Book excerpt: The Development of Religious Behavior and Organized Religion

 

2.1 The Conception of Money, Government and Religion

Tens of thousands of years ago before the most powerful institutions that control us developed, human beings were much simpler. Our identities developed in many of the same ways as other animals because we lacked self-awareness, and our progress was much slower as a result. Most of our actions and thoughts were motivated by our innate instinct to survive, and our lives didn’t involve much more than our daily pursuits to stay alive. But eventually as we became more aware of ourselves and our environments, we began to question our relationship with them and see the potential uses for objects and resources we had previously not used. This was the foundation of technology. We know roughly when this occurred because archeologists have dated tools our ancestors left behind. 

Most organisms manipulate their environment in order to survive, but only in ways that are biologically programmed. Human tool use is much different. The change in perception that made us able to see multiple applications for resources that we would otherwise treat with indifference stimulated substantial brain growth and it eventually led to all kinds of technology. It also expanded people’s conception of ownership. Before the very first tools were invented, humans did not claim to own much, except for food. But technology radically changed our conceptions of ownership and value systems over time, as did modern money, which developed as alternative to bartering. Money almost immediately set up a system that maintained power among the already powerful. Most importantly, technology and money profoundly changed what given advantages individuals had to facilitate their survival. People began to feel they had a right to hoard natural resources and this eventually resulted in vast inequalities.

The oldest discovered stone tools are about 2.5 million years old, but our ancestors most likely began to utilize everyday objects in their environments like wood nearly four million years ago, well before Homo sapiens evolved. Homo is the human genus and Homo habilis (handy man) was the first species of the genus. They used tools mostly for scavenging, instead of hunting.

When money first developed, it did not initially have a profound impact on human identity because trade was not as extensive as it is now and money was used less. People did not rely on any one type of currency until more modern forms of money developed.

The value of commodities is very subjective, and this can make trading difficult, which is why money is useful as a tool to give products definite value. However, the establishment of currency also facilitated more middle men between traders, as well as the buyers and sellers of labor, resulting in more exploitation and separation between economic classes.

The first forms of money, which were created about 100,000 years ago did not have definite value because they were naturally occurring resources like seashells and ochre and the oldest forms required no manipulation. At this time, anything that was rare and/or had spiritual significance could be used to trade goods. Supply and demand are usually the most significant variables that determine the value of products and services. Gold and silver are very rare, which is what makes them so valuable. We want what is rare and what we cannot have. Gold and silver, as well as other precious metals are still highly valued, but their value fluctuates greatly due to supply and demand and changes in economies. Precious metals differ from proto-money and other commodities like naturally occurring fossil fuels because there is a fixed amount of them. Once all of the precious metals have been mined they will lose much of their value, which is why some land is left undisturbed for long periods. (Activists and indigenous people who want to preserve land have also protected much land from mining and drilling.)

Money is just another survival tool like the first stone tools of our early ancestors. The invention of money shows our self-awareness as well. Money is used in exchange for things we have determined to have value. Money also makes humans more vulnerable. When we value more, we have more to lose. There is more to take away, and this predictably causes much conflict.

Tools made our lives easier and they allowed weaker humans to survive. They made us see there was more to life than our daily routine, because when tools reached a certain level of complexity, survival wasn’t nearly as much of a struggle. But problems arose when humans began to exploit vast numbers of people, tools and resources to serve their own interests. The advent of religion gave many a way to explain the source of their “inherent superiority.” The centralization of control over money, tools and land also made conflict and war far more likely.

The “Neolithic Revolution” occurred when our ancestors began to understand how plants reproduce and how to grow them from seed. The Neolithic Revolution marked the end of the hunter-gatherer way of life. This encouraged people to make shelters and build farms so they could reside in one place permanently or for long periods of time. It made sense for people to live closer together. Survival was potentially easier in large groups (as long as everyone was able to collaborate and organize fairly). It was more likely people were coming together for common interest, but eventually there was more competition over resources. The concentration of power of privileged individuals eventually developed into formal hierarchies and governments. Money became more valuable because governments made people rely on it for survival. Conflict over land became more widespread as land became sparser.

The most powerful people wanted to control land distribution to make sure none of “their land” was stolen. As our ancestors became more organized, large settlements expanded and technology became more complex and intricate. Governments were also said to be needed to ensure there was order and stability. Early governments failed to uphold order and human dignity. The people in power did not care about the people they governed. They just did not want their own land or money stolen, and they wanted to hoard more of the both.

Rules were needed in society because there was more to value and take away, but unspoken rules and unofficial rules had existed for thousands of years. There were common understandings and principles well before governments, and they were better implemented before centralized powers rose. They wanted what people had and their admiration because they felt they deserved it, and so they took from people by force and many justified it by claiming they were Gods or at least close to Gods. The leaders of Ancient Egyptian governments almost all claimed to be connected to God or Gods assuming human-form. Religions acted as a foundation for many governments because religions gave rise to new types of hierarchies. Because there was so much unexplained phenomenon, it is understandable why we did believe some other humans were connected to these powers and were greater mortal authorities.

While communities that developed immediately after the Neolithic Revolution were mostly peaceful, there was eventually battle for fertile land. A notable example of land that was constantly fought over is the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East shaped like a crescent, which includes the Levant, Ancient Mesopotamia, and Ancient Egypt. Halaf culture developed there in 5500 BC. There was ready access to water and the ground was rich in nutrients, which is why it was fought over. Mesopotamia has been conquered by many different cultures throughout its history, and religion has played a primary role in most of those conquests.

The development of agriculture and government created the concept of legal land ownership. But the first governments wanted more than land. They also wanted people. The first governments almost immediately used slaves. Many Mesopotamian cultures used slaves. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest legal texts found in Mesopotamia, tells us slavery was already an established institution at the time of its creation in 1772 BCE. Individuals who harbored slaves who escaped could be put to death. These laws were supposedly written under the instruction of the Sun God.[i] The Code also established the “eye for an eye” type of punishments to which the Christian Bible refers. But the use of slavery predates written records, so it is not certain when slavery first became common.

