Questions on: Religion
a 'Creator', must exist to sufficiently explain Our extremely unique, slightly evolved though infinitely advanced position in the scheme of life on earth... Besides what makes us so special (Language, Music concepts of mathmatics, 'crying for joy, laughing for fun, decerning millions of shades of color, to mention a few of our unique yet unneccesary abilities... We did not evolve naturally like all other animals on Earth have done. This means 'We' are the proof that a Creator or if you prefer, a 'God' must exist, or we would not exist
Yet we determine our pre-eminence from our own perspective. Do bats consider themselves God’s creation due to their unique abilities: such as being able to fly, and using sonar to navigate? Do animals capable of hearing sounds incomprehensible to humans think that their superior abilities prove that they could not have evolved in the same way as other creatures?
Some trees live for centuries, bacteria can survive in space, ants are immune to radiation; what is special? Just because we suggest that our own characteristics are somehow a validation of a creator does not establish that these things are anything other than traits specific to our kind. As I have written: these capabilities are characteristic, rather than qualitative, of a species.
We may have an “advanced position in the scheme of life”, yet this has only been the case for a very short period of time. Dinosaurs held that position for hundreds of millions of years; were they then the product of a Creator? What of the life which predated them, or the life which will follow us?
It is far too easy to see the universe from a subjective perspective. We must question our assumptions from an objective viewpoint: all life is truly incredible in its complexity, and placing relative values on any specific life-form is a mistake. Without bacteria, all life would cease on this planet; can we say the same of humans? [back to FAQ index]
I wanted to point you to Zorastrianism. From what I've read about it, it seems to be the parent religion of Judaism, which in turn gave rise to Christianity and Islam. In your paper numbered 13, you mentioned the concepts of good and evil having come from an earlier Persian belief system.
Actually, I do give credit to Zoroastrianism in my glossary. In the text, I wished to make a more generic reference in order to include the related beliefs that also existed in Persia at the time. Also, I was avoiding mentioning the religion by name, for that would entail explaining it in greater detail.
Although a Persian precursor of Zoroastrianism may predate the Hebrew beliefs (this is a debatable matter), it does not appear to have had a great influence on Judaism until the exile period, when it became the basis for the contemporary Abrahamic religions. Prior to the sixth century BCE, the two were diametrically opposed. Persians believed in one god, while Hebrews were polytheistic (or more accurately, henotheistic) and their personal god was actively fighting the other gods (Ahura Mazda, the Persian god, would have been the enemy of Yahweh, the Hebrew deity).
Persians felt evil was separate from their entity, whereas the Hebrew god was the source of it. These, and many other fundamental differences between early Judaism and Zoroastrianism make it appear unlikely that one evolved from the other. However, you are quite right in stating that modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam owe their present structure to the Persians; the later books of the Old Testament being more the doctrine of Zoroaster, than that of the earlier Hebrew prophets. That said, it is obvious that all the religions of the world do share some core principles developed in animistic belief systems predating recorded history.
I know I could expand upon some areas of my work by outlining the historical significance of many religious events, but I must practice a little restraint. My word count is over seventy-five thousand (for reference: publishers want works to stay within the fifty-to-eighty-thousand range, because people prefer this length -- and publishers obviously do a lot of research on the subject). [back to FAQ index]
In Part 5, you state, "...the development of Yahweh was strongly influenced by Hinduism,...". I find this interesting and am curious if you could produce some references as to where you read this.
The answer is in the Vedic literature. Doing a comparative study of the Bible, the Vedas (particularly the Rig-Veda), and history will show you patterns in cultural/religious development. Hinduism is the oldest organized religion known to man, dating back 4500 years; portions of its written literature are 3300 years old. In comparison, the Hebrew beliefs trace back 3100 years, and the oldest written material is 2900 years old (parts of Genesis).
