I caught the tail end of a Discovery Channel show yesterday on religions and geography. The highlight at the end was showing the Jerusalem wailing wall, sacred to the Jews, and just above that wall is an Islamic mosque commemorating the spot where supposedly Muhammad ascended to heaven...and of course just a few blocks away is the spot of the crucifixion of Jesus who also is claimed to have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. All these religions claim this same small piece of geography as their main "holy ground". How convenient if you love competitive religions and a reason to fight. Can they all be right? Are any of these religious claims true and better than the other?
At the very end the commentator kept talking about "sacred wars"...repeating the phrase three or four times to where I had to ask myself how "sacred" and "wars" were ever used together as adjective and noun. Sacred to me always meant association with divinity or divine things; holiness if you will. How can anyone call war holy or divine? Oh, I know...the Old Testament and other religious writs are full of wars that God either sponsored as punishment to "unbelievers", evil doers or for the defense of "His" people. Yet, along comes Jesus...who was basically the forerunner of Ghandi as far as "peace not war" is concerned as a message. The "turn the other cheek" and "love those that hate you" messages of Jesus seem a far cry from even our most contemporary actions of "Christian" nations.
The history of religious wars and conflicts as I began studying them as a young boy were the first paradoxes that had me questioning the faith I was brought up in. There are hundreds more books written to justify the contradictions of the Bible than there are "Books of the Bible", yet none of them have ever settled for me the paradox between the jealous and vengeful God of the Jewish tradition, and the peaceful, loving, forgiving God of New Testament Christianity. Sure, theologians have spent their whole lives and Bible colleges have been founded to explain these "mysteries", but in the end it seems to be a mad cycle of mental gymnastics trying to convince all of us that 2+2 could be something besides 4 by miraculous intervention.
Then of course, the Islamists needed a competitive Deity and religion for their own answers to the great unknowns. It seems the Eastern and Arab world wanted a different prophet or Messiah for their own, so along came Muhammad about 600 years after Jesus to make similar claims to deity and prophetic virtue as the Christian Jesus did. It also seems terribly convenient that they shared many of the same mystical messengers or beliefs. It was the same Arch-Angel "Gabriel" of the Christian Bible who apparently anointed Muhammad as the next great prophet and dictated to him their new "Holy Book", the Quran. Many of the writings in the Quran are the same or similar to many stories and teachings of the Bible. They, like the Christians, believe in angels, heaven and hell, resurrection and judgement and eternal life of some form or another. All three of these major world religions have very similar traditions of liturgy, many of which originated from older pagan religions and pre Judeo-Christian traditions. That also always perked my interest as a young student of theology.
All three religions are totally Patriarchal...which is a nice way of saying men are the leaders, control the family/society and women take care of the home and bear/raise the children. While we of course have modern day versions of these religions who try and paint this a different way based on modern secular influences of equality of all humans over the past 150 years...you can't change "what was written". You can explain away its meaning or say that it no longer applies...but for me to name yourself by any of these religions...you have to believe ALL the words and traditions. That means Gays don't go to heaven, sex is only for marriage and procreating, and very little matters in this current life because "what counts is yet to come". Few people today really believe what their religions teach...at least in practice.
Yet...for all our modernization, new enlightenments and newer interpretations of these fundamental religions, we still have religion as the fundamental cause of most all world conflicts. When nations call their citizens to war, it almost always contains an element of fighting as "God's chosen". I understand this since there is nothing like religion to stir passions and unify people of similar faith. Unfortunately, many of the leaders using this format have no convincing claim on true belief or faith themselves. Many leaders are "wolves in sheep's clothing". I am quite convinced that most young people...whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim...all go to war believing that God is on their side and that they are justified to kill the "infidels". After all, the holy books have examples of God calling his people to arms...so how can we be wrong now?
The more learned or "enlightened" I get on these things, the more disillusioned with human nature I become. I have grown to question all the current institutions of governments and religions based on their lack of pure reason, integrity and their manipulative tendencies in calling on the misinformed, uneducated masses to die for their cause. It seems most humans NEED a cause higher than themselves and have little respect for THIS life...and religion tied to nationalism pushes all the easy buttons in our human psyche and programming.
It IS about programming...don't doubt it for a minute. Newborn babies in a nursery setting have no knowledge or recognition of religious, racial or sexual differences. They learn "difference" and "diversity" from their parents...who learned it from their parents...who, well you get the picture. Our prejudices are totally programmed into us by our environment and culture. Very few individuals truly escape the mental prison of that programming. People who grew up for centuries in patriarchal cultures are not going to feel comfortable or secure in a secular society of "equality" and women's rights. People who grew up having slaves and thinking theirs is a "special" race...well, they aren't going to change after the age of...say 30. When we start recognizing this cause and effect of how we humans think and react, only then can we start changing or evolving from these terrible traditions and belief systems we were previously programmed with. It is not easy to accept reprogramming...but I am proof that it is possible. Change is always possible...though often not probable, nor does it happen over night or without anguish.
I can only hope that if more average humans start realizing that there is no such thing as a "war" justified by God...or as they called it, "Sacred War"...we could start seeing hope for worldwide peace and prosperity. John Lennon was truly a modern day prophet on this theme when he wrote and sang:
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
In closing...here's the NEW scientific reality...to take you to a whole other level of thinking.