What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?

Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except Buddhism. First is a claim of a creator god. The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept. It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect. The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’ Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.

There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind. I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect? My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows: ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’ Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision; I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news! I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith? Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog! This situation continues.

The true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated. This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions. On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail. The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government. It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor. Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood; that is, without an intermediary? This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests. From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians). This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied. However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain; and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life? Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope? Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated? If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen. I continue to deal with them. They are worthy of respect. They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

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An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 3)

Regrettably, there is a core component of religions which can be, and often is, divisive; when there is no reason for it to be so.

Religious beliefs can arise spontaneously in very widely separated regions of the globe. Some of the beliefs evolve into belief systems, aided by the thinkers within each faith community. Some of these thinkers may have been influenced by the traders and travellers with whom they have come into contact. By and large, relevant perceptions and knowledge are transferred between communities by a slow process of cultural diffusion.

It is unexceptional for the priests and other leaders of a religious community to seek to bond more closely their followers through some explanatory claims they have conceived about origins, links with the numinous, and so on. Separated by geographical space, each religious community can go about its business without interference; theological differences with other religious communities do no harm when religious communities are not close to one another.

However, aggression through war and colonialism against other people seem to have engendered a need to denigrate the religious (as well as other cultural features) of those conquered. Aggressive priesthoods and ambitious royalty have also seemingly added fuel to unwarranted religious wars throughout history.

When will those responsible learn that their ambitions or folly mean nothing after their Earthly demise?

The following extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ (Chapter 16) is, I believe, pertinent.

“ All religions have an explanatory component too – which offers us, with varying degrees of clarity, a story about man’s relationship with his Creator, his place in the universe, and the way the universe is (and was and will be). It is in this area that wars between men usually commence. It is in this area that men who seek to rule as much of mankind as possible claim the superiority of their faith – by means contrary to the ethical teachings of their own faith.

Expediency is just, killing in the name of Christ, butchery in the name of Buddha, massacre in the name of Mohammed, horror upon horror in the name of Hinduism, are also just, allegedly to gain favour with God. A God of Love supposedly condones, if he does not want, the slaughter of his Creation by self-chosen preachers of God’s Love. I fear an anthropomorphic God.

We are a blood-thirsty, power-hungry species of animal left to find ourselves by a Creator who merely set up the mechanism and let the details evolve. We cannot blame God for what happens, or what we do. Neither can we justify our actions by blaming God.”

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)

Merchants in the temple

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s ‘ Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ secret battle against corruption in the Vatican’ (published 2015) is, according to the author, based on confidential information to which he had been given access.

The back cover says: “Based on confidential information – including top-secret documents from inside the Vatican and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility – Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The cover also shows these reviews. “A truly shocking, shameful story of waste and corruption within the vast network of Vatican finances … a provocative work of dogged investigative research.” (Kirkus Review)

“The author’s analysis of the numbers and account of the byzantine internal politics are thoroughly convincing … These revelations should make the need for urgent reform obvious to the world outside the walls of the Vatican.” (Fortune)

The book includes the role of Australian Cardinal Pell in the Pope’s efforts to effect change.

The book concludes with the question “Will the Pope win the battle?” and the statement “… Italian prosecutors who are expert in organised crime … have repeatedly expressed their fear about threats to Pope Francis’ safety.”

An incredible amount of detail is available in the book, and its ‘Notes.’ Yet, under the heading “Where does the money for the poor end up, the book states  … we know how much has been collected from the faithful but not how it is spent.”

“In other words, of the 53.2 million taken through Peter’s Pence (2012) – to which we would add 3 million in interest payments – a good 35.7 million (67 percent) was spent on the Curia and another 6.3 million (12.4 percent) was not used, set aside as reserves of the Peter’s Pence fund.” “In practice, to date, the offerings for the poor are still a black hole: absolute secrecy on how the money is spent …”

(A fascinating book. But, “corruption in the Vatican”? By religious leaders? Of the largest institutional religion in the world? Whose theology dominates Australia’s social policy?)

POETRY FOR THE SOUL (PART 2)

Tieme Ranipiri’s uplifting spiritual poetry ‘My Law’ (refer my post of 2 May 2018) uplifts the soul, irrespective of one’s faith. My thanks to Joseph Potts and George Armstrong for their comments. The author is obviously a sensitive and spiritual person.

This poetry also resonates with my Hinduistic mind. As a metaphysical Hindu, I am aware that Hinduism is like the River Indus. Powerful tributaries of thought and insight flow into a massive river of faith. This latter river permits fresh input, as well as deviations, causing no concern to those spiritually uplifted by going with the flow.

There is no authoritative Good Book (as with the 3 ‘desert’ religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There are no authoritarian institutions associated with my non-ritualistic faith. My path to God does not deny the value of any other path. Of course, the ethical codes of the known major religions cannot diverge one from the other – not when they all share the same Creator, and with whom they seek to commune.

