In looking at how society has changed over the past few thousand years I often wondered why organized religion has lasted as long as it has. Though I was religious for many years of my life I no longer hold any religious beliefs as I finally gave in to the logic and reason which was pressing me from the beginning. As the world looks very much different from outside of the box it seems almost clear as day that eventually the rest of the world would follow. From ancient times to this age of science and education and with a noticeable increase in secular ideals it appears that religion still seems to linger on. And so I wondered why. This question made me look closer into the workings of religion to help understand why it perpetuates in this modern, competent and intellectual society.
It’s no task at all to search where religion thrives on this planet. From the top of the Himalayas to the bottom of the city basins to the hearts and minds of modern man it lives and survives in many different forms. Studies have reflected that in the variance of our societies it becomes easier to see that religion is more predominant in places that are more economically challenged. It goes without mention that atheism is almost nowhere to be seen in those places. For people who are living in poverty life is but a strain and in those situations people need a rock to stand upon. What is it over all that the followers benefit from their religion? The answer in its most basic form is rooted in social and psychological consolation. Though there are some benefits that religion can offer it may be more indirect or passive in coping with matters in the real world rather than working for an actual cure. The sense of community for example is a stronghold for a growing society but its success is given a false sense of prosperity if it gathers in the name of false doctrines. Let us see how and why that is.
In the distant past, aside from social and psychological matters, religion much like mythology had attempted to explain the mysteries of our great universe. Today however, the mysteries of how we got here and how our expansive universe was created have clearly been discovered and explained in the realm of modern science. And the matters of who we are and where we came from have also been meticulously deciphered by way of history and biological science. Though they are ever beautiful those things no longer remain a mystery. But in early times religion provided the explanation. It addressed something that we as citizens of this universe desired answers for and….well….we created them. That’s excusable as long as we acknowledge the systems of science and knowledge that came along after those archaic notions phased out. But they didn’t and it fascinated me now more then ever: why?
Like many Americans I grew up culturally Christian. Our family went to church on Sundays and Christianity was enforced without flaw in the household. But in my early teenage years I started to question our beliefs. I started addressing matters in religion which we contrary to logic and history. Not everyone has questioned their beliefs but I say with confidence that we all have had encountered matters contrary to logic. Unfortunately when talking about these things with a parent I was scolded and had no choice but to retreat to the shores of uncertainty and blind belief. From countless people I had been told, “There are some things that we are not supposed to know.” As time passed I started to feel that this answer was merely an insult to our intelligence. It was only after thinking about this fact when it finally hit me: it was the thinking that was the problem. It was the operating system itself within religion and it was a notion that frightened me. Its simple infrastructure was responsible for keeping billions of people intellectually captive for centuries! From what I can now see it had the caliber of a major epidemic: it was the virus in religion.
Description of the System
To my surprise the “system” as I will call it is quite simple but brilliantly designed and it very clearly achieved what it was intended to do. To see it one has to strip down the ‘fluff’ to isolate the working components; the engine of this vehicle. Take away the material data such as god, divinity, morality, etc the remaining skeleton is similar to a social design implemented by nothing less then a tyrant. It takes a given group of people and applies a small but strict set of demeaning rules. It repressed education and self-exploration. It propels itself with a work and reward modus operandi. It has an internal support system which keeps its leader in charge and financially solvent. It has a crime and punishment system and just to top it off it has a big finale at the end of the show. It’s a monster of an idea and it’s been functioning this way for centuries.
Application of the System in Older Times
To show that I am simply not fabricating or exaggerating such a heinous idea I decided to find a similar system which operates under the same set of principles. Take for example the slave labor over a century and a half ago in our own United States. Slave labor was terribly oppressive and having not even basic human rights the opportunity to get an education was out of the question. The slave owners were well aware of the fact that if slaves became able to read and write their minds would develop. The more they learned the more they would be likely to question their decadent status and attempt a rebellion. So keeping the slaves uneducated aided in keeping their spirits down and compliant. When offering simple necessities like food and shelter as form of pay kept the slaves moving barely enough to continue fulfilling their duties and their masters’ desires. Religion uses a similar design.