An ancient, well established religion will have an affect on cultures first forming their own beliefs. Contact throughout the ages will influence the direction taken by these evolving doctrines. The “great flood” myth first appears in Hinduism (and later, in many others). Yahweh of the Old Testament behaves much like Shiva. Yahweh of the New Testament is similar to Vishnu.
The Bible originally states that death is final, but later in its evolution it adds an element of rebirth (reincarnation), particularly in respect to Yeshua ben Joseph. Passages such as "Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread" (from the Katha Upanishad) appear to be the source of Biblical material written many centuries later, while others such as “man does not live by breath alone, but by he who provides the breath” (see Luke 4:4) seem to be slightly corrupted doctrine.
Most interesting of all, being that there is no valid historical evidence of the existence of Yeshua ben Joseph, is the story of Krishna. Written over 13 centuries prior to the gospels, it appears, to some scholars, to be the source of New Testament material. The events at his birth seem quite familiar to followers of Abrahamic scripture and his life, and mystical properties, are remarkably similar to those described in the Bible. [back to FAQ index]
the thing i don't agree with is your view on reicarnation. as u said it is a mystical element that is an add to realigion. than how come little children have memmories of their past lifes? that is just one of the exsampels, i'm sure u've heard of the other ones. so please write back with ur words of wisdom on this subject.
I did expand upon the scientific and logical reasons why individuality cannot persist after one’s demise, in my “Death” chapter. This explains why the religious perception of reincarnation is impossible.
If one wishes to look at it from a more general perspective, we can say that reincarnation occurs as a matter of fact. Since energy and mass cannot be destroyed, only changed, it can be said that the components that are “you” are “reborn” in other things. When a living thing dies, the creatures that eat the remains, and the plants that gain the nutrients left behind, contain a portion of that prior life. The energy that once animated that life-form becomes part of the energy that exists in other things.
Of course, this is not what believers have in mind, when they speak of reincarnation. The psychiatrist Carl Jung accounted for memories of the past by attributing them to “archetypes”, which are genetically encoded, meaning that memories are passed from generation to generation physically -- they are inherited. Researcher Lyall Watson (“The Hundredth Monkey”) felt that each species shared a pool of awareness, and the knowledge was accessible to each member of that species.
There is obviously a genetic aspect to knowledge, but I do not believe that it includes precise details of individual experiences. There may well be a form of generic awareness which accounts for some of the actions within a species, but Lyall Watson admitted years later that he had to falsify some of his data, in order to make his theory work.
We must keep in mind that little children are the proverbial “tabula rasa” (blank slate), and they absorb incredible amounts of information. The average adult fails to recognise a child’s ability to retain information gained from the briefest exposure, and even toddlers show a remarkable ability to remember things that we consider too complex for their minds. An infants brain is basically the same as an adult’s (albeit lacking the number of synaptic pathways developed as one ages); the exception being that their minds are “empty”, meaning that they do not prioritise knowledge, they collect everything and give it an equivalent value. Their knowledge is pieced together without the restraints logic later places on one’s perception of reality. This is how they construct imaginary/invisible companions, attribute personalities to their toys, and create illusions of a different existence -- which adults can ascribe to memories of a past life.
Other instances people claim to be evidence of reincarnation can be explained by false memories (highly suggestible individuals are often mentally convinced/coerced into believing they are someone they are not -- termed ‘identification’ or ‘assimilation’). Various mental disorders can cause a belief that one is reincarnated.
An above average understanding of cause and effect can lead people to seemingly know events they normally should not be able to ascertain. The fact that we are genetically programmed to think in the same way means that we are all capable of following the same chain of reasoning, and reaching the same conclusions.
This is not to say that some form of “rebirth” is impossible: there is not enough empirical evidence to completely dismiss such ethereal speculation. However, there are two ways to look at the situation. If one is not entirely the same individual in a subsequent “life”, then the entity which existed before is gone. Trace memories of some prior existence do not make one living thing the same as another; they are each unique unto themselves. This means that the generalised way of looking at reincarnation which I described at the beginning is more appropriate.
