Why are the desert religions aggressive?

All the major religions in the world have the same God, the one and only Universal Creator of all that is. Creation may have occurred all at once or through an evolutionary path. The Creator God may be unknowable, except through a deep meditative process; or knowable, perhaps through revelation. Asking what was there before Creation, or about the origin of God, are meaningless questions. (Ask the cat which looks behind a free-standing mirror for that other cat.)

Most of us need a saviour offering succour, primarily in terms of survival in our normally harsh environments. Others may have lesser needs, but which can loom large in their lives, depending on how insecure or greedy they are. Wants may be greater than need.

A significantly powerful personal need, but which can (in an exaggerated state) threaten the very existence of other humans who are also believers in God, is the need to believe that one is on the only path to God; or that one’s path to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father is the more efficient one. This Abode may offer angels, or dancing girls, or advanced spirits, or ever-lasting peace. (Or perhaps a wondrous mansion filled with gee-gaws of great value, and serviced by valets galore.)

How does such a strange need of exclusivity or superiority arise? Surely through the priesthoods. Why would priesthoods need to compete with one another? The exercise of power, or a collective ego-gratification?

Religious belief systems arose in widely dispersed regions of the world over a long period of time. Each could not have known about other belief systems unless traders from afar displayed their foreign faiths. See what happened when Hindu and (later) Buddhist traders influenced the cultures of South East Asia and the islands of the adjoining archipelago now known as the Indonesian. So many individuals there have names and even facial features which reflect this cultural infusion.

Of course, marauding armies would also have imposed a new religion here and there. Or, a ruler, by accepting a new religion, had all his people follow him.

Priesthoods would also tend to protect their reign when they control the path to eternity. As evidenced in Egypt, when Aten replaced Amon temporarily, it was allegedly the prevailing priesthood which recovered the status quo. Was this also the earliest evidence of a closed trade union?

But then, why did Christianity, which offers a loving universal god in place of a fearsome desert god, set out (through colonialism) to convert peaceful followers of the forest religions of Asia? What drove Islam, the successor to Christianity, to use the cutting edge of weaponry to convert all and sundry? Do not these religions have a record of destroying the followers of other faiths, and sects of their own religions, here and there? In my experience, these are the only 2 religions whose followers talk a great deal about their faith, whereas the others simply live their religion.

It is surely undeniable that the 3 major desert religions have been, and are, the predominant warring nations of the globe. Humans will, of course, attack one another for material gain. Our simian genetic heritage is probably responsible. But what gain is there in collecting souls? Why not take the coveted materials, and leave beliefs alone? More efficient control of the ‘other,’ using priests?

In any event, the diversity of beliefs reflects merely the diversity in approaches to the Divine. The paths do vary, thanks to differences in man-made theology and dogma – all arbitrary, and replaceable. On what basis would a priesthood claim superiority or priority?

Would not the wanton destruction of fellow-humans and their societies in the name of one’s religion affect one’s chances of finding peace in the Hereafter? Or, do the guilty deny the existence of a meaningful Afterlife?

Why not live in faith on Earth, and allow others to live with their respective faiths too? In the Afterlife (Hereafter or Heaven) all souls will surely be equal as non-entities!

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Political vs. religious rights

“… religious persons are still citizens with an equal right to be heard on matters such as abortion and euthanasia as anyone else.” So said a Catholic professor of theology recently. As it only a political statement, it is thereby contestable.

Why are Roman Catholics who oppose these 2 practices, because their Church leaders require them to do so, entitled to deny non-Catholics a right to the practices? “I am not allowed these; so you can’t have them”: Is this how Australian multiculturalism is supposed to work?

Do man-made arbitrary definitions of human life and their ownership (which are not universally accepted and reflected in the dogma of the many religions available, have priority over alternative, equally arbitrary, values and beliefs of other religions, especially those seeking succour from the same God?

Or, would religious Muslims have a right to have a say about Catholic practices which they oppose? That is, could Muslims have a right to require legislation which reflects their edicts rejecting non-Muslim theologically-based practices?

More importantly, why would religious Roman Catholics have a right to interfere in the lives of others, when the values and practices of those others do not in any way impinge upon the freedom and lifestyle of Catholics?

