Should Religions Take Responsibility For the Religious Wars?

Religions are now again in the news. This time, religions are accused for the wars and conflicts in the world. Almost every day, there is some blast in some part of the world that is caused by so called Religious Fundamentalists and the victims are none other than their own brothers and sisters. As a result religions, particularly Islam, is accused to be the inspiration can cause of the terrorist attacks and violence that has gripped the world in last one decade as most people involved in the violence happens to be Muslims, the followers of Islam.

However, the truth is only partly revealed by terming one religion as violent while calling other religions as peaceful. It is only few decades ago that Christians were fighting against each other in the two World Wars that killed almost 65 millions of people, mostly Christian and resulted of the execution of more than 7 millions Jews including children just because they belonged to a particular religion. It is impossible to imagine how the followers of Christ, the God of love, can engage in such brutalities against each other. A German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer has said sarcastically in 18th century

“The fruits of Christianity were religious wars, butcheries, crusades, inquisitions, extermination of the natives of America and the introduction of African slaves in their place”

It is easy to blame religion for the conflict, more so if the people committing violence do not belong to your religion. However, one dare to look in their own religion, they are bound to find out that their own religion had often been used and can be used for creating conflict and wars. The Biblical concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot” appears in Bible (Exodus 21:22-27) had been used not only by Jews but also by the Christians. Gita, the Holiest book for Hindus, teaches the concept of eternity of Soul and the need for war in the following words of Lord Krishna

Considering your specific duty as a warrior, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation. O Partha, happy are the warrior to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets. (Gita 2:31-32)

The fact is that religions had always been used for wars.

Yet how correct it would be to blame a religion for the wars?

What’s Wrong with Religion

Let us first understand what we mean by religion? Religions are based on the Scriptures which contains the “revealed knowledge” of the Prophets or saints. The knowledge of the scriptures contains certain truths that are believed by the followers of the religion. As per one definition

“A religion is a system of human thought which usually includes a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices that give meaning to the practitioner’s experiences of life through reference to a higher power, deity or deities, or ultimate truth”.

However, most people of any religion have never read their scriptures and never known these “revealed truths”. They consider themselves as part of the religion simply because they were born from the parents following their religion. Therefore, while they call themselves religious or “theist”, they hardly understand anything of their religion. They are often guided by their Priests, Monks and Imams to know their religions. These people provide the people only “little knowledge’ which suits their vested interest and as always “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and that danger is often manifested in the form of wars.

Not only religion, but every single piece of knowledge had been used constructively and destructively by human beings. The knowledge of relativity and mass-energy-equivalence discovered by Albert Einstein was not only responsible for the birth of “Modern Physics” and the modern development in the field of electronics but also responsible for the development of the nuclear bomb that killed millions of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Can we call Einstein or the theory of relativity responsible for the nuclear weapon or the wars? Why should we not give Einstein the credit for the development of the modern science and technology and development of nuclear energy for the world?

Every single invention had been misused by the human race. “Dynamites” was not only used for breaking mountains to make roads but also used for making bombs that killed millions. Internet is not only being used for dissemination and communication of knowledge but also for pornography and a number of cyber crimes. The televisions and radios had been used not only for entertainments but also for propaganda.

Knowledge per-se is without any colour or attribute but people use the knowledge for pursuance of their own objective. The reveled knowledge of the scriptures is no exception.

Knowledge of God is as Immense as the Knowledge of Universe

The essence of all religion is spirituality i.e. a belief on a nonmaterial reality in this world that lies beyond the senses. This “Spirit” which permeates all creations of this universe is often called God. We know God as we too are part of God as God resides in all creations including each one of us. Thus the knowledge of God is “inherent” and as natural as the knowledge of the “self”. It is for this reason that Hinduism does not distinguish between “Atman” (Soul) and Paramatman (God or Universal Soul) as there is no difference between a drop of ocean and ocean itself.

Thus the knowledge of God is extremely mysterious as one has to go “inside” the self to know God while all our sense organs only help us in seeing the outside world. Therefore, only with intuition and “Self-Enlightenment” one can know God.

There is no doubt that most of us are ignorant about God just like even the best scientists knows only a little about the universe. Even the father of science , Sir Isaac Newton admitted,

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding of a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

The same is true with our knowledge of God or the nonmaterial reality of the universe. The scriptures provide immense knowledge about the spiritual world, yet there is lot to be known and discovered by personal effort.

Religion in Theory

Religions had been used by people to achieve their political goals. They ignore all aspects of the religions which are beneficent to the humanity and use only such “words” of the religion that suits them to sow the seeds of hatred in the world and cause conflict and wars. How else a Christian can ignore these sermons of Christ and remember only “eye for eye”,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (Matthew 5:38-40)

The word “Islam” itself means “Submission to God.” The Arabic word “Islam” means the submission or surrender of one’s will to the will of the only true god worthy of worship, “Allah” (known as God “the Father” in Christianity). Anyone who does indeed submit to the will of Allah as required by Islam is termed a “Muslim,” Islam teaches peace like any other religion as clearly stated in Quoran,

“And the servants of the Beneficent God are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say: Peace.” (Quran 25.63 )

Religion in Practice

A truly religious person is one who follows the scripture or the words of God rather than “knows” the words of scripture by heart. A man becomes religious only if he follows the path shown in the scriptures. Thus to become Christian, it is needed to follow Christ and be become like Him. Yet people have found a way to defy everything that Christ said and yet claim that they are Christian.

