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23 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 1

Ah, the business of religion.

The studious folks over at The Pew Forum started looking under the hood of organized religion in America. What do you think they found?

Well for starters, they didn't look into religion because they were bored. They did at the behest of someone or some organization that thought they could benefit from the findings. As a non profit, you can be sure there was a charitable donation made to offset the trouble of constructing this study.

Religion has become one of the most divisive, controversial and polarizing topics of today. Why? How did this happen? Well, in the next few articles, let's take a closer look, shall we?


First let us take a look back to see how we got here.

re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn], noun; 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.

What may surprise some is that the origin of the word Religion as a label extends only back to the 13th century and is based on the Latin word re-ligare, which means to "re" (again) and "ligare" (to reconnect). Yes, fellow wordsmiths, same as in the 'thigh bone is connected to the shin bone' type of ligament. Religion, it seems, has more of a basis in connecting people than in dividing people, yet just the opposite is happening.

Religion has been a part of virtually every society throughout human history. And it is this fact that sets the stage for many if not all of the religious-based wars and skirmishes throughout history too. Kind of like the Pepsi sales rep trying to sell Pepsi in Atlanta, where Coca Cola is based; they should not be surprised if there is some push-back.

So even though the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews all have their feet entrenched in their belief system, perhaps they would be surprised to know that their chosen religions have more in common with each other than they have in contrast.

Besides all subscribing to similar versions of the 10 Commandments, all three of those religions make up 3.8 Billion followers of the Abrahamic religions, which claim Abraham aka Avraham אַבְרָהָם aka Ibrahim ابراهيم as a part of their consecrated history. Kind of like sports fans following the game of soccer because of a star like David Beckham, even if he also plays for a competitor's team.

Worldwide, religion takes on three main, often mutually exclusive, objectives:

  1. Religion "X" is the all knowing path to all things true - and therefore all else is untrue and stands in opposition.
  2. Religion "X" is a central part of the society's structure - like the Polygamists camps in Utah, the Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania, etc.
  3. Religion "X" is a path to a higher level of understanding of truth - which leaves open to interpretation, and intense debate, over exactly what is truth?
True is as True Does

Most truth is empirical in nature. I can touch it, so it is there. Bigfoot? UFO's? Talking bushes that are on fire? The evidence you can actually scratch and sniff is weak. So to believe otherwise takes a fair amount of trust...and faith. And the more we are asked to believe, the more trust and faith is required. Moses had a burning bush talk to him? (I will leave alone for now the research that suggests that Moses was actually under the influence of a psychedelic plant like the acacia and that he simply hallucinated the talking, burning bush). Coming back from being killed on a cross? Receiving 72 virgins after death? A day's worth of lamp oil lasting 8 days? In the absence of tangible evidence of the above, we - all of us - are left to decide if 1) we believe such stories based on our faith and trust in those that tell us it is true, or 2) we categorize such tales as superstition.

Religious leaders have long understood that we have this choice too. Which is why the Roman Catholic Church for example, considers that being superstitious is a sin and is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments which requires their God to be THE God, no questions asked. They claim it suggests a lack of trust in the divinity of their God and their Catechism (policy & procedure manual for Catholics) even calls superstition "perverse excess of religion" and "a deviation of religious feeling". Therefore, they have in essence removed the only other choice besides faith from their flock's decision making ability. Believe their stories, they are saying, or be cast out in violation of their organization's laws; laws written by their organization's founder: God no less. No pressure, huh?

Further to this holy pursuit of the truth, it is important to revisit the notion that there are those truth's that are strictly reality based and that exist and persist because people can not dispute their presence; i.e. it is daytime. Then there is the definition of truth that seeks to incorporate the thoughts, feelings and actions of those people describing the truth. It is here that we find the critical departure between what is (reality = truth) and what might be (objective reality = truth).

I submit to you that based on this, that the reported 88% of the world's population that claims to be religious must subscribe at least in part to the belief that truth is what they believe, and not necessarily what they can see.

So religion started out as a set of beliefs, defined by the needs of the society that we lived in. Maybe it involved a deity and maybe it didn't. People travelled and migrated in and out of other cultures with no real problems. It was a belief system that connected one another in a common purpose. In many cases as mentioned, however, that purpose also included the pursuit of a higher, as in unseen, truth. And the further down that unseen path each group got, the more they found their own truth (objective reality). And the more they believed in their own truth/objective reality, the more UNtrue other group's version of the truth became. And the more more untrue other groups became, the more territorial and intolerant religion became.

Yep, like it's etymological origin, there is a "connecting element" to this history alright, but unlike its original intent, it connects each instance to religion's predictable demise and not an eventual unification.

"The equal toleration of all religions ... is the same thing as atheism."
- Pope Leo XIII

And as you will soon see, history has dictated that atheists - and other non-Roman Catholics - should be labelled heretics and should be cursed.

In our next article in this series, Save Thee? Or Sell Thee?, we will further explore religion in modern times, Mega Churches, Spirituality, Prosperity Gospel and the business of religion.

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Dana said...

I've been looking forward to this series and knew I wouldn't be disappointed! Kudos to you for blogging about religion - it's a topic many won't touch - but one that has been responsible for much destruction and war. It needs to be looked at ... closely ...

Michael M. said...

Muchas Gracias Dana....I don't suspect everyone will like it, but perhaps it will increase some awareness of the role organized religion plays in promoting intolerance.

Please feel free to pass along the link to invite others to join in...

susiej said...

This is a favorite topic of mine... fascinating how truly political our religion is, and so much of that is swept under the rug.

Michael M. said...

Thanks Susie. Me too.

Stick around and pull up a chair then, it should get interesting.... :)

Talisman said...

Looking forward to reading more of this. I *love* talking religion with people who don't get their undies in a wad over disagreements.

Michael M. said...

Welcome aboard Talisman...

Religion has become such a polarizing, "bad" word to many. And like in other aspects in life, common sense has been bludgeoned to death; and the most forceful voice left (preachers, politicians, etc.) tends to influence to most.

Sad, really.

Tismee2 said...

Ooh bet you're ruffling a few collars with this subject!

Good on ya. It's a free country (it is isn't it? - or is that your next epic blog?) so why people can't just agree that others have different beliefs and ideas is beyond me.

I've already read No.3 so now off to No.2. Still makes sense though!

Michael M. said...

Gail: Haven't heard too much dissention yet...perhaps they are waiting until I wrap up or perhaps they are having a hard time disputing the historical evidence?

And it is a free country - too free maybe - which I will question in the next series about our borders being flooded with illegal immigrants. A whole new set of collars to get ruffled!