Religion a force for good?

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A FEW THOUGHTS ON RELIGION! and historical notes

Submitted: June 30, 2016

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Submitted: June 30, 2016

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Historical notes and explanations.

 

 

The history of modern Christianity begins in 325A.D; it reflects and is bound up with the Roman Empire; prior to 325A.D Christianity was as much a cultural movement as a religion; but it was well organised. It is probably true to say that Roman hierarchy and civil service, over time; morphed into a church after the council of Nicaea. Likewise the history of Islam is bound up with the life and rule of the Prophet Mohamed, but more particularly, with the break up of his kingdom and earthly power, after his death.  (NB the Prophet Mohamed born Mecca AD570 left Mecca 622AD-(married a widow in Medina) prophet took back Mecca after a battle in 630AD; died 632AD. Five pillars of Islam, belief in Allah, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and Zakat.

 

 

Jesus posed a problem for early church leaders and Constantine!  J.C was a Jew, if Constantine and the Christian Bishops at Nicaea had accepted Jesus just as he was, they would have embraced an offshoot of Judaism. By making J.C divine, they killed two birds with one stone, first they promoted him above all other prophets and second; perhaps even more importantly, they separated him from Judaism.

 

The Arian Heresy was instigated by three or more Bishops who disagreed with the rest that J.C was actually divine, they maintained that Jesus was a man and merely a prophet; this idea was prevalent in some of the Middle Eastern areas for a long time and is still alive today in parts of the Coptic Church.  Early church orthodoxy tried and to some extent succeeded in stamping out this heresy. To understand the reason for the disagreement, it is necessary to grasp the nature of argument between the rival factions. Put simply, Jesus was said to refer to his Father in heaven; those who accepted divinity held that Jesus was the essence of his Father and therefore the son of God. Modern scholarship and knowledge leads us to think that Jesus was not using the term Father in a literal or temporal sense but as a spiritual metaphor. In 325A.D a number of bishops took the same view and so opposed J.C’s divinity.

 

According to Professor W H C Friend in his book The Early Church (from the beginning to 461A.D); in Judea, under Tiberius all quiet, thus said Tacitus (a historian) writing about the period of the Crucifixion; both he and his contemporary Suetonius refer to minor matters, remission of taxes, the growth of ill- feeling between Jews and Samaritans and such like. But of the events that have made the governorship of Pontius Pilate forever memorable not a single word!

 

In the Roman world religion and politics were synonymous. The Bishops of the Catholic Church took on the mantel of the Roman Senatorial class; this was the assumption behind the rhetoric and ceremonial of the medieval papacy. The Romans had tried, over many years to unite the Empire under a small number of Pagan deity’s but failed miserably. Christianity was the last throw of the dice!

 

 

 

Religion is a force for good?

 

Asking a randomly selected audience of 100 people if Religion is a force for good in the world is likely to invoke discord, yet it’s a question more relevant today than at any point in the 11700 year history of religion.

Religion is still viewed as a taboo subject for discussion, largely because opinions on both sides tend to be irrational; much of the informed debate is drowned out by zealots on both sides, arguing for or against. In addition many adherents and lay people alike, lack an understanding of religion‘s historical origins, structure, culture, objectives and how those elements affect its relationship with God. Whether you believe in God or not, religion and its impact on society is impossible to ignore.

The purpose of this paper is to address the original question, that religion is a force for good in the world and reflect on the nature of religion. In passing, we shall also look for possible reasons why congregations everywhere and the general public have begun to doubt. It is also an intention to illustrate the widening gap between God and conventional religion. It is perfectly in order for the sceptics to suggest that God is a delusion, and they may be right. However they have to acknowledge, that the concept, of an all embracing God, is wide spread and enduring. To grasp the concepts magnitude and the opportunities it presents, we first need to look at a brief history of God. Accepted wisdom informs us that in the beginning, mankind was animal like, living hand to mouth having no understanding of agriculture, science, or astronomy. As humans evolved they discerned order in the world, annual seasons, planetary movements, weather patterns and much else besides. But whilst they could see what was happening around them, they couldn’t explain how or why order existed. When the more introspective members of that primitive society asked themselves how, and more particularly, why; there was no ready answer; and so God, or the idea of God was born. Over the millennia, every, tribe, race, nation, civilisation, not to mention millions of individuals, representing every language, have pondered the fundamental question why do we exist. Alongside this conundrum, there exists a primitive understanding that whilst man is an intelligent being,

 

 

 

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his intellect is no match for “life the universe and everything”. It’s probably true to say that as mankind acquires knowledge, the less he understands.  It seems a paradox that as mankind advances there is a growing realisation that his quest for knowledge and understanding stretches to infinity. At its simplest the more you know, the more there is to know. Mankind is certainly on a journey but he may never arrive. Evaluation of the forgoing complexities has led a great many people to conclude that sentient though he is man is just a small cog in a much larger machine. The Cosmos is; and we for a short time are- over the millennia we’ve sought to describe the reason for that total state of being. God, with myriad definitions and translations is the description we came up with. It could be, of course, that the whole system is just a set of equations, but the important thing is that mankind or, perhaps more importantly, sentient life occupies an element in those equations. We are part of the cosmic blueprint. So God or more particularly the idea of God (which too many thinking people constitutes reality) is rooted in our quest for knowledge, and at this stage has little or nothing to do with faith or religion.