Most large ancient governments also had extremely cruel and unjust laws in addition to slavery. Ancient Babylonia, (where the Code was created) in particular, had very extreme laws. Death was a very common punishment for all crimes in Babylonia. In Ancient Egypt, mutilation was much more common. Egypt also didn’t imprison or enslave those who were in debt, although if a man broke a law usually his whole family was punished. If someone stole an animal in Babylonia and couldn’t pay the fine, he would be killed. (This was the eighth law.) Women were considered legal equals in that they could own their own property, file for divorce or file suit, so it wasn’t as misogynistic as some later societies, but women were not treated as equals in all contexts.[ii] There was also a mere ten shekel (a small unit of currency) punishment for striking a pregnant woman and causing a stillbirth. If the woman died as well, the man’s daughter would be killed.

Ancient Grecian society also only functioned because of slavery. It was an accepted part of society. The Roman and Greek empires were also extremely controlling and oppressive. Those in power had tremendous power to do what they pleased. Women were extremely controlled and oppressed (possibly more than they were in Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures). Women were essentially treated as slaves during the Roman and Greek empires. According to the Code of Law in Rome of the Twelve Tables, article “VI. 2 If a man and woman live together continuously for a year, they are considered to be married; the woman legally is treated as the man’s daughter. V. 1 “Our ancestors saw fit that females, by reason of levity of disposition, shall remain in guardianship, even when they have attained their majority.” These laws said a great deal about how men perceived women. Men knew that sex felt good so they did it as often as possible, and some men no longer felt the need to get their consent as most other animals do in nature. Rape, coercion and forced marriages became more common. Relationships likely became undervalued, and immediate pleasures became more important than lasting, meaningful pleasures.

Gradually, the collective influence of governments with centralized power and large organized religions put an end to the autonomy of most places on Earth. In many regions, they also hindered creative thinking and the progress of science. When money and tools were first invented they too made natural selection and primal law less relevant to humans mainly because survival became less dependent on good genes and more dependent on the amount of resources, knowledge and tools a person inherited from their families or communities. Governments made natural selection almost completely irrelevant for anyone living under government rule for this reason. The most biologically fit humans would just be humans who happened to inherit a great deal, so this set evolution on a very different course.

At the onset of the Neolithic revolution when plant reproduction was first understood, if one was intelligent, survival was possible without being physically fit at all and this initially had a very positive impact on humanity. But once the governments began controlling land, individuals could not grow crops anywhere they liked. The concept of legal land ownership immediately set up a system made for the poor to stay poor and the rich to stay rich. This kept people trapped in poverty, and the creation of alternative, cooperative systems became less feasible and intuitive.

Ever since money embedded itself into human culture the richest no longer needed to make significant biological adaptions because they could change their environments to better suit them. Money and inherited advantages affect our ability to survive more than adaptions that would further the human race or produce most humans. This is problematic.

Individuals do not have to rely on their bodies for hunting or gathering if they have money. Money can provide food, water and shelter. The range of things we can buy has only increased significantly. We do not need to be fit to survive anymore. We don’t even need to be healthy or intelligent. We just need a lot of money. But our gain is some else’s loss and vice versa and this focus on wealth isn’t healthy for anyone. Resources and information aren’t distributed evenly and fairly, and all of us are affected by this.

To get a good job and earn money in a legal way you generally need formal education, but without money matriculation is a difficult process. Education and the knowledge needed to survive have always been as luxuries primarily afforded to the rich. Some poor areas don’t even have schools or available jobs, and because we have become reliant on money and governments to survive, it has become far more difficult to survive for most people. We do not choose where we are born or our skin color or race or other divisions, but these affect how we are perceived by society and how likely we are to survive.

Money is not considered a survival tool by many of the richest individuals. It is just a tool to flaunt. Many people don’t mind doing jobs that don’t require intelligence because they are easy, but they only become easy and they still live paycheck-to-paycheck. There is nothing wrong with this, but the eventual result is that such workers use their brains less and less for endeavors not related to work, and our brains should never become simple tools used only to compute or repeat menial tasks. If this occurs we won’t be able to think creatively and critically to recognize and address the wrongs in society.

We could use our brains’ higher functions to reduce or eliminate our reliance on corrupt governments and cut-throat capitalist markets, or we could use it to apply ourselves, and do what makes us happy and motivated, but most people are not able to do either. These forces want us to focus on shallow, temporary highs because that is how they feed their own desires for the same.   

Economic systems and governments have functions that are allegedly similar. Because people had more to lose when money was invented, rules were needed to prevent theft from occurring, but as we know well, the first governments did not have this intention. If our ancestors had never invented money, there would be less to take away. People only believe oppressive governments are necessary when there is extreme economic inequality because crime is an inevitable result. But the power structures in place often contribute most to this inequality as stated. If everyone had access to enough that they need to survive, and individual communities functioned through collaboration, mutual respect and equal socioeconomic relations, there would be no rational reason to ever steal or commit crimes. Governments fail to eliminate or even reduce the will for serious crime, and they also have the power to define crime, so having dark skin or being gay can be made a crime if it serves the interests of those in power. Tyrants were the first leaders of governments, and tyrants (some in disguise as philanthropists) rule most governments today.

Most of our work has nothing to do with what we get in return for it. We contribute to our community by doing the things we are best at and receive money in return, which buys us the products and services we could not otherwise ascertain. But we could do this without money through barter or through a system of credits of goodwill. Money is not necessary to ensure the weak or disabled survive and it never has ensured all survive as long as possible. As stated, millions of people die easily preventable deaths due to their destitution.

Governments have done irreparable harm to us. Of course, we need rules but we do not need governments in their current form. Everyone needs to be in agreement about the rules that exist in society (as in a direct democracy) however difficult this may be to achieve. This requires societies to become smaller, but closer knit. The production and maintenance of collaborative, democratic, non-governmental and inter-governmental institutions is also essential.

Most people who have jobs with decent wages are self-reliant in a sense because their work provides them with food and shelter. But they still rely on their employers to provide what money can be exchanged for, and governments take advantage of this reliance. They see labor as a commodity and people are bought and sold like commodities.

When survival is not difficult because of technology, inheritances or a reliance on slave labor (or an essentially enslaved working class), relationships and people can be become less important, and the richest often become less motivated to put effort and consideration into their own existence. Money splits people into further, very disparate castes. 

