By Patrick Brogan
Religion. Always an emotive subject. Religion and worship, in general, have been a huge catalyst in the human story and have been with us since prehistoric times. Like many aspects of human culture, it is rich and diverse and there is no black and white on its impact, although most religions would have you believe that is the way the world is. There has been many negatives and positives, but religions share one common characteristic; unquestioning loyalty.
The Need for Organisation
This may seem harsh and patriarchal, but it comes from a need that most of us can agree is good, the need to structure and organise society. Although peoples have always shared a common tradition and language, nation-states are relatively new with most tracing their origins back to the 19th century. Worship dates back before history, indeed, chimps may have their own sacred rights. So, what better way to structure a society than on religious grounds? Religions already had experience in organising people.
Religions were essentially the first countries. They had a centralised system, a capital, laws and a form of taxation in offerings. Not everybody would get behind sacred rituals especially if they were foreign ideas, so they had to be scared into worship. An all-powerful, unseen, but all-seeing, God was the best way to convince superstitious people they must follow a certain belief system. In a time without any scientific knowledge, this wasn’t too difficult to do. Conjurers played a role in this. Rather than rationally analyze a natural phenomenon like an eclipse, it was easier to say it was God.
This God had to be scary. Really scary. When there was a tidal wave it was God’s vengeance for some misdemeanor. Who could disprove it? It is at around this time that East and West split because the God’s of the East were not as petty.
Most religions preach tolerance. And the ones of the West by and large worship the same God. However, when you believe that your God is willing to punish every indiscretion and does not like to be questioned, it is too is easy for the people running this religion to say to question us is to question God and you have seen what he can do. The religion cannot be separated from those in charge and thus, these people become God. As they consolidate their position, it becomes natural that they put their own interests ahead of that of the religion or the people following it, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The natural progression in this pattern then is to view all other religions with suspicion, even if they vary from yours ever so slightly. The world centuries ago was a lot less inconclusive as a society and Europe’s population consisted almost entirely of white Christians. When the priest told you that Jews had horns or Muslims were hell-bent on taking over Europe, who was there to question them? Historically, Europe was segregated, so Christians did not talk to Jews or Muslims to find out if this was true. Plus, it would be seen as disobedience to do so. In time, these stereotypes became fact, passing from one generation to the next, one century to the next.
Look at the impact religion has had on science. Although there have been many monks and priests that encouraged science and learning, anything that contradicted the church’s view would not be tolerated. Copernicus and Galileo. Their writings, stating that the Earth went around the sun, and not the other way around, were banned. Galileo was tried as a heretic. So too would have Copernicus had he not died soon after publishing his work.
Ireland is actually a very good example of how the Catholic Church would not tolerate anything that was outside of its control. Although a Christian country and studying by and large the same scripture, the Catholic Church wanted to bring them to heel because Irish Christianity was run by independent monasteries. Rome wanted to crush this insubordination. This is why King Henry II was given a papal bull by the English Pope, Adrian IV. It’s funny how things change. Another King Henry, the 8th to be exact, rejected Catholicism and set up the Anglican Church, thus becoming one of the Pope’s biggest rivals. Meanwhile, the Irish remained loyal to an institution that legitimised English rule here.
The New Religion; Militant Atheism
I’m not one of these people that think religion is utterly useless. You would have to be pretty arrogant to assume that you couldn’t learn anything from institutions that have had thousands of scholars mulling over text for most their lives. Although most atheists claim to be people of science they are the new militant religion. They are critical of techniques they actually practice themselves.
However, I don’t believe anything is above being questioned, especially that which has influenced the direction of humanity for so long. There is a huge amount of arrogance in religion and that has come from not being questioned and it is this which has led to religion’s unpopularity in most of the West. Papal infallibility? Moses and Mohammed being chosen by God? If somebody came up to you on the street and told you how to live your life because God had told them, you would rightly tell them where to go.
Religion really should be about asking questions. The bigger questions. Also, it should be about challenging conventions. People sit in mass and listen to how Jesus kicked the moneylenders out of the temple. Then the service is paused for a monetary collection. The Catholic Church is one of the richest institutions in the world, who is going to kick the moneylenders out of that temple?
We know so little about the universe. Anybody who says otherwise is lying. This has been brought into focus more by the Rosetta probe this week. Science is a long way from understanding the workings of the universe, still, it doesn’t stop asking the questions. Religion should do the same instead of assuming it already has the answers. We shouldn’t be punished for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
Want More? We do the social media thing, too;