Religious beliefs are simply a bundle of preferential thinking. Any belief that rests on divine revelation is categorically untrue.
Did God give the world 10 commandments? No, somebody said that he did. Wasn’t it Moses that said so? No, somebody said that Moses said it. And even if it was Moses who said it, that is a man said it, not God. Did the Buddha say there were four noble truths?
No, somebody said that he did. The Buddha left nothing written, and at the time of his life he was not even called the Buddha, he was called Gautama. And he didn’t speak Pali, which had not evolved into a language in his lifetime. He probably spoke like a northern yokel when he went and mixed with other yogis in Benares, the city of religious scholarship on the Ganges.
As with Christianity, somebody said, “All of this is what the teacher said.” And in Christianity and Buddhism, a Canon of accepted doctrines was developed on the premise of someone said he said. Chinese whispers, taken for evidentiary statements and believed as truth – and it can only ever go back to a man said that a man said that a man said that the Buddha said. A man said that this is what Christ said. Even though Jesus did not speak Latin or Greek, the gospel writers who had never known him did, and the canon of teachings came down in history in Latin. And he was not called Christ (The Anointed One) in his lifetime any more than Gautama was called the Buddha (the One with the Awakened Intellect) in his lifetime – Gautama who never spoke Pali, though the later writers, borrowing authority from their ascriptions to him, did.
Reliance on religious texts always invokes a slippery sleight of hand by which what is human appears to be divine. The limiting factor of someone said is magicked into Revealed Truth – that which makes any repudiation inherently blasphemous and sinful.
Would you like to look at a few beliefs?
Here is a line from Psalm 42 of King David, which used to be quoted in the old Latin Mass
“Quia tu es, Deus, fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?” (Where are you, oh God, my strength? Why have you rejected me, and why do I go about sorrrowful while hateful people afflict me?)
King David speaking. Don’t you feel like giving him a good talking to about taking responsibility for his own moods and actions? Oh no, for the believer, it is all because an invisible divine Someone is supposed to be on his side and is not doing his part to bring down his enemies, so of course he has a right to be dejected and feel abandoned.
Beliefs about the immaculate conception?
Joseph was going to marry Mary but found she was pregnant. When he understood that God had made her pregnant with His son, no sex involved, then everything was A-OK.
Well, in those days a pregnant fiancée would be handed back to her family. Unusually for the time, Joseph honoured the engagement. Two other very reasonable possibilities suggest themselves for this unusual fidelity. One is that Joseph and Mary didn’t wait till the wedding day for intimacy, and made up a preposterous story to cover it – maybe tongue in cheek. Another is that Mary’s father molested her, and Joseph saved her from her incestuous father. This would make some sense of Jesus saying that he was the son of the father – that his father was the father of his mother.
Now, why do you suppose that people would come at me and say this is blasphemy? Oh, because somebody said that a fantasy about conception was divine truth! and we like to believe any fantasy more than an unbearable reality, that Mary gave birth to a human child after having sex with a human man.
Beliefs about the Virgin Birth
To be a virgin you must have an intact hymen. As there was no sex in the Immaculate Conception, what about the hymen (proof of virginity) when the Divine Baby was born? Can you believe there has been serious theological debate as to how Mary retained her hymen after giving birth to Jesus? Because without it she would not be a virgin.
This is where beliefs take you – they take you into idiocy, and the more idiotic the harsher the penalties for the blasphemy of pointing it out. Showing the holes in belief used to be a short route to a place on top of a bonfire.
The Ascension and the Assumption
One of the beliefs required for Catholic faith is in the ascension of Jesus and the assumption of Mary. Jesus by his own power ascended up through the sky into heaven. His mother Mary, being mortal, was “assumed”, that is, taken up by God’s divine power. Wouldn’t you just love to have seen the bodies of Jesus and Mary floating up into the sky? Because where is heaven if not above the clouds? To be a Catholic, you are required to believe something that is beyond comical when you envision it.
What about the Pope? A word which means “father”, etymologically. Our papa. And not only our loving father but the Vicar of Christ.
Because the word Vicar has so easily become associated for us with “the one who conducts religious services in local churches”, we forget that the word vicar has the same meaning as its adjective, vicarious, “acting in place of another.” The Pope is the one who stands in place of Jesus and has a direct line with God the Father. Are you blinking in disbelief? Well, of course, you would be blinking, in astonishment! A couple of dozen very old men, the College of Cardinals, who worked their way up through the church to have great esteem and quite a luxurious lifestyle to go with it, despite their teachings about the virtue of poverty, choose another old man, and tell the rest of the world that this man is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ – someone said that God guides their choice of the one who stands in place of Jesus Himself.
Jesus, by the way, has saved the entire world from their sins so that they can be happy with the Father for ever in Heaven – so long as they do what the religious teachers and texts tell them, that is.
And the Pope, in his seat (ex cathedra) as the Vicar of Christ, can make pronouncements and judgments which are infallible – cannot be wrong and can never be disputed – because it is not his own opinion, but rather God speaking through the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra.
It is absurd to to enshrine in law any status or privilege related to belief at all. Would you like to hear a bit more about Christianity? Try Pentecostalism. Or more about Buddhism? Or Islam? Or Hinduism? What about Voodooism? Rastafarianism? Judaism? or Wicca? What about the differences between various branches of Christianity, or Buddhism?
What about my beliefs?
You might ask about my beliefs. I certainly have beliefs. From my earliest days I have felt a sense of presence – I can’t remember any time that I have not – and I have some beliefs about that. I have taken sannyas in the Shaivite stream of Hinduism. I have beliefs and practices. I wear orange clothes to remind myself of my purpose. But the last thing that I would ask from the rest of the community is to require them to pass laws to protect my beliefs. And I would query why any one else would want that for their own beliefs.
Actions speak louder than words
What I do say is, let’s see how people behave. Let’s see if their beliefs broaden their outlook, and give them a greater capacity for reality-based reasoning rather than magical thinking, or whether their beliefs make them narrow-minded instead of open to the variety of experience. Let’s respect the behaviours that bring peace and love and kindness into the world. Pope Francis might be an example, the Dalai Lama might be an example, of those whose behaviours do in fact bring kindness into the world. But don’t ask them what they believe, or say that their beliefs ought to have legitimacy in law. Respect what they do, and what they bring about, and let that be sufficient.
And if a religious belief brings about division, judgment of others, unkind or hateful behaviour towards others, or discrimination in employment or accessibility to goods and services, call it for what it is – self-serving self-righteous twaddle, not divinely ordained belief that bestows entitlement on believers.
And don’t bother me with your beliefs, either. Show me your behaviours and tell me about your experience in living peacefully with the rest of the community. That will show me much more about your relationship with reality than your beliefs ever will.
And keep beliefs and a “right to believe” out of the statute books.