The massive river of Hindu faith surely contributes to the Ocean Of Consciousness, from which we are said to have arisen; just as the River Indus contributes to the single ocean of Earth. As the latter ocean sustains life on Earth, so this former Ocean of Consciousness sustains human souls during their purification process through many Earthly lives. So mought it be!

An Aboriginal writer on Aboriginal culture

The plight of Australia’s Aborigines is so sad that I was pleased to hear about Bruce Pascoe’s book ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ A retired school teacher drew my attention to this valuable book. Have our media paid any attention to its findings?

A book about pre-invasion Aboriginal culture, written by an Aborigine, is far more credible than writing by even a sympathetic non-Aboriginal writer. Pascoe’s sources are journals and diaries of (white) pastoralists, explorers, and the like. His sources are plentiful. When British beneficiaries of invasion, killing, and despoliation of native culture say honestly what they saw and experienced, one would expect Pascoe’s narrative to be accepted by one and all.

Not so! A retired Anglo-Aussie school teacher told me that she did not find the book credible. I repeat a belief I uttered way back in the racist 1940s and 1950s: that the oldest generation of (British) Aussies had to join their Maker before the lives of Asian students in Australia would be easier. That did happen.

Those supremacist white Australians who will not even accept that their indigenes are First Nation People, or who are unwilling to allow the Aborigines to have a say on policies to ‘bridge the gap’ in life expectancy, health, education, and a jail-free life have to leave us – in my view, as soon as possible.

Pascoe’s report also suggests that the behaviour of settlers generally, and some explorers, was decidedly despicable and un-Christian. Pascoe’s book also confirms what the redoubtable Dr. Coombs had earlier written about the Australian Aborigines. Their lives had all the hallmarks of a settled people, an organised polity, and a civilisation; and they had spiritual values of a high order, as well as a view of the Cosmic order.

Would not any intelligent person expect that a people who had survived this harsh land for 35,000 to 60,000 years know how to relate to Nature and to heavenly bodies? I doubt that modern man does. He wants control, not balance.

British settlement turned a settled people with agriculture, aquaculture, solid buildings, and a co-operative way of life into nomads. Being converted to Christianity did not protect the indigene from exploitation for more than two centuries. Now, they are expected to be ‘like us.’ Some already are; what about the rest?

Multiculturalism policy permits, even encourages, ethnic communities in Australia to identify themselves as identifiably separate; but not our indigenes. Why so?

Hindu influence on Greek philosophy

This influence is accepted as a probability in the book ‘Hindu Influence on Greek Philosophy’ by Timothy Lomperis, academic, “of Greek heritage and years in India.” I offer the following thoughts. Extracts are shown with quotation marks.

• The author displays a tendency to see ‘revolt’ by Buddha and Mahavira against Hinduism; and refers to ‘invasion’ and ‘occupation’ by non-existent ‘white’ Aryans; and ‘dictatorship’ by Brahmin priests. Was the author influenced by the competition between the 3 ‘desert’ religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; theological control within sectarian Christianity; and Eurocentric historiography?

• Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, described by Lomperis as free India’s first Minister of Education and a philosopher, wrote “In Greece, elements of religion acquired the characteristics of philosophy; in India, philosophy itself was turned into a religion.”

• Indian author A.R. Wadia wrote: “Like the Greeks generally, Plato was intent on making the best of his life.” “The greatest aim of Plato was to bring into being an ideal state.” “The Upanishadic seers were not interested in developing an ideal society or state.”

• Plato “never committed his deepest thoughts in writing.”

• “The task of distilling Hindu thought to anything like a united body of teaching is even more difficult.” Comparing the diverse philosophies spread loosely throughout a huge subcontinent in Asia over a long period of time, with the incompletely-articulated philosophies of a small peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean within a short historical period may be questionable.

• Plato and the Hindus share a concept of the soul and its reincarnation. However, many cultures held comparable views until the leaders of Christianity decided against it, in favour of priestly control of behaviour.

• The author admits to a significant difference between Hinduism and Plato. “Mainstream Hinduism” views the empirical world as “an inconsequential illusion.” Plato “saw truth located in the world of ideas.”

Being unable to unify Athenian philosophers in the sixth to fourth centuries BC into a Greek philosophy, Lomperis seems yet able to find a unified main channel within the highly diffuse philosophies in the wide-spread tribo-lingual cultures of India over thousands of years!

• “In the case of philosophy,” the direction of influence “seems quite clearly to be from India to Greece.” The flow of fables was also from the East to Europe (as previously proven).

How else could it be when Indian philosophies and cultures were not known to the Greeks? The then prevailing view of Asia was of ’barbarians’ and “Ethiopians.” As well, did not Aristotle express racist views?

Throughout the globe, in the history of mankind, a large number of cultures would have produced thinkers seeking the Cosmos and the place of Man in it. Without physical contact between cultures, comparable perceptions could surely have arisen over time.

Without cultural competition seeking antecedence (as in theological contests), mankind will create diverse paths to understanding the meaning of existence.