In the same way, a true Muslim is one who follows the path shown by Prophet Mohammad. Still people call themselves Muslims despite of consuming alcohol and other intoxicants, accumulating wealth and following the path of violence forbidden in Islam.

Hinduism too pays lot of value on the practice and believes the principle of “Karma” which alone is considered virtuous in men. Yet many people engage in evil karma, corruption, adultery and yet call themselves Hindus.

Religion is the Knowledge of God

There seems to be nothing wrong with any religion nor does any religion preach violence and hatred. Religions are nothing but a practice and ritual to know and realize the non-material reality of the world which we call God. It is only by prayers, humbleness, service, love that we can realize God. Yet, the true knowledge of God requires deep introspection and search within to develop the intuitive eyes that alone can help a man know God. Without self-realization, the knowledge of God is not only incomplete but also wrong as God is beyond any description of words. There are many people who are clever to use such ignorant people to realize their political and material goals.

Life is a mystery which can not be explained either by science or by scriptures. Truth has a body and a soul which we call science and religion. Contrary to popular perception, they are not opposed to each other but complement each other like body and soul. In fact, they can not exist without each other.

I am the founding member of The Science of Soul Foundation in India which works for the synthesis of the diverse disciplines of knowledge like science, religion, philosophy and arts.

I am working for the creation of a synthesis between science and religion through my articles. I believe that everyone can understand this Truth by the use of intuition and reason. You can contact me at aksinghirs [a] yahoo.com if you wish to know more about the mystery which we call life.

Religion – A Small Scale Industry

Religion is nothing but the various aspects of the relationship between man and God. But one thing stands clear: in this relationship, God is always the initiator. God is the creator of man, with whom only he enters into a special conscious relationship called religion. It is God who calls man to this kind of relationship. It is the dynamics of God’s call and man’s response that establishes religion. It is not man that seeks for God, or initiates the search for God. That is to say that God is the founder of religion. This article considers the genuineness of many claims of men in religious matters today and establishes the fact that has lost the zeal for true religion.

It is very easy today and also dangerous for ordinary and mortal man to start religion, as well as it is contradictory also to think of religion as beginning from man’s nature and tending towards God. Such religion cannot surpass human limitations of mortality and profanity (John 3:6). It stands to be intrinsically insufficient and wanting because man cannot save himself. In his divine wisdom, God saw it necessary that His Son, who is God, should come and wash away man’s sins with His blood when man was helpless. A religion that originates from man – that is a man-to-God relationship – can neither change man nor save him. If man knew what would be done in order to save himself, he shouldn’t have called on God. Such man-to-God relationship is like one of those human inventions which like all human kingdoms and powers are doomed to failure in the course of time.

Religion is an area God has kept for himself. Let us consider the relationship between God and the Israelites; the Jewish religion that was a preparatory to the Christian religion. In contradistinction to the worship of the numerous gods of the time, God intervened with the call of Abram (Gen. 12:1-3).

Before creation, biblical literature indicated that the earth was a “formless void” (Gen. 1:2). It is true that God gave the earth a form at creation, yet we can rightly say that it is with the beginnings of religion that is, with the call of Abraham through whom all nations will be called to a relationship with God that the earth recognized its vision and direction. From then, through Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob to Moses and the Israelites, God dictated the details of this new relationship. God both initiated and spelt out the order and details of this relationship with the Old Testament people. At the fullness of time, God sent His Son to establish the new Covenant which the old Covenant merely looked toward to.

In various ways, Christ also continued this old relationship but in a new way. He summarized the ten old laws into one – that of Love. He expatiated the details of this New Law in the beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-11), lived it out by His passion and death on the cross, and vindicated His claims by His resurrection. You still see that God is the initiator and regulator of religion. That is why in matters of religion, i.e. God-to-man-relationship, anarchy has no place. But what do we see today? There are as too many founders of religious groups and ‘Churches’ as there are diversifications of human interest. There is neither order nor system. Each person is his own religious entity, with his own mode of worship, theology and doctrine.

Religion, employed as God intended it, is the best thing that has happened to the world and the best gift God gave to man. This is because religion itself is life: the life of God in man. Think of the social, spiritual and psychological effects of religion. Without religion, man would be wolf to man. The world is a battle ground for the survival of the fittest, an arena for mutual clashes even with all the inhibitions and call to peace by religion. How would it have been without it; that is why some thinkers said that even if there were no God, it is necessary to invent the idea of Him. At moments of depression and hopelessness, it is only one’s religious convictions that can help make life worth living. It is only religion that explains why many people have not committed suicide when life tastes sour. The obvious relevance of religion is truly enumerable.

