Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Nikhil Kashyap By Nikhil Kashyap, 14th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Religion>Other Religions

The relationship, or lack of relationship, between religion and morality

Intro

Angels, daemons and mystical beings. Astrology, alternate medicine, and witch doctors. Belief in the numinous seems harmless enough when viewed in isolation; however, it is evident that is not the case. For eons, humanity has held the belief that our morality is engendered by God, that religion guides people and teaches them how to behave. I would like to show that contrary to this view, we remain moral in spite of religion rather than derive our morals from it.

Religion and War

Needless to say, more life has been sacrificed in the name of God than any other reason in history; on this we must all agree as numbers leave no room for interpretation. Looking back at The Thirty Years War, The Crusades, 9-11, and countless civil wars and riots across geographies, conservative estimates of the death toll reaches upwards of 20 million lives lost. Religious apologists will have you believe that religion is merely a facade behind which lie deeper agendas that have played a greater role in these ‘holy wars’. There is perhaps an element of truth to this defense. The best case to be made for this argument is the Thirty Years War, which was triggered in 1618 by the Roman emperor Ferdinand II, when he attempted to impose Roman Catholic absolutism on his domains. This move met with immediate protest from Protestant constitutions like Bohemia and Austria. Though this battle ended in five years, the conflict itself lasted close to three decades driven by military conquest of various nations. These facts by themselves cannot exonerate religion and the role it plays in these mindless acts. Most faith-based conflicts are motivated entirely by establishing supremacy of one religion over another, and cases like the Thirty Years War are more an exception to a rule. Even in these cases, where ulterior motives like conquest or foreign policy come into play, the final trigger is always religion. It is the only incentivizer powerful enough to spur masses into morally unthinkable action. A cause, no matter how absurd or immoral, can always be vindicated by attaching the name of God by its side.

Fanatics are Fundamentalists

Of course the every day adherent of religion will attribute every drop of blood spilled to that familiar phrase – fanaticism. Headlines read ‘Religious fanatics riot in streets’, or ‘Religious fanatics cause pandemonium’. This is the pretense we employ to vindicate our apathy to such incidents and acquit religion of all charges. However, fanaticism does not manifest from nowhere; people are not born extremists. Fundamentalism logically progresses to fanaticism. Upon inspection, it becomes clear that religion has very well packaged elements of fundamentalism and totalitarianism. Religion’s very essence is founded on the concept of faith and belief without any evidence, and that its preachings must be unequivocally accepted as true. The lesser the evidence, the greater your belief must be. Follow the golden laws and you will most certainly be rewarded (this life or the next). Question these unalterable teachings, and divine retribution will follow. This entire cycle of thinking screams fundamentalism. When an individual is indoctrinated into unquestioning acceptance, nothing else can penetrate through that absolute belief. The means always become justifiable to the end. Religious extremists are not abusing religion; they have simply taken their faith to the next inevitable step. The nature of religion itself engenders extremism.

Religion and the common man

One does not have to look as far as extremists for a prosecution against religion; the “common man” has blood on his hands too. Intolerance is almost entirely a faith-based virtue. The most vocal opposition to acceptance of homosexuality has always come from religious organizations and their flocks. Religious leaders alike met the grotesque upholding of section 377 with enthusiastic support. Evangelists declare AIDS as the wrath of God punishing the homosexual lifestyle. Once again, these are direct indictments of the fundamentalism that religion breeds in people. Religious arguments against homosexuality are typically based on comparisons to bestiality, condemnation by scripture, the inability to procreate, the sanctity of marriage, and the fact that it is seemingly unnatural. One only needs to pause for an instant to see how baseless these arguments are; but fundamentalism will never allow that pause because it dictates blind acceptance. Reason, tolerance and freethinking can never penetrate through as, at the offset, religion asks you to abandon these faculties and believe unconditionally. If homosexuality does not tickle your fancy, religion also stands in opposition to abortion, stem cell research and vaccination, to name a few. They are not fanatics who subscribe to these beliefs; they are regular folk whose morality has been corrupted by religion. Overall, the damage inflicted by religious thinking is unquantifiable.

Past and Present

Some would argue that prejudices and agendas were never part of the original design for religion; that conceptually, religion was intended to define a framework within which people could live, nothing more. Much like the world in which they exist, religions evolve and morph. The roots of religion and the relevance of the pioneering ideas behind them are a digression from the discussion and are, in any case, not relevant in the 21st century. It is counter-intuitive to make a distinction between the supposed concept of religion, and people’s interpretation of it; neither is there any validity to such a distinction. Religion is a man made fabrication, and should be interpreted as such. Thereby, it makes no sense to grant legitimacy to the religion of yore, and attribute falsehood to its current state. Religion is everything man makes it to be. Nevertheless, for arguments sake let us examine the morals preached by the original teachings of religion

The Christian Faith

A vast majority of Christians believe that the Bible is literally the word of God. In its slightly less subtle passages, the Bible condones slavery, ritual human sacrifice, brutal punishments to sinners, slaughter of unbelievers and a host of other radical immoralities. However, even these blunt messages are less sinister than some of the understated teachings in the Bible. One of Christinaity’s founding beliefs is the inherent sin of man; that when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit of Eden, she passed on the seed of this original sin to every human soul who came after her. What a terrible idea to be teaching our children, that an innocent young soul is cursed with his ancestor’s sin and that he must spend his life absolving himself, lest he burn for eternity after his death. Posthumous eternal punishment is another strong Biblical theme. The concept of an unyielding hell is very effective in instilling fear in a person. What a burden it must be to constantly act with the thought of perdition in the back of one’s mind. In children, especially these notions can be psychologically damaging; it is child abuse of its own kind.

