Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Understanding "why" religions "exist"

I heard someone kind of stumble through a bit of a debate with a talk show host today and during my listening I heard the caller make the same old error in both facts and logic that you all are dealing with in the past two generations. In fact, this error has been taught in schools, so you are not alone in hearing it and taking it for granted. Here is the statement that is not factual or logical:

"Religions were developed by humans in order to make them behave in the way the society feels is proper."

Um....nooooooo, that's so wrong that it doesn't even pass the first and simplest criticism.

But before I shred the facts and logic, let me tell you the proper statement that is factual and logical, and thus you can follow my critique and criticism more easily. Here is a factual and logical truthful statement:

"Religions were developed as a means to interact with divine forces. A true religion is one based on actual interaction with the actual one and only God. A false religion is one based on presumed interactions with divinities that in actuality do not exist."

Here is the first and simplest way to totally refute the first statement and prove the second statement. What part of the pagan religion of the Greeks and Romans (worshipping the various gods of Olympus such as Zeus/Jupiter, Hera/Juno, Mars/Ares, etc) is an attempt to codify good behavior in humans? *tick tock tick tock tick tock....ring ring ring!* That's right: absolutely none. The pagan religions have two purposes and thus two activities (the "what" and the "why"), and one purpose/activity (the "what") is to tell stories (mythologies) about all the things those rascal gods are up to: sex, booze, jealousy, warfare, lots of lying and deception, tons of coveting, etc. So the Greek/Roman religions were filled with voyeuristic watching, through stories, of the shenanigans of the gods, and were certainly not templates for human behavior, and not even an idiot would have written down those mythologies claiming they inspire righteous behavior.

The second component, the "why" of those Greek/Roman beliefs is that they feared the world, which they did not understand, and so they projected (a human psychological term) their own "what if I were a god" thoughts upon the supposed supernatural forces. Ancient story tellers and elders would have thought of, using what they thought were reasonable assumptions, that gods were just like humans but much more powerful, and thus they organized their thoughts about the supernatural to resemble what "all powerful" human families (aka syndicates) would act like. So the "why" is that if gods were just like humans but with hair trigger anger and lots of gift/punishment ability, let's set up a system to worship and appease them with sacrifice and flattery.

So this is the easiest and most obvious way for you to see that for centuries, and indeed thousands of years, false religions developed because humans started with the "what you see is what you get" notion of a template for the so called gods and goddesses, which is what "we humans do here on earth, well, they must do the same thing but on a super scale 'up there.'" That is the opposite of a religion being developed to codify righteous behavior, because false religions imagine that gods are just like humans but "more so."

Now let's look at a shade of gray area, which is Hinduism. And remember, as I've stated before, I've never criticized sincere traditional follows of any religion, but I will point out error (and have done so including in my own religious institution (not the doctrine) of the Catholic Church.) So here is the problem with Hinduism: what part of the most rigid caste system ever developed among humanity is a "way to make people behave better" or be more righteous? None, of course. However, you do start to see how even in religions that contain error, the impulse to understand and cultivate goodness is there, and that is why the erroneous but understandable principle of karma and/or reincarnation came into being. So Hinduism is like a blending of the two "whats" about why a religion is developed, why it comes into being: one part is the what of imagining that there are multiple gods in human like family groups with sex, war, coveting and so forth, and so sacrifice must be made to them because they will be angry, or to gain favor, but there is also the second part which is an attempt to interact with divinity by being good, and thus through some un-understandable way receive good karma and better reincarnation.

I explained that the Holy Spirit of the one true God does indeed move among all people of the world, all the time, believers or non-believers (more urgently in the latter, obviously), in order to make the true one God known. Likewise people reach out to the "spirit," knowing in their hearts that there must be some ultimate goodness, even if it cannot be seen. In this effort the people who first codified Hinduism felt a touch of the Holy Spirit and interpreted that in some unseen way one does live on forever based on good behavior.

Buddhism is a prime example of what I am saying, even though people who don't give it much thought ascribe the first hypothesis (the erroneous one) to its existence. People have a reflexive, and understandable, though wrong, thought that since much of Buddhism is about goodness and good behavior that it must have developed for that reason. Well, the history shows otherwise. People, including the Buddha, do not meditate in order to come up with a list of good behaviors and thus "invent" a religion! If they wanted to "invent" a religion they would consult lawyers, judges, elders and so forth and have a list of do's and don'ts. No.... a person who goes into a contemplative life, one filled with meditation, is not trying to come up with a list of do's and don'ts, but is trying to communicate with divinity. So once again, like the Hinduism, Buddha and the early Buddhists touched some aspects of the Holy Spirit, but did not discern the presence of the one God. A key difference is that we know that the Buddha had disciples who wrote down his thoughts and thus created a system for passing on and amplifying the insights and conclusions of his meditations. Again, that's further demonstration that the Buddha's disciples were not setting out to "invent" a religion to "control" or encourage good behavior per se, though they were obviously pleased at whatever work they did that did so as a result.