Religion though, is one of the best things that have happened to the human race, yet when mishandled, can be the best tool for many negative achievements especially that of exploitation. Of the various senses exploitation can be used, the sense adopted here is the act of using another person to achieve one’s own selfish needs without considering the effect on the others. There are various forms of exploitation – economic, political etc. There is also religious exploitation. This may sound surprising, and even contradictory. But it is nonetheless true. Religious exploitation is, going under the banner of religion, and/or cashing on people’s religious background or sentiments, and making people mere means to one’s hidden selfish ends. Religious exploitation is subtle and more dangerous because it operates under the guise of the holy.

The exploiter is as dangerous as the “angel one does not know”. Veiled under religious innocence, the exploiter devastates the exploited or victim who remains unsuspecting and unresistant even when there are clear indices of exploitation. The force of religious exploitation can be better understood when one considers the many religious crusades, campaigns and even wars in history.

Religion deals with the spirit which is the seat of conviction. Ideas rule the world, and rule persons too. Religious sentiments are stronger than philosophical or ideological convictions. The former, always appealing to the unseen, the fundamental depth of the human person and the goal of the human person, carries with it a ferocious and impervious rock of conviction that can withstand all efforts to subdue it. Also, always going under a divine banner, mandate and mission, it can perfectly veil whatever else it carries as interest.

Religion goes with experience that is deep-seated and not merely physical. One can thus understand the readiness of the early Christians and the apostles to die rather than disobey God. The strength and conviction of the martyrs are traceable to religious sentiments as well as the force of Jihad can also be.

In considering the many shades of exploitation veiled under religion, I want to state here first that inhumanity to man can be found everywhere and can be practised anywhere also. There are thousand and one ways people have been and are being exploited today in the name of religion. We are aware of the subtle and tricky machinations with which some ancient traditional pagan society used to settle quarrels in the name of consulting an oracle. The oracle, believed to be the highest court of appeal, believed also to be impartial, fair and just was however used by the powers that be to impose guilt and punishment like ostracization on those they planned to deal with. The oracle thus became a principle/symbol of oppression while apparently retaining its image as the voice of God.

In another way, brainwashing and hypnotism play a strong role in religious exploitation. It was Karl Marx who looked at religion and concluded wrongly that it is the “opium of the masses”; a device or dose given to the hopeless and helpless, promising them a bright future, and thereby making them succumb to the suffering and pains of today. Religion, in Marx’s understanding, promises people a “sugar candy mountain” using the phrase of George O’well in his classical satirical novel “The Animal Farm”. Karl Marx was wrong by underrating the whole edifice of religion; and even by criticizing the hope which religion offers in this world that is a valley of tears. But today, various religious bodies are making Marx appear believable; by offering religion as opiums in the sense Marx used it. What is the effect when people are brainwashed with doctrines, and teachings that are socially counterproductive forced down the throats of adherents?

In many cases, for instance, people have been taught to disregard medicine totally and just to have ‘faith’ in God; disengage from every social organizations and groupings, and even work. People have been taught the irrelevance of engaging in any serious academic pursuit or tedious learning of a trade because it will not lead one to salvation. Some have been brainwashed to see their religious leader/minister as super-human. Hypnosis is employed incessantly, either directly or indirectly, and people are now manipulated like machines as with a remote control.

People are exploited religiously also when religion, instead of being a source of solace and relief is employed to promote fear, insecurity and alienation. Today the gospel of doom and satan is trying to overshadow the gospel of love, mercy and salvation, as visions and prophecies that instill fear and submissiveness in people are constantly hammered upon. These systems of doctrines are forms of religious exploitation when you consider their natural and social implications, especially on people already tortured by many problems ranging from political instability, tribal and ethnic conflicts and civil wars, mounting economic insecurity, joblessness, poverty, lack of social amenities, etc. Since the end in sight, as they are meant to believe, these already oppressed people fold their hands in fateful resignation and look forward to the day of salvation, in most cases, risk their lives in the name of fighting for their gods. Since for them, God ordains these disasters inevitably, it engenders into them passivity and abandonment.

God is not the author of confusion. We must try our best to always follow the truth and do what is right. Let us be quick to know when we are being exploited in the name of religion. It will save us a lot of pains!

Vitus Ejiogu is a writer and publisher with the Fire-Brand Int”l Ministries, a media ministry that is based in Nigeria.

He is the editor of FOUNDATION SATELLITE magazine also published by the ministry. He pastors a Church in Bauchi and is married with two children.

Diversity In Religions And Synergy Enhancement Of Religions At Loggerheads

DEFINING RELIGION

1. All religions have two components:

* Beliefs/rituals/mythology: all religions differ from one another in this regard,
* Desirable behaviour or ethics of life: all religions display similar approach.

A COMMON MYTH–‘ONLY WE REPRESENT TRUE GOD! IT HELPS IN NUMBERS!’

2. The unrest, violence in human society over religious issues, stems from two factors:

*Each religion believes it is the sole franchisee of God’s religion and that God has conveyed His message directly through the messengers or directly in some cases, only to their religion.

*Religions are also managed like corporates these days. which implies: more number of followers more resources; this results in conflict of interest and resultant clashes.

