives seem comparable to those of sales managers, airline pilots, and high school principals - nothing special. I have read biographies of great scientists whose families were made miserable by the great man’s presence, whose wives and ex-wives came to hate them with a smoldering rage, and whose adult children wouldn’t speak to them. Scientists - even many of the greatest ones - are as jealous as school girls over who gets the most praise, who gets tenure, who gets the largest office, and who receives credit for this or that. Many of them fake the results of their experiments to get published, though no one knows how many. Scientists as a group seem as eager to develop nerve gas or invent death rays as they are to create lifesaving vaccines, clean polluted rivers, or invent high mileage engines. Scientists will apparently do pretty much anything they are paid to do, as a rule, though there are distinguished exceptions to this rule. Science is a useful tool, certainly, but it does not seem to have much value as a philosophy of life or a religion.

 

Aten Egyptian Sun God4. What about Holy Writings? Is there a Great Sacred Book out of the thousands of holy books that stands above the rest in some way: language, style, history, grammar, literary brilliance - anything? Of course, the believers in each tradition assert that their holy book is the most remarkable and that the sacred documentation of competing traditions are obvious forgeries or lame imitations. Students of literature can admire a particular religious text for its style, and historians can note the social impact of the various holy writings, but scholars cannot single out a particular text as somehow special and distinct from the others. 

 

5. What about the “religious experience?” At least some members of most groups see visions, speak prophecies, and dream dreams, but I note that only Muslims dream of Mohammed, only the devotees of Shinto dream of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, only Christians dream of Jesus, and only Catholics dream of the Virgin Mary. Gods and goddesses seem to show themselves in visions exclusively to those who believe in them. Predictably, the gods do not converse with atheists. The whispered messages of the gods may be divine truth to believers but they are baffling nonsense to outsiders. Even believers cannot agree on the correct interpretation of the messages of the various gods, oracles, omens, tarot cards, tea leaves, and horoscopes. Some people have a conversion experience in which they receive the certain knowledge that a particular deity is the True One. Some atheists become Christians. Some Christians become Muslims. Some Muslims become atheists. Some Mormons become Catholics. Some Catholics become atheists. Some atheists become Spiritualists. The conversion experience does not seem to point toward any particular tradition or flow in any particular direction.Zoroaster at his desk - a 15th century painting by an unknown artist

 

In short, I can’t pick out a religious group that is conspicuously better than the others and I suspect you can’t either - if you are being honest with yourself. If there is a true religion among us, its followers don’t stand out by any measure. Each religious tradition may have its special charms, but each can be as vicious as its competitors. For as long as human history has been written, our many jealous gods have commanded us through their spokesmen to slaughter the followers of competing deities who occupy adjacent territories. The Jews killed the idolatrous Canaanites to make room for Israel. Later, the Jews killed the Christians when they started becoming obnoxious. Then Roman pagans slaughtered Roman Christians for believing in too few gods and an occasional Epicurean for not believing in any gods. 1st Century Roman Statue of Zeus As soon as Christians acquired power, they slaughtered Roman pagans for believing in too many gods and the occasional Epicurean for not believing in any gods - with equal enthusiasm. Catholic Christians butchered heretical Gnostic Christians for denying the Pope’s authority. About that time Mohammed invented Muslims, and they quickly began killing Jews. European Christians invaded the Holy Land where they could kill both Muslims and Jews while saving considerably on travel expenses. When Islam fragmented into sects, Shiite Muslims started killing Sunni Muslims to show them who followed Mohammed with greater sincerity. Later, Catholic Christians butchered heretical Protestant Christians for denying the Pope’s authority.

 In Machiavelli’s day, Protestant Christians invaded Catholic lands to teach the Pope a lesson, but they did not forget to have a little fun on the side, raping pretty Catholic mothers and daughters while stealing lots of Catholic treasure.

