The madness and sins of the world’s seven ’great’ religions
Robert Bolt’s play “A Man For All Seasons” covers the true story of a principled and religious chancellor of England named Sir Thomas More who eventually lost his head because he refused to approve the divorce of King Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn (who later also lost her head), the sister of his former mistress. Henry wanted a son from Catherine but she didn’t deliver.
The Roman Catholic pope in the Vatican wouldn’t buy the deal either, so Henry told the pope to go to hell and started the Church of England. It’s a great story.
Although Henry ended up marrying six wives, he produced nothing but girls. One of them was Queen Elizabeth I, who ended up being the greatest leader England has ever had. It’s also a great movie.
I started out this week thinking I would write about why white Christian evangelicals would vote to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office, an unprincipled, non-religious, five-deferment (foot bone spurs!) golfer, ignorant, unChristlike, thrice-married sexual abuser-harasser-predator who last week was called “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had” by his late professor William Kelley of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. I’ll get back to King Donald and his minions later.
But then I read a synopsis of a new biography about a man who lived over 500 years ago in Italy, who is described as a “human societal misfit, illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical.”
I decided to check out the basic beliefs of the world’s seven great religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity--to see whether he would be accepted as a member of any of them. He might have been selected for membership in a few extreme groups in each religion, but he would be denied by all because of his homosexuality.
The subject of the biography by Walter Isaacson is Leonardo Da Vinci, perhaps the greatest creative artist, illustrator, writer, thinker, and engineer wrapped up in one individual the world has ever seen. Isaacson has written biographies of three other very creative individuals, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. His research is thorough, his prose fluid and understandable.
Read them. I can’t wait to get my hands on “Leonardo Da Vinci.” He is still a man for no “religions” while a religious Thomas More is a man for all “seasons.” That’s why religions make such a mess in the world while professing—and only sometimes doing--good.
Michelangelo, the painter of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican under the supervision of popes, was equal in creativity stature to Da Vinci in many art fields, and was better at some. He was a contemporary of Leonardo and also gay. But they didn’t like each other. He also would be unacceptable to all the great religions.
Filmmaker Ken Burns asks a question of ‘Christian’ evangelicals
In a recent interview, Bill Moyers stated the obvious. “81% of white evangelical voters last year supported Trump. And he is delivering on his promises to them.
This is a man who is clearly bigoted. He spews hate. He hurls racist taunts. He demeans Mexicans and Muslims. He and his family are grifters for whom too much is never enough. He cheats his contractors. He never stops lying. He degrades women. He threatens.
The filmmaker Ken Burns asked, “What is it you see in Donald Trump that reminds you of Jesus?” Yet these right-wing evangelicals have become his most ardent advocates. Why? Do the white Christian evangelicals still worship Jesus Christ—or do they follow the Anti-Christ Trump? A fascinating question.
The question has been partially answered by Hudson Smith, professor of comparative religion at Syracuse University, MIT, and the University of California. His book “The World’s Religions” has sold more than 2.5 million copies.
Raised as a Methodist, he practices yoga, observes the Sabbath with his daughter and Jewish husband, and prays five times a day as Muslims do. He has traveled ten times around the world visiting religious sites such as ashrams, temples, synagogues, mosques, Zen masters, and swamis.
His reaction to Ken Burns’s question: “That’s because their Jesus is different than the Jesus I’m talking about. Their Jesus, remember, the same Jesus that would have been okay with white people lynching people on a Saturday night and going to a church on Sunday morning. Their Jesus would be the Jesus that would be OK with ushers meeting people of color at the door of their church and keeping them out. Their Jesus would be the one that would be okay with telling Gandhi that he could not come into their church because he was brown.
Their Jesus is different than my Jesus, or the Jesus I write about….So when a white supremacist Christian calls on the Lord Jesus, it always makes me cringe because I know that’s not the Jesus I was taught but they think God is okay with that.”
Is religion a malignant force in the world? Hitchens thought so
My favorite atheist and anti-theist is Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the fascinating book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”
Hitchens died at 62 of throat cancer but his life’s work exists in over 30 books and in many columns published in reputable sources around the world.
His main thrust was that the concept of a god or supreme being actually impedes individual freedom and scientific inquiry. He believed that religion is often asserted without evidence, so it could be dismissed without much evidence. He considered himself a social democrat and an anti-totalitarian.