Relationships also changed as rape became common. Technology was likely never more important to men than sex, but when humans began claiming ownership over people, women were the most often valuable and fought over. However, rape likely evolved not as a way of ascertaining power, but as a desperate attempt to feel whole. When nonconsensual sex became more common, this resulted in the reduction of loving, meaningful relationships. When people lose their importance, everything left to gain is material, and many are able to justify (at least to themselves) controlling or oppressing more people to get it. Some also believe the significance of their rulers is endowed from God. But what they don’t recognize is that their leaders’ inherited advantages do not make them any more important than anyone else, because people can’t control what advantages they are given. Every human being is significant, regardless of what they have or do not have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2 The Development of Religious Behavior and Thought

Because survival was made much easier by tools, our ancestors who had them also had more time to pursue other ventures and question their priorities and routine. They began learning how the reward mechanisms that drive us to survive can be manipulated for self-gratification. Feelings of motivation, joy and even love can be stimulated by different plants that affect neurotransmission, as well as sex and more complex relationships.

Animals, apart from humans, don’t usually make decisions to hunt and survive; they just carry on because the desire to survive and not suffer is hardwired. But when we became able to recognize our instincts and question them, this provoked many ideas, some religious, and some eventually lead to the development of organized religions.

Because humans could conceive of the significance of death and relationships were becoming more complex and important, this made individuals have a stronger impact on each other. Deaths had the ability be even more devastating, so eventually we began to wonder about death and whether or not it is the end of existence. Eventually, we could conceive of our own death and envision the world without our existence, and the death of family member or loved one now had the ability to make humans unmotivated and take away their instinct to survive. The neurotransmitters that help motivate people were likely produced less as they became drowned out by complex, novel emotions and thoughts. This is does not happen to other animals. If an animal is capable of having emotions, and his or her family dies, of course, that animal will likely feel sad, but he or she won’t feel wronged or cheated. This is solely a human attribute, as is suicide. (A few other primates are exceptions).

When emotions became more complex, relationships become more important. Questions about death and other unknowns became more troubling and many began to feel cheated or wronged. But there wasn’t any visible force that could always be held responsible for personal tragedy like the spread of death and disease. This made the world without the knowledge of science look chaotic and unpredictable. To make the world look less chaotic, we imagined that there was an invisible moral authority.

We began to single ourselves out and deny that we deserved what was happening to us because we did not. Because more complex conceptions of morality were developing, we began to wonder why bad things happen to good people, and this again changed our sense of entitlement. We began to feel (understandably) entitled to live longer, better lives and perhaps not die at all.

Humans also began to wonder why everything occurred. Explanations needed to be made so that we could feel that there was moral order and fewer unknowns than we thought there were. These unknowns included all physical processes we could see because science had not yet been discovered. As discussions about these unknowns began, humans likely began to feel overwhelmed by them. Great concern about death, the after-life or lack of one and (as mentioned) feelings of being wronged or cheated can all lead to extreme actions.

When we began to wonder about the nature of causality (why things happen), the only way to answer these questions was to claim that everything is caused by a higher power for divine reasons. It was (and still is) easier, more intuitive, and simpler to believe this than it is to believe that the universe is consistent and controlled by complex scientific laws that we could discover with much study. Believing an ambiguous higher power is responsible for all events made life less difficult for many humans. It gave us hope that we would one day be told the answers to the “big questions,” so we didn’t have to discover them ourselves. But we have not yet been told any answers by divine powers.  

We know roughly when humans began to wonder about unknowns mainly because of the existence of cave art. Cave paintings depicted what humans could not explain, and it likely sparked contemplation about these subjects. Philosophical and religious ideas that were too complex to be coherently communicated or discussed were illustrated by cave art, and people began to have even greater influence on each other as a result. Art was one of the first forms of human self-expression and caves were our medium.  

Cave art also served as a way to leave a record of our history and making a literal mark. It often expressed our desires, and we may have thought that our illustrations would affect elements of reality we could not control or understand. (For example, hunters may have drawn pictures of speared, dead buffalo on cave walls because they thought this would lead to more successful hunts.) This is another example of magical thinking.

We know when humans began thinking about death more abstractly because we know when humans began intentionally burying their dead. However, the significance of intentional burial is debated. Some histories theorize we started burying our dead because of a stronger emotional attachment to the people in our lives, but it may have been done for entirely different reasons. If we just left corpses of our friends and family to rot, animals would pick them apart until there was nothing left but bones scattered and strewn about. Intentional burial is generally a sign of respect for the buried. Intentional burials and even burial ceremonies weren’t practiced solely by people who believed in an after-life, however. When humans first began burying their dead, the concept of an after-life may not have been conceived yet. Physical remnants can only tell us so much, so it is hard to pinpoint when exactly these beliefs developed.

Neanderthals may have intentionally buried their dead before we (Homo sapiens) did. There are many examples of Neanderthal burial in Kebara Cave in Israel, Krapina in Croatia[iii] and in Shanidar, Iraq where Neanderthal bodies were buried with flowers. (However, there is some controversy about whether or not this was intentional). The oldest human fossil (belonging to the Homo genus) intentionally buried is probably the Tabun C1 Neanderthal, which could be as old as 120,000 years.[iv] In Atapuerca Spain, the oldest example of intentional human deposition was found in the dark recesses of a cave called “Sima de los Huesos.”[v] In this cave, over 32 Homo heidelbergensis skeletons were found, some 300,000 years old. The bodies were likely deposited in the cave intentionally in lieu of burying them. This is not quite the same as burial, but it was likely done for similar reasons.

Both cave art and intentional burial were forms of religious behavior that preceded organized religion by tens of thousands of years. Organized religions likely developed before written language did, so we do not know exactly when they first formed. But since some of the first cave paintings illustrated some religious ideas, we can speculate the first organized religions formed sometime between 28,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE at the end of the Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution.[vi] Before the Neolithic Revolution, religious thoughts and ideas were very likely abstractly conveyed, but specific religious concepts remained isolated among small bands of humans. (Groups or bands consisted of about 10-100 humans.) 

The Neolithic Revolution led to the development of larger and larger societies, which allowed religious ideas and powers to spread more quickly, and they became more uniform and dominant. As societies became much denser after the Neolithic Revolution, we abandoned the first forms of religion, such as shamanism and ancestral worship and began to develop very organized religions, mostly based on strange mythology.

 

2.3 Organized Religion

The first organized religions were mostly polytheistic. Polytheism is the belief in multiple gods. These religions were suitable because there were so many unknowns. The first true religions were almost an attempt at science. In mythology Gods were assigned to almost every physical process we did not understand. Nothing happened without the intervention of some God. According to Sumerian mythology, “Nergal” was the God of sickness and war. “Adad” was the God of storms, “Uttu” was the goddess of plants, and there was even a cattle-god, “Labar.”[vii] The Sumerians also assigned Gods to planets and our sun, showing a more universal perspective. The word used for God in Sumerian was dingir, and the glyph used to represent dingir also meant sky or heaven. These Gods included the sun, the moon and the five planets in our galaxy visible without a telescope. The Sumerians also believed in demons and monsters, which were said to be responsible for the evil in the world.