Religious dogma divides a people – for no good reason other than enabling the exercise of authority by a controlling religious institution. Why would religiosity require control? Religion is surely intended to guide humans to God, and not to say whose God is superior, or whose theology takes one to God more quickly or with certainty.

Would it not be a measure of relative religio-political rights were each one of us to be free to follow a belief-path of personal choice, without interference from any one, or interfering with any one’s beliefs?

The available evidence shows that the basis of morality is significantly innate. Observe young children carefully. Throughout most of the world’s population, moral behaviour is also not engendered by a controlling priesthood. Humanity at large shares a culture of co-operation voluntarily. A family of atheists could easily guide their children to a spiritual life without any intervention by a dogma-driven religious institution; and aided by professional school teachers.

It is a truism that there will always be someone, or a group, or an institution, to tell us how to live our lives. We need to tell them to back off, leaving us free to make our own decisions about how we live.

I do believe that we are innately inclined to bond with fellow-humans, in the way we instinctively yearn for communion with the Divine.

I have also argued that the major religions are equal in their potential, in that they all share 2 core beliefs: that there is a Creator of all which exists; and that, as co-created, we humans have a bond with, and responsibility for, one another. While religious dogma may play a role in bonding the members of a faith, they surely should not be used to divide people – as has happened, and continues to happen. Who gains from division?

Read the endorsement for my approach to religions by the late James Murray, formerly the Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian’ in my book ‘The Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Refer my WordPress blog or amazon.com.

Demonising Native Title rights for indigenes

Following the decision by the High Court in the Wik case that a pastoral lease did not necessarily extinguish native title; and that, in some cases, some native title rights can survive the grant of a lease, farmers and pastoralists on Crown pastoral leases sought ‘certainty’ for themselves, by the federal government formally extinguishing native title.

Certainty also means the freedom to diversify their operations beyond the terms of existing leases. This would effectively make the leases de facto freehold, independently denying any native title right. Since many of the leases are reportedly already being used for a wide range of purposes, the question is how a pastoral lease, which is surely for pasturage of cattle, allowed full scale farming (as distinct from farming for sustenance). More intriguing was the claim that certain governments had ignored the law in granting mining leases.

The federal government then contributed to the panic that followed. What about our backyards, swimming pools, and tennis courts; can they take them too? This was asked by the newest demagogue then. The threat of Aboriginal intervention under native title will reduce the transfer value of the leases — this was yet another whinge. Apparently this has not happened yet. The federal government did little to allay these fears. Indeed, many of us realised that the government was actually fuelling irrational fears.

A white female pastoralist was reported in the late 1990s to have been fearful when her property was the subject of a native title claim by an Aboriginal community. She thought that, if successful, the Aborigines would simply take possession of her property. After she had met the claimants, she knew otherwise. Why had not the government or the media made this clear? Were they in cahoots with the powerful pastoralist lobby groups? It seems so.

She learnt that the Aborigines’ aim was co-existence.  They only wanted access to significant sites to conduct cultural activities for young people. She was quoted in the press as saying: “When sheep and cattle were moved in, the land the indigenous people lived off was badly affected. They had to find other ways to survive, and the problems were compounded by the aggressive acts of the pastoralists and the local white authorities. During the 1920s and 1930s indigenes were herded together in designated Aboriginal reserves, with little shelter and no water. The communities were split up, their culture fragmented. They gravitated towards the edges of towns … ended up outcasts, on the fringes of white society”.

Where politicians had promised ‘certainty’ to the pastoralists, she reportedly felt that she had been kept in the dark, misled, and betrayed. She was further quoted as follows: “… people like me were being used as tools, in what was obviously a political agenda being used to continue the hurt and dispossession of people who have been hurt their whole lives”; and “… there are people fanning the flames and spreading misinformation”.  She also quoted the Prime Minister of the day as claiming publicly that it would be possible for 78% of Australia to be under ‘veto’ (for development) by Aborigines. Has the government resiled from this ridiculous claim?

Her comment to that was: “I’ve no doubt that most Australians would have believed him. If I hadn’t informed myself, I’d have believed him as well”. Her final comments are noteworthy. “I did not hunt the (Aborigines) off their land: but what I have today I have partly because others did. If I inherited the fruits of the pioneers’ achievements, I also inherited a debt to those they dispossessed”.

That says it all. And what a wonderful human being — a beacon of light. This enlightened white lady has reached out to the Aboriginal people. She is also educating people in her situation about the need to work with Aboriginal people.