The East does not have the answer

Let us turn our attention eastward. In India, most are firmly stooped in the belief that Hinduism provides a truer alternative to the corrupt monotheisms of the west. Such convictions are amusing considering the fact that these people are Hindus by the sheerest accident of their location of birth. Regardless, Hinduism is not without its share of ugliness. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that, unlike the west, we have not discarded these vile elements from society. The caste system finds roots in ancient Hindu scripture. This grotesque establishment of the social order is elaborately spelt out in the Laws of Manu, found in the Upanishads, a concluding text of the Vedas. In the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of Hinduism, Lord Krishna attempts to explain why he created the four-fold order in humankind. Here he explains that the division is based on the Guna (quality) and Karma (work) rather than by virtue of birth; most noble. This contrasts sharply with the Hindu belief that one’s Guna and Karma are determined based on the probity of his/her previous life; thereby it follows that one’s caste is determined by birth.

The Hypocrisy of Hinduism

Hinduism is painted with these contradictions and hypocrisies. The role of the woman is another such example; as the bearer of life, women are considered holy in Hindu culture. The perverseness of this notion is unmistakable; to mark a person as ‘holy’ only if she fulfills a gender role assigned to her, is such an obvious manipulation of that person’s free will. Contradicting this image of purity is the horrific institution of ‘Sati’. This practice, where a woman ‘voluntarily’ jumps into her husband’s funeral pyre, finds roots in Hindu mythology. It is believed that Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva, burnt herself in fire as protest against her father who did not give Lord Shiva the respect she thought he deserved. While burning herself she prayed to be reborn again as the new consort of Shiva. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no reliable figures of how many women have had the honour of immolating themselves to join their husbands in the afterlife. The systematic objectification of women is another commonly found trait in Hindu scripture. The treatment of Draupadi, in the epic ‘Mahabharatha’ is nothing short of apalling. After the third Pandava Arjuna ‘wins’ Draupadi as a wife in a ‘swayamwar’ he brings her home as a prized possession to be shown off. Assuming it is simply alms, Arjuna’s mother Kunti unglancingly asks her son to share whatever he has brought home with his brothers. Thus, all five brothers come to share Draupadi in holy matrimony. Are these really the stories we wish to teach our children? Are these the teachings by which they are to tell right from wrong?

Literalism reveals the Truth

Of course I will now be accused of literalism; that no sane individual should be interpreting these ‘teachings’ literally; that beneath the surface lies deeper meaning. But here lies the truth; the fact that we don’t interpret these stories literally proves that our morality can’t possibly be engendered by religion. We have an internal sense of right and wrong which allows us to choose how to interpret scripture. We quite simply do not need religion to ensure order in society, to determine right and wrong, or to make people behave. In fact, the theory that religion engenders morality raises more questions than answers. The zeitgeist of human morality evolves over time. Generally, we are kinder and have more empathy to people and other animals than we did in the past. On the other hand, the political, cultural and social influence of religion has dipped drastically in the last century. So then, where does our morality come from? What makes us cringe when an animal yelps in pain; what makes our heart go out to a stranger in distress? Whatever it is, you can bet that science will answer these questions, not religion. Furthermore, you can also be sure that Charles Darwin figures prominently in the answer!

Chainless Minds

As always, my question to my theist friends is simple. Is your faith something you truthfully need, or is it something you have simply grown accustomed to? Do you really wish to see the world through filters of skewed beliefs? Even though it might be a frightening prospect, I guarantee you will find a deeper sense of wonder when you let your mind do its own thinking.

A Warning

If your answer is still yes, then I leave you with a note of caution, for there are no signposts on the slippery slope you have chosen to embark on. Once you slip past the voice of reason, there will be no turning back as fundamentalism consumes you. The struggle of the single mother raising her child on welfare because she was not allowed an abortion. The suicide of hundreds of gay teens because your temples, churches and mosques have silenced their hopes and dreams of a future. Their blood will be on your hands …

Check out my other pages

Like what you just read? Show me some more love and check out my other pages! :
Gaming - Mass Moral Crisis - A look back over one of the greatest games of all time
Travel - Diaries of A Gypsy : The Glowing Cave - Experience a hidden location in New Zealand

Tags

Abortion, Bible, Christianity, Crusades, Extremism, Fanaticism, Fundamentalism, God, Hell, Hinduism, Homosexuality, Mahabharatha, Morality, Reason, Religion, Science, Thirty Years War, Tolerance, Vedas, War, Womens Rights

Meet the author

author avatar Nikhil Kashyap
If I had to describe myself in three words or phrases, they would be : Explorer, Art and Science Lover, Cynic. That should also give you a good idea about the kind of stuff I'll write about!

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