 At this point it is necessary to remind ourselves of the first two modern definitions of religion. 1) Belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power, considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. 2) any formal or institutionalized expression of such belief.  The first definition is consistent with the aforementioned history, and an individual has a range of options; he or she may simply believe in the unknown or they can ascribe allegiance to a supernatural power which has influence or control of human destiny, and of course this belief or understanding may change as their knowledge increases. An individual’s quest for knowledge may or may not lead to an understanding of his or her place in the unfolding cosmic plan, and a person may also decide that it’s a load of old nonsense- I don’t believe in anything. The real point is that at this level, belief is consistent with history, governed by and in the control of the individual; a direct result of our quest for knowledge. It’s the second definition which has caused all the problems. Organised or institutionalized religion cannot leave belief to the individual, nor can it allow free will to dictate belief. Three of the major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism rigidly enforce orthodoxy in the most autocratic and

 

 

 

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draconian way. Enforcement of each of these orthodoxies has led to civil strife, war and

untold misery in all parts of the world. But what is orthodoxy? This question itself is likely to generate a good deal of debate. Whatever else it is, orthodoxy represents an arcane, written constitution set out to govern members of a religion or sect. But remember these orthodoxies despite what the priests, imams and rabbi’s say are man-made or man interpreted.

To illustrate the point, we should take a brief look at modern Christianity’s roots.  In the years leading up to 325 A.D the Roman Empire was beginning to crumble; Rome had ruled most of the known world for close to 500 years but her power was waning. The Emperor Constantine could see that Christianity had seized the public imagination and Christian priests and bishops held sway over large numbers of the  Roman world’s population. Constantine believed above all, that religious unity was essential to the survival of the Roman empire. Whilst there was a vast amount of written material concerning the life of Jesus, there was no New Testament; the gospels existed but were not in any recognised form or order. To rectify the situation Constantine called all Christian Bishops to the Council of Nicaea. There is every reason to think that prior to the Council of Nicaea, in A.D 325, when Christianity was as much a cultural movement as a religion, Jesus was not considered divine. So the first order of business was to establish and create Jesus as the son of God, divine. The mechanism for confirming divinity was a vote by 300 bishops. However there were some dissenters and so “The Arian Controversy” sometimes called the Arian Heresy was born. Nonetheless, there was broad agreement, and all the trappings of a formal church were put in place, the New Testament was compiled from a selection of over 90 books. Modern scholarship suggests that the four gospels were rewritten and brought in line with the Christian Story. Any book or material which did not conform to Nicaea’s orthodoxy was rejected and buried.  A management structure, which for contemporary and cultural reasons excluded women, was established, and a new set of rules compiled to regulate priests and laity. It may have cloaked itself in piety, poverty, self-abasement and rejection of the outside world but it was still a man made quasi political system; underwritten by a selective, abridged historical document, which we know as the New Testament. The Roman Empire became Christian and after much infighting with early

 

 

 

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church leader’s orthodoxy was engraved in stone. Faith and conformity had arrived. For

the next 1700 years the Christian Church enforced its laws with zealous brutality in most of the known world. In addition it set about converting the world’s population to Christianity; what it couldn’t do by indoctrination it did with the sword. The Papacy sanctioned a number of crusades whose major purpose was to cast out other belief systems and instill Christian orthodoxy. A great deal of blood was spilled to gain supremacy. The upshot is, that today in 2015 Christians live with a belief system that was developed, sanctioned, and introduced by a bunch of forth century emperors, priests and their power hungry acolytes. Islam, and Judaism may have different origins but their fundamental characteristics are similar. In particular the books that govern their faith and management structures are much the same. It is difficult to see how organised religion can be anything but a source of discord in the world. At best they tolerate each other; at worst they compete; emphasising the difference between peoples who strive for domination; each promotes parochialism among the faithful. Perhaps the single major weakness in all three creeds is that they remain impervious to mankind’s increased knowledge and so faith has usurped understanding. For the most part, the devout of all religions, have abandoned objective thought in favour of liturgy and ritual. God help us!

 

 1494 words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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