IRRATIONAL BELIEFS

3. Each religion has its quota of irrational beliefs, which is faithfully accepted by its followers but taken with a pinch of salt, by followers of other religions. Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, let us tolerate irrationality in all religions, as long as it is not immoral and is not forced on others and let us not comment adversely on irrational beliefs of other religions.

ZERO TOLERANCE TO CRITICISM AND CARICATURES

4. All religions have zero tolerance over criticism on rituals, scriptures; some religions have less tolerance, some comparatively more. Caricatures, critical comments on God, His representatives or scriptures often invite harsh retaliations through ‘fatwa’ or social boycott. This view clashes with freedom of speech; but it is compromised and results in great risk to the lives of critics from extremists.

CHRISTIANITY

5. Ten Commandments are the best guidelines to live a noble life. All religions have similar guidelines, in this regard.

*We must admire Christianity for translating Bible into hundreds of local languages; a language, the followers can comprehend. Other religions will sure gain a lot, to emulate the idea.

*However, the belief that Christ has paid for the sins of all Christians 2000 years ago, when he was crucified for no fault of his, is seen as flawed, irrational by non-Christians. But this belief, need not be debated, better leave it and let Christians believe in it. Let us not insist on proving others wrong, if we are at variance. Let us concentrate on what is similar in our religions and use it to cement the bonds of humanity.

*The belief in day of judgement may not be rational and the ritual of burial after death in occidental religions could have been due to natural/geographical compulsions in the area, where desert land was in plenty and vegetation scarce. But to get into discussion that concept of rebirth is less irrational and cremation is a better option is not desirable and is counter-productive.

ISLAM

6. Islam propagates one God, who never takes birth as human-being.It asks its followers to apprise non-believers(Kafirs), of this truth. It is a belief, but as long as it is not forced on others, we must not bother about it. Unfortunately, fundamentalists insist on forcing others to accept it, although Koran says ‘apprise others of the truth, but do not enforce it on others’. This is a common corporate practice in all religions, where all missionaries, in good faith, insist on others to follow their religion’s path, as they believe it is better. We got to learn that there are multiple solutions for any problem, and all equally right.

*Islam forbids statue worship; a common feature in oriental religions. Let us look at it in another perspective; we remember our old relations, parents who have departed, with their photographs,which helps us to remember. Similarly, statues and photographs help us to comprehend better, a formless God. However to think that the lifeless stone sculptor as God is wrong; but that still does not allow anybody to ill treat the irrational believers.

BUDDHISM

7. It encourages debates and discussions over commonly accepted customs; unlike other religions, where the followers can not question the scriptures.Its salient features:

SUFFERING ALL AROUND

*It talks of omnipresent grief among all human-beings, for various reasons:

First, we are unhappy when we are unable to live life as per our traditional up bringing;

Second, nothing is permanent in life, it is a dynamic field, circumstances change over time: nations, individuals prosperous now will be weak, poor in future and

Third, conventional griefs: poor health, getting old and death.

But there is a solution to our griefs, if we understand cause and effect in every occurrence.

LEADERS, ORGANISATIONS AND PRINCIPLES.

*Another concept in Buddhism is systematic understanding of life:

First, have a teacher, guru, who guides you,

There after move on to loyalty to the organisation and not to an individual,

And then graduate to obedience of principles, for principles of life are supreme, and not an organisation or an individual.

HINDUISM

8. It has its own quota of irrational beliefs; but it has a wonderful book Gita, to explain laws of life and how one should live life:

WORK TO BUILD UP YOUR EXPERTISE, DON’T CHASE MONEY

*We work so that we earn for our hard work. Gita advocates: we should all work, without expecting rewards, which please our senses.We should work, as there is no better alternative. There are three types of people:

First, those who are willing to work, if adequately rewarded,

Second, those not willing to work, lazy and contented in their lot

And third, the ideal, they want to work for it is their nature and they are not mad after rewards.

SELF-EVALUATION.

*Gita lists good and bad qualities and we can evaluate ourselves:

There are 26 Godly qualities listed in Gita. Some of these are: fearlessness, truthfulness, non-violence, balanced view of life, forgiveness, to do self-duty, no revenge, controlled 5 senses, kindness to others, a spirit of sacrifice, patience, humility, no temptations, no back-biting, no anger, no restlessness to do everything and good reading.

Among the demonic qualities are: desire, anger, greed, attachment, ego and snob behaviour.

MY CULTURE, MY RELIGION, MY COUNTRY

We all believe, my way of thinking, my people, my family, my language, my culture, my religion and my country are the best. It means, we are most suitable to control the resources of the world and to redistribute for good of

GOD COMES DOWN TO EARTH, YES OR NO!

*Hinduism accepts that God adopts human-body, as and when necessitated in the world, to fight injustice. A belief strongly contested by Islam, Sikhism, but not by Christianity, who believe Christ, the son of God got into human form to help humanity. But these differences in beliefs are irrelevant in our daily living; except that fundamentalists exploit these differences to generate violence.

SIKHISM

9. It insists that God never adopts physical body; it conveys His message through its messengers. It believes in: accepting the will of God, honest living, remembering God by reciting scriptures, sharing the earnings with society, service to community, holy congregation and taking meals together, sitting together irrespective of social status.

