The unwarranted exercise of power in religion

Acceptance of a variety of religions in our daily life without demur; realising that religious belief is a private affair; knowing that diversity in the form of prayer and the path taken to seek union with the Divine is a core feature of humanity; and accepting that the services provided by priests seeking to guide followers to God is of great value; all these were taught to me by my Hindu family.

We lived in a British colonial territory, with a variety of ethnic communities and their religious commitments. Culturally, there was mutual acceptance. My family’s close friends included Christians of 3 sects.

Hindu priests facilitated our reaching to God. They did not control our lives. It was therefore a significant cultural shock for me to find, from the late 1940s on, in Christian Australia, not only a bitter sectarian divide, but also control of Roman Catholics by their priests. The latter, compared to Hindu priests, lived rather well; but also preached prejudice – through the guise of Catholics being always facing discrimination.

I was offended by those priests and laymen who asked me to join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation.’ When I asked my first priest-interlocutor why I, a devout believer in God, needed his Christian salvation, he was silent – then moved away silently. An honest priest! Yet, I have been shouted at by some laymen for not accepting the primacy of the Pope.

Why does a religious organisation, or one of its operational arms, need to be authoritarian, to exercise control over, not only the minds, but also the behaviour of its followers? Such behaviour includes overt discrimination of the kind I experienced in the late 1980s (as recently as that). That was because I did not belong to ‘the faith.’ That was made clear. I took early retirement as a result.

To claim that your beliefs (and theological dogma) are superior to those of others is, to me, tolerable. But does your Earthly ego then require you to denigrate competing faiths? Or, to dominate official policies to favour your theology? Or, worse still, for your followers to discriminate against those of other faiths?

It is not, however, the religion which is at fault in inflicting assumed authority with asserted power over believers; and in seeking to impose sectoral theology-derived social values over the policies of the totality of the nation. It is the behaviour of quite ordinary men, claiming extraordinary power, blinded by their collective egos. Do they need to be reminded that we co-created humans are equal, not only under the law, but also in the eyes of God?

Time to divest authority and power from the practice of guiding fellow humans, while on Earth, to the Divine?