He is a very erudite writer with a never-a-dull-moment grasp of words and ideas. A great read. I think you will find his following summary of religious thought in several “great” religions interesting (slightly edited for brevity):
“Clearly, the human species is designed to experiment with sex. Orthodox Jews may not conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheets, but they do subject their women to ritual baths to cleanse the stain of menstruation. Muslims subject adulterers to public lashings with a whip. Christians used to lick their lips while examining women for signs of witchcraft (three breasts, you know!).
“A consistent proof that religion is man-made and anthropomorphic can also be found in the fact that it is usually ‘man’ made. The holy book in the longest continuous use—the Talmud—commands the man to thank his maker every day he was not born a woman.
“The Old Testament, as Christians condescendingly call it, has woman cloned from man for his use and comfort. The New Testament has Saint Paul expressing both fear and contempt for the female. Throughout all religious texts there is a primitive fear that half the human race is simultaneously defiled and unclean, and yet is also a temptation to sin that is impossible to resist.
“I simply laugh when I read the Koran, with its endless prohibitions on sex and its corrupt promise of infinite debauchery in the life to come. The homicidal lunatics—rehearsing to be genocidal lunatics—of 9/11 were perhaps tempted by virgins, but it is far more revolting to contemplate that, like so many of their fellow jihadists, they were virgins. Like monks of old, the fanatics are taken early from their families, taught to despise their mothers and sisters, and come to adulthood without ever having had a normal conversation, let alone a normal relationship with a woman.”
(Gee, a Saudi woman can now drive a car in the 21st Century!)
“This is disease by definition. Christianity is too repressed to offer sex in paradise—indeed it has never been able to evolve a tempting heaven at all—but it has been lavish in its promise of sadistic and everlasting punishment for sexual backsliders, which is nearly as revealing in making the same point in a different way.
“We have no way to quantify the damage done by telling tens of millions of (Catholic) children that masturbation will make them blind, or that impure thoughts will lead to an eternity of torment, or that members of other faiths including members of their own families will burn in hell with their homosexuality.”
(My note: According to King Donald, Vice-President Mike Pence wants to hang them all! I cringe when the Koch puppet Pence commits moral and ethical suicide when he defends Trump’s constant lying.)
“I am compelled to remember what I know---which is that there would be no such churches in the first place if humanity had not been afraid of the weather, the dark, the plague, the eclipse, and all manner of other things now easily explicable.”
Perhaps this is why church attendance in Europe hovers around 10% and the largest “faith” category in the United States now is the “nones” at 25%, who have no religious affiliation—compared to Catholics at 21% and white evangelicals at 16%.
Religion can be a horrible malignancy on the human mind -- and body
The Aztec priests tore the living heart out of a teenager at dawn each morning to ensure that the gods would allow the sun to rise that day. The followers of the Aghor religion in India celebrate their religion by smearing human ashes all over their bodies, eat the flesh of corpses floating down the sacred Ganges River, and on occasion eat their own excrement. When they eat human flesh they chant offerings to their god Shiva.
The Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists of Myanmar have been enemies for centuries, but their hatred exploded into mass murder recently, which drove over 500,000 Rohingya to refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Human Rights Watch has declared that Buddhists have conducted ethnic cleansing by burning down 288 Muslim villages in Myanmar. The world learned of the horrible religious genocide occurring in Myanmar through the eyes of a 20-year-old Rohingya girl named Rajuma. As she was standing in a border river with hundreds of other women (the men had already been killed by Myanmar soldiers), she was captured, her baby son was ripped from her arms and tossed into a nearby fire. The soldiers then clubbed Rajuma, forced her into a house and gang-raped her all day.
At the end of the day she was seen running naked across a field covered with blood. During that day she lost her son, her mother, two sisters and her younger brother, all murdered in front of her. Today she wanders through a refugee camp in Bangladesh in a PTSD daze.
Survivors in the camps testified about the atrocities committed against members of their religion. They saw government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off boys’ heads, gang-raping girls, shooting grenades into houses, burning entire families to death in their own homes, and were seen rounding up dozens of unarmed men and children and executing them with rifle shots.
Let’s not forget that the Roman Catholics and the Protestants of Europe have been killing each other in the name of God for centuries—and the streets of Belfast, Ireland are still not safe from murderous members of either religion.
A quote from comedian Lenny Bruce is appropriate: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”
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