So here is how you can now turn to the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and easily understand they were not "developed" in order to "make people be good." God initiated conversation with Adam and Eve when they were in Eden, when they had "everything," when they had no need to be "good." God started "talking" to human beings directly at a time when God provided everything for them, not when they were lawless and needing "goodness." A true religion arises (as distinct from being developed or invented) when humans have authentic communication with the actual one true God.

The caller argued that Judaism/Christianity was "invented" when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Um, what? That was thousands of years after when God first made himself known and had many, many, many generations of interactions with believers who had a genuine relationship with him. Um, the religion had already come into being at the first moment of genuine communication with the one true God, well before God responds to the needs of humans in order to serve him (not in order to be "good") by giving them his Laws.

Remember, humans were already "good" because they were created by God, and all his creations were deemed "good" by God. So there is a vast difference between "good behavior," which should be the desire of all people, and "knowing and serving God," which is the purpose of true religion of the true God.

Adam and Eve did not fall from God's favor because they had unlawful or bad behavior in the way that modern humans think of it. They fell because they disobeyed the one thing God told them not to do, which is to try to duplicate what God himself only is able to do. They wanted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge not so they could commit more burglaries or engage in voter fraud, or have domestic violence, etc.... they wanted to have the wisdom that God alone has. And who tempted them? Not the angel who runs around committing grand larceny, molesting little kids, robbing banks, declaring wars, etc, but the angel who thought he knew as much or if not as much then at least the loopholes of God, the angel who would not serve, Lucifer.

So there is nothing in the thousands of years of factual, legitimate and truthful dialogue between the one true God and the humans who heard and believed him that is a step by step cookbook or programming exercise in developing a list of good behaviors for humans to follow. What you do have is a history of people trying to understand God, know God and most of all, serve God, no matter how imperfectly. When one faithfully loves and knows God, good behavior is a natural outflow of serving God.

Here is where people who still have some trouble with what I am explaining raise the following (bogus but understandable) comparison. "Yes," they say, "But you say pagans sacrifice to false gods out of fear of their moodiness and capriciousness based on their power over humans. So why does the true God 'make' people sacrifice to him, as in the Old Testament?"

Ah, but if you read the passages in Genesis about sacrifice (many of which I have keyed into this blog and commented on), each of the earliest sacrifices (starting with the first documented by Cain and Abel) were not done for fear of God, but to celebrate "giving back" part of their harvests. Sacrifice to God is not idolatry but the first form of tithing, of returning to God a part of what God has given to people in the first place. Each and every subsequent building of an altar and an offering of sacrifice to God commemorated gratitude for a significant event. Abraham was and remains the model for understanding the true purpose of building an altar and offering a sacrifice, so do read the passages where he does so and you'll better understand what I mean.

When God codified the requirements of sacrifice through Moses (where he made formal ritual and requirements for sacrifice) he did so thousands of years after people had already been behaving in godly ways in service to him and had been sacrificing in honor and tithing to God. God made more formal requirements for two reasons (and notice none of them are to "make people behave better.") The first reason is that when people did commit sin they needed a consistency in paying a penalty to God. So the people as a whole were expected to do the same thing upon the same occasions for the same reason that if one of your children lies you make them do without dessert while if the other child lies you beat them, that would be a gross inconsistency. Humans have enough trouble with understanding the All Knowingness and All Power of God, and humans are notoriously bad at determining the price of "other people's" "sin." Imagine if God had not regulated sacrifice how if the person who caught the envy of someone in power would suffer odious requirements for "penance," while for the same "sin" the buddy of the chief would get off with sacrificing an old shoe or something. So God required a constancy and consistency of sacrifice when humans had reached the point where they would be tempted to use God's "forgiveness" in self serving ways.

The second reason that Laws and accompanying sacrifice and other rituals became codified by God is so that people would not have to imagine, rightly or wrongly, what was "all right" or "OK" to do to serve God and what was not. Remember, God has chosen his people, the Israelites, so they were already his, as he led them through Moses out of slavery. Now God is telling them how to serve him, not "how to behave good." Serving God is the first and utmost requirement and it is no coincidence that the Commandments are ordered accordingly. If one truly honors the name of God, fears God, loves God and keeps one's self sanctified to him, one then does not really want to murder, steal, lie and covet.

It's not like the Israelites were all running around in the desert robbing banks or something, and so God puts His foot down and says, "They need some laws to behave right." No, God explained to them how to serve God, and that is the job that they were failing miserably at (all the backsliding into idolatry even as God is right there with them, for example), not lawlessness or bad behavior. In the later books in the Bible, those before and during the captivity to Babylon, you read about the lawlessness and bad behavior in all those conventional ways (rich extorting the poor, etc) but that was because they had already abandoned so much of their service to God in their hearts. Bad behavior is an outflow of not sanctifying one's self to God's service. That is why a person could commit a million "good deeds" to "help fellow humanity" and yet still not be saved because it is serving God that earns one heaven, which is unmerited grace, not "works" or "good behavior."

