I have never really had any spiritual conviction. I strongly believe in self determination, and not in some kind of pre-ordained fate or after-life rewards system. If a God does exist, he’s remarkably patient – and modest. It’s taken 4.6 billion years for a life form to develop on earth which is sufficiently intelligent to conceptualize the idea of his potential existence. 

And then, after being so patient, he is rewarded by persecutions and bloodbaths carried out in His name by fanatics within the competing and deeply divided religions that have sprung up, fighting for His sponsorship and attention. 

Over the years, religions have tried to control peoples’ minds. Amongst the “hard religions” (Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews), differing pairs of religions have at varying times stood off against each other, leading to isolationism and geographic demarcation of peoples. This ‘religionism’ has been the cause of more wars and responsible for more deaths on earth than anything else other than disease (ahead of nationalism). The fanaticism of religious beliefs, which has inspired and justified horrifically inhumane acts, derives from the indoctrination that fervently religious households and societies impose on their children around the world, as religious leaders proselytize “their” people. A follower will then commit mindless acts of violence, as any sense of moral responsibility is over-ridden by blind faith in the rightness of his religious leadership. 

The interface of religions with societies needs to radically change. As a strong supporter of democracy in all walks of life, I believe it is an individual’s right to choose and practice the religion or doctrine of their choice. How would you like it if you were told as a child that, even though you lived in a Democracy, you had to vote Republican for the rest of your life? There is a fine line between evangelism and fascism – the difference being the imposition of will. If God is the food, you shouldn’t have to shop at Wal-Mart all the time; K Mart, Kroger and Safeway are viable alternatives. As you grow old enough to make independent decisions, you may prefer and want to shop at Wal-Mart – that’s your prerogative. 

If people were freed up from being tied at birth to one religion or another, you would see two things. Firstly, there would be a lot less death and fewer wars. And secondly, religions would modernize faster than you can say “Beelzebub!”, making them more relevant to people today because of the need to be credible. 

Religion is a means to an end, not the end in itself. At best, it is an access mechanism to God, although religions often behave like they are the ultimate Divinities. Neither are religions compulsory gateways through which you must travel to demonstrate your faith. Religions don’t have a lock on God. You should be able to believe in God without being ‘religious’ at all. 

The more I look into religions, the more I realise just how unrealistic and mythical are the belief systems, largely because they were designed hundreds of years ago for more superstitious and less discerning audiences, and have hardly changed since. Faith followers are taught more about the rituals of religion (Muslims are meant to pray five times a day, pointing towards Mecca), than the practicing of the social and personal principles behind them. If you designed religions anew, there’s no way you would incorporate many of their ancient beliefs and rituals. The dogmas embedded in religions are arcane and nonsensical nowadays to a more intelligent and questioning mind. 

Within the Christian church, the Anglican and Catholic churches have a lot of overlap, but the Catholics seem to have injected a lot more hocus-pocus. As a Catholic, you believe: 

– The Angel Lucifer was expelled from Heaven and became the Devil. There’s not a great deal of documentation on this, as we never had a correspondent in Heaven at the time. This invention is vital in order to provide an adversary to God; an essential counter-point for the struggle between good and evil. 

– God united his divine nature with our human nature in the womb of Mary to create Jesus. That’s like something out of the Greek legends, when Zeus would come down to Earth in disguise to have his wicked way with some maiden or another. 

– In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the priest, with deft sleight of hand, changes bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ through a piece of magic called Transubstitution. As a Catholic, this is not a symbolic thing – you actually believe it happens every time you take Communion. This is like a conjuring trick. As a recipient, you also have to be in a state of grace for the trick to work, which means you can’t have food or drink (except water) for at least an hour beforehand. Is this a church, a circus, or a hospital? 

– Furthermore, for your sins to be forgiven and absolved, you have to be contrite (truly sorry), confess (to a priest), and give satisfaction (carry out the penance given you by the priest). Then you get absolution for any crime you have committed, however bad, which is terribly convenient when Judgment Day comes along. It also means you don’t have to worry about committing more sins, because you can go and get them absolved as well. Why doesn’t the Church introduce a pre-payment system, like with mobile ‘phones? You could then commit sins with guilt-free pre-meditation because you had been absolved for them even before you ever committed them. 

– On Judgment Day, we are all going to rise again in our original bodies, and last forever. Will these bodies be the ones we die in, or at our peak physical state? If it’s our final bodies, the world is going to look like a Thriller video. 

– The Catholic Church is untouchable through the doctrine of Infallibility – The Holy Spirit guides the Pope and the Bishops of the Church – which means they never make mistakes. This is the ultimate in non-accountability, one of the fundamental problems of the administrations of all religions, and in fact institutions generally. There is no motivation to be realistic or efficient. The lack of accountability (Self-regulation? Huh – it never works) is the reason the Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to the systematic molestation of children by gay clerics. 

Judaism, meanwhile, is a ritualistic cliquey club. As a Jew, you believe in the coming of the Messiah, or Moshiach, the recognition of which is very narrowly defined. He will be a great political leader and war lord, and will form a government in Israel that will be the centre of all world governments, both for Jews and Gentiles (Muslims and Hindus don’t seem to count). Since Jesus didn’t fulfill the necessary criteria to be the Moshiach, he doesn’t count as the Messiah. And in the World to Come, the whole world will recognize the Jewish God as the only God. 

This belief becomes an objective, which naturally becomes threatening to all other religions. And the Jews wonder why they get resented. 

Fundamentally, the Second Coming/Coming of the Messiah is going to be a serious problem for religions, because their belief systems all require something different to happen. So if it ever occurs, there’s going to be a massive bust-up. The global nature of media means everyone will hear of the events as they unfold, but the outcome is that at most only one of the religious hierarchies will recognize its validity. 

Islam, as it is written, actually appears more pragmatic than Christian religions and Judaism. They believe that Jesus, like Mohammed, was a prophet or messenger from Allah/God, not the actual Son of God. Islam is overall quite similar to Christianity in beliefs, and if those similarities could be brought to the fore, maybe we could see how much the religions share in common, rather than focus on the differences between their practitioners, which are largely cultural. 

Finally, amongst the major religions, Hinduism is a kind of cross between Buddhism and Islam, but it’s credibility in a sophisticated society suffers from its belief in a hierarchy of multiple Gods, like the Greeks and the Norse. It’s notable that their Gods are now classified within myths and legends, not religions. 

But we have a lot to learn from the philosophies of religions. Originally I thought I was a Buddhist, but disliked the need to dampen down my wants and desires, which I found deeply anti-entrepreneurial. I then discovered what I was – a Humanist! I could focus on the best socially-minded bits from religions, like the Ten Commandments and The Beatitudes from Christianity, without all the rituals and beliefs. It was great; I had a label, I felt respectable. It was Buddhism without the clap-trap. The guilt of my un-Confirmed adolescent youth melted away. 

The underlying core teachings of most religions are philosophical. The personal philosophy of Buddhism and the social philosophy of Christianity are two feasible templates for how to live your life nowadays, through improving yourself and helping others. 

And as a crucial starting point, Education must provide an unbiased forum within which to discuss the different religious approaches, where the creed of Humanism should be given its fair share of airplay. 

Many priests have taken a more flexible and pragmatic approach to try and stem declining congregations, but without any changes from above in the official belief positions of the churches. Getting rid of the outdated dogma and ritualism of religion and creating societies that encourage freedom of religious choice from schools upwards would increase the number of people living by good, grounded principles, and vastly improve the wellbeing of the world. We need to practice, not preach. 

And God? If God doesn’t exist, we would have to invent him.

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