Thursday, February 16, 2006

Religion Part 2

The World’s great civilizations are based on religion, from ancient time until now.  The corrupting influence has been human nature.  Great literature, architecture, painting, science, all have their roots in the effort of mankind to understand its origins and purpose.  The apparent conflict between religious impulse and science is just that an apparition without substance; one can’t exist without the other.  Unfortunately there are other needs in human nature that will be met.  These include acquisition of power and wealth for their sake.  Many religions have attempted to balance or even eliminate such behaviors, but with only limited success.

The need to recognize right from wrong is in itself empowering. He who is right has the high ground.  It’s a shame that agreement on what is right and what is wrong is not absolute or easy to come to.  The result of disagreement is often zealotry and disaster.  In today’s world a minor example are the “Eco-terrorists” who feel justified in destroying another person’s property on the basis of perceived right or wrong.  This flaw is what sets ancient Greek civilization apart from other Western Ideas.  Their gods were all powerful, yet fallible.  By imparting human characteristics to their deities the Greeks were among the first to actually question the existence of god or gods; even though it was only an implicit doubt.  This doubt made possible the cooperation between gods and man and allowed mankind the ability to weaken the priesthood by developing parallel philosophies.  This was the last time that a kind of gentleness was to be found in religion, a kind of getting along.  This is not to say that brutalities did not occur, the death of Socrates being the most famous example.

The Hellenistic cultures of the Mediterranean world lost their moorings the further a field the thinking was transplanted.  Greek influence was felt throughout the western world and its resonance can be felt today.

The Judaic and Christian testaments were strongly affected by Greek culture and even more ancient philosophies.  The one obvious influence is the Greek myth of Zeus and Leda, the coupling of a god with a human.  This is manifested in the story of Christ’s birth when Mary is impregnated by God though without actual sexual intercourse.  This is a minor modification wisely chosen by the priestly caste to make such an action acceptable to their clients.  Islam is really nothing more than a cobbling together of Judeo-Christian thinking into a philosophy that suited a nomadic desert people and which political control of the tribes a much easier proposition.  Close scrutiny of western thought will reveal the influence of Buddhism in the search for self knowledge and contempt for the material world.

Today the so-called fundamentalists are really people who have not moved beyond the fear of the dark.  Their leaders can easily manipulate them and the results speak for themselves.  There are Christian sects that actually endorse hatred of their fellow man, a complete corruption of Christianity’s greatest law: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  The behavior of certain Muslims sects is making biblical prophesies self fulfilling.

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