The other way to view the subject is to consider that one never ceases to exist, and therefore cannot be reincarnated. Matter and energy exist forever, so the material components of a living thing do so as well. Your influence upon others lives on for the duration of mankind, the effects you have caused are part of the infinite flow of existence, and the “life-force” that enables your being cannot be destroyed. [back to FAQ index]
plese send me your opinion about one question that i have. We live in a sociaty where has seen a rise in in atheism and many people want spirituality on thair own terms. How the religion survive?
Religions will survive, but only those which evolve to adapt to our scientific world. Many beliefs are still based on doctrine from the Mythical Age (prior to 800 BCE), and science is making it more and more difficult to accept the ideas from that time.
Flexibility is the key, and even strict dogmatic institutions such as the Catholic church, have realised this. Starting with the Pope’s 1996 proclamation stating that evolution must be taken as fact and Genesis as a parable, to his statement this month [December 2000] admitting that the Catholic faith is, after all, not the only path to heaven; demonstrates that church leaders realise doctrine must change in order to adjust to the modern world. The Canadian division of the United Church, and the Anglican Church have both recently adopted positions which portray Yeshua ben Joseph (Jesus) as a man, rather than a God.
Although there will always be the “fire and brimstone” fundamentalists (just as there are still those who believe that the Earth is flat, because their god said so), the large and successful organised religions will have to drift toward a humanist stance. Others, such as Buddhism, have always been based more on rational, rather than mystical, doctrine; and will remain virtually unchanged.
Religion has historically been a system of control, and leaders have always been more concerned about power through numbers, than actual word-for-word dogma, and success will take priority over tradition. The idea of considering a holy book as being the unquestionable “word of God” is peculiar to parts of the Christian and Islamic belief systems; all other religions are fluid, and change to mirror the values of society. We live in a world where cultural changes occur at a phenomenal rate in comparison to earlier times, and religions will have to evolve much more quickly in order to compete for membership.
Christian and Muslim fundamentalists will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. There will always be people who feel a need to be strictly controlled; they cannot cope with a life requiring decisions and accountability, and therefore prefer living by a “black and white” ideology which does away with “shades of grey”. Such attitudes have led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, but as the numerous wars between the two faiths presently going on attest to, there is not going to be a quick end to the bloodshed. I am somewhat concerned that as fundamentalists find themselves more and more alienated from the mainstream, there will be a violent backlash.
I personally feel that all religions will eventually have to align doctrine with science. When I began my work connecting spirituality to reason, it was based on the knowledge that the year 2000 would be a significant juncture in Western theology. There was always a hope among Christian followers that something miraculous was going to happen on that date (attested to by the surge in church attendance during the late nineties, after decades of decline). We are now in the transition period, where people who were playing it safe by sticking with their religion, are feeling the return of earlier doubts about the validity of their faith. Judging by the rapidly increasing number of people contacting me, who are now working on the same concept as Reasoned Spirituality, my prediction was correct.
The world needs spirituality as a moderating force. The current trend toward materialism would be causing incredible misery if it were not for the charitable actions of many religions. Although the Western World’s expansionist empire will ultimately collapse because, as demonstrated continually throughout recorded history, such economic systems cannot sustain themselves without exponentially expanding markets; the majority of people suffer during the latter stages.
As 2015 approaches, we will see how religion adapts to crisis. This date is when we will see the beginning of the maximum impact of the imbalance in Western population. There will not be a sufficient number of working people to sustain the economic demands made upon the medical and social security systems by the elderly. Because the people in control (the wealthy) will not allow this situation to impact upon their lifestyles, the working class will endure the greatest hardships. This will be the time when a concern for the well-being of others, which manifests itself in spirituality, must compensate for the desire to protect what one still possesses. In the past, religion has been the rallying point for the peasants, who feel that the dramatic difference between the “have” and “have-nots” justifies social upheaval, leading to a polarisation of society, and often the destruction of said society.
