The Reality of Religions
Posted Jul 25, 2010
Religion is one of those subjects that seems so personal. The simple fact is that it has almost everything to do with when and where you grew up.
I grew up Jewish. One of my best friends was Jehovah's Witness. I dated a Mormon. We lived in a typical small Christian town. My studies in martial arts helped me learn a little of the eastern religions, like Buddhism, Taoism, etc. So I suppose it was natural at some point for me to wonder, which religion was right?
I went to the library to read about the old religions. Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc. Old polytheistic religions. But in the religion section, I noticed that the "old" religions were stuck under the title "mythology", a word meaning:
"A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes."
Coming from the word "myth", which basically means an untrue story. However, that definition looks an awful lot like a definition
"A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."
Well, that doesn't make any sense. Why is the story from one religion held as Truth, yet stories from others are labeled false? Who determined which religions were "myth"?
Note: We're talking specifically about what's labeled as "religious mythology". Those stories directly connected to religions, deities and their beliefs, such as the stories (or myths) of Zeus, Isis, and any other Gods/Deities. We're not talking about mythology in terms of raw fiction, such as vampires, or that lady at the bar that always seems to steal some poor fools kidney.
The more I looked at the way the different religions were classified, it dawned on me. Since I live in a heavily Christian-based society (The USA) it makes sense that Christians who developed the library classification system would not place these religions on equal footing, but relegate them to a corner. Of course, since almost no one in America worships, say Thor for example, obviously there's not much need to devote a lot of shelf space to him. So I can't say it's all been some devious plot.
But when we look closely at those old religions, and the societies they were worshiped in, we must understand that during their heyday, they were considered just as real as our current religions.
These and much more were all seen by living humans as being gods & goddesses. People constructed temples to pray in. Made offerings/sacrifices. Believed the stories of their gods (what we classify today as myths) just as much as many today believe in the stories of Yahweh, Jesus, or Muhammad. (Jesus, or Muhammad may technically be prophets, not actual gods, depending on the specific religion in question, but you get the idea.)
Then, you learn of the religious beliefs of people living in Asia, Africa, South America, and elsewhere. You notice how different they are, while they still try to answer the same questions (I.E. how did we get here? What happens when we die?) You follow the trade routes. See how natural societal interaction brought religions together and watch their affect on each other. (I.E. the Romans co-opting the Greek gods. King Henry VIII's creation of the English Church due to an argument with his priest.)
Then there's the countless variations of certain religions. A sin in one Christian church is completely allowed in another. Or worse, what was a mortal sin years ago is now perfectly fine to do. Is premarital sex ok? What about eating pork on certain days, if at all? These answers have changed depending on the year, or the particular neighborhood church. Yet they all claim to believe in the same god. Makes it a bit difficult to be sure you're not going to end up in hell.
So in a study of religions, we have:
- Multiple religions
- Multiple gods & goddesses
- Different religions based on location
- Different religions based on time
- Changes in edict & rules over the years within the same religion
- Different churches of the same god following different rules
- Religious text being interpreted in different and contradictory ways
- Religious acts used for political power
- Etc., etc., etc.
And as I learned about all these religions in all these places during all of human history, I find that the answer to my old question "which religion is right?" can only have one answer: None of them. Every religion collapses under the weight of all the other religions.
According to what I've learned, all religions are created for two reasons:
- To explain the unexplainable
- To make a template for passing on societal lessons (I.E. morals or laws) each culture wishes to teach their children.
There seem to be endless variations of those two issues. For example, in Buddhism, the concept of a god that created the Earth is hogwash to them. However, in general, those two actions listed above can describe every known religion that I'm aware of.
When we look at religion as a whole, we find a diminishing trend. There's lots of details but the short version goes like this: polytheism -> monotheism -> atheism (Although none of those will ever truly go away)
Basically all the ancient religions were polytheistic, believing in multiple gods/goddesses. Over the course of generations, they have been giving way to monotheistic single god/goddess religions. (Most of those changes came in the form of political actions, wars, societal changes, etc., not from improvements in communication with said deities.)
So today, a large section of the population follow some monotheistic religion. Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, etc. And today, many of those battle each other for supreme godly domination.
It is ironic that a path toward peace between the current religions can be found in the old ones.
Polytheistic societies didn't see massive religious wars within their groups. Those Romans that prayed to Apollo didn't war with the followers of Vulcan. They acknowledged each other, and even had stories that contained both those gods, plus others as well. Their religious battles only occurred with "outsiders" who refused to believe in their groups of gods/goddesses. Those that did even saw their own gods/goddesses welcomed into the fold with open arms. (Albeit arms holding spears)
In terms of peace & coexistence, what's the difference between a polytheistic religion, and multiple monotheistic ones?
So the path to religious peace is simple. Accept that others have different beliefs than ours. Enjoy their stories and teachings. But if they insist on trying to destroy your beliefs in favor for theirs, resist them completely.
Ironically this was my parents philosophy. They were completely comfortable with the other religions around us, and were perfectly friendly, until someone came to our door trying to give us a copy of the Watchtower. Then they were quite rude. But days later, you'd have thought that confrontation never occurred. They were again the model of acceptance and joy.
So, now I'm an atheist. However, I appreciate all
the religions for what they have to offer. I enjoy their stories, cultures, etc. I will never join any church, but many of my friends do belong and attend in various amounts. I would never consider telling them not to go. That would just be rude. Sure we'll debate and discuss religious issues. But I don't seek their conversion, nor do they seek mine.
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