Many Mesopotamian societies were built around a temple complex. Initially, these temples were built on raised pieces of ground (called ziggurats) where people came to offer scarifies and tributes. But as towns grew, the temples were made larger and ziggurats became much taller. The ziggurats also became more sophisticated. Some had simple ramps that led to the temple and others had staircases with hundreds of steps. Some ziggurats had enormous steps, which humans could not use and others had human-sized steps. The platform at the top of Ziggurat (where the temple stood) was used for worship, sacrifice, ceremonies and contemplation. Temples were built on taller and taller ziggurats because chief priests believed they were becoming physically closer to the Gods and thus more capable of hearing their instructions. (The location of these temples also gave religious clergy the ability to hide their activities.)

Some Mesopotamians believed that the positions of the stars had specific significance to human beings and this belief eventually developed into Chaldean astrology. Unlike the stars (aside from the sun), the visible planets move in seemingly unpredictable ways throughout the year. Stars do appear to move as the Earth spins on its axis every day; some stars rise and set on the horizon and others make full circles in the sky, depending on where you’re located. But the apparent motion of the stars was predictable, whereas the planets seemed to wander unpredictably throughout the year. This might be why Sumerians assumed they were alive as Gods, (although in some Mesopotamian literature the planets or “moving stars” were referred to merely as possessions of the Gods.) The word planet has its origins in ancient Greece (planetai) and it means wandering star because even during part of the Greek Empire we still did not know they were planets like Earth. (Anaximenes was the first to distinguish the planets from the fixed stars because of their movement.) Although Mesopotamian religions differed among the various cultures located there, each phase of Mesopotamian history had primary deities that most cultures shared, so religions often did not change significantly.

Ancient Egyptians were especially careful observers of the sky. They too had a sky god, as well as an air God. “Nut” was the sky goddess (and mother of the sun, moon and heavenly bodies) who was supported by the air God, “Shu” (who was her father) and the Earth god, “Geb,” brother and husband of Nut.[1]

The Egyptians also worshipped the sun, and the Sun God “Ra” was one of their greatest deities. It is theorized by historians Richard Talcott and Patricia Blackwell Gary that Egyptian observation of Zodiacal light (which is the triangular glow sometimes seen in the night sky as the sun’s rays reflect off cosmic dust) was the inspiration for the shape of pyramids.[viii] They also believe light pillars, which are tall columns of light produced by the reflection of light (often sunlight, but occasionally moonlight or artificial light) off of ice crystals in the atmosphere, were the inspiration for Egyptian obelisks.

In addition to the Sun, the Egyptians were also very preoccupied with death, possibly more so than any culture in history. They believed there was a great connection between the body and the “soul,” so they went to great lengths to try to preserve the bodies of rulers after their deaths. The Egyptian atmosphere was, of course, arid and dry, so this slowed the decomposition of the most of the vital organs on its own. But the Egyptians went too far greater lengths to prevent bodily decay by building dark and cool tombs underground, removing and jarring vital organs and wrapping the body in linen or canvas. The insides of the bodies were also covered in natron, a mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate, sodium bicarbonate and salt, (sodium chloride) all of which are naturally occurring. The earliest mummy from Egypt dates back to 3300 BCE, but the oldest mummy currently known was found in the Atacama Desert in South America and it is around 9000 years old.[ix] The mummy likely came from the Chinchorro culture which started mummifying well before the Egyptians. Mummifying, in fact, may have been a common procedure in most ancient civilization that inhabited arid desert land. 

Egyptians believed that eternal preservation of the body would result in eternal life because of this great connection between our bodies and our identities. With the advent of religion came a decrease in individual control over identity because people’s belief systems were becoming more extreme. This also discouraged creative thinking and science because ideas that contradicted religious beliefs would not be accepted and often came with punishment, such as enslavement.

The pyramids of Giza, (oriented with the cardinal directions) the Great Sphinx, the many other temples and monument tombs, which served to commemorate Ancient rulers, were all built by slave labor. They were enormous and astounding feats of labor, especially considering the technology available was very limited, but of course, many died and suffered during their construction. It is especially tragic because these monuments were built largely out of fear. Rulers were afraid of being forgotten, and not being granted an afterlife.

The first wars were almost all fought because religious differences. Many of our ancestors felt that as wars were being fought between cities, celestial wars were being fought simultaneously between different Gods. But Mesopotamian religions were fairly similar, and monotheistic religions that become more popular later on also have significant similarities.

 

 

 

 

 

2.4 Abrahamic Religions

Monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam are very alike in several ways. They all developed around the same time period. They all have one prophet or messenger of God, (Jesus, Moses, and Mohammad, respectively) and they all have one God, which is what makes them monotheistic. Their mythologies also all involve the mythology of Abraham, which is why they are called Abrahamic religions. The Old Testament in the Christian bible is also a rewritten version of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah[2]. Many of the mythologies of these religions are similar and some were adapted from older religious texts.

The mythology of Jesus Christ is very similar to the mythology of deities belonging to religions much older than Christianity. The Hindu God, Krishna, for example, was a carpenter who was baptized in a river and born of a virgin mother. This mythology was written well before the coming of Christ. In the Egyptian Book of the dead (also written before the coming of Christ), Horus, the believed son of God, had a virgin mother. Much like Christ, Horus was said to walk on water, heal the sick and he was tempted in the desert. Jesus Christ may have been a real person. It is possible at least, but his body has not been found, and it does seem likely his story and supernatural powers were just adopted from older texts.

Part of the reason there has been so much violence between Abrahamic religions, (as well as dominations of these religions, such as Shia Islam and Sunni Islam) is they all involve the same mythology, but they choose to interpret it differently. Most religious texts, (especially Abrahamic ones) are also very violent in nature, separatist and condoning of violence in certain contexts. They also draw a very clear line between good and evil. Extremists often use the select, most violent parts of these texts to justify acting in horrific, violent ways while ignoring pieces of the same literature that promote peace and understanding.

What is most tragic about all of the senseless violence and conflict that goes on between religious groups is that it has all been fueled by our natural desire to give human life purpose by answering some of life’s unknowns. At least we are not alone. Religion speaks to what is fragile about humans. This is why people become so defensive and fanatical about protecting their beliefs.