Ironically religion was very prominent in these circumstances because people in this lowly place needed a rock to stand on; to sooth the broken spirit. I have no doubt that religion played a monumental role in keeping countless people strong when they had no other source of strength. It would be wrong of me to argue that it would have been inappropriate for them to resort to religion under these circumstances because at that time, it was the way of life. There was no other form of liberation available to them at the time until true morale combined to make a change. What I mean by this is that modern science was still an adolescent in that day and wasn’t readily available to nearly everyone as it is now. In today’s life modern science is blaring at us from every angle; so great that it contradicts the biblical explanation we talked about earlier with minimal effort. However, even if one is not so well read in the sciences just applying simple logic independently to the ideas in religion starts to extinguish its seemingly eternal fire. Back in the days of slavery, it was much different.
This is why I decided to write this article: because this time has already come1.
Core Structure and Rules
Looking closer now at this system we can start to see its anatomy. At the center of this system is the core set of parameters: the holy bible. Though the bible is believed by the Christians as the ‘given word of god’ history now reveals that it is a collection of motivational proverbs, liturgical material, allegorical literature and scantly history combined in a single volume by the biblical committee in the early Christian era.
In this social system the bible plays two important parts: one, it has a set of rules by which each and every follower must intently obey. Second, the follower is required to believe everything that it has to say about life and the universe no questions asked. In fact, doubting the holy spirit or divine origin equates to eternal damnation. The same for those who are even slightly skeptical or “lukewarm” are described as being “spewed from the mouth of god.” Even though there is no solid evidence of a god it cannot be questioned or doubted. If you do, you’re out of the club. So here, for structural purposes this is the authority and framework.
Repress Education and Self-Exploration
With the bible setting the core structure and parameters comes now the people for which it was made for. Within these walls come the unfortunate ceiling of repression of education and self-exploration. It is accomplished in the way like one puts blinders on a horse to narrow its view to a desired perspective. And with human beings, it promotes ignorance. This notion occurred to me when I was in college and I had the liberty to take courses on world religions. The world then seemed backward to me in the way that people should first be taught about the origin and history of different religions before devoting their lives to it. In my opinion it seemed that if this were to occur people would have more control of their lives for the benefit of themselves and for the goodness of humanity. But unfortunately the world doesn’t work in this way and for those who are born into a religion often do not see that there is an outside reality of virtue.
A strange quirk that I noticed about religion, which isn’t just part of Christianity, but is an integral component in most religions is the incessant fixation to their religious scripture: in this case the bible. Well it makes perfect sense that this is the chosen doctrine that their world revolves around. But if I may go out on a limb I might even be able to propose that this in itself is evidence of not strength but of weakness. It was back in my Christian days I noticed how people revolved their daily lives around the bible and nothing else. I actually was well read in the bible but felt that, like any book, I had the notion and ‘spirit’ now I can go forward and apply it to my life. I didn’t need to constantly resort to it because its essence lived within me. Metaphorically speaking, once a person lights the match of knowledge it gets put to bigger and greater things. One doesn’t continue to keep igniting it once it’s already lit. But the mentality of revolving the world around one book means one thing: shaping the mind with repetitive indoctrination.
And so, it is this closed-mindedness which shows there is no growth except for what level of self-betterment one can obtain in a repressed environment. In fact I know of no church which teaches the history of their religion as it is seen in full view of accredited historians. How many of the followers know of how the book was assembled, how their ideas were spread across the lands, e.g. the Spanish Inquisition, and the fact that Christianity has a history as black and as bloody as any other primitive religion.
Furthermore the institutionalization of children within these walls often leaves them ill prepared for the real world that awaits them. I must say that I did have a relatively happy childhood up until I was about ten. I thought the world was all kind hearted and pure. The ideals I was taught in Sunday school weren’t there to teach me how the world was but to teach me how to behave. Aside from basic human morale people need to be taught about the world. Non-Christian friends of mine talked the same way, played the same way but I always knew that they knew something that I didn’t. So when it comes to censoring things around children I have to say that the goal is not to protect them by shielding them from the world but to protect them by teaching them about the world. Extreme censorship in this context is not a mark of noble quality but of systematic configuration in this perpetuating system.
As inferred earlier the repression of education and religious indoctrination go hand in hand. I honestly feel that this is a bigger problem than most people really know. It is not the matter of just not believing and living ones own life; it is the fact that religion hits the foundation and affects the development of the person inside religion. The history of world religions and the sciences of astronomy and biological evolution are integral components such as earth science, physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, etc. However, the first three subjects are repressed in our society and the others taught without hesitation. But being that the aforementioned are so prominent in whom we are and where we came from affects the meaning and direction of our individual lives to a significant degree. Knowing how this universe came about is an integral part of being human and an important factor in the direction of our lives!