*It advocates high ideals such as, we are all one, same God is in all of us; a utopian idea; which is still not fully understood, and if understood, seldom implemented by Sikhs. Sikhs too are divided into small groups who marry within their subgroup only.

*Sikhs like others believe in selective obedience of religious teaching, where ever it suits. Sikhs do not smoke as religion forbids, but enjoy drinks and drugs which are forbidden too and are fighting a losing battle against it

STEPS TO RECONCILE DIFFERENCES AMONG RELIGIONS.

10. Religious violence is due to lack of understanding of own religion as well as other religions; not many of us understand the language of religious scriptures,for example Sanskrit or Arabic languages. Surprisingly even educated people depend upon religious preachers to understand their own religion, thus religious sentiments are exploited by a minority, of religious teachers who are hard liners. Our education system must have comparative unbiased study of all religions, without commenting which one is better.

11.Let us make a beginning, by sorting out intra-religion issues, only there after sort out inter-religion issues. There are clashes between Protestants and Roman Catholics, Sunnis and Shias all over the world. Let us begin by sorting out intra-religion differences and then sort out bigger issues of inter-religion differences in beliefs.

Science and Myth: Top 5 Adaptive Traits of Successful Religions

How do mythic traditions survive through the centuries? How do they thrive? By bringing together science and myth, an evolutionary perspective might help us think about these questions.

By “success” I mean long-time survival. I don’t even begin to consider the moral value or truth-content of religious teachings–all that is placed in brackets. This is an evolutionary view based on the history of religions.

Consider the possibility of the following top five list.

Top 5 adaptive features of successful religions
1. Continuity of motifs defining the religion
2. Vertical transmission
3. Ethics defining the in-group
4. Placeholder terms
5. Paradox

1. Continuity of motifs defining the religion

This is the single most important feature determining success. In order for a religion to propagate itself, it must establish and maintain a recognizable identity. It doesn’t necessarily require a name for itself or an identity as a religion per se, but it does require something to delineate what is and isn’t part of the package that must be passed on to the next generation. Many indigenous religions, such as Shinto, had no name until the introduction of foreign religions necessitated a way to distinguish the local from the alien. Others had no overt identity as religions per se–ancient Greek had no word for “religion” (the closest was theon timai, “honors for the gods”). But it is absolutely necessary for a religion to delineate its key motifs in some way. The signal must be separable from the noise. Thus religions throughout history have developed special motifs to mark off the sacred from the mundane. They may be visual symbols like totem poles, crosses, or mosques, auditory symbols like hymns, chants, or special styles of music, or linguistic symbols like divine names, myths, or doctrines. They may be temporal symbols like annual festivals or rites of passage. Finally, they may be ethical symbols like ritual, prayer, or taboo. Most all religions feature a combination of these motifs.

All successful religions develop a canon of such motifs to identify what is to be propagated. Without it, a would-be religion would be lost in the wash of custom, extinct before it even came into existence. And without maintaining such a canon, an established religion would be absorbed into competing religions. This is what happened to Buddhism in Medieval India: it effectively died out in its birthplace because it was no longer sufficiently different from Hinduism. A canon of motifs functions to define the unit of transmission.

Interestingly, it is not necessary that exactly the same set of motifs carry on down through the ages. It is only necessary that a continuity of motifs be passed on. Modern Judaism bears little resemblance to the semi-polytheistic sacrificial temple religion of ancient Jerusalem, but a continuous lineage links the transformations from the one to the other. Japanese Buddhism is virtually unrecognizable compared with the religion founded in the 5th century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, but again a lineage connects them.

2. Vertical transmission

The second most important feature is vertical transmission. Transmission of some kind is necessary as a matter of course: a religion of one person is no religion at all. All religions feature transmission. But vertical transmission–that is, transmission through the generations via family lines–is a feature of highly adaptive religions. The other kind is horizontal transmission–that is, transmission via dissemination and conversion. Horizontal transmission is also adaptive, but mainly as a supplement to vertical transmission. Religions consisting solely of converts rarely last. Those that inculcate religion into the young at an early age ensure deeply committed followers bonded to each other by family ties. Due to the immense importance of vertical transmission, religions conducive to large families survive better, if only because they can out-breed their rivals. Thus, those associated with agricultural peoples, whose many children are needed to work the fields, have an advantage in this regard.

3. Ethics defining the in-group

The next most important feature is ethics, but not in any moral sense of the word. Rather, the sense is of a set of prescribed and proscribed behaviors serving to separate the in-group from the out-group. When followers are restricted from partaking in certain common activities, like eating pork, they are discouraged from mingling with outsiders. This serves to protect the all-important canon of motifs from becoming diluted with foreign influences. When followers are exhorted to partake in certain prescribed activities, like eating only food that is halal, they are encouraged to congregate together. This serves to keep children with parents and therefore ensure vertical transmission. The saying “The family that prays together stays together” should actually be amended to “The family that prays together stays faithful to the religion.”

