On religion – an arm’s length Creator

“Studying the belief systems of the simpler societies at my university, and dip­ping into some anthropology, sociology, psychology, and the major religions, I realised that there has been, and is, an innate need in many, if not most, of us to understand what we humans are, and our place in the Cosmos.

I realised further that: the complexity and beauty, as well as the observable but inadequately explicable aspects of the experienced world; the exceedingly complex patterns of inter-linked cause and effect, action and reaction, and the inter-dependencies of the physical, chemical and electro­magnetic forces affecting us; the uniformity, the invariability, the predictive capacity of the laws of nature; the ecological balance between mobile and fixed forms of life; the intuitive yearning by sensitive souls for communion with sublime or higher forces not clearly understood; and the inferred influ­ence of the spirit world, all of which affect our lives, could not have occurred purely by chance.

Instead, they might, I felt, reflect the mind and soul of a Creator. How else could all that have occurred? By chance? Is that another name for an inexplicable cause, akin to the gods of simpler people?

I did conclude, logically, that there had to be a Creator of all that exists. I then noted, with great interest, that an aca­demic and confirmed atheist had reached the same conclusion after a lifetime of non-belief in a Creator, for exactly the same reasons. There has to be a Creator, he now accepts, thereby upsetting most severely his former fellow-believers in that causal mechanism named Chance. Like me, he doesn’t claim to know; only that a creator god makes (unverifiable) sense.

There seems to be clear evidence, comparable to the sta­bility of patterns found within chaos, of purpose within the complexity and apparent unpredictability of life, and of a uni-directional path of species evolution, and the personal development of many individual humans.

In the event, all that a Creator had to do was to set up a mechanism capable of evolving by itself, even as it related to the sentient forms within creation, and these forms too would evolve. An arm’s-length Creator, not an interventionist god of the kind who baffles supplicants and frustrates the priesthood, makes good sense.

Such an objective analytic approach would fit life as experienced. There seem to be trajectories for the universe we think we know, for the observable galaxies, individual suns, and planets, and for us occupants on planet Earth. The pattern of an individual’s existence and the associated path of any personal development reflects, in my view, what might be termed as personal destiny.

This is not fate, not something unavoidable. It is a pathway for one’s current life created by each of us for ourselves, both reactively and through free will, during past lives. With free will, one can also choose, during each life, to obey the imperatives of one’s own self-crafted destiny or respond in some other manner, much in the way a motorist might behave in a well-policed crowded city.”

These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

On religion – a belief based on free will

“What of those of us who hold beliefs which range from the religious to the psychic? My dialogue with the spirit of my uncle (we did have a three-way exchange) led me somewhat reluctantly to an acceptance of the spirit world. Why reluctant? Because it did not fit into my then understanding of reality. Since then I have had other exposures to the spirit world. I now have reason to believe that I have benefited from the involve­ment of this domain in my life. Proof? None! It is, however, not so much a gut-feeling as a subconscious intellectual awareness. Otherwise I remain as rational as humanly possible.

This belief in the reality of the world of souls supports what I was taught to believe in my youth, enhanced by my recent understanding of Hinduism. This understanding was obtained late in life through my reading of the Upanishads. These writings represent, to me, the highest level of meta­physics of any religion. A succinct summary of my beliefs follows. I have been reading about religion and society since I was about 24.

At death, I would join the souls of my predecessors (except those who have been reincarnated). After a period of learning in whatever dimension I find myself, I would be reincarnated on Earth. Let me make clear that I was never taught to believe in a spirit domain from which the soul of a former relative or, for that matter, the soul of perhaps a guru, could enter my life and offer me advice. Or that those in this domain might be able to influence the direction of my life at some significant point – as has apparently happened more than once!

Moving on – each Earthly life would involve me paying for the sins of my past lives while being offered opportunities to learn to better myself morally, possibly spiritually. After many, many rebirths, I might be permitted to return to that Ocean of Consciousness from which, it is said, we had origi­nally arisen. The ultimate objective of this extended process? To improve the stock of human souls? So, is there meaning and purpose in human existence?