Currently, the elite are using a system of gradual change. The steadily increasing redistribution of wealth from the masses to the upper echelon has been in progress for forty years, as the rich have foreseen this crisis. The hope is that, like the frog in a pot of tepid water who does not realize that the water has gradually been heated to the boiling point, the working class will simply accept this progressive descent into poverty.
Religion will become the significant factor in this equation; how it responds will determine human destiny, and the future of organised religion. We are living in fascinating times. [back to FAQ index]
I'm willing to bet that you and I live by differing moral standards. If I were to try to impose my morality on you, you may say something like "live and let live". According to the Bible, there is One who is large enough to speak into existence all things and large enough also to speak on morality in an absolute sense. Then when we go to order our society and we choose moral and legal standards, we are merely being arbitrary, because we've abandoned the concept of an absolute standard.
The primary purpose of religion is to impose morality upon those who might otherwise be disruptive to society. Being that I am not governed by your doctrine, I would not expect you to try. Anyway, “live and let live” still requires that social animals follow innate rules of behaviour dictating how same-species predators can live gregariously; in general, this would mean that harming another would be contrary to healthy social interaction.
The Bible does not set out an absolute standard since billions of people do not believe in it, yet live ethical lives. Buddhism is a good example of this; denying the existence of an anthropomorphic god, they live by standards far above that of Christianity, and have no history of atrocities. Christianity spent centuries killing Wiccans because of their “heathen” ways, but although their creed is closest to “live and let live”, it includes “but harm none”.
The universal ethics are innate; this is called psychological altruism. Other moral standards are introduced by society, often to cope with particular situations, and then continued -- with no one recalling the original reason for their adoption. Although many religions are bitter enemies of each another, they all share the basic moral values that are instinctive. Values beyond these are introduced by cultures and individuals, and have led to the differences between beliefs.
Absolute standards have not existed in Abrahamic beliefs. According to the Bible, at one time you were to kill everyone that did not believe in Yaweh. Disrespectful children were to be executed, and various forms of sexual misconduct were punishable by gruesome death. This has fortunately changed. The Bible itself changes; the Old Testament did not take its traditional form until just prior to 100 CE, the New Testament in the Third Century CE. Each version since has changed, with different interpretations of doctrine. Even now, the Catholic Bible is different from the Protestant one. The King James version used by Jehovah’s Witnesses is dramatically different from the King James version used by the Baptists and the KJV of the Mormons. Each has different doctrine. We cannot say that the Abrahamic god sets out an absolute standard, when the followers cannot agree on what those standards actually are. [back to FAQ index]
Why should one love wisdom? Is wisdom merely the accumulation of and abilty to recall vast quantities of information? The Bible speaks extensively of wisdom, but never without purpose. It is always in the context of right living before God.
"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain therof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." [PROV 3: 13-15]
- One of my favourites.
Knowledge is the retention of information. Intelligence is the capacity to retain information and apply it abstractly. Wisdom is the ability to apply what information one has in the most productive and logical of ways. Wisdom is dependent upon experience, whereas intelligence is genetically predetermined.
Knowledge is both innate and empirical, and a knowledgeable person is not necessarily wise nor intelligent. Idiot Savants can retain incredible amounts of data, yet can lack the intelligence to comb their own hair, and be incapable of using wisdom to determine that one does not try to shave with a hedge trimmer. Stephen Hawking is an extremely intelligent man, yet when his first formula came out establishing the age of the universe at four billion years, he failed to notice that we already know the Earth itself is older than that; a little wisdom would have helped.
I was genetically lucky enough to be blessed with intelligence, and I try to gain as much knowledge as possible; but my quest is wisdom. It is all well and good to go through life accepting that what we are told to believe is truth; but I prefer to verify that for myself :-). [back to FAQ index]
regarding Hinduism being the oldest organized religion known to man - What about Native Americans? Is your answer based on written literature?