Another reason there has been so much conflict between Abrahamic religions is that they all consider the same city holy. According to historian, Eric H. Cline, “Jerusalem has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 additional times and recaptured 44 times.”[x] It is the most fought over city in the world due its religious significance, and it is also one of the oldest cities in the world. According to the Old Testament, King David of the Kingdom of Israel made Jerusalem the national capital 3000 years ago. His successor, Solomon, commissioned the building of Solomon’s Temple, which was the main temple in Jerusalem built on the TempleMount before it was destroyed in the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE. According to the Old Testament, the TempleMount was also the site where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Jerusalem became a holy city for Christians when Jesus Christ was crucified there in 30 BCE according to the New Testament, and the Church of Sepulchre was built in Jerusalem on the hill of Cavalry where Jesus was said to be buried. Jerusalem became a focal point for prayer for Muslims in 610 BCE and Mohammad traveled there during his Night Journey in 621 BCE to lead others in prayer. According to the Quran, Mohammad ascended to Heaven when he arrived there and he spoke with God.[xi] During the Muslim Conquest of Syria, Jerusalem surrendered to the Rashidun Caliphate Army and when the Temple Mount was conquered it became the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque built in 705 BCE and the Dome of the Rock was built around the Foundation Stone in 691 BCE. These are two very significant places of worship for many people and the Foundation Stone is also viewed by some Jewish people as the rock which God used to create the Earth.

The fight for control over Jerusalem and the other parts of Israel like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continues to this day between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 208,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinian Authority wishes to turn into a future capital of a PalestinianState. Israel’s basic law calls Jerusalem the “undivided capital,” but the international community does not regard it as such. Instead, it recognizes East Jerusalem as a Palestinian territory. The UN will not let Palestine join the UN due to its corrupt, dogmatic government, but Palestine was granted ‘observer state’ status in November of 2012.

2.5 Abrahamic Texts

The presence of religions in societies ruled by governments usually makes them more destructive because religions separate city-states further and give people another incentive to wage wars. When organized religions were first developing, there were already an ample number of reasons for conflict, such as control for land, wealth and greed. But religions made wars very personal. If two groups went to war over religious differences, they weren’t just fighting for their material belongings and land; they were fighting for their sacred beliefs. Religious differences have also intensified many wars that were started for reasons that had nothing to do with religion. Religious beliefs were bound to become more and more extreme, dogmatic and important to people, especially as governments used them to justify exploiting and killing people.

It is hard to believe people still kill each other over religion and the interpretation of religious myths written thousands of years ago. The religious myths most people cling to, of course, stem from Abrahamic texts. The Jewish people have the Hebrew Bible, Christians have their Bible comprised of the Old and New Testaments, and Islamic people have the Qur’an. All of these texts are filled with myths. Some parts of the New Testament and the Qur’an are considered historical, because there are physical remains (from buildings and monuments) that show they existed. But the Bible’s ideas about creation and the history of the universe are mythical.

Parts of these Bibles are very removed from reality because they were written so long ago. They should not be considered historical. Individuals who believe every story in these books is nonfiction are called biblical literalists. However, most religious people are not biblical literalists; they believe in some of these myths and reject others. But the people who wrote them believed everything they were writing was true, and they wanted everyone else to take what they were writing as literally as they did. Therefore, it does not seem logical to accept parts of the Bible or any religious text and reject other parts of it. If you believe, praise, endorse, or promote the entire Bible, Torah, or Qur’an, you should be aware you are promoting unscientific claims, violent and hateful scripture, and a few positive, peaceful platitudes that contradict the more hateful parts. I believe it is best to study and analyze these books for their individual parts for these reasons.

The creation myth in the Book of Genesis (the first book of the Old Testament) is not even remotely plausible when compared to the evidence that supports evolution. In this myth, God creates the first man “from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” -Genesis 2:7. The first woman, Eve, was “made from the rib he had taken out of the man.” – Genesis 2:22. In the Garden of Eden where they live, there is a talking snake and a magical tree that contains the knowledge of good and evil. The Book of Genesis also explains the world was created in six days. (On the seventh day God takes the day off.) There is so much scientific evidence against this it is not worth mentioning. The seventh day (or Sunday) is also called the Sabbath and the Bible has very strict and violent rules about the Sabbath:

“Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the Earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” – Exodus 31:14.

When Adam and Eve are created in Genesis, God forbids them to eat from the tree that contains the knowledge of good and evil. (I don’t know why this would be forbidden, seeing as knowing right from wrong would help them know what would appease God.) Later in Genesis, a serpent tells Eve to eat the fruit and as a result God tells Eve, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16.

With God’s assistance, Eve then has two children named Cain and Abel. After offering sacrifices to God, Abel is praised by God while Cain is scolded. God says “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:7. Cain then says to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” Cain then kills his brother for unprovoked and for no apparent reason. God scolds Cain and tells him he will live a miserable life. Adam lives on for 930 years and has other children. (Antediluvian patriarchs in the Bible were able to live for more than 900 years; most lived for at least 200 years.) The book of Genesis then goes on to tell one of the Bible’s most unscientific myths: the story of Noah’s Ark.

Genesis explains that every living creature on Earth once became evil, and instead of offering them guidance, God decided to kill nearly all of them. “The sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years” The Nephilim were on the Earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the Earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the Earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the Earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:1-6:7.

The Book of Genesis doesn’t say how or why people became wicked or why all the animals deserved to die as well. It just states that God wanted life to start anew, so he calls on Noah, a 600 year-old descendant of Adam, to put two of every kind of animal on a large boat, so that they could all survive the global flood God would bring and eventually repopulate the Earth. But it is not possible to make a boat large enough to do this. God told Noah to make the ark three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits in height. (One cubit is 45.72 centimeters or about one and a half feet. The whole ark would’ve been about 675,000 cubic meters in volume, which would not be anywhere even near large enough.) Other people also had boats at this time, but this story leaves that out for some reason.

The flood in Genesis lasted 150 days, and this means everyone on the boat would die from dehydration, because you can’t drink salt water[3] and it would be impossible to bring enough clean water on the boat beforehand. The animals would also likely eat each other before they could die of dehydration. Even if this story was true and every animal was able to survive somehow, this would mean we are all the product of incest. There are so many holes in this story they are not all worth discussing.