Dietary restrictions are by no means the only relevant ethics–there are innumerable taboos and ritualistic behaviors that serve the function of separating in-group from out-group. However, diet does seem to deserve special mention, as it is known the world over and is superbly effective. Contemporary Malaysia is a jumble of ethnic groups and religions, but syncretization is stymied in no small part thanks to diet. The Malays can only eat at Muslim kitchens with halal utensils and menus. The Hindu Tamils do not eat beef and so are unlikely to frequent Muslim kitchens and likely to seek out Hindu ones. The Chinese have no special dietary restrictions and so can eat where they like, but that same freedom means that Muslims and Hindus are unlikely to frequent Chinese kitchens. Thus, the breaking of bread together–a key act of good will between peoples–is effectively discouraged. The result is a society boiling with ethnic-religious tension, but extremely adaptive from a religious evolutionary perspective. At the cost of social peace, religions maintain their canons of motifs.

4. Placeholder terms

Of great importance is the strategic use of placeholder terms. By “placeholder terms” I mean key religious terms, the meanings of which are defined so vaguely as to invite a wide range of interpretation. Such terms include god, spirit, truth, wisdom, justice, good, evil, and so on. These terms give a semblance of meaning immediately recognizable to all followers, but their precise meanings are so vague that they can be made to support nearly any policy or agenda that happens to arise. This is vitally important to the long-term survival of religions. As centuries pass and values change, the old motifs must be continually reinvigorated with new meanings. If the key terms are too rigidly defined, they become irrelevant when the social context that gave rise to them is no longer present. Thus, to allow for changing contexts, the terms must remain vague, even vacuous. Each generation fills them with new meanings, all the while purporting to carry on the “ancient” tradition. Reforms in religions are frequently presented as a return to old ways: the previous generations’ meanings are declared corrupt and degenerate, and new meanings are attached under the smokescreen of “getting back to basics.” American currency says “In God we trust”, and a new generation of religious pundits have successfully filled that phrase with their new evangelistic, creationistic, and political meanings, even though the founding fathers were mostly Deists and meant something very different by the word “God.” Proponents of keeping the phrase “In God we trust” on the currency say “God” is open to interpretation, thus emptying the term of specific meaning. At the same time, pundits fill it up again with their highly-specific meanings in order to push their politics. Through this example it can clearly be seen how the term is merely a placeholder for the values and agendas of the moment. The strategic use of placeholder terms allows a religion to stay limber while maintaining the continuity of its motifs.

5. Paradox

Finally, the fifth highly-adaptive feature of religions is effective use of paradox. By “paradox” I mean something not immediately obvious, something that frustrates the conventional, mundane reasoning process and opens a follower to the mysterious. This could be something which by ordinary standards is “impossible.” Miracles are by definition impossible, though they purportedly happen nonetheless. It could also be something unanswerable by ordinary means, such as the question of why we exist or what happens after we die. It could also be something beyond the ken of ordinary perception, such as invisible spirits shooting elf shot to cause illness.

Such uses of paradox are adaptive for several reasons. First, they awaken followers to the limitations of their own understanding, thus making them more receptive to understandings transmitted as part of the religion’s package of motifs. Second, they make the followers dependent on the religion’s motifs to explain the paradox. Third and finally, they cause those who feel “deep in their heart” a given response to the paradox to seek the company of likeminded souls. Humans seem to have a psychological need to be “understood” by their fellows. Thus, followers retreat from those who do not share their religious feelings and congregate with those who do. Contemporary Pagans have hit upon “magic” as a paradox sufficiently mysterious to make them seek out each other and remain reticent around those who “just don’t get it.”

This congregation based on common feeling bonds the community together, serving to enhance the functioning of the previous four adaptive features. Followers express their paradoxical feelings in terms of their religion’s canonical motifs, transmit their feelings to their young in these terms, and adopt the religion’s ethics in order to be part of the group of those who “feel the same.”

Note there is nothing indicating followers do in fact feel the same phenomenological experience. Placeholder terms allow individual, unique, and radically different feelings to be expressed in common linguistic forms, creating the perception of sameness. This sameness may be genuine, or it may be an illusion. So long as a religion’s placeholder terms are vague enough to accommodate all the followers’ different experiences, a perception of in-group commonality can arise and be maintained. Thus Episcopalians and Evangelicals and Roman Catholics and Coptics and Quakers and Snake-handlers can all feel they have a common bond through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, even though the personal experiences of all these different followers are likely to be radically different.

Conclusion

These are the top five features determining the long-term “success” (evolutionary survival) of religions. Most religions in history have featured them in some way, and those that have not have died out or been absorbed into other religions.

Bringing science and myth together in this way can help us clarify how we think about religions.

Have I missed any that should be in the top five?

Religion and Philosophy

Religion and Philosophy are words of repute that man resorts to for answers on God and life. Their authenticity is never questioned nor their real meaning understood. Man takes it for granted that they provide answers for what they stand for. But a gentle glance would suggest that answers have not been found as yet because men, more than anything else, are still angry with each other and with themselves too. Religion makes man believe he is a saint while philosophy fills him with pride. The question he needs to answer is whether religion and philosophy have brought him peace or drafted him into war. The present state of the world would suggest the latter is true.

