This may appear to be a meandering essay, but I assure you that I have a purpose. We may be attempting too much in a single essay, even one of 2 or more parts. Questions are raised, and answers are not always to be found or discerned. As always, one must govern one’s religious fervor with reason.
We recognize the need for organized religion (as many people need the structure and the ritual that it provides), but there has been a downside to organized religion through the millenia. My grievance is not with organized religion per se, but with the harmful abuses committed by those individuals (and groups) high up in the power structures of organized religions throughout the millenia. If the organized religions cannot correct their abuses and get their priorities straight, if these fall short, then we as individuals have to step up and do our part to combat the moral and spiritual confusion in the world today. There is much evil in the world today. This is undeniable. There does appear to be a malevolent and malignant intelligence directing much of this evil. Call it what you will, the name or term we all have heard is Satan. (Personally, I do not accept the view that Satan or “the devil” is merely the personification of evil, or just a metaphor.)
We are not discouraging those readers who practice their religion. Continue to attend temple, church or synagogue. But, be cognizant or aware of the abuses of religion.
Let’s look at organized religions in an objective, dispassionate manner.
Now, please do not be upset or angry with me – we only present the reality of the dilemma.
In the essay on Turkey, a torn country, in August, 2012 we cited the book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington (copyright 1996). This author is of the view that religion is the most divisive factor in human interaction. This is likely because we as individuals invest so much of ourselves (emotionally and psychologically) in our religion and religious beliefs, that these come to define us. Thus, we may see other religions as threats to our view of ourselves, to our identity.
As to Christianity, one must acknowledge the historic fact that the majority of the world’s population was never evangelized. Christianity has never had a majority of the world’s population as adherents in 2,000 years. So, does every non-Christian who has ever lived, by default, go to hell forever? I think not.
When one looks at the painted portraits of both Protestant and Catholic religious leaders from the late Middle Ages and into early modern times, one often (but not in every case) sees frowns and even scowls. Why the frowns and scowls and stern expressions on these men’s faces? If only these august individuals had had a spiritual experience or two, these frowns might have become smiles of joy.
Joyless portraits. Joyless, stern men. Perhaps, it was a case of becoming uncomfortable, or impatient with portrait artists taking too long to finish their painting.
One wonders what concept of a heaven or a higher plane of existence these individuals could have had. Their concept of a heavenly state might actually appear pretty dreary to the rest of us.
Part of this attitude of these joyless men may stem from a flawed understanding of the nature of God. Is God truly loving, just and merciful? Or, is God like a temperamental teenager or child and being so very easily offended, then becomes vengeful? Is God offended if we experience a little joy amidst our daily sufferings? Much earlier (in August, 2012) we wrote that it appears that men manufacture an image or concept of God who has or shares their own mental hangups and biases.
Another question is in the background here. Was man created for a higher purpose, or was he only created to suffer?
It is told of (St.) Thomas Aquinas (who lived in the 13th century) that he had a glimpse of the divine or a spiritual experience late in his life. He was still working on his magnum opus, his Summa Theological. His unfinished “summary” was thousands of pages long when he had this truly life-changing experience. He set his pen (or whatever they wrote with in those days) down and did not write another word. He realized that all he had written did not and could not do justice to the subject (theology means the knowledge or study of God). He died just several weeks after this experience.
People ought to be God-fearing, but if your relationship with God is based solely on fear, it is pretty shallow indeed, and very limiting.
An obsession with excessive and extreme self-denial, a hatred of living in this world, and asceticism (including, for some, the mortification of the flesh) may indeed be symptoms of mental illness.
Is it necessary to lead a joyless life in order to be “saved”?! If you read the Gospels of the New Testament, it appears that Jesus calls us to live a moral, human life, not an ascetic life.
There is an ascetic strain in the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism as well.
Is any earthly joy or pleasure an obstacle to developing a deeper relationship with God? Does joy prevent one from attaining a higher level of consciousness while on this Earth?
Similarly, is it necessary to glorify suffering and seek suffering as we go through life? This appears to be masochistic. One does not have to seek suffering. Suffering stalks us each and every day of our lives. (For those younger readers who may not believe this, in time, you will know this to be true from your own personal life experiences.) Suffering comes in many forms, it is not just physical in nature. There is much emotional, mental and psychological anguish and pain in life.
Where is the virtue in a joyless, ascetic life? In every generation, east or west, only a handful of individuals can live such a life. An ascetic life does not and cannot work for the vast majority of humanity.
Now, please do not misinterpret what I mean to say. Do not go live a hedonistic, self-centered or self-absorbed, amoral/immoral life. But, one does not have to go to the other extreme either.
I smile, laugh and experience joy even on days when my body is wracked with pain. As well, I feel no guilt for having been born. (Although, to be candid, I wish I had been born into a better, more loving world.)
(A few words here about the “visions” of hell and purgatory that were experienced by various Christian saints in the late Middle Ages. Some of these visions may indeed have been true visions. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that some of these experiences may have been produced by the subconscious mind. Some people think that belief conditions the experience (that the subconscious mind gives to these individuals). For those religious persons (in various religious orders) who obsess on guilt and unworthiness for decades during their adult lives, visions of hell may be the subconscious mind regurgitating back up what has been fed into it over so many years. We do not deny that hell exists. It is quite likely populated by politicians and many others who have increased human misery and increased and/or perpetuated injustices in this world. As well, those who have shed innocent blood, and those who have incited others to hate and to violence, truly have much to answer for.)
. . . . to be continued . . . .
The below flags are of (clockwise from upper left) Mongolia, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and India.
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