  In the twentieth century, even atheists managed to get their hands very bloody. When they ruled the Soviet Union, they killed millions of believers and fellow atheists with self-righteousness determination. Atheists aren’t put in positions of power very often, but they showed us that they could be as deadly as the most pious of saints - slaughtering their fellow countrymen as well as enemy soldiers by the tens of millions. Today, Sunni Muslims shoot Shiite Muslims using gunpowder invented by Confucians. Shiite Muslims shoot their Sunni brothers and sisters with guns invented by Christians or with car bombs planted in a Shinto-inspired Toyota.

 There is not enough room on the Internet to list the holy wars that our gods have led us into. The Tarot The current War on Terrorism is only the most recent of the uncountable religious conflicts that spill from the history books into our minds like raw sewage from a Chinese river.

 For some reason, none of our deities has the stomach to enforce His, Her, Its, or Their own laws, leaving that dirty job to human followers. Most religious groups feel compelled to force their theology into our codes of law, demanding that some of us cover our faces in public, close our liquor stores on Sundays, refrain from eating certain mammals, speak only approved thoughts, and snip pieces of flesh from our genitals. As long as the group in power is your group, you will be fine - but only as long as you stay in the good graces of its leadership. Because no religious group includes a majority of humans as members, the majority of humans will be oppressed by any religious group that happens to come to power. (Take a minute to think about this.)

  If we cannot agree on which religious belief is the best or truest one, and if none of us wants to be compelled to conform to the standards of a religion that is not our own, then how can our new global culture shape itself so that we can all live together yet refrain from killing and oppressing each other in a holy way?

 Can there be any other answer than simple tolerance? We must learn to accept each other’s nonsensical beliefs, accepting the faith of others with the same attitude with which we accept people who enjoy food that we don’t like. If you like Frito pie and I prefer tofu, why should I feel compelled to force tofu down your throat? Why should I have to listen to your long lectures on the virtues of Frito pie? Can’t I simply accept the fact that your taste buds and your mother’s cooking are different than mine? We have already established that the choice of religion is not about truth. It is about personal history and personal preference. It is a matter of taste, and - as we all know - there is no accounting for taste. We are all lined up at the buffet table of religion. Even atheism has placed a few dishes on that buffet. Each of us can choose the spiritual food she prefers. None of us should care that one chooses corn and the other chooses cake. None of us should berate - much less kill - the other for making her own choices. None of us should attempt to codify a preference for Frito pie into law while imprisoning those who like tofu. Neither should tofu lovers launch a holy war in which they invade the homelands of Frito pie lovers, killing every man, woman, and child who refuses to swallow tofu and tell us they love it.

 Live and let live should be our personal and national policies. Let each of us be true to her own self. Let each of us march to the beat of her own heart. Let each of us refrain from obnoxious public behavior concerning our many, many, many religions, gods, afterlives, paradises, revelations, dress codes, rituals, beliefs, and practices. Let our squabbling Gods fight Their Own wars in the Heavens instead of compelling us to do Their Dirty Work for Them. It is now time for us to teach our immature Gods a lesson in tolerance and in peace.

 

Give me your opinion: MidasJones@MidasJones.com

 

 

Religion: The human brain is apparently programmed by its own inner wiring and by the culture in which it grows to wonder about human origins, the meaning of human life, the ultimate destiny of the human race, and the meaning of death. No culture has ever been discovered by archaeologists that had no gods. Machiavelli believed that the purpose of religion was to keep the people obedient to the leadership of the political apparatus, and he preferred the image of a Christian warrior to the image of a meek, cheek-turning Christian saint. He never questioned the truth of the Gospels, though he often questioned the motivations of the Church and the character of its leaders.

He did not live in a global culture. He did not anticipate the problems of our time: many sects, cults, and denominations of many religions, all competing for control of society and for sanction of its own teachings as unquestionable. The modern Machiavellian must live in such a world and must find her place in it. 

This little three-part essay on the problems of religion is my attempt to stimulate your thinking about the social, personal, and psychological problems that the myriad of religions present to modern humankind.

The Gospel Truth

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