The astounding dynamics of the creation of our known universe is much more fascinating and extraordinary than the mythical story as depicted in the Christian bible. It never ceases to amaze me how people attempt to evoke scientific and historical axioms from the bible being that it came into existence centuries upon centuries before the era of modern science and that a number of its historical incorporations are not flush with accepted historical facts. This common practice demonstrates the ignorant zeal and confidence believers maintain in supporting what is most important to them. Take for example Archbishop Ussher of Armgah. In the year 1650 the archbishop assumed that the bible was a year by year chronology of our Earth’s history and quantified it to be that of six to ten thousand years of age. This as we know did not become a mere rule of thumb of ecumenical thought but it became the leading figure that many churches still support. It is needless to say that this “scientific” submission is clearly contradictory to any earth science which has been logically deduced.
Proposing the absurd period of the Earth’s age as six thousand years eclipses also form both believers and non-believers the beautiful and complex story of biological evolution. The wonder and beauty of all life clearly wasn’t something that was created instantaneously as depicted in the dull story of Genesis. Of course back then it was a satisfactory explanation before man had any ability to research such things. But now, we know differently. Seeing how single celled organisms were created from the depths of the ocean and changed into more complex beings like man millions upon millions of years later is truly one of the most breathtaking processes science has ever revealed to us.
Adding more insult to injury is yet another area of life which is highly regulated in the system of religion. Human sexuality is another prime aspect of who we are but it is, to say the least, a taboo in religion. Thank goodness that we’re able to at least provide sexual education in middle schools as without that, only for a competent parent, education in sexuality and reproduction probably wouldn’t even exist. I’ve personally known parents who feel conflicted about the idea of sex, who are uncertain what role it should play in even their own lives and neglect to teach it to their own children. Once human nature takes course it quickly results in pregnancy. The fact that parts of the Catholic Church condone abstinence and condemn preventative factors like condoms couldn’t be more contrary to any living specie. Additionally, telling people to wait before they’re married before engaging in sex can in some ways be seen as a wise policy but really doesn’t flow with the nature of man; allowing people to know themselves and each other on a deeper level is part of being a progressive society. Having knowledge of how to protect themselves not only in sex but in relationships would yield a wiser policy.
As stated above seeing where we came from and where we’re going allows within us a feeling of oneness with nature; a satisfaction comparable to a religious sense of belonging. One can say it is the original intent of human spirituality and it pains me just knowing how many people are denied their human right to know2.
Work and Reward
Continuing on our anatomical analysis of the religious system we now take a look at how the work and reward system operates. Let us suppose that a believer is a “good” person who does good things and when good things happen to that person it follows that that person is being rewarded. There can also be a good person who does good things and when bad things happen it can be considered a punishment, but not always. When a logical explanation cannot be found it is said that the person is being tested. Funny enough, you can have a non-believer to whom good things happen and the conclusion is that god is just letting him know that he loves him.
It seems to me that this illogical idea attempts to explain how and why things happen in life on the premise of proving the existence of god and his active role in peoples lives. In reality things happen. We cannot logically conclude that god is controlling the mundane circumstances of life that are by far too short to call miraculous. The circumstances in life change depending on what one or another does or does not do. And some things we have no control over at all. There really is nothing mysterious here. We as a fully functional society in this age do not need an explanation for how and why things happen in life except for what we can observe and learn directly from life itself. We do not need an entity that takes credit for positive circumstances and to pass the buck on negative ones. We are better than that!
So far on this soon to be autopsy we have examined the application and use of this social system, the core structure and parameters, the repression of education, and the work and reward system. As the latex gloves snap on we move to the anatomy of the “tail end” where we shall see the reproduction system and the crime and punishment system.
Reproduction and Internal Support
In the proverbial hive of the massive colony of followers we have a queen bee overseeing the entire operation: the church. In conjunction of the peoples’ daily spiritual battles of the human condition it is the duty of the believer to spread the gospel. In many if not most situations the newly recruited come from a troubled situation and are looking for some guidance and find it. After getting acclimated, they too, go out and recruit others. This is merely one way this massive entity extends, gathers, and replicates.
