Saturday, September 15, 2012

Living Free in an Unfree World – In the Name of Religion

Freedom is as natural as birth and death – and, yet, while there is much rhetoric about freedom, it’s so elusive and undefined. In the name of religion, the vast population of the world is truly unfree.

I will not single out any specific religion. I’m simply making a point that those who embrace religion and accept the tenets, doctrine, dogma, ideology and policies almost blindly with no tangible evidence of the benefits, rewards, claims or promises of accepting them voluntarily give up parts of their natural right of freedom. Of course, everyone supposedly freely makes the choice of embracing or not embracing some form of organized religion. 

No! I’m not down on or condemning any religion or the individuals who choose to embrace a religion . . . except when it leads to denying individuals of their “God” given rights or results in violence against anyone else within or outside of a religion. I used the term “God” given precisely because it’s easy. No matter how one defines the miracle of life, whether through belief in some omnipresent deity, super universal intelligence or just as a natural course of events that has occurred randomly, using the term or label, “God,” makes it easier to describe.

Actually, being brought up in a Christian (Baptist, to be more specific) belief system, it’s easy for me to use the word “God” in such context. I admit to being a spiritual being and believe in some kind of universal intelligence or order, though I don’t find it as easy in my current place in life to personify my belief.

In The Name Of Religion

Citizens of the United States of America, of which I am one, bandy around the words freedom and liberty as though they know what they actually mean. Yet, while America may be one of the freest societies on the planet, we are so far from the basic, natural, human freedom that is a birthright. I truly believe that most Americans, even less today then when I was a youngster 50 and 60 years ago, crossover the words freedom, liberty and democracy (among others) so as to not truly be able to define what the words actually mean and represent on a personal level.

So, here is the really big point. What one doesn’t truly define, understand and appreciate can and will be used against you. It’s like the Miranda Rights, “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” In the name of God, or on a broader scale, in the name of religion, masses of people on this planet accept the definition of freedom and liberty as that preached primarily by the doctrines, tenets, dogma, ideology and policies of the 22 recognized world religions or religious thought groups plus scads of tiny fringe religious groups, many termed cults.

I haven’t studied all the religious thought in the world. Religious scholars spend their entire lives in such study and still never know all there is to know. However, I don’t think I’d be far from wrong in suggesting that every one of the 22 recognized religious philosophies, doctrines and ideologies has somewhere in it numerous descriptions of freedom and liberty. For example, the oft used “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 from the King James Version of the Christian New Testament. This “truth” is defined by that same text, so in order to know the truth, you must accept that text as truth. The only freedom implied in this is that you may choose to accept truth and freedom as defined by the text . . . or not.

Most early societies’ laws were based on religious law. The religious laws identified certain acts as sin that was attributed to Satan. These sins related back to some point in time when some form of original sin took place. In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions this would be the original sin of Adam and Eve with the fruit of the tree of knowledge coerced by the serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden. From this came a series of laws, commandments or moral codes – the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament Bible or the Torah. These were then carried into the Christian New Testament Bible and into the Qur’an, the main text of the Muslim religion. Many forms of government still have, as part of their foundation, some semblance or a direct relationship to the original religious laws. Saudi Arabia, has for example, as its constitution, the direct text of the Qur’an.

What I’ve just related is, of course, a very simplified discussion of how the vast majority of the world’s population is directly or indirectly controlled by the tenets, doctrines, dogma, ideology and policies of the major religions of the world. In many societies, much or most of the social, educational and governmental aspects of daily life revolve around the accepted religion of that society. Children become indoctrinated from birth and are expected to continue following the life so ordained for them by the religion until they die.

Parallel Universes

The study of all religions is extremely interesting and there appear to be many parallels. Most major religions are still based on doctrine and dogma that dates back more then 2,000 years, even the religion of Islam since much of it dates back to early Christianity and Judaism. The challenge, from my perspective, is that the world has changed exponentially since the early beginnings of these religions. The most strict religions preach that the religions, doctrines, dogmas, ideologies, tenets and commandments are all the divine word of God as passed on to humanity through angels and prophets. Therefore, followers are expected to accept and live by these, often, antiquated codes and laws, which I, for one, do not find completely practical in the 21st Century.