After the flood, the Earth was repopulated. Noah later got drunk and naked and cursed his son when he covered him. “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” – Genesis 9:25. Noah lives on for several hundred more years and dies at 950 years old according the book.

Later in the Gospel, it is said that there is one universal language. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” –John 11:6-11:8. It isn’t explained why God wanted to hinder humanity’s progress by doing this.

The Bible contains many other bizarre myths, like the myth of Jonah who is eaten by a whale and prays for three days in its stomach to be released until he  6m God part the Red Sea, so that he can lead his people through. The Old Testament even says that the Earth is flat and supported by pillars: “He shakes the Earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.” – Psalm 9:6. It also claims a range of strange mythical creatures exist like Leviathan (a sea monster that breathes fire) the Behemoth, Abaddon’s Locusts (creatures with tails of scorpions and the faces of men), the First Beast of Revelation (a creature with 7 heads and 9 horns) and 200 million horsemen in Revelation. (The Torah also mentions many of these creatures, as well as others like Ziz, a flying creature that can block out the sun.)

The Book of Revelation found in the New Testament predicts the Apocalypse (its name comes from the Greek word apokalypsis) and it is probably the least plausible of all the books in the Bible. In this story, there are lakes of fire, oceans of blood and four horsemen of the apocalypse, which represent death, war, famine and pestilence.  Satan is also a “dragon” and the protagonist is described as a “lamb.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.6 Immorality and Contradictions in Religious Texts

The problem with religion is larger than the myths in these texts. Rejecting science is dangerous, but many of these documents also promote hate and various conflicting ideologies. The Bible, despite what most believe, is a book that promotes immorality and very opposing ideologies. In many parts, the Bible promotes slavery, indiscriminate violence (especially targeted at “Israelites”), and the domination of women. It even gives grotesque rules on slavery in Exodus:

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.  If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” – Exodus 21:2-5.

The bible also says that it is morally acceptable to beat your slaves as long as they don’t die: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” (Exodus 21:20-21) The bible does not just condone the ownership of Jewish slaves, but of all people in Leviticus:

“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.  You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” – Leviticus 25:44-46.

Another passage that condones the ownership of women can also be found in Exodus:

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” – Exodus 21:7-12.

Jesus was one of the very few consistently moral characters in the Bible. He acted nobly and selflessly at times and he supported the poor. But even Jesus acted immorally at times as well. In several parts of the Bible, he condemns people to hell for being non-believers. According to the Gospel of John in the New Testament, when the townspeople gather to listen to Jesus, most refute he is the son of God, and an argument ensues. Due to their skepticism, Jesus eventually explains, “for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” – John 8:24.[4] Jesus also says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:34. Even more extreme are his words in Leviticus: “‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.” There are several similar verses throughout the Bible in which Jesus condemns people to hell, and the concept of hell and eternal suffering were also concepts created by Jesus according to the Bible. The Old Testament and the Torah do not mention hell, but Jesus does many times.

 

The rest of bible is not very tolerant of non-believers either. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-1:8 reads: “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (New International Version)

In the Gospel of John, non-believers are called the “antichrist.” “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” – 2 John 1:7. Later in the Gospel, it is written “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father.” (John 2:22-23) This wasn’t written to scare people into being moral. It is simply saying if you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, you are antithesis of Christ and you will suffer for eternity because of it.

Most religious texts like the Christian Bible have been translated and revised many times, and because people interpret this text differently, this creates a great deal of inconsistency and confusion. Inconsistency is also found in the separate versions themselves as I have shown. Many passages in the Bible condemn homosexuality and explain that gay people should be executed. The Bible also condones the execution of anyone who commits bestiality. However, John 3:15 reads, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Murder is justified many times in the Bible, yet one of the ten commandments is “Thou shall not kill.” God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible is often to justify Christian extremism and homophobia. The description of homosexuals in the Romans is also very hateful:

“God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:24-1:32) 

It is these kinds of radical and extremist passages that fuel some Christians to hate gays and even call for their execution today. While there many tolerant Christians who accept homosexuals, despite what the bible says, there are also many Christian extremists who make it their mission to bully gay people. Some governments still have laws that criminalize homosexual behavior and gays are still killed with these passages serving as the “justification.” Politicians who support and write laws against gay marriage often use the Bible as the justification as well. But marriage was hardly sacred in Biblical times. It was nothing like traditional marriage today. A man who raped a woman was obligated to marry her. A soldier who captured a female prisoner of war could also marry her. A man could also have several wives, so this rhetoric about marriage being between a “sacred bond between a man and a woman” is not even supported by the Bible.

Extremely radical, anti-gay elements exist within certain American, Christian communities. The WestboroBaptistChurch in TopekaKansas is a good example. This church is one of the most bigoted and hate-filled churches in America. Their official website is http://www.GodHatesFags.com. These people often protest the funerals of soldiers and celebrities who were openly gay while holding signs that read “Fag troops,” “Thank god for 911,” “Thank god for dead soldiers,” “God killed your kids,” and (I’m not making this up) “You will eat your children.” These people can be called a fringe group and most Christians view them as such, but it is hard to distance yourself from them if you share their religion. Their extremism is in the Bible. So-called extremists feel they are doing the right thing because they usually do exactly what the most hateful parts of these religious texts tell them to do.

These kinds of aforementioned contradictions (like loving all of humanity, but hating parts of it) are found throughout the Bible. The bible phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (meaning the same harm should be done to anyone who inflicts harm on another) is found in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Matthew and Exodus, yet in many verses of the bible, Jesus tells people never to take revenge. For example, in Romans Jesus says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21. (New American Standard Bible) This is very inconsistent with “an eye for an eye.”

The interpretations of God in the Bible are also very inconsistent. God is described as extremely violent and unforgiving in many passages of the Bible and as very benevolent in others. Most often, however, God is portrayed as a very immoral, selfish being, and these parts of the Bible have been used to justify very violent, immoral acts. For example, the story of Abraham found in the Book of Genesis and other Abrahamic texts have also been used to justify violent acts, particularly against children. Abraham (originally Abram) was randomly chosen like Noah by God to be a prophet. The Bible explains he also owned slaves and that he impregnated one of them named Hagar. God says to Abraham in Genesis, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Genesis 17:7-17:10. Abraham then becomes the founding patriarch of the Israelites.

When God tells Abraham to kill his son Isaac, without even asking why he is ready to kill his son. (An angel eventually stops him.) This story could be used to justify any insane act people believe God wants them to carry out because the only line of communication individuals have with God is in their heads, so who could predict what they might conjure? Mentally unwell people have killed their children because they claimed God was telling them to do so, just as God told Abraham. This has even been used as a criminal defense several times.

