One of my YouTube subscribers, Chris Curley, is doing a college paper on religion. He asked me to participate by answering a questionnaire. The questions were excellent, and I really enjoyed putting my answers together. I thought I would share them with you.
Remember, of course, that I am simply one person sharing his perspective. I think it would be interesting if others commented on this post, giving their own answers to these questions …
1. Were you ever part of an organized religion? If so, were you brought up in it? What effect do you think that experience visits upon your current belief system?
I was brought up in a Protestant Christian culture, but did not have an overly religious upbringing. I entered religion willingly at age seventeen, when I became a born-again Christian. However, on reflection, “willingly” is not the most appropriate term when your willingness has been coerced into place by threats of damnation. I recall the saying, “You can’t make someone do something against their will, but most people don’t have much of a will to go against.” That was very much true of me.
My experience of religion, which lasted almost twenty years, was difficult in so many ways, as I battled through so much intellectual confusion and emotional battery. Now that I have emerged from it, all of that negativity has turned to positivity, as I now have 20-20 vision regarding all of the manipulation tactics that religion uses, and I’m in the position to help others avoid the suffering that I went through. In that sense, I have no regrets.
2. Are you currently part of an organized religion of any kind? If so which?
No. Religions divide humanity into exclusive clubs of “the saved” and “the damned”. I see them as methods of control, where a person is made to feel they need something that someone else offers in order to be complete. And of course, there are always conditions (controls) to accepting what’s being offered (forced).
3. Would you say that your beliefs draw from or originate from a particular religion or amalgamation of religions? Which have impacted your beliefs the most?
My current beliefs are based, first and foremost, on the tearing down of the entire belief structure that I was brought up with. All truth-seeking must begin with no assumptions about life. From ages one to seven, we are all like sponges, soaking up information from around us with no critical thinking. To a five-year-old, Jesus has no more genuine credibility than Santa Claus. As adults, unless we question all the things that have been been inserted into our minds, then how can we say we’re on the right path? Therefore, my beliefs are based on the purging of religion. Start by removing the indoctrination of your life’s experience, then move on to logically figuring out what you think is true. If that process means you end up believing the very same things you did beforehand, that’s all well and good. The important thing is that you put yourself through it.
4. What are your views on other, or perhaps, major religions? Are they institutionalized evil, essentially good, or is your stance more neutral or harsh?
There are those who say “You can’t judge a religion by the behaviour of its followers,” but I would say that that it’s the behaviour of the followers of a religion that exposes the very nature of the religion. In considering Christianity, Judaism and Islam, we find racism, killing and genocide. In 1 Samuel 15, from the Old Testament, God commands his people to slaughter the men, women, children, infants and animals of Amalek. The killing of an infant on the grounds of race alone is racism, plain and simple. Fast forward to the 12th century AD and we have Christians and Muslims killing each other for possession of Jerusalem. Why did the Christians do it? Because the Pope told them to, and the Pope is the vicar of Christ. Consider also the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas – all done with the Church’s blessing.
Religion requires a person to sacrifice his free-thinking mind to the values of an outside source, be it a holy book or holy teacher. We are taught that it doesn’t matter what we think, because “God says …” And so we are controlled to do the bidding of another. But is that other really God, or merely greedy, powerful men with agendas of their own?
Yes, I think that religions are institutionalised evil. While they can be used to control people’s actions for the better, they are also used for the opposite effect, when desired. And the real evil here is the evil of control. Nothing bodes worse for religion that a world full of free-thinking individuals who know how to spot when they’re being manipulated.
5. Because these questions are geared towards those of alternative religions, I am very curious about what you believe about the purpose of religion. Is it a way of going to heaven when you die, or of achieving peace or understanding while we are physically alive? These are just rough examples, please explain as much as you would like.
The purpose of religion, in the minds of those who run the religion, is the maintenance of power and control over the masses. Every cult leader knows this. Why would it be any different on a massive scale? And the outworking of this is evidenced in the world every day.