And this is where, in the name of religion, believers are expected to accept, on faith, unquestioningly, the “Word of God” as revealed by their recognized religious text and the religious leaders. Personal freedom is not actually defined by an individual rather, it is defined by the religious text and its tenets and is administered and adjudicated, at some level, by the religious leadership.

Intolerant Ideologues

So, we have people in the world like the Reverend Terry Jones, a man with little formal theological education, is not ordained and who, for whatever reason, believes he knows the “Truth.” Apparently, his version of truth is to condemn others, especially those of the Islamic faith. Thus, he denies their right to believe in their religion in their own manner by burning their holy book and making an international media spectacle out of it. Of course, he has to know that he is going to fuel anger, resentment and violence by his actions and accordingly endanger millions, perhaps, billions of other people, most of who do not agree with his preaching or actions. However, in the name of religion, he is exercising his freedom of speech. I honestly don’t see his actions as being all that different then shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater or similar venue.

With the same supposed exercising of his freedom of speech, another convicted felon in California, an individual of, apparently, low moral bearing in the society he has chosen to live, creates a film, in the name of religion, Coptic Christianity, that does the same thing. It is not without question that I believe he was and is fully aware that his actions were nothing less then poking a stick at a rattlesnake poised to strike. So, now this coward is in hiding because he knows if he shows his face in public, the rattlesnake that has already caused much property damage, loss of some life, many injuries and millions of dollars in property damage will strike at him and snuff out his life. In this case, his freedom of speech has massively infringed upon the rights of thousands and, potentially, millions of people around the world. It’s hard for me to believe that he wasn’t aware of the ultimate results of his actions. Thus, he knowingly, in the name of religion, trampled the rights of others and endangered them.

And, in the same name of religion (a different religion) we have a population of people, certainly not all people of that religion, but a significant representation, who have given up their freedom. They are directed by, in my opinion, misguided religious leaders and thugs, using religion as their excuse for their thuggery (my own coined word). They feel it is their right and their responsibility to deny the freedoms and rights of the billions of people around the world who don’t believe as they do and have not summarily given up their freedom to think for themselves. Tolerance, dealing with stupidity, despicable intolerance and discrimination is not part of their language. Thus, again, in the name of religion, they blame and take out their own stupidity, intolerance and discriminatory actions on millions and billions of innocent people.

Where Will It End?

Where will it end? Wars have been waged over and over throughout the history of the world for precisely the thinking and actions I just described. As each successive war has been fought and because technology continues to advance, the wars have been bloodier and crueler and the big losers are always the innocents caught in the crossfire. So, in today’s world we have the destructive power to create the ultimate apocalypse. You can describe it in the name of religion as prophets have predicted in religious texts. Or, you can describe is as the ultimate destruction of Earth and most life forms at the hands of humankind. No one wants to ultimately be the one to start the actual end of the world scenario. Yet, I dare say, in the name of religion that there will ultimately be one person who, at some time, will believe “his” version of truth and being set free to live in heaven (a place of unproven existence) is “just cause. He will “push the button” and start a chain of events that will destroy the planet and its ability to sustain life or least sustain life as we know it.

Certainly, that’s not a prediction I have the ability to make and I don’t suggest it is something we will experience in the foreseeable future. However, so many of the predictions of long gone, science fiction writers have come to pass just during our lifetimes. All religions seem to have a parallel tenet of peace, love and tolerance. But, it is mainly based on all others accepting “truth” as defined by each religion and forsaking their own religion and personal freedom and accepting whatever the “laws” are as defined by that religion. I condemn no one nor do I judge anyone for his or her choices. The choice to accept, by faith and for whatever other reasons, the tenets and doctrine of any religion is your free choice. But, in the name of religion, you do not have the right to condemn, discriminate or in any way infringe on the rights and freedoms of anyone else, including me. My beliefs and choices regarding my life, including my definition of spirituality is mine and mine alone. I won’t impose it on you and I expect the same mutual human respect from you.

Let’s just hope, in the name of religion and God, that we don’t see the actions and reactions in the Middle East escalate any further, resulting in massive loss of life, injury and property. You are free to choose any religion you want to and accept any tenets and doctrine that religion preaches including giving up your right to personal freedom. You are not free to impose your choices on anyone else and especially . . . me.

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