The above belief would give meaning where none exists for the unbeliever. It would give more meaning than the claim that human existence has meaning but only for each Earthly existence. A concept embodying continuity through lifetimes, of opportunities to move up some moral scale, life by life, and of exercising free will rather than being carried blindly through time on Earth, is enticing, because it offers a path of purpose, and of hope – with free will.”

These extracts are from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

On religion – achieving control

Institutional religions of the Western kind (the ‘desert’ religions) are authoritative; they involve control, unlike Hinduism and its derivative offshoots (the ‘forest’ religions). The following are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

“What could have been more persuasive? The creation of a hierarchy of gods, angels and other heavenly (or even satanic) intercessionists? A claimed devolution of heav­enly (that is, godly) authority, leading to god-kings or their authoritarian priestly equivalents? A created theology seem­ingly made available to the chosen by a process of revelation from on-high? Inherited authority allied to control of knowl­edge would have enabled the exercise of power, enforced over time by the use of force by some. So says the history of reli­gious institutions.

Were fragments of the faithful, the fearful, then hived off by the cleverer, the more power-hungry, priests through their creation of theological schisms? Did then come the schis­matic wars, some overt by fighting and killing in the name of some god, or by forced conversion? Did the priests insidi­ously and persistently proselytise in order to claim a relative strength of their faith through numerical size? Even today, there are ordinary Christians continuing to collect souls for Christ in Africa and Asia. To what end?

Later, did not many gods, most local or regional, give way to one god, resulting in supremacy sought by priesthoods on a wider geographical front? Did some priesthoods subse­quently develop into a hierarchy, a tower of authority com­posed entirely of men, enabling a lifestyle of considerable quality, while their flocks survived as best they could? What grandeur these priests must have portrayed, with a pageantry normally associated with god-kings! Indeed, some of them still do. Yet, there were other priesthoods which displayed a simpler lifestyle.

Is this not how religious institutions achieved control and began to mislead the people, even while purporting to guide, lead and comfort? Is this not why the more independent-minded people withdraw from participatory religious events and practices, to the extent that some go to the extreme stance of atheism?”

On religion -probable origins

“I have long wondered how a religious belief could have come about, looking way back into Man’s social history. Before seeking an answer to that question, I had to define what I consider to be religious belief. My conclusion?

A sense or feeling of awe about something or events so powerful, so beyond our control or understanding, so ubiq­uitous, more often than not very frightening, yet uplifting at times. Since our primordial emotional state is anxiety, that is, uncertainty mixed with a degree of fear about what might happen, it is only natural that we would seek to reduce our sense of trepidation or fear.

Normally, when confronted by either an ethereal or a tangible source of anxiety, one either flees or fights. When thunder and lightning, torrential rain and floods, earth­quakes and tsunamis, and such like terrorised primitive Man, did he conjure up or imagine spirits of indefinable form, with malevolent intent, as causing his terror? Indeed, are not beliefs of an animist nature still held in the more simple soci­eties in the world? Did Early Man then also attempt to pro­pitiate the unknown and unseen causes of his terror in some way? Did he subsequently come to conclude that propitia­tion can at times be effective, especially after experiencing a period of relative peace?

Then did some opportunistic fellows set themselves up as competent intermediaries? That is, to intercede between the fearful and the feared – and perhaps for some small reward, price or benefit, which progressively led to control over the fearful? Was this how the shamans, the witchdoctors, the ‘brahmins’, and all other priesthoods came into being?

By interposing themselves as intermediaries able to reach fearsome spirits, and by appearing to appease them, as well as purporting to obtain guidance for the gullible, did the intermediaries then extend their power by subtle threats against both unbelievers and competitors? Were shrines then con­structed as places for placation? Did gifts, ostensibly to bribe the spirits (now possibly described as gods), then lead to the enrichment of the ‘priests’? Did they then begin to conduct ceremonies of some kind to convey the dead to their resting places, to welcome the newborn to the living, and to join in marriage those wanting to create new life?

Did these clever intermediaries use rituals they had devised; accompanied by allegedly explanatory mumbo-jumbo they had also concocted, to subjugate in superstition the fearful? Was this the process which engulfed not only primitive Man, but also the members of the simpler soci­eties which subsequently developed? Claiming to reach the Under-world, or the Over-world, or the mystical domains of those who allegedly have power over mankind must have been persuasive – especially if accompanied by some evi­dence of ill-luck for non-belief or non-compliance!”