The purpose of religion, in the minds of its followers (and I include ministers in this category), is the searching for an answer to the mystery of life. Why are we here? Where are we going? These are great questions, ones we should all attempt to answer, but the problem is that so many people gravitate to whatever answers are handed to them on a platter, due to whatever locale they happen to be born in. And so, Christian cultures churn out Christians; Muslim cultures churn out Muslims, etc.
People can and do follow religions out of noble motives, and because they’ve found a few gems of wisdom among all the confusion, they allow themselves to be duped by the whole structure. And once you start letting other people do your thinking for you, it’s game over. If I said to a Christian, “You’ve sold your soul to the devil,” they would be horrified. But I think the truth is uncomfortably close to that: “You’ve sold your mind, and thus handed over your life, to whatever human devils invented your religion.”
6. Do you believe in a heaven or hell? What happens when we die? Also, do we have souls (or spirits) of any kind?
I don’t believe in heaven and hell. These are religious concepts handed to us for the purpose of reward and control. They also take our focus off what’s really important, the NOW, causing us to focus all our attention on the future. But the future, being the future, never comes. Even in the mundane things of life, you can spend your whole life focused on preparation for things in the future, and when those future things arrive in the present, you’re too busy focusing all your attention on yet another future. I believe that the concept of heaven and hell is yet another attempt to divert us from the only thing that is truly real – the present.
What will happen when we die? Ultimately no one knows, because no one has come back to tell us. I think Near-Death Experiences might be an interesting study in this regard, but whether this will yield useful results is debatable at present. However, we can philosophise about what comes after death.
I have become aware of some very deep concepts that transform my understanding of life: I am not my mind; I am “awareness” experiencing my mind. Everyone experiences awareness, and all awareness is one. Beyond mind and beyond time itself, all that exists is infinite awareness, and what we call the movement of time is merely awareness experiencing separation from its totality. Everything is happening in a single moment of infinite awareness that we call “now.” (I realise this is a massive condensing of many ideas that require much thought.)
Possessing body/mind is like wearing a pair of glasses that have the wrong prescription, and so we go through life with limited vision. Death is merely the glasses breaking.
7. What do you think is the purpose of life?
That can be answered by simply observing what life is: experience. The purpose of life, then, is to experience. In this sense, no one loses out on the meaning of life, whether they grasp it or not, because they live it every day.
8. What would you say is the core idea or tenet of your belief system (for example, many Christians I know would say faith, or maybe even good will towards others)?
Everything is one.
9. In your view, is there good and evil?
Not in the religious sense. Generally speaking, the word evil, to me, is a term for behaviour that is negative, destructive, harmful, while good is positive, creative, helpful. Morality should not be a list of rights and wrongs defined for us by some supposed God-being outside of ourselves; that’s a sure-fire way to set man against man, to get him killing with joy for the glory of his God. A truly useful morality is one based on considering the consequences of our actions upon ourselves and others, because we are able to recognise the value of traits like kindness, compassion, empathy, and we see the kind of world we could create based on those values.
Since we are limited beings, we will inevitably have differences of opinion about exactly where to draw the lines of morality, but there is usually enough common ground to make civilisation possible. But civilisation has always been in a state of moral evolution (and sometimes devolution), and it always will be.
As for the supposedly objective morality imposed by religion, which has its origin in the perfection of an unchanging God, the problem is that we cannot find this objectivity anywhere in history. Religions have always changed over time, and their ethics have changed along with them. Today, we view slavery as evil, whereas the Bible defends it. Today, women can speak in church, whereas the Bible condemns that. Religions play the same game of moral evolution that non-religious people play, but are too hypocritical to admit it. It is too easy to focus only on the present religious climate and say, “Now we’ve got it right.”
The only ethics worth a damn are those that emerge from our humanity. Religion preaches a story that we are all born with original sin, and if left to our own devices we would pursue evil rather than good. This is an outright lie. When I emerged from religion and became aware of my individual responsibility – that I could not cry to some God for forgiveness when I did something destructive – then I took even greater care to pursue what is good than before.