Countless primitive beliefs and belief systems emerged on different parts of our planet at different times through our ancient history.
We call them religions.
We have had and continue to have many religions.
The effect of these unique creeds has not been to bring us together but to separate us permanently.
- Often, they begin as cults.
- As each belief system grows, it gains power and inclusiveness.
- At the core of each is typically a creation story, often a variation of an earlier story.
- Mystery and supernatural events such as divine revelation and miracles are central to each belief system.
- Each religion has its sacred places and rituals.
- All of it is contrived out of ideas that were popular at a particular time or built upon the evolution of former ideas.
- Stories grew from fiction to fact, developed into “religions” and declared themselves to be sacred.
This development was precisely backwards.
Only out of an understanding first of what is truly sacred, in a nonreligious and universal sense, can a belief system emerge.
Given the origins of religions it is not surprising that there is fierce competition between them that often results in horrendous bloodshed.
Fortunately, with the passage of time, the credibility of these belief systems has come under ever-greater scrutiny.
The increasing complexity of our time and the magnitude of the problems that we face raise profound questions for ancient religions.
Quickly growing and increasingly integrated populations further complicate our lives and compound our problems.
Many people have begun to question these old religious belief systems and even the idea of religion.
- What is religion and what is its mission?
Is it to dwell on, venerate, and interpret the past?
Or is it to develop new beliefs based on current knowledge?
Ones that will nurture and sustain us as we confront each other and the new realities in our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world?
- How can religions, so divided themselves, accomplish such tasks?
Enlightened by the collective wisdom of our past, many of us have come to realize that in order to survive, we must shed the superstitious religions that hinder our progress and find a universal belief system that can unite the world.
It seems that the role of many theologians is to forever study ancient texts and debate their interpretations endlessly.
- Most theologians are swept away by, absorbed in, and dependent upon the existing current of religious institutional inertia.
- Many are buffered by academic insulation.
- It is unlikely that many theologians would be bold enough, could risk, or would even want to introduce the new thinking that is needed.
As an aside, somewhat of a counter movement, The Clergy Project, has begun and is growing rapidly.
It is an online community for active and former clergy who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. It is a “safe house” where members freely discuss the challenges they face in leaving ministry and establishing a new life.
There are further stubborn questions for our ailing religious institutions.
- How can religion end the frenzy of self-centeredness that everywhere afflicts individuals, groups, and nations?
- How can religion convince the powerful who have vested interests in the status quo that their attitudes and actions are not only unsustainable but also catastrophic and terminal to themselves and everyone else?
- How can religion diffuse fixed historical rivalries and debilitating and ruinous conflicts among countless contemporary adversaries?
- Since people rarely act until there is a crisis, how can religions prepare their faithful for impending disasters that could be overwhelming?
At this time, we are not lacking in religious institutions that could address these issues.
- High priests and priestesses are not in short supply.
- There is quite a varied menu of teachers and scriptures from which to choose.
- It is remarkable that so many of these religions claim exclusive possession of divinely inspired and infallible truth.
- Even more remarkable is the unwillingness or inability of so many people to question these claims.
Many people are content to embrace a particular myth, adopt a creed, or fall under the spell of a charismatic personality.
- Some followers are prepared to do almost anything, including sacrificing their lives to satisfy the doctrines of their faith.
- Tragically, in the name of fervently held religious beliefs, some of these followers become fanatics and take the lives of fellow humans.
- It seems never to occur to them that what they do is more important than what they believe.
Most of this behavior is rooted in ignorance.
Because we have a need to ease our miseries, calm our fears, band together to compete with other groups, and generally understand the cause and purpose of life, we are receptive to ideas that satisfy these needs.
As a consequence, we are overwhelmed with opposing dogma and rituals as religions compete for followers, financial support, and power.
The path that should have led to clarity instead has led to other cells in the religious prison block.
Needless complexities, theatrics, and exploitation among multiple religions, sects, schools, creeds, and cults have distorted reality.
- We praise distant mythological deities as we exploit our neighbors.
- We dream of the “hereafter” as we destroy the “here.”
- Convinced that we are the exceptions that will be saved in an afterlife, we ignore our responsibility for saving ourselves in this life.
- We are willing, even anxious, to take giant leaps of faith, but refuse to take even small steps toward sound reason and common sense.
- We elevate fictional stories of gods and creation, fabricated by ourselves, to the status of divinely inspired dogma, freeze them in texts, and upon these shaky foundations build and perpetuate religious institutions.
Many people have begun to see this nonsense for what it is.
- Doctrines that were formed before the age of science and written by churchmen profoundly ignorant of their world no longer hold any appeal for growing numbers of better informed individuals.
- Mainline churches have begun to lose millions of members.
- Still, these antiquated religions live on perpetuated by enormous institutional inertia.
Swept away in this tidal wave, theologians and clergy are forever engaged in a litany of interpretation upon interpretation of word after word of ancient stories that were written creatively in the first place.
When they are not involved in the interpretation of ancient texts, they are involved in interpreting each other’s interpretations.
Interpretation, known as exegesis, has become an industry unto itself.
As a consequence, fundamental and uncomplicated messages about proper human conduct and just human relationships have gotten muddled and diluted, and have been rendered impotent.
- Religions have fragmented into multiple forms of expression.
- Those who have longed for clarity and direction have gotten increasingly alienated and confused.
- Brutal behavior, social violence, and environmental degradation continue to worsen.
There exists no belief system to draw humanity together to eliminate its problems.
A glaring irony is that our religious divisions account for a large share of our armed conflict.
Through the years, many bloody wars, genocide, crusades, missionary atrocities, and persecutions have taken place in the name of religion.
Intelligent people find these occurrences and their religious justifications to be reprehensible.
Many otherwise intelligent people are reluctant to engage in open conversations on religion, as religious beliefs—life-long habits and coveted addictions—are very personal and highly charged.
- Believers find it impossible to remain dispassionate and rational.
- When the beliefs of religious adherents are challenged, even politely, responses are often emotional and defensive.
- We are cautioned not to speak about religion.
- It is a shunned subject that ignites easily.
There is something very wrong with all of this that screams for a remedy.
Next: CONTEXT, PERSPECTIVE, AND TIME FRAMES