It seems to fit rather well here that the church is not shy to remind its followers about their duty of being humble; that they are not worthy of what they have and not worthy of their gods love. This idea kills their pride and sense of individuality and replaces it with living for the sole purpose of gods plan. It is the complete and total mental surrender of ones’ self to the one mass forever trapping and subduing the individual. Though this system is self-abolishing to its believers this system with all its “fluff” manages to persuade them that this is a good thing. Whether it is a dictatorship or a religious cult, this honestly sounds like a big cup of “sit down and shut up” just without the whipped cream or sugar. Bearing a burden of this stature on a people is in itself immoral in the eye of those outside of the box. Some may argue and say that this mentality is to promote submission of self to a higher intelligence. However, if it really was, the guidance which people are seeking in religion is something that can be prescribed by other methods.
The masses of people have another recommendation from the church and that is to tithe and donate in every way possible so that the cause will go on. Here’s the reward system again: they’re told that what they give they will receive many times back...when they’re dead. There are verses in the bible that tell them that for whatever little they give they shall receive boundless treasures in the kingdom of god. As leaders keep the troops motivated they assure them that they are doing a good thing by subsidizing the church when so many of their followers are living in poverty. If anyone can benefit from their money it is the same pocket from where it came. Well unfortunately the followers do not or cannot see this and don’t think any better. When all they know are the parameters in which they live and strive to survive then how could they think any different? Even if a believer ponders for just a second about what’s outside the box they are heeded away by fear that they will be eternally tortured for even thinking about it. Now in all honesty if this doesn’t sum up tyranny, cult, and mass manipulation then I don’t know what does. Imposing on someone the fear to think has to be one of the greatest crimes on humanity.
Thanks to the strength of the human intellect more and more people are starting to think3.
Crime and Punishment
Just as with the work and reward system, the crime and punishment system works in much the same way. If, by chance one does not believe, no matter how nice, how moral, or how much good that person does and regardless of how good or bad their life circumstances were, they’re supposedly going to be punished…when their dead. In my life I have known some genuinely good non-believers. However when spoken about by Christians I was told that these non-believers have everything right accept for one thing: the belief in Jesus. And as a result they will suffer unfathomable unending torture as a punishment…when they’re dead. To me, this notion, coming from “moral” people, was in itself immoral. In fact, it seemed to me that it was also primitive, barbaric, closed-minded, and jealous in nature, controlling, audacious, unfounded, and immature. Looking at it this way really does show that this system has a major problem: it just can’t step up to the plate! It just can’t “man up” and show us what it claims it’s made of. Instead it’s showing us exactly what it is made of: nothing. And for the record that’s exactly what’s going to happen in its future: nothing.
In fact to make things more interesting there are actually people out there who are either just tired of going on in the same old routine in life or who just can’t wait to see their enemies crushed. And for those people there’s a special show scheduled which they call the “end of days”. As it’s said Christ will come crashing through the sky, the dead will rise and cause all hell to break loose on Earth. After World War III there will be one thousand years of peace and then the curtain finally closes and everyone goes home. Honestly what can I say but, “That’s show business!”
I think George Carlin hit the nail right on the head when he spoke about religion.
As I said rather forwardly it seems that there is a real problem here. As we take away the pretty things in Christianity such as the compassion of Jesus, the reassurance of gods love, and bountiful rewards we are left with a cleverly hidden skeleton of mass manipulation and tyranny. Talk about a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It really is a very sad situation. Promising people their rewards or punishments till after death leaves them astray with no shepherd out looking to bring them to safety. Having no proof of their protector, no rewards for their hard work and controlling their mentality is rootless just like slavery was.
Fortunately, unlike a virus, we may not have to let it run its course. But there may not be a cure if there’s no notion of something wrong and most people are willing to die for their beliefs regardless of what reasoning is put in front of them. But by outlining the differences between these realities hopefully religious believers may begin to see the differences and begin to find their way home. It would be more productive looking at the face of religion as mythology as those tales were also created to loosely explain the unexplainable or give meaning to certain principals in life. As they are not taken literally so too should religion be viewed from the historical perspective as mans archaic system of laws and rudimentary attempts at understanding our universe.
There is a better way to live. There is a structured way people can guide their lives by their own selves. There are ways to meet with like minded people and share the deep sense of community and humanity without being soldiers in someone else’s war or sprout seeds from mans’ convoluted and ignorant past. They don’t have to give up the sense of “spirituality” because that heightened sense of awareness and inspiration is part of who we are and is meant for embracing not false misleading doctrines or mythology but the brilliance of life and the whole of humanity.
Notable articles as indicated by superscripts above:
1) Psychology Today: If We Live in an Age of Anxiety, How Can Religion Be Dying?
2) Psychology Today: Why Do You Exist?
3) Psychology Today: Why Atheism Will Replace Religion: New Evidence