Another example can be found in the Book of Job. In it God argues with Satan (I am not sure why they are on talking terms) about the loyalty of Job who is described as a very faithful, religious and righteous person. Satan argues that Job is only so faithful to God because he has a good life, so as a test, God tells Satan to kill his children and destroy his possessions to see if he will remain loyal. Job, as God expected, remains faithful to God and continues to pray and not curse Him, despite his losses. As a reward, God gives him twice the possessions he had (because that is what really matters, of course). God also gives him two new daughters who I am sure were just as nice as his previous, murdered children. (This is sarcasm if it was not obvious.) In this story, God has ten children killed just to prove Satan wrong, which he doesn’t even succeed in doing. It essentially justifies murder and it can easily make individuals very paranoid. According to this story, even if you obey God, he may still punish you.

These kinds of stories and passages aren’t just found in the Christian and Hebrew Bibles. I don’t mean to criticize or upset any one religious denomination or person. I merely want to point to the immorality in these books that are largely conceived as manuals for morality. The Quran is filled with many myths and contradictions as well. It also promotes violence and torture more than the Bible does. There are more than a hundred verses in the Quran calling for the persecution or outright killing of non-believers. Here are some examples:

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful.   And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” – Quran 2:191-193.

 “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” – Quran 8:12.

“And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” – Quran 9:30.

Many other Islamic documents also contain very violent messages. Islam’s prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'” – Bukhari: Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57. In the same text, Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”  – Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 177. While giving instructions to an armed group of men, Mohammad also said, “Fight everyone in the way of Allah and kill those who disbelieve in Allah.” – Ibn Ishaq: Sirat Rasul Allah, 992, (The Life of the Messenger Allah).

As in the Torah and the Christian New Testament, there a few positive and peaceful passages in the Quran, but they are outnumbered by more violent ones. I will include them to be even-handed, but these completely contradict the ones I just mentioned. Here a few examples:

“O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” – Quran, 4:29, Sahih International.

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” – Quran, 25:63, Sahih International.

“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” – Quran 60:8, Sahih International.

The Quran also encourages sexism and the abuse of women, as the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah do. Islamic societies are geared towards pleasing men, (but they often do not. Women are exploited and subjugated more, but neither gender is widely happy.) Women have few to any rights at all and some extremists even oppose educating women, because if they are uneducated they will not question their place. Some of these extremists have even bombed girls’ schools to ensure they don’t receive an education. “Honor rape” and genital mutilation are also common practices in some Islamic (as well as other religious) societies, which are revolting punishments, which should be outlawed globally. They are inexcusable.

Like most religions, Islam also promotes sexual repression. Many Imams make women cover every part of their bodies, except for their eyes and hands, and women are sometimes killed for having premarital sex. (To avoid persecution, some have their hymen surgically reattached, which is costly and potentially very dangerous.) Men and women cannot even touch each other before marriage (masturbation is also forbidden in many Muslim regions), so sex motivates some Islamic people to take extreme actions.

Touch is a very necessary component of life and no one should rob themselves of it because of some rules from ancient religious texts. These extremists overvalue sex and what they associate with purity, especially as it relates to women. They fail to see women as human beings with the same needs as men. They wouldn’t have such a predatory approach to women if they did. Some Islamic terrorists, for example, believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins (or “houri”) in the afterlife if they kill innocent people who don’t share their beliefs. If religion did not cause such sexual repression, it would be far less likely that anyone would kill themselves for any kind of sexual reward. Many Islamic communities are generally more violent and extreme than other religious communities mostly because many of them are impoverished, and they feel they have less to lose. Their history also plays a large part since it is covered in blood from religious wars. Muslim people have also been more exploited and persecuted for their beliefs than any perhaps any other religious group. (The Jews have been exploited and enslaved for thousands of years, but there are far fewer Jewish people than Muslims.) So some Muslims have very understandable resentment towards other large religious groups that are more fortunate, which can motivate extreme actions.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism are certainly not the only religions that can have deleterious effects on society, but they are the most popular ones that do. (Judaism is actually a rather small religion with about 18 million adherents.) Eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism, are generally more benign because their texts are more peaceful. Hinduism is the third largest religion and Buddhism is the fourth largest. Majority religions – the ones with the most adherents – cause more violence than minority religions, in part, because the mass amount of adherents and resources can make extremists feel more justified to take radical action. A religious majority that is strongly bound by the same convictions is also easier to misdirect and provoke into action than a public that consists of very independent, critical thinkers. However, this has not stopped a few select governments from using Eastern religions to justify violence. Buddhism, for example, was used by political powers to justify violence and prejudice against non-Buddhists in Bangladesh and other surrounding regions with a Buddhist majority for years.

Small religions do not produce nearly as much violence as larger religions mainly because they are smaller. If only one individual and his tribe agree about some religious ideology and way of life, they are not likely going to feel entitled to wipe out another tribe that feels differently. But if an entire country or one third of the world adheres to the same general principles and prophet (and these principles and are open to interpretation), then more people will be prone to be use them for destructive means, such as mass murder. More blood has been spilled over Abrahamic religions than any others. 

Taoism, Hinduism, and the many religions of Africa and East Asia are examples of minority religions. They have some more peaceful ideologies, but the major reason they are less violent is because they are small in comparison to the majority religions. There are far more Christians and Islamists. Christianity has the most adherents (2.2 billion in 2010) and Islam (1.6 billion) is a close second and this is part of the reason they are at war with each other. Some of their adherents want their religion to be the only religion, whereas the minority religions and the tribal religions know there is no possibility of converting the globe, even if they all wanted to.

Although Hindus and Buddhists are usually more peaceful, some tend to be more self-destructive. Buddhism, in fact, teaches suffering is inevitable. Self-inflicted suffering is a fairly acceptable practice in this religion. Buddhists and Hindus have even lit themselves on fire in protests. (This is called self-immolation.) Self-starvation has also been used in protests by both groups. Hindu and Buddhist texts also both contain many myths that contradict science. The belief in reincarnation, for example, is found in various Buddhist and Hindu texts. (However, the atoms we are made of do become many different things after we are dead.) The belief in any afterlife at all can be comforting, but it can also make people live less meaningful lives right now on Earth. If you have an eternity to live, it becomes easier to justify wasting time.