Notice that Jesus Christ in preaching the Beatitudes, his first great (mega-) sermon to the crowds, that he starts not with a list of "good behavior" or don'ts, but in comforting those who were doing without through no fault of their own the goodness of life's joys.

Matthew 5:1-12
And seeing the crowds, he went up the mountain. And when he was seated, his disciple came to him. And opening his mouth he taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for my sake.
Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you.

If you truly read and examine the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, you will notice, just as in the Old Testament, how little is "do's" and "don'ts" of good behavior. It is ALL about serving God and thus goodness is the outflow from what comes first, knowing, honoring and fearing God (read my series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to understand how the path to sanctity in service to God is scripturally explained).

Think about this carefully because Jesus is the "beginning" of Christianity. How much of what Jesus preached is codifying "laws" for Christian "good behavior?" This is an easy question to get wrong because Jesus is the model of good Christian behavior, but not because he set forth more or less do's and don'ts. Thus no one can read the Gospel and say that people "made it up" in order to "make people behave good." Christianity is so obviously not invented with the purpose of making more ordered, law abiding, good behaved people. Christianity is the heralding of the New Covenant with the already well understood God, and in the New Covenant of serving God by understanding Jesus to be Lord and Savior (the Messiah), good behavior is the natural outflow of genuine sanctification in God's sight by emulating and following Jesus as he actually was, not how he was imagined or caricatured.

You understand a man or woman by where he or she places their priorities in life. We all know people who care the most about their jobs, or their children, their health or their addictions, etc. Whenever you get a little lost about understanding the divine and human complexity of Jesus, read Matthew 5:1-12 over and over, and think of this. Of all the things he could have stated in the opening of his first, great mega-sermon, he chose to list the comforts, including seeing God, that those who genuinely lack in the joys of life today will receive. He did not start with a list of admonishments of bad behavior. Jesus' priority was to turn those who were poor, unhappy and suffering due to shortages in life toward God's nearness, and not in chastising those who have any part in causing deprivation or suffering. Why? Because Jesus came in order to show the people the face of God via the human form of Jesus and draw people nearer to God, not to regulate their behavior.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Jesus does not have to list all the ways that people have dirty hearts and then tell them not to do it and chastise them, reminding them of certain punishment. If Christianity were "invented" so that people "behaved better," then this would be the starting place to list all the problems, loopholes, errors and bad thinking, but 1) that has already be covered in abundance throughout the Old Testament and 2) God is comforting those on the right path, that of service to and trusting in God, the Father.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Jesus does not have to list all the "bad" wars, and explain "good conflict" from "inappropriate conflict." Again, if you serve God honestly and with a whole heart it becomes rather obvious who is a peacemaker and who is not. Jesus is reaching out God's comfort to those who already are on the path to being children of God because they have their hearts open to Jesus' message and they need his comfort.

So, to wrap up this posting and give you time to think about what I've touched upon here, do not fall into the trap of agreeing with something that sounds "logical" and "obvious" but does not, if you pause even briefly, stand up to any scrutiny or proof. It seems so "logical" that religions were "invented" so that people "behave good," yet the history of each religion shows that this is not at all what/why and "how" religions were "developed" at all! It's amazing how in these modern generations such errors are repeated over and over. If you asked one hundred years ago any person "why religion" "existed," he or she would have answered "to know God." It's only recently that it seems that everything people used to understand has been removed from their brains, willfully, and replaced with agenda and phoniness. Modern control freaks think that their ancestors were control freaks, and it just was not so and the proof is in the actual writings of each faith. True faiths, even those based on some error, all stem from a genuine attempt to reach and commune with God in understanding and good will. False faiths are those who do not connect authentically with the Holy Spirit, and those that attempt to diminish the all power and control of the one true God into a flawed human model. But even the most false of the faiths (the Greek and Roman pantheon of so called gods) did not arise because some author was trying to "get the people to be good." Har, har, ha ha, some models those were, if so. No, it was from those people's misunderstanding that divinity must be flawed like humans, of trying to pull the presumed dwellers of the firmament down to earth to be "like humans" but with "godly powers." So even the falsest of the well known "religions" of modern times did not spring from the presumed agenda based ambitions of someone with the intention of "thinking up some religion to make people be good." Sometimes the facts are just ridiculously obvious, but one must not be bum rushed into believing something that sounds so "logical," yet withstands absolutely no real scrutiny.

(Hi young people, miss you....) thinking of you as always and hoping that you in particular find this helpful. Someday some of you must tell me just what they ARE exactly teaching in schools, if not facts and logic? Hmm.