The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ 

 

On religion – its place in society

“While increasing numbers of our younger gen­erations do not see religious affiliation as rel­evant to their lives, the governments of a secular Australia permit the social values of an authoritarian Vatican to impose their values on non-Catholics. By favouring Christian immigrants, especially from Asia and Africa, federal gov­ernments have sought to counter the progressive erosion of church affiliation. Strengthening the Catholic vote almost led to East Timor becoming a dependency of Australia. Religion also interferes with our relations with our neighbours.

Yet, I accept that religious belief can be beneficial. The need is for mutual tolerance, with the power of divisive priests and their acolyte politicians constrained. My musings follow.

Almost all of those who profess to having, or believing in, a religion are born into it. Is it not the religion or faith of the family? Some exchange their religion for another later in life: it would be a well-thought out shift of allegiance, reflecting a search for a more satisfying faith or religious community. There will be of course some who are born into a family without adherence to any religious belief, but who may sub­sequently join a religious sect by a considered choice.

Then there are those who quietly disengage from reli­gion, except possibly in matters relating to hatches, matches and despatches, viz. births, marriages and deaths. The with­drawal may reflect a permanently full belly with security, or a seriously considered conclusion that the rituals and the priesthood of their former religion do not meet any ongoing need; or that there is a significant discontinuity between promise and outcomes; or that the behaviours of priest or congregation are not congruent with the asserted claim of that religion.

I have rejected rituals and priesthoods; but have developed a belief structure which I find acceptable. I also prefer to avoid a middleman.”

The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’

 

Imposing one’s values upon others

Recently, reportedly, Australia asked the Philippines Government to dispense with the death penalty. Why? Isn’t the Philippines an independent, democratic, and Christian nation? Just like Australia? Have we asked the USA the same question? Would we dare to do so?

Not long ago, when Indonesia executed 2 Australians convicted of involvement in the illegal drug trade, those opposed to the death penalty made a terrible fuss. Since there is an underlay in Australia of antipathy to ‘Muslim’ Indonesia – in spite of its wonderful policy of Panchasila – one could legitimately wonder if white supremacy was the trigger.

Before that, when Malaysia had applied the death penalty to an Australian convicted of involvement in the illegal drug trade, reportedly, a senior politician in Australia had made intemperate utterances against the Malaysian government. So, what’s new?

Now, we have some politicians and priests who, allegedly, wish to interfere in Indonesia’s sovereignty; they seek to separate Irian Jaya from the rest of a nation with vast ethnic and religious diversity. Interestingly, according to a senior academic I met in Malaysia in the 1970s, there had been an effort to create a brown-skinned, Christian nation between Australia and the rest of Indonesia. The intention had been to establish a buffer to protect Australia from the ‘hordes from the north.’ Today, it might be just the anti-Muslim busybodies at work.

Then, when the member nations of ASEAN showed signs of a capitalistic independence from the West, the latter formed APEC. An Australian, a Japanese, and an American each claimed independent paternity. Was APEC intended to ‘smother’ ASEAN? Yet APEC apparently did not contribute to protecting those nations of south-east Asia being targeted by those intending to bring down their economies and currencies.

Prof. Krugman’s advice to Malaysia to prevent any outflow of portfolio capital saved that nation. The IMF was subsequently accused of promoting a policy which would have caused the Indonesian peoples great pain. Was neo-colonialism the ghost in this policy advice?

Australia has also gone into battle zones behind the USA. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria seem to be chosen playgrounds by those Westerners who cannot just mind their own business.

We in Australia are not a chosen people. We cannot claim to be a nation of exceptionalism either. We continue to be a dependent nation. When China and the nations surrounding the South China Sea reach an accord, we risk being left isolated at the edge of Asia, and also the Pacific and Indian oceans.

“I am not allowed it. So you cannot have it”

The weirdest policy I have come across is a Roman Catholic practice relating to the nether-lands of women. In order to increase its following, local priests in Australia asked (as I was told by colleagues) each couple in their congregation to produce 6 children; with birth control denied. Quaintly, the Protestants and non-Christians are also denied birth control. Would not their populations also increase?