Every child and adult is given a religion to follow and adhere to so that he or she may lead a happy life – a certain investment to reach heaven. Its importance is emphasized to philosophical proportions. Religion and, thereby, God, if followed to the letter, is believed to ward off evil and protect man from harm. But is he free from hate or anger while he prays or when he is in a place of worship? Is he free of all that is unholy when he does not pray or is not in a place of worship? If God is the creator of the world, who could possibly be creating evil or wrong besides God? It is unthinkable that God would be the creator of good and bad, right and wrong as a reality. It has to be illusory for God is compassionate and loving. So, has religion and philosophy failed to deliver its promises and will it ever succeed? Who can tell?

But what do these words really mean and what is man’s understanding of them? To most, religion means subtle or profound knowledge about God and His messages, which are beliefs or a system of faith and worship. The word religion is derived from the Latin word ‘religio’, meaning obligation or reverence to life under monastic vows. Philosophy, on the other hand, means a love of wisdom. But, on close observation, man is neither godly nor wise, and religion and philosophy have been around for quite some time. Religion and philosophy are both ancient and historical. Man came to know religion first and later, as his mind sophisticated, philosophy appeared. Primitive man was alive and lived without the need of religion or philosophy.

The mind became active within man slowly and steadily and sophisticated to form religion and philosophy. Information about God happened to him and he did not bring it about. Thinking happened to man and he did not make it happen. If he had, he would have made it happen all at once and not progressively, as is the case, and, given the chance, he would see to it that everyone thought the same way, but they do not. If he did make thinking happen, he would have just one religion and philosophy and not many, as is the case.

Nature was religion to primitive man. The lightning in the skies and the thunder that followed was man’s knowledge about a power above him. Light and sound were God to primitive man. The moment he looked up into the skies in fear was the moment of birth of God or a power much superior to him in his mind. As vocabulary increased within man’s mind and concepts began to form, so did religion and knowledge about God as the almighty.

If religion were real, there could only be one and that would be the first one that appeared within man’s mind. Real means that which does not change and is eternal. This means that even the first religion cannot be real. How could it be real for not only has the first religion changed, but there are five more major religions alongside it? This change contradicts the meaning of real. This can only mean that the first religion and the rest that have followed have to be illusory and not real.

Religion is illusory for it exists only in the waking state, but it does not exist during the sleeping state, and man is alive during sleep as much as he is during the waking state. If religion were real, primitive man should have religion without the presence of thoughts. This only means that religion is nothing but thoughts in the mind, as is everything else.

If God has created the world, every religion must be His creation too. If they are, they cannot be separate from Him. The world is energy and nothing can be separate within energy, and so, if they were separate from him or from each other, they would not exist. If God has created the world, He will be energy too because the source of energy has to and will be energy only. In this case, God cannot be a He or a She but just energy, as is every man and woman. If God is energy, it can only mean that anything and everything is a reflection of energy, including man. If energy is God, it can only mean that every speck of this manifestation has to be God, and it is so and cannot be otherwise.

If God were the creator, would not every religion be His creation too, including the first? They certainly would be, and surely He would not create any religion that is wrong. The same applies to philosophy too. The presence of variety in every aspect of life, including religion and philosophy, makes it impossible for man to decide which could be true. This is the intelligence of life that makes anything and everything in life relative and not absolute. It is important to understand that every recognizable thought requires another of its kind for it to exist. Therefore, every religion exists because of the presence of the other. This is why God or life has manifested many religions and philosophies so that a concept of religion and philosophy could exist. They exist in such a manner that man may understand that their existence is illusory and not real. They only appear real.

Religion is temporary because it changes and requires time to exist, where there is none. It exists only as thoughts because it disappears in the sleeping state. These are the hallmarks of an illusion. An illusion does not mean it is absent; it is present, but not in the manner the mind says it is. There are many scriptures related to every religion. When the religion is illusory, will not the scriptures be illusory too? In that case every scripture is no better than the other. Truth cannot be known for the known is always dual, and truth cannot be dual for duality is relative and never absolute. If a certain belief of a religion is not found within the confines of another religious scripture, the belief cannot be concluded to be invalid or false.

Every belief does not have to be found in every religious scripture; there is no point in repeating the same belief in every religion. God is very intelligent for, if beliefs were the same in every religion, then different religions would not exist: diversity is required for religion to exist. If all religions contained the same beliefs, then there would only be one religion. Before the scriptures were written, they existed in the mind as thoughts. This means that truth, no matter how illusory, cannot be just what is written, and that which is not written can also be the truth, for the written once existed as thoughts in the mind. Therefore, man may speak the truth and it cannot be brushed aside as untruth just because it cannot be found within scriptures. All religions put together are one religion.

Duality is the spice of mental life. Diversity is maintained by duality. Diversity makes life not only magnanimous but also projects the illusory as the real. Diversified religion exists so that God may exist. If only one religion existed it would be real and God would not be remembered at all. God would not be remembered because, for God to exist and to be remembered as well, another God would be needed, and the various religions do just that: they provide many Gods. It is fascinating to see that every religion is not content with itself, and it should be if it is real. The constant arguments between religions suggest that every man doubts the religion he belongs to. Knowledge about religion only indicates the capacity of the mind to store information and reproduce it, akin to a computer or a library. A scholar does not signify anything other than this.

