Sisters and Brothers in Religion
by: Jonathan E. Berry
So here we are, in a church. A religious establishment for praise and worship. For learning. For seeking a meaning to our lives. 80-90% of the world’s human population claim to be religious. Though ours is a liberal religion, open to all religions, in that manner, we too are religious.
Religion is used as a way to make sense of the world around us, the universe, and as an instruction manual to teach us how to be. To teach us what is right and wrong. To lead us to ‘salvation’. So what’s wrong with it? Why are so many people that claim to be religious destroying the world, killing each other, and interested in self gain? These are some of the things I’m going to touch on today. Please limit any interruptions or questions till the discussion after the sermon as I’ve got a lot to say and a little time. Also, please try not to be offended if you feel any of this pertains to you or your religion.
Currently, religion is being used in most large scale and popular instances not as it’s intended purpose, but as a means to rule. It’s being used as a way to tell us and others what they are allowed to do with their own bodies in the current instance of the war on women’s reproductive rights, and rights for LGBTQ individuals. It has been used in the past for similar instances, but also as a means to justify slavery, white supremacy, and even killing. Mass genocides have been committed in the name of religion. As a brief question, anyone here know how long it’s been used for these nefarious purposes?
Using religion as a means to control a population, and damn those not deemed worthy has been used since the year 325CE. This takes us back to the Council of Nicaea gathering to pass the Nicaean Creed in 325. There, Constantine, who became the Roman Emperor in 306, along with church officials gathered to debate which stories, known as books, of the bible were more believable and useful and which should be left out. The church officials along with Constantine declared that Jesus was a divine being and that Christianity was to become a recognized and protected religion by the government. Up until then, all the Pagan religions in the are had persecuted christians and made it illegal to practice christianity seeing it as ridiculous. Christianity became the religion of Rome. Constantine sent his mother to find Christian artifacts and relics in 326-328. It is claimed that his mother, Helena or St Helena as she later became known, found ‘The True Cross’, along with many other relics, some of which can still be seen today in what’s now called the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Helena was of Greek origin. No information is known about Helena’s religion prior to the rise of christianity, but it is likely that she worshipped the 12 Olympian Deities as Hellenistic Religion in the area was prominent. Constantine’s father, Constantius I Chlorus, was a pagan also according to historic accounts. Even so, Many christian legends were born of him stating he was a christian due to Eusebius’s book “Life of Constantine”.
So we know where modern Christianity and most of the currently used bible came from. But we also know that there were books left out of that bible, and thanks to translators, historians, and archaeologists among other fields, that many many mistakes and mistranslations were made. So the modern christian religion is following pieces of mistranslated stories, gathered by church officials in the early third century. Modern science/archaeology and such can tell us that the historical accounts of Jesus say he was crucified around 30-33CE. Around 300 years before they compiled the bible. His crucifixion at age 33 made him a martyr and created a huge following. This mostly due to all his teachings being about unconditional love to everyone, care for and helping the sick, poor, elderly, and abandoned, and his severe dislike of the governments and banks (money launderers) and the way they took advantage of the groups he preached we should care for and help. These all sound like qualities everyone could get behind, so it’s very unfortunate it’s not just the teachings of Jesus Christians follow, but also the teachings of other men from that time, as mistranslated and left out as they are. Thanks Constantine. But no thanks.
