There are so many things that we lose on our passage through life: innocence, virginity, youth, looks, patience, temper, love, fidelity, money, jobs, family, health, friends and loved ones. But some never lose their religion. In fact the more on the list above that they lose the more they cling to their religion because it is the fall guy, the excuse, the haven and the ultimate refusal of mea culpa – of accepting personal responsibility and blame because of being but a pawn in a Greater Scheme of Life.
The recent census results point to an Australian population, similar to many European populations, that is increasingly losing its religion. Now it rests just under the 50 per cent mark and may well be higher than this if the serious ‘doubters’ were included. There is alarm about this statistic by many Christian political commentators who keep holding to the now rusted tenet that Christianity = Democracy; that our Western Civilisation depends upon the teachings of Christianity.
This claim has been preached over and over again despite the history of democracy – i.e. the public voting system begun in a very sophisticated pre-Christian Greek civilisation where there were a plethora of gods to enjoy or fear. The adoption of Christianity by Constantine and, in turn, its spread throughout what was last of the Roman Empire has its own very clouded history from the myth of visions and motherly influence to the more likely, pragmatic reason, of using what was a comparatively benign religion to help Constantine unite an increasingly disaffected, far-flung, realm. Machiavelli also counselled the use of Christianity and its contingent fear of God to fix the loyalty of troops by having them pledge not only to the State but also to God.
We have the oft repeated connection between Christianity and the value of each human life as the connection between a religion and a revered political system but this conveniently forgets the horrors of the very ‘Christian’ Inquisition; the cruel and unnecessary rampages of Richard The Lion Heart’s bikie-style band of Crusaders that locked their wives chastity belts, jumped on horses and boats and spread fear, death and sexually transmitted disease as they raped and pillaged their way across the European peninsula en route to the Muslim empire of Saladin where the slaughter really started. Why? Because the European version of the Middle Eastern, Abrahamic ‘One’ God was different to that of the Syrian/Mesopotamian people. So let’s not get all dewy-eyed over how ‘good’ Christianity is.
The trouble with religious conflicts is there are many with very long memories of such injustices that can dwell and fester for hundreds of years only to return with vengeance. The world is now witnessing just that.
That the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth resonated and gave purpose to what was his largely urban proletariat following does not translate to a modern political system that owes more to The French Revolution that made no invocation to religion and was, furthermore, a child of the growing anti-religious pro-scientific rationalist philosophies of The Enlightenment. In fact, the call to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity was a call to arms against the supposedly (Christian) God-given rights of kings and the very aristocratic Church.
It was a revolution by the people for the people and more closely resembled the 2,500-year-old ‘demos’ system of Greece whereby popular sovereignty derives its power from the citizenry rather than from birthright. Now, the most overtly Christian nation of all, the USA, with a raft of Christian sects from Mormons, to Baptists, to Episcopalians, to Catholics, to Seventh Day Adventists, to Brethren, to Scientologists and all sorts of ‘happy clappers’/‘born against’ etc. has put the final nail in the coffin of the Christianity/democracy connection.
This nation, built on freedom of worship (and freedom not to worship) that touts democracy around the world, is now obsessed by witch hunting and hounding a duly, elected-by-the-people, President. Why? Because, democratic voting system aside, these (largely Christian) opinion-makers don’t approve of him. So there you have it. Spelt loud and clear by august media outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, various celebrities, and thousands of banner-wielding protestors that America, the land of the free and the brave and where “In God we Trust” even makes it onto the greenback sees no connection between this God and a democratic system.
This God of the US, while predominantly that of the Christians could also be that of the Jews, or the Muslims – three major constituencies with three major religions all worshiping different versions and different interpretations of the One God and, once again, getting very angry with each other. So now, more than ever, it is important to uphold the separation of state and religion or descend into the mire of the religious wars of the past that could herald a return to The Dark Ages and their hundreds of years of religious bloodletting.
Back to a time back when intellectual curiosity and questioning was punished by torture or death; when to disagree with a creed was punished by torture or death; when mere association with banned enjoyments, people and pleasures was punished by torture and death; when a birthmark in the wrong place or a genetic disability were sure signs of the work of Satan and was punishable by death.
I have book that has been in my family for over 100 years. It is the Book of Witchcraft and Demonology and used to sit on a shelf beside The Golden Bough by James Fraser. In it, there were the various recipes and methods required to deal with those suspected to be witches. The one that impressed me most as a child was the one test of a witch which went something like tie the woman’s hands and bind her legs then throw her into a huge vat of water. If she sinks and drowns then she is not a witch, if she floats she is and must be taken out and burned to death. Definitely a lose-lose situation.
While this might seem ridiculous today make no mistake there are similar, irrational, religious-based disciplinary actions now taking place across the planet. We have a return wave of theocratic armies and mad dog, guerrilla-style religious warriors intent on maiming and killing for all the prevailing reasons quoted above for the years of The Dark Ages.
Now we have a global religious movement that, like a long slow tide, is finally rebounding after the savagery of The Crusades. Surely, this time the world’s far increased knowledge bank should be a protection against such rabid religiosity but, perhaps not if these religious warriors are only influenced by religious texts. This ‘protection by knowledge’ can only happen if children are taught not from just a religious text but also taught what we now know and what we hope to know through rational and empirical enquiry. In this space, religion can’t exist.
If more people lose their religion or are never given one; if political systems and religion are decoupled; if theocracies wake up to what we have learnt since The Enlightenment and not try to turn time back thousands of years to when we were ignorant of how life’s various systems work then the oncoming return of The Dark Ages may be averted.
Across Australia and many European countries, children are not being taught religion in their early years. I am not sure if Sunday School still exists but if so then numbers will be very low. Ignatius Loyola observed the importance of having a child to the age of seven years if you were to hold their thoughts into adulthood. Now there are many adults who are deliberately rationalising their thoughts and leaving their religions. Their children may never be taught them.
Do not believe for one minute that humans will be sociopaths without the codes and controls of religions. As recent films and media tell us amongst those charged with disseminating religious teaching are the least ethical of us all. Religion alone seems unable to contain immorality. We are social animals and key to our survival is cooperation – that is the ethic that sustains human societies not the religions that have the blood of millions over the centuries on their hands. So the best answer for a future that delivers accustomed safety is for everyone to lose their religions or risk another Dark Age of fear and slaughter.
I never lost my religion because I never had one. I was born in 1951 when Australian voters where predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon and either Protestant or Catholic (plus a few Jewish). Many children attended a quaint weekend ritual called Sunday School while others of us did fun things like ride bikes, go-karts and ponies, visit friends and climb trees. I have read Tanveer Ahmed’s argument that everyone has a religion – even if they create their own and that may be the continuously edited world of science. I totally disagree because no child invents a complex religion. They are taught it.
I have read Tanveer Ahmed’s argument that everyone has a religion – even if they create their own and that may be the continuously edited world of science. I totally disagree because no child invents a complex religion. They are taught it.
This does not mean children may not have an imaginary friend but to believe in constructs such as God, or any god, and all the attendant rules, teachings, codes of behaviour and other symbolic paraphernalia needs to be taught.
The teaching starts with parents who ask children to pray, observe rituals, codes of behaviour and dress.
If this isn’t started in the playground then we could grow out of the need for religion.
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