Priests of primitive, pagan religions from Meso America to ancient Mesopotamia to sub Saharan Africa have abused the privileges of their position. But, let us look closely at more highly organized and developed religions of the world. Perhaps we ought to include that atheistic ideology that substitutes for a religion for so many, namely, communism (with its horrific atrocities and mass murders). Communism has its dogmatic “scriptures” – the writings of Marx and Lenin. As well, secular humanism substitutes for religion with many millions of individuals in the developed, industrial Western world (mainly in Europe and in North America.).
Here is a list of a few of the many abuses found in various organized religions.
The caste system in ancient India (the four fold division of society) was originally based on qualification and character, and not rigidly enforced (without exception) by birth and heredity. The Brahmins, the religious priests of Hinduism and the uppermost caste, over time made the caste system hereditary so as to keep the power, privilege and status they enjoyed within their own families indefinitely into the future. Both Radhakrishnan (1888 – 1975) and Srila Prabhupada (1896 – 1977) noted this change in the caste system in their writings.
(After nearly having finished this essay, I sought one of Radhakrishnan’s works from a bookshelf in our home. It is so rich with relevant insights, that we will likely write an essay and include some quotes from this work. His knowledge, understanding and thoughts are substantive and contributes much to the discussion. Like Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950), Radhakrishnan knew much about the West as he was educated in England. (His surname is formed by the joining of Radha (the consort of Krishna) and Krishna (the supreme personality of God for Hindus.))
Certain Buddhist leaders falsely claimed several centuries after the Buddha’s death that certain unorthodox or heterodox oral traditions originated from him.
Jewish rabbis gave us their (Pharisaic) Talmud (an extremely chauvinistic, bigoted and viciously anti-Christian collection of writings compiled in the early centuries of the Christian era). The Talmud is what modern religious Jews look to for their code of conduct.
The abuses of authority by the Catholic Church are largely found in (excessively) narrowing the latitude of acceptable actions for Catholics (most offensively in the burdening of marriage with a non-Christian (ancient pagan) sexual pessimism). God trusts us with a wider range of allowable actions. Not so the Church that does not honestly realize that it was never given license to abuse its authority. (Yes, we need a sexual morality, but such a morality to be moral must do justice to the dignity of married persons.)
Let me quote here from Radhakrishnan (as a non-Christian observer) in The Hindu View of Life, (The MacMillan Company, New York, second printing 1968, from lectures delivered at Oxford in 1926), page 65:
“While some forms of Christianity and Buddhism judge the life of the world to be inferior to the life of the monk, and would have loved to place the whole of mankind at one swoop in the cloister, Hinduism while appreciating the life of the samnyasin (one who renounces the world, ascetic) refrained from condemning the state of the householder. Every state is necessary, and in so far as it is necessary it is good. The blossom does not deny the leaf and the leaf does not deny the stalk nor the stalk the root.”
We have previously (in an essay in March 2014) noted the problematic cherry picking of Bible verses by many Protestants, including some pastors, of various denominations (of which there are thousands) to legitimate just about anything they wish to do. (We will have more to say to Christians below.)
As to Islam, does it even qualify as a legitimate religion? Verses in the Quran instruct the faithful that it is acceptable to do violence to all who refuse to submit (to convert) to Islam. Sadly, today many Muslims are doing terrible, vicious violence all over the world where they interact with non-Muslims. Muslims to validate their beliefs (being themselves so unsure/insecure in these) demand that all others convert to Islam, and submit to Sharia law. In my view, Islam is violence cloaked in a thin veneer of religiosity.
The historic lesson here is that where you have organized priesthoods, priestcraft, a ruling priestly caste – you get abuses of authority. One sees that the temptation to alter the religion, to leave one’s mark or “spin” upon it, is a temptation that few men, who rise to the top of their religion’s power structure, can resist.
The pleasure of power. Similarly, priests (and this applies to all of them: Brahmins, rabbis, pastors, ministers, etc.) have not been immune from the temptation to seek the pleasure of power and to abuse their position, their authority.
When you consider the many abuses of authority by organized religions, you may begin to wonder if it is not all, or at least largely,about power and control by the favored few. Organized religions, over time, become rigid. These lack the flexibility to address change and progress within society constructively, and are often behind the curve.
It appears to us that with organized religion it is often the case that the (spiritually) blind are leading the blind.
The late Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) had said in one of his essays that as he saw it religion came down to “fear, authority, and hell-fire”. I would not so humbly suggest amending his remark to add 2 words, viz: fear, abuse of authority, and hell-fire.
As well, religion has palmed off on man a certain amount of (absurd) nonsense. For example, I do not believe that male circumcision was a necessary or divinely sanctioned sign of the Hebrews’ acceptance of and participation in the Old Covenant. As you know, much of the Old Testament was in oral tradition for centuries prior to being written down by the rabbis in the last few centuries prior to the time of Christ. The Hebrews adopted this practice (male circumcision) while in Egypt. The Hebrews wanted to stay in the good graces of Pharoah, their host, thus they adopted many of the practices of the Egyptians.
(As to the circumcision of children, male or female, at birth or at adolescence, this has nothing whatsoever to do with God or being “godly” or “clean”. When you mutilate (or to be more precise: amputate parts of) the genitals of a child, male or female, it has everything to do with power and control. Circumcision is a primitive, barbarous and superstitious practice and ought to be stopped. To ego-centric Americans, who practice this today on their baby boys, this may seem appalling to read. But, my view here is congruent with the experience of the majority of humanity, past and present. The abominable practice of child circumcision is the exception in the world, not the rule.)
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had a co-worker (20 + years older than me) who was rather cynical towards organized religions and those individuals who get to the top of the authority structures therein. He said that these people are either hypocrites or fanatics (or both). My view is that too many fanatics legitimate their cruelty with appeals to religion or to morality.
Nietzsche (1844 – 1900, a son of a Lutheran minister) observed that Christians lived their lives the same as everyone else. Apparently, those Christians he knew of limited their Christianity to the church house on Sundays. And, we see this today. Too many Christians mouth the mantra “I accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior.” yet confine the exercise of their faith to the one or 2 hours of church services they attend each Sunday. Saved by grace notwithstanding, you have to take your faith with you when you leave the church house. Christians need to live their faith and not simply give lip service to it at regular intervals. (Consider the example of Jesus. He was not a teacher living in a cave or on a remote mountain top. His was a public, out in the real world, ministry.)
To Christians, I say: Any religion (or interpretation thereof, or religious attitude) that makes us comfortable in pride or in complacency is indeed troubling. Since the Savior has done everything for you, you need do nothing?!
If your faith is not a living, dynamic, vital force in your daily life, what is it worth, of what value is it?
Here is a recent essay on Christian legalism. It is worth reading and thinking about.
Dear readers: I only present the reality of the dilemma here. Each reader must form her/his own conclusions.
. . . . to be continued . . . .
Here is the link to part one of this essay.
Copyright 2014 – larrysmusings.com