What about other major religions? Why don’t they seem to benefit humanity as a whole? Islam was founded as a religion around the year 622CE. Muhammed is viewed by Muslims as being the final prophet of God, following Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. He reported revelations he believed God conveyed to him through the archangel Gabriel starting at age 40. The Quran is the recorded version of these revelations as recorded by his companions. Muslims believe the Quran in its original Aribic to be the verbatim, unaltered and final revelations of God. Many of the same teachings are contained in it as Christianity, but most of the stories have a twist. Muslims do in fact believe in Jesus, but not as the son of God. They don’t see him as a divine being. They see him as another human prophet just like those before him, with Muhammed being the final prophet. Islam views the Christian bible as being flawed and tainted (which with all the books left out and mistranslations, they’re partially right) and that their version as revealed to Muhammed through Gabriel is the correct version. Christians find it odd that the version that came after the original would be the one without flaw, and that the Quran is the one that is flawed. In the Quran, Jesus wasn’t even crucified. He was not our savior who died on the cross. They believe he told us that Muhammed would come after him, revealed in the gospel as “the Comforter”. Muslims do not believe in the holy trinity. They do not believe the only salvation is through Jesus. Muhammed preached the duties required to avoid hell were asking forgiveness of sins, frequent prayers, assisting others in need, rejecting cheating and love of wealth, being chaste and not to kill newborn and under aged girls. Details of the books in the bible are changed or left out altogether and the events are always read to show a spiritual and moral significance. But yet again we have a religion that is used to rule and convert. Many Muslim leaders would conquer and convert. When the choice is convert or die, and you know you can’t win, the choice is clear. Believing that your god is the one true god and your religion is the one true religion causes problems. The tribes and people that worshipped “false idols” had to be stopped in order to save mankind from hell. Before Muhammed, people in Arabia worshipped different gods and goddesses based on their tribes. There was even a shrine with 360 Idols that was the site of an annual pilgrimage. This was converted later in Islam to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Christians played the convert or die card as well. Especially during the crusades and in the age of discovery when they encountered the native indians in all of the americas. Many tribes in south and central america have lost everything to this. Their original verbal and written language, information of their history, their gods and goddesses, rituals. Everything. Catholics and Christians would conquer their cities, then give them ‘the choice’. While it may be true that some of the tribes’ rituals included human sacrifice and cannibalism, it’s possible those rituals evolved over time. They had many beautiful rituals and ceremonies as well, but with losing everything, the bad and the good have gone. Christianity and Islam go back and forth (along with the Jewish faith) about Muhammed being the final prophet, or Jesus. As such, they are vying back and forth for the title of most followers worldwide.
Other contenders you ask? Keep traveling back in time and the next religion you’ll come across is Buddhism. The Buddha, known at the time of his birth as Siddhartha Gautama, lived between 563-400 BCE. Historical accounts are hard to come by for that far back, therefore, there is much debate of the dates of his life. Accounts say his mother died in birthing him, so he was raised by his aunt. His father, said to be a king, shielded him from religious teachings, and from the knowledge of the human condition-suffering. At 29, the prince left his palace on his first outing to meet his subjects. While out, he saw an old man and was perplexed. “What’s wrong with that man” he asked. The prince’s charioteer explained to him that he was old. That all people age and die. He took another outing. Upon seeing sick people, he asked what was wrong with them. The charioteer told him “they are diseased and sick. Humans contract sickness which can cause much pain and even death.” On another outing, he saw some men that were begging for alms (food or money given to poor). Their bodies were distorted and all their bones were showing. His charioteer informed him that they were ascetics. Asceticism is the process of depriving the body in order to gain more holy insight and enlightenment, so that you could avoid the suffering of life.
The prince quit his palace and left in secret for a medicant’s life. He practised under 2 hermit teachers of yogic meditation. He achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, but turned down the chance to succeed his teachers several times. He realized that meditative training of the mind was the right path to awakening, and that asceticism didn’t work. He believed there to be a Middle Way, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self indulgence and self mortication. The Noble Eightfold Path was born of this. This is the Noble Eightfold Path: Right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.
After a reputed 49 day meditation, at 35, he is said to have reached enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or Awakened/Enlightened one. He gained complete insight at this time into the Four Noble Truths, attaining liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth, suffering, and dying again known as samsara. The Four Noble Truths are as follows: Dukkha (suffering, insatiability, pain), Samudaya (origin/cause) of dukkha is craving, desire, or attachment, Nirodha (cessation/ending) of dukkha obtained by eliminating desire or attachment, and his Marga (path, 8fold path) is the means to end this dukkha. Nirvana is the extinguishing of “fires” of desire, hatred, and ignorance that keep samsara going. He took his new knowledge and taught it to five companions he’d sought enlightenment with, forming the first sangha, which is a community of Buddhist monks.
This religion seems to be the least destructive yet right? I’ve even met Christian Buddhists and Atheist Buddhists. The Buddha, like Jesus and Mohammed taught people a right and just way to live. Buddhism is the fourth most popular world religion. Which brings us to what is number three.
