The recent avalanche of faux Religiosity (as opposed to true Spirituality), as well as the endless God-and-Bible-Speak of the recent Presidential “debates” has really set my teeth on edge. The idea of religion being used to serve a political agenda was never a good one – as the Founding Fathers made perfectly clear in their determination to keep Church and State forever separate.
If you’re a reader of my blogs or books, you probably know by now, that love of God in His/Her many guises plays a large role in my life, so perhaps I can tell you what’s on my mind without being labeled an atheist or agnostic. It saddens me that God, Allah, Jesus, et al, have been used so often over the course of time, as an excuse for reprehensible acts of godlessness. Pogroms, Crusades, Torture, Inquisitions, Wars… so much suffering has been perpetrated on humanity by those who claim God on their side, it must make Creator wonder why He/She bothered with us in the first place.
Just as so many have been called heretics, who later were recognized as saints or sages — Joan of Arc, Galileo, Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Kung, the IHM Sister of Los Angeles and Jesus of Nazareth spring to immediate mind – so perhaps I can be forgiven for the conviction that most organized religion shouldn’t be accepted as gospel, nor should it be confused with anything God would ever have had in mind. Religious organizations are run by men, not by God, and men are notoriously fallible.
The Founding Fathers, God bless them, went to great pains to separate Church and State. Just imagine how lovely life would be if all the Muslim countries of the world, the Northern and Southern factions in Ireland, the Israelis and Arabs, the Shiites and Sunnis, and a vast number of other age-old religious/political rivals could do the same. If separation of church and state were the universal mandate, maybe everybody could stop using God for political gain. No more Jihad, fewer terrorists, no more need to blow up anybody for Jesus or Allah.
Fundamentalists of any stripe scare the hell out of me. So called “Christians” who bomb Planned Parenthood clinics, Muslims who are taught to kill for Allah, people who think they can trash the environment because the Rapture is coming and there’s no future for the planet anyway, children being trained for Holy War in Jesus Camps, etc., etc. – they all scare me to death, because they let other people do their thinking for them. Because their leaders invoke the “faith” card any time rational intelligence interferes with dogma or agenda, they can be manipulated, either by fear of Hell or promise of Heaven, toward acts that normal human beings would never sanction, were it not for the agenda-based “faith” they’ve been brain-washed into accepting as “the word of God.”
Faith in God, Not Faith in Dogma
Faith in God is not the same thing as faith in an organized religion. All organized religions are run by human beings, who, as we all know, are prone to making self-serving mistakes.
I can’t claim any degree of expertise on other religion’s holy scriptures even though I’ve read most of them, but I suspect they all have quite a lot in common with the Bible, and that I know quite a lot about. So I’d like to use it as an example of how taking an ancient document literally, without understanding that it’s content must be filtered through the eyes of a time vastly different from the one in which it was written, can lead to absurdity, hypocrisy and irrationality.
The Bible is a history of the Jews that’s been translated, misinterpreted, edited, altered to serve umpteen agendas, and re-invented by Kings and Conquerors from the Council of Nicea, through our current century. So for any who consider it the unquestioned word of God, I’d like to bring up a few issues recently sent me in a hilarious e-mail that pinpoints just a few of the problems that arise with taking the Bible as Gospel. (I do wish Anonymous would start signing his name so I could attribute this correctly):
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. Does this apply to Mexicans? Canadians? Aleutian Islanders? If I can see Russia from my porch does that make them fair game? Can you clarify? I’ve spotted a Canadian I’d really like to purchase.
2. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. I feel morally opposed to killing – could I just smite him a few times, instead?
3. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Leviticus 11:10– it is a lesser abomination than spilling seed like Onan did. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
4. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to wear reading glasses to read the Bible. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
5. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, but can the kids still play football if they wear gloves?
6. Wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (like a cotton/polyester blend?) violates Leiticus19:19, but I know a lot of people who do that. Do we really have to get the whole town together to stone them or could we just insist they see a fashion consultant?
7. Timothy 2:11 “I will not permit woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” Did God have just one particular woman in mind here, or do all our local female teachers have to leave their grade schools immediately? As to keeping silent, is that even physically possible for a woman?
Obviously, these are just a few examples of the absurdity of taking every word of the Bible literally. Admonitions like those stated above were obviously local laws, based on the tribal needs of the times. They were not meant to be taken literally, or carried into 2012 as Gospel.
Guidelines – Not Rules Engraved in Cement
Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at Sacred Scripture as a guideline for a needed moral code, not as literal dogma? What’s considered Holy Writ has been morphed so many times and for so many political agendas, it isn’t what it was originally, anyway. If only we could read both Old and New Testaments to sift out the nuggets of brilliant wisdom about the human condition that are relevant to our times and to all times… like the 10 Commandments, and the Beatitudes… wouldn’t the world be better served by following the spirit of the law, than the letter of it?
It’s impossible for me to believe that God could be so petty, narrow minded and brutal, as to want us to abandon common sense and all the progress of 5,000 years, to impose the literalness of what was written in scripture thousands of years ago, on our lives in 2012. Wouldn’t a just God have cognizance of the needs of our modern world, the breakthroughs of science, and the vast changes in our social and cultural landscape that have evolved in the five millennia since these scriptures were written? Surely, it’s the spirit, not the letter, of the laws imposed in these revered documents that serves God best.
What Would Jesus Do?
Having said all that, I’d like to talk about Jesus, who seems to have been co-opted by the Fundamentalist Christian Right, as if nobody else on the planet ever had a personal relationship with Him. How could you not have a personal relationship with Him? He was a champion of Women’s Rights, a radical thinker who threatened the established order of both politics and religion, He loved children, fought for the poor, fed the hungry, healed the sick, opposed war, turned the other cheek on violence, cared not a fig for religious or political institutions, changed the rules of the game of life and gave us a kinder gentler paradigm for God.
What’s not to love?
What He didn’t do were any of the horrors that have since been perpetrated in His name by religious institutions with power-bases to protect. To wit:
• He was not prejudiced against anybody (although He didn’t like the money changers in the Temple all that much so I’m not so sure what His position on the Wall Street Bankers would be!).
• He did not sponsor pogroms or Crusades.
• He did not say women were subservient to their husbands, instead He passed His major secret teachings to his wife, Mary Magdalene.
• He was not simply a Jew, but an Avatar, who came to teach transcendent Truth to people who sought true spirituality, not mere dogma.
• He did not wage war in God’s name, or preach anything but peace and love.
I think I knew Him in a long-ago life, I’ve certainly known Him in this one, so I feel I have the right to speak out. “What would Jesus do?” it asks on a million bumper stickers. The answer seems so clear: He’d do everything in His power to heal the world, protect the planet, give equal rights to all humanity, share the wealth, protect the beasts and children, end all wars. When asked by the Pharisees for the Whole of the Law he responded by saying, “Love God. Love your fellow man.” It doesn’t get more profound or succinct than that.
If all those fundamentalist religions have been waiting thousands of years for the Messiah’s return, maybe they should all stop quarrelling about whose orthodoxy is the best orthodoxy, and put their heads together to start making this world a place He’d want to come back to.