More pertinently, why does this Church interfere in the lives of non-believers? The degree of mental and social control by Catholic priests was so extensive that, even today, in the second decade of the 21st century, their values and attitudes , which were prevalent in the 1950s (as I observed), are being strongly asserted by politicians (sotto voce, of course).

The current trigger for this retrograde stance is a renewal of a claim, supported by about 80 to 85% of the Australian people over decades (but ignored – or denied – by our so-called representatives in parliaments), to permit voluntary (repeat, voluntary) euthanasia in very limited circumstances.

A few European (Catholic) nations allow it. But we are British, and are thereby different. Surely we are different; we are an officially secular nation, but are ruled by Vaticanite social policies in our parliaments. A minority of the population has successfully taken over the nation’s policies.

Hence, theology over-rides compassion. In defence of a theocracy-based denial of the end-of-life needs of a few non-Catholics, there is a sustained reference to ‘killing,’ ‘the slippery slope,’ as well to the imputed venality of the descendants of those who may be seeking relief – hitherto unavailable – from grievous unrelieved pain! Compassion for a fellow human being should surely over-ride religious dogma. What is being effectively said is “Since we are not allowed this relief because of our faith, you should not have it either.” Why not? I doubt if the Heavenly Father is involved here.

In this multicultural nation, there is a diversity of religious beliefs (and non-beliefs). Can we morally afford a dog-in-the-manger stance? I look forward to watching those politicians opposing compassion (in the name of Christ, presumably) doing their role-playing in defence of the indefensible!

Voluntary euthanasia, when made available to the citizens of Australia, will not require Catholics to practice it. Freedom of choice, yes?

 

 

Culture as a weapon in inter-tribal war (2)

Induced tribal diversity

Any divergence from instinctively shared rules about good conduct may have derived initially from isolation, and a fear of ‘the other.’ When a number of extended families, each linked by their particular set of genes, evolved pragmatically, or even by necessity, over time into a tribe, they would have been linked by language, and agreement about how to do certain things.

These could range from actions and practices related to tribal harmony, external security, long-term viability (such as outlawing incest), and governance; as well as activities of a creative nature – painting, sculpture, song and dance, and all manner of crafts. Either following the establishment of ritualistic procedures, or associated with that, there may have arisen some philosophical considerations, or simply attempted explanations, about nature and the place of these people within it (including the conservation of necessary natural resources).

There may also have arisen, to positions of influence, self-selected shamans (or other priesthoods), or individuals seeking authority to rule through a claimed descent from an imputed god in an assumed over-world. A belief system would then have arisen which articulated these distinguishing attributes of the tribe into a coherent whole. Tribo-cultural differences may thus, over time, reflect both accidents of development, the need to ensure viability, and the display of power by priests or rulers.

A major issue is whether the cultural differences which have developed over time and across the globe are so different as to warrant or justify inter-tribal separation or even conflict.

In the absence of conflict over resources, differences in the ways people speak or dress, the way they relate to one another, or the ways they cook and eat their foods, do not seem to be important, although certain food taboos may not be shared. How people relate to others not of their kind is, however, strategically affected, not so much by how they pray, but to what (or whom) they pray. Praying to the same god has not led to a unity of minds. Presumably, all the religious people of mankind accept that there is only a sole creator of all that is, named God.

Dogma divides. For what benefit? For the exercise of power, through a cult of difference and implied superiority. Cultural differences based on divergent religious dogma are then emphasised to justify separation and, if necessary, conflict.

Prof. Huntington’s thesis about probable future conflict between civilisations may yet bear fruit.

This is the second half of Raja Arasa Ratnam’s article, published in 2012, in www.ezinearticles.com. The tragedy of the current tribo-cultural devastation in the Middle East is sufficient evidence that religio-cultural differences do destroy societies for no good cause.  

Culture as a weapon in inter-tribal war (1)

We are one

Culture, at its simplest level, is little more than the ways we do things in life, and the underlying beliefs and values which support these ways. Yet, it is a complex of behaviours, with origins, influences, and impacts which are manifold and inter-linked.