Man is born without a religion and he obtains the religion that exists in the family. Religion is, therefore, more familial than real. Life is energy and energy alone. Energy has no religion, yet man has a religion: how real could it be? Words and meanings are an auditory illusion of sound and so every religion is illusory rather than real. Religion has driven man away from God rather than bringing him to God, and this is exactly what it is meant to do so that religion and philosophy may exist. If men were made to realize that only God exists and not man, religion would collapse.

Religion is just knowledge about God in a particular language. Knowledge is dead because it is in the mind as memory. Since the mind is in the past, religion too is in the past. The mind is not in life, which is the timeless ‘now’, and this means that religion is not in life but in the mind. The mind requires time to exist and science has proved that time does not exist as a physical entity in life. The smallest unit of time measured is ‘atto second’, which is one billionth of a billionth of a second. Life’s occurrences, however, happen in units of time much smaller than an atto second, which is the timeless ‘now’. Religion really means to be united with self. It has not really achieved this but, in fact, has created disunity between humans. This is life’s intelligence to maintain its illusory nature so that man may understand the real meaning of religion.

Every religious man defends vigorously that his God is the only one. Now, God is not a matter of yours or mine. God is simply God. Scientifically, God is synonymous with energy, light or just intelligence. God is a philosophical word, but very intelligent nevertheless. The world is varied and so are religion, philosophy and even God. Life merely demonstrates that if anything and everything is varied, even God is varied, and this is why God is who He is imagined to be. Therefore, it is inevitable that God will appear differently in some religions and as many in others. Life also demonstrates that God is nobody or nothing, but also anything and everything. This is evident in some religions in which He is revered as being formless, which is true, and in others as having forms made of any kind of matter: food to indicate taste, incenses to indicate smell, bells to indicate sound and fire to indicate light, which are also true.

It is difficult to determine whose God is real and is the first and only one. Every religion defends that their God fits that bill. If any one of the Gods that appeared after the first was real, He would have been the one who would have created the first religion and maintained it until the present day. If the first religion was false, He would have destroyed it, and the reason it cannot be destroyed is because life is energy and energy cannot be destroyed or created. This is proof that God too is energy and anything and everything is merely a reflection of this energy, which appears in the morning and disappears in the night, including religion and philosophy.

The world is a manifestation of God or energy and not a creation. No man could have seen the creation to vouch for it, but surely he can understand that the world is and has be a reflection, since it is energy. Therefore, the world and God included has to be peaceful and harmonious. The mind of man is not peaceful, and this restlessness is an auditory illusion of sound, as only light and sound exists in life and not words and meanings. Man merely makes sounds, which appear as language in the mind. Words and meanings cannot exist in life, as time is absent in life.

Man or messenger of God, who has a mind, will always be restless because of duality, which is the hallmark of the mind, and to wish him peace will only be wishful thinking. A true messenger of God, if at all there is one, is an enlightened being, for he lives and realizes that the mind is illusory, so too every religion and philosophy. An enlightened being is always at peace with himself and the world, without knowing that he is. Peace is his nature for it is the nature of nature, and an enlightened being realizes that man is part and parcel of nature and not separated from it. There would be no need to wish him or her peace, for he is peace itself.

Peace is the nature of the world, and it has to be if it is energy, no matter in what state it is. So there would no point in fearing it or God. Fear, if observed, is non-existent in the timeless ‘now’. It is always in the mind and, therefore, has to be illusory as is any word. In fear man can never reach God; he would be rotating in his mind hoping to reach God. Fear has been employed by the religious to bring man to God – how ironical. It is ironical that it is the religious who keep man away from God with a promise of bringing him to God. Only God is and man is merely a reflection of God.

Philosophy came much later than religion. It was the product of a sophisticated mind. It made its appearance once life expressed logic and reasoning. Philosophy is similar to religion in that there are as many philosophies as there are languages, either rudimentary or sophisticated. If wisdom was real, and it needs to be real if it is wisdom, there would be just one system of philosophy and not such divergence as there is found to be.

Many philosophies are needed so that a concept of philosophy may exist. The scenario is the same as with religion. Man would not remember philosophy if there were just one. A contrast provided by a particular philosophy is needed for the existence of another. Hence, philosophy means the love of thinking and not the love of wisdom, as is thought. Every man is a philosopher for thinking happens to him. A true philosopher is he who realises that thinking happens to him and man does not think. He realizes that an action or an experience can exist only in time, and time does not exist in life. He realizes that the mind would be needed to recognize an action or an experience in life, and mind, like time, does not exist in life.

A true philosopher is he who realizes that the world, man and mind are a continuous and spontaneous transformation-process of energy which is uncontrollable and unpredictable. He realizes that life is timeless and thoughtless and a manifestation of light and sound, and the experienced world and the experience itself is a world of thoughts – religion and philosophy included. A truly religious man is he who realizes that everything is an expression of God the almighty – religion and philosophy included.