As asked by a respected academic in another, but comparable, context: “If lying comes to seem an acceptable political means to a worthwhile end, what will prevent democracy degenerating into a struggle between elites whose relationship to the electorate goes no deeper than the conduct of an auction …?” In any such auctions, the Aborigines will not be viable bidders.

(The above extracts are from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Since the book was published only in 2005, I do not believe that the Australian Constitution will be mended any time soon to recognise the Australian indigenes as the First Nation Peoples of Australia.)    

 

 

Who cares for the psychological needs of children?

The ethos of individualism of nations such as Australia may have leached into rights-filled communities, aiding those who are inclined to be whingers. The following story is, I believe, an indication of the partial deterioration of society in modern Australia.

I had a neighbour who established 5 businesses locally. He managed one, and his wife managed another. One day he found himself locked out of his home; and his wife walked away from the business she was managing (so he said to me) . This left him with a huge debt, resulting in him sleeping in his car for a few months.

He was fortunate, I thought, that his wife had not taken out an Apprehended Violence Order against him. That seems to be the practice when a wife chooses to be vindictive. There may, of course, be situations warranting such an order. When one of these is delivered at a man’s work, the damage to his reputation can only be guessed at. A magistrate in Australia’s national capital once wrote in that city’s newspaper that he would issue the order when requested; but he could not investigate the need for it.

My former neighbour went with the flow (so to speak), which enabled him to collect his children for a day’s outing each Sunday. One Sunday, I saw him sitting in his car, outside the family home, crying; the children were not allowed out. I knew the little children. I felt deeply sorry for them. They were the innocent sufferers, perhaps with only one of the parents morally responsible for their unhappiness.

The feminists would no doubt argue that the woman had the right to do what she did. Others might claim that it is better for the children to be denied the father in order to live without turmoil in the home. Why turmoil? Isn’t civilised behaviour appropriate and possible? Or, would that diminish certain adult wants, whatever they might be?

Two serious questions arise: Why not separate sexual freedom from family responsibility? Does the lifestyle wants of an adult always over-ride the psychological needs of children?

(Re-post from July 2013)

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?”

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.  

Not all insults are ‘racially’ motivated

Who are those claiming to be hurt and humiliated by words uttered by others? Should I have felt insulted by being asked repeatedly whether I would join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation?’ Instead, I saw the speakers as well-meaning but not educated. When, recently, a former Church worker claimed that the one and only God of the universe is a Christian god, all the other gods being ‘pantheistic,’ I challenged his arrogance. I suggested that Christianity is a late entrant in humanity’s search for the First Cause of all that is. Were these people racists?

At a political level, when Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader of Singapore, offered a more efficient definition of democracy, he was attacked by the West. Was he insulted? Instead, his Ambassador to the UN published ‘Can Asians really think?’ That closed down further challenges; were they racist?

Significantly, Singapore is ahead of Australia at so many levels of governance – from education to economic development, based on long-term plans; not, as in Australia, waiting for foreigners to invest (if they chose). A silly accusation recently was that, although students in Singapore are ahead of their Australian counterparts in maths, they could not possibly understand the underlying concepts. Racism or dented white superiority?

More ridiculously, the terms ‘race’ or ‘racial’ are applied, almost as a mantra,  to a wide variety of allegedly hurtful utterances. Thus, Australia’s ‘racial’ legislation denying free speech is defended as offering protection against any criticism of Israel’s policies! The Catholic Church is also said to need similar protection (something I do not understand). The Australian Aborigines, the only First Nation Peoples not recognised in the Constitution, do need protection from insults; but how are they to access any protection which might be available?

Then, there are the seemingly newly-arrived immigrants who, unlike their predecessors over half a century, claim to be humiliated, hurt, or offended by foolish words by silly people. Offensive words? That depends on whether one is easily offended. Some people are. Why?

Were such people never spoken to disdainfully ‘back home’? Could there be any intangible benefit in claiming to be psychologically damaged by unfriendly or ugly words in Australia?

We early immigrants were genuine ‘adventurers’ who crossed land and sea to start a new life, and to better ourselves. We ignored (or retaliated occasionally) denigrating words. We were not wimps to feel ‘humiliated’ by words from the ignorant.

Words may hurt only if one lets them. Why allow that?