Each human baby is born with a unique genetic structure and potential. That may not be all. Hindu philosophy says that, at birth, the baby inherits a soul. The soul is believed to be an ongoing entity, being reincarnated (ie. reborn) again and again, acquiring increasing knowledge and, hopefully, some cosmic merit. Each new-born baby will, according to this philosophy, carry traces of its past lives, thus affecting its responses to events and experiences in the future.

Even without any input from an imputed soul-entity, the baby will certainly bring into the world of human existence an inheritance of a shared capacity and potential for responding to stimuli of all kinds during its life. This innate ability reflects the evolution of the human brain over a long period of time, and seems to be structured and located as neural circuits linking components of the modern brain. This generalised human ability should have no regard for the trivial surface differences which can separate human beings – such as skin colour, facial features, speech, and so on.

We are so much alike that babies everywhere, like sparrows and chickens or kittens and pups, make the same sounds, and respond alike, instinctively, to comparable stimuli all over the  world. Inherited genetic differences, including some personality traits from grandparents, will of course serve to distinguish one child from another – sometimes significantly. Such differences, however, can be seen to be generalised over all human populations, whether Chinese, Maori, European, and so on. For example, an aggressive personality is the same in diverse cultures.

Each culture seeks uniform behaviour from its constituent members. That part of the acculturation process which is involved with the upbringing of its youth to ensure correct to acceptable behaviour, both inside and outside each family and tribe, will produce similar behaviour globally. For, good conduct is, by and large, uniform across cultures; it has to be, has it not, having regard to the shared evolutionary process? Such behaviours cannot surely be described as what constitutes culture as normally defined.

The above paragraphs represent half of an article by the author published in 2012 in www.ezinearticles.com. Refer part(2) of ’Culture as a weapon in inter-tribal wars’ for the author’s analysis of the fragmentation of humanity through culture.

In his books ‘The Karma of Culture’ and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’, Raja Arasa Ratnam analyses the nature of ethnic culture, the interplay of immigrant cultures with one another, and with that of the host people, and his ultimate hope of unity achieved from a prevailing ethno-cultural diversity.

 

Fear-fuelled subservience as a satrapy

Does not a permanently full belly hamper independent thought, especially about being subservient to the collective which provides the sustenance? This has implications for official policy at a national level.

The nation I adopted more than six decades ago is a well-fed, but somewhat anxious, polity. It is effectively a satrapy of the USA. Why should that be so? Because of a fear which percolated the national psyche right from the invasion of terra australis by Britain. The nature of this fear? Being sur­rounded by coloured people holding foreign faiths who were clearly not ‘us.’ Worse, these were the people then (and pos­sibly now too) deemed inherently inferior by the colonisers of Europe. The Australian nation-to-be hung on to the apron strings of Mother Britain until the threat by the Japanese led to the Government placing itself voluntarily under the umbrella of step-father USA.

I would therefore prefer Australia to become the next state of the USA. Why so? It is better to be a fourth or fifth cousin than to be a menial, that’s why. Were this to happen, there would arise the following benefits: the republic/mon­archy divide would be resolved to reflect the majority view of the Australian public; since about 85% of us wish to vote directly to elect our president, rather than have the govern­ment choose one for us, the US presidential election process would suit us immensely; since we are happy to fight in any war in which the US is involved, we will not have to pay for the weaponry from the US as we do now; and we will also become less welfare and less foreign capital-dependent and more enterprising in terms of economic viability.

Having loosened Mother Britain’s apron strings to obtain the hoped-for military protection of step-father USA, my nation now has its foreign policies determined by the USA. It is therefore quite appropriate for our Prime Ministers to pay their respects in person at the White House, and then to dem­onstrate our obeisance to our ‘emperor’ by conveying a mes­sage or two to designated foreign nations and institutions.

This subservience to our step-father has been strength­ened by the increasing military power of China. Strangely, while the religio-cultural values and practices in the neigh­bourhood continue to bother conservative white Australians, especially of the Roman kind, we are not slow in preaching to some of our near neighbours about converting to our polit­ical structures. We continue with our chosen role of a supe­rior cultural leader.

These are extracts from my book “Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society”