Most Hindus do not encourage sexual repression and, in fact, they believe sex can have many benefits, but many Hindu traditions interfere with relationships. Hindu parents will often arrange marriages for their children, as some orthodox Christian and Islamic families do, prohibiting them from pursuing their own relationships.

Marriage should be one of the most important decisions of a person’s life. It has major impact on our identities and this decision should only be made by the parties involved. There are very strict laws about consent, but not about forced marriage, which is an odd double standard. Some Buddhists also believe in arranged marriages, and some Buddhist texts forbid divorce.

Like most religious people, Hindus and Buddhists also believe in Gods who can affect the world and I have already explained why that is dangerous. It creates uncertainty about the future that does not exist. We know so much more about the world because of the countless advancements in science we have made since these texts were written. We have the ability to shape our own futures, and we ought to. Most people would agree the inequalities and suffering on the Earth right now are palpable, and we need change. But most of us are religious and have been for some time. So why would God (if He does exist) allow so much suffering if he is both benevolent and omnipotent as most religious texts claim? This is sometimes referred to as the “problem of evil,” and it is a very significant issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.7 The “Problem of Evil”

Many philosophers, religious scholars and critics have written about the problem of evil. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, wrote this problem some time during the second century BCE. In what is called the “Epicurean paradox,” he states:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

These are important questions religions cannot answer, and it is tragic that religion incites so much destructive behavior when it is believed by most religious people that God and religious adherence prevent evil from spreading.

In my opinion, Mark Twain’s emotional, one-sentence rant in The Mysterious Stranger made by the character “Satan” also illustrates the “problem of evil” very well:

“A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell—mouths mercy—mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!” — Mark Twain.

There are many, undeniable inequalities on Earth. All kinds of terrible things are alive and well, but the causes of these evils are man-made and they can be changed as long as we do not rely on God to fix them all and believe worship is the answer.

Many religious people believe evil is something instilled in people by God or “Satan.” But the concept of innate evil is juvenile. There is no logical reason to make evil people just to punish them eternally. Evil is created by humanity, not by anything ambiguous or mystical. Our environments and the people in them provoke behaviors that are considered evil or very wrong. Generally, people are either taught to be evil or they decide to take “evil” actions due to environmental stress, entitlement, hate or accumulated pain. The will for destruction and self-destruction is mostly created by either pain or entitlement, (or sometimes physical, uncontrollable elements like DNA mutation, disease, and so forth). These conditions exist because there is no moral authority to ensure that people do not suffer. The universe acts in accordance with scientific law, regardless of the human impact. Our DNA tells us to survive, but we can only ensure order and everyone’s survival through equal collaboration and cooperation.

Religious leaders and scholars have formulated different answers to the problem of evil, but most are not very logical. The Bible addresses the problem of the evil in a somewhat ironic way in Corinthians which states: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1:18 Corinthians. It says later in Corinthians that those who do not believe (Jews, secularists, etc.) are the ones perishing. But this is not the case. No one is impervious to suffering or death, and most people perishing are decent people who deserve none of their suffering. The select few who believe they are “saved” or “chosen people” are only happy and healthy because they were fortunate enough to have grown up in the right circumstances and given their necessary advantages. It is just so convenient for them to thank God for their own success instead of acknowledging the actual people and events responsible, which are governed by unchanging scientific laws (and not likely at the whim of some elite being).

It is vain to believe you are being saved when there are so many people who are very clearly being allowed to suffer without any moral justification. People who believe they are being saved often convince themselves that there is a reason so many people suffer, and that they (the chosen ones) deserve their fortunes. But they often don’t. It is up to human beings to prevent suffering instead of just praying for it to stop or accepting it as “God’s will.” We ought to rely on ourselves and the people we love in our lives, instead of God. We could easily make the world a better place if we stopped believing that things always happen for meaningful reasons. They do not always, unfortunately. The world is a chaotic place (made so by the forces that truly control us) but it is understandable and it can be improved by improving our understanding through science, testing and cooperation.

It goes without saying that there are many honorable, religious people who do incredible humanitarian work, but they could still do this work without believing in religious myths. If you value worship very much, I would suggest worshipping selflessness and morally sound ideologies, as opposed to religious texts and Gods. The ideology that all humans deserve the same basic rights is more valuable than many of the lessons in our old fairy tales. We do not need these texts anymore, because we have science, and as long as we strive to be good people every day of our lives, it ultimately should not matter whether or not there is a God or an afterlife or if there is any truth to any religious myths.

 


[1] Incestuous relationships were fairly common in Egyptian mythology.

[2]The writers of the New Testament were fairly presumptuous. They edited the most important religious document to the Jewish people, the Old Testament, picked out parts they liked and used it as an introduction to give their “New Testament” context, which could be seen as very disrespectful to the Jewish people (or at least rather unapologetic plagiarism).

[3] If you do, you will die sooner from dehydration because you will urinate more water than you drink so that your kidneys can filter out the salt in the sea water.

[4] English Standard Version.


[i] Harper, Robert Francis: The American Journal of Theology, Volume 8, No. 3, July 1904 Pg. 601. Journal. .

[ii] Johnson, Janet H: “Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt” University of Chicago Press. 2002. Print.

[iii] Bennett, Paul: “When Burial Begins.” British Archeology, August 2002. Magazine.

[iv] Grun, R. and Stringer, C. B. “Tabun revisited: revised ESR chronology and new ESR and U-series analyses of dental Material from Tabun C1.” Journal of Human Evolution 39:601-612. 2000. Journal.

[v] Bermúdez de Castro et al.: Paleodemography of the Atapuerca-SH Muddle Pleistocene Hominid Sample. 1997. Print.

[vi] Barker, Graeme: The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why did Foragers become Farmers? Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-955995-4. March 25. 2009. Print.

[vii] Kramer, Samuel Noah: Sumerian Mythology, pp. 42 and 57. 1944. Print.

[viii] Blackwell Gary, Patricia and Talcott, Richard: “Star-gazing in Ancient Egypt.” Pg. 62, Astronomy Magazine. April 21st 2006.

[ix] Arriaza, Bernardo T.: “Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile.” Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1995. Print.

[x] Cline, Eric H: Jerusalem Besieged, University of Michigan Press. November 7th 2005. Print.

[xi] Qur’an, Surah: 17.93.

[xii] Tassoul, Jean-Louis & Monique: A Concise History of Solar and Stellar Physics. 2004. Print.

[xiii] See previous citation. 

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