This is certainly a debatable point. Just as human settlements existed long before “civilisation”, there is hard evidence of spiritual traditions dating back over fifty thousand years, and artefacts that suggest that a considerably greater span of time.
I refer to a religion as being “organised” using the common criteria in use. This is obviously subject to interpretation, and a valid argument can be made over most of the points. An organised religion is structured. It has a hierarchy; that is, a formal organisation of leaders and lesser officials imbued with authority who co-ordinate and dictate to the common followers using set doctrine. Consistent dogma, as a rule, requires a written language.
Granted, ancient beliefs had leaders (i.e. Medicine Men), and a long oral tradition; but the primary argument centres around the difference between animism and religion. The spirituality of primitive tribal cultures, which extends to peoples other than just the indigenous population of the Americas, is animism. A distinction is made, strangely enough, because ‘religion’ is an aspect of civilisation, whereas ‘animism’ is indicative of tribalism. We determine civilisation using this difference as one of the criteria. Civilisation is “organised”.
The Indus civilisation arose two thousand years prior to the oldest civilisation in the Americas. The Hindu religion is still in existence today, whereas the beliefs of Meso-America retain little of that period’s tradition, although the fundamental animism remains.
It depends how we wish to interpret religion. If we consider animism as “organised”, then we can trace specific rituals back to the Egyptians. Humans came to the Americas fifteen thousand years ago, and the similarities between aspects of aboriginal and ancient Egyptian traditions appears more than coincidental. The use of the circle, and the four divisions of “reality” with their subsequent cardinal directions and colour designations are the same. Many shared characteristics of isolated cultures suggests that a common belief system existed much earlier than fifteen thousand years ago, and the oral traditions were brought to new lands by those who migrated. These traditions have evolved with each culture, but retain a common thread; but are they technically the same “religion”? Every form of faith has changed to some extent over time. This makes determining the oldest belief system a subjective decision.
Animism is attributing mythical explanations to natural phenomenon; but is that really any different from Christianity, for example? Is “organised” religion merely overly complicated animism? I am not firm on my position regarding Hinduism simply because there are no objective criteria establishing an absolute dividing line. If you state that ancient traditions qualify as a structured faith, and the similarities to that which was believed prior to the Indus culture is still fundamentally the same, I will not insist otherwise. [back to FAQ index]
There are certain bits of knowledge and emotions that are hardwired into every human being forever. Presumably this includes our self centered nature (self preservation) and mans need to be in control, the Alfa male. If all this is true and accurate, how in the world could humanity possibly survive? The chances of one religion ever capitulating and willingly embracing the beliefs of another seems impossible because of the way we're put together.
You are correct in observing that there will never be a significant instance of one religion willingly being absorbed into another. Religions are tailored to the specific needs and desires of particular types of people. Some promise different versions of paradise; some are complex, whereas others are simplified to suit those with limited intelligence; some apply a portion of accountability to followers, while others only require that you believe. If there is a segment of the religious population that is dissatisfied, a new faith will appear to fit the niche. In other words, religions will continue to increase in number.
The fact that the world is made up of a seemingly endless variety of religions does not preclude co-operation on some level. Throughout history, various sects have put aside their differences in order to slaughter those they perceive as a common foe. This, of course, is not what we would normally see as a positive aspect of religious belief, but because the vast majority of followers will blindly support the bloodthirsty aspirations of church leadership, it also means that they are equally capable of obeying benevolent leadership as well. The very nature of religious belief, in that someone who is capable of, and even desperately needs to, believe in things that have absolutely no basis in reality, provides the tools to prevent future atrocities. It is not necessary to change the ways of the billions of followers, since they are simply that - followers - it is only necessary to change the small minority that controls them. [back to FAQ index]
Copyright 1998 - 2003 B.W.Holmes - all rights reserved (unless noted otherwise). Quotes from ancient literary works do not carry a copyright.