Hinduism. This is the third most popular and practised religion in the world, and also the oldest recorded religion. Hinduism is referred to by many as Sanatana Dharma-”The eternal tradition/way”, beyond human history. Hinduism is a fusion of various Indian cultures and traditions with no founder. This religion dates back as far as 3000 BCE! Prominent themes in this religion include the 4 Purusarthas or proper goals of human life, which include Dharma (ethics and duties), Artha (prosperity and work), Kama (desires and possessions), and Moksha (liberation from samsara/salvation). Karma (action, intent, and consequences), Samsara, and the various paths of Yogas are of Hindu origin. Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties such as honesty, refraining from injuring any living beings (ahimsa), patience, forebearance, self restraint, and compassion, among others. There are many Hindu lineages with some being monotheistic, some polytheistic, atheist, pantheist, and more. The concept of “God” in Hindu religion depends on the lineage.
This is another religion that isn’t seemingly destructive to mankind. Like Buddhism that came after it, it’s more a right way of living than a “convert or die” or “fire and brimstone” type religion. There have been some sad instances of intended “re conversion” from Islam and Christianity back to Hinduism, but according to their faith, they cannot use coercion. Their religion sites religion and personal belief in god/gods as a personal choice to be made by a free mind. Still, there has been slight patches of violence in their history. Mostly to fight back against the other two major world religions, but force has been used.
We’ve now taken a trip back to 3000BCE. This is unimaginable for us considering many of us can’t even remember what we ate for breakfast last week. But.. I’m going to ask more of you. I’m going to try to get you to see more of your Sisters and Brothers in Religion. Further back in time, and now. I’m not talking about all the religions I’ve skipped along the way such as the Hellenistic, Egyptian, or Slavic pagan religions with pantheons of gods. There are plenty of other religions that I haven’t listed, but I don’t want to keep you here all day. If you’d like, other religions to look into would be Sikhism, Baha’i Faith, Janism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto. But I’d like to talk about the oldest religion on the planet. Let’s go deeper than 3000 BCE. I’d like you to see this religion through your mind’s eye with me.
Close your eyes with me for a meditative journey of realization and discovery.
Imagine yourself in a beautiful green plains area. Grasses swaying in the wind as far as the eye can see, and only a few trees dot the landscape. You are part of a tribe, and you are happy. You have lived here your whole life, only moving around as needed for your whole life as has your mother before you, and hers before hers for generations. You have a river that is long walk, but there is access to water to bathe, drink, and play in. The Shaman in your tribe is able to heal sick people and aid the pain of dying for people by using the nearby plants as medicine. Your father alerts you to coming rains. You go to prepare your tribe to catch as much rain water as you can for less trips to the river. On an outing to gather more clay to make pots and bowls, you see your cousins coming. Rushing back to your tribe, you alert them that they need to make preparations for not only the coming rains, but also for a feast. All is well.
Keep your eyes closed, but we’ll be shifting elsewhere now. Imagine yourself in a lush green jungle. Huge plants everywhere with various leaf shapes and sizes. The air smells clean and rich. There are mountains and rivers nearby, plenty of food in the trees and on the ground. You have lived here your whole life, as your mother before you, and hers before her for generations. Your family and your tribe are happy here. When someone is ill, the shaman obtains medicine from the jungle and cures them. One day, you receive word that your brother was burned and your sister poisoned. The poison that affected your sister is affecting half the tribe already and spreading quickly. You and the shaman are the only hope to cure everyone of their poison and help to mend your brother’s burns.
Return to your tribe here. Open your eyes.
Your father in the plains was the sky. Your cousins in the plains were a herd of buffalo grazing nearby. Your brother in the jungle was your tribe’s neighboring mountain. Your sister the nearby river. As absurd as this may sound, this is the way most of the indiginous tribes left in the world view the world and their surroundings. Every living thing has a spirit or soul. Landmarks have a spirit. Rivers, oceans, deserts, mountians, and everything that lives within. The earth has a spirit. All are connected. To some, all part of the same spirit. This is Animism. This is truly the oldest of all world religions. Animism goes beyond ‘do to others as you’d have them do unto you’ to include the land and animals. All our ancestors further back than recorded religion itself were animists. Care for the planet so it can continue caring for us. Learn your family. Your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. Thank them, care for them. Learn what they have to teach. All the world religions point to unconditional love, mindfulness, care for and helping the poor, sick, elderly, and abandoned. With animism, we can expand that to include the natural world around us. May all our spirits learn to live in harmony with all the spirits around us.