RELIGIONS

“...all the religions of the world forbid examination and do not want one to reason.”

(Investigator 143, 2012 March)


It may be said, that in view of an imposing and scholarly ancient theological literature, to include a chapter on formal beliefs in with the paranormal would invite ridicule. However, as those beliefs have the same or similar origins, that is, they are based on ideas involving various aspects of the supernatural and which cannot be empirically substantiated, there is some justification for including a simplistic treatment of the subject. Further, many would see the "New Age" as a substitute religion.

The major religions are Christianity (1000 million followers), Islam and Hinduism (about 500 million each), Buddhism (200 million) and Judaism around 15 million. Religious statistics are neces-sarily approximate as adherence to a religion varies in rigour, and in the East many individuals belong to two or more religions.

Briefly recounting the genesis of the major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam had the same roots. It is believed that the one true God revealed himself in visions to those he chose to be his prophets or messengers. Among those revelations was that he would send a Messiah, saviour or special leader.

Christianity

Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God, that he died to save man, was resurrected and ascended to heaven. It was around the accounts of his life and teaching that the early Church grew. In the early days Christians found it difficult to agree on the nature of God and the meaning of Jesus' teachings, and the Church split in two. Refusing to acknowledge the Pope in Rome as the head of all the Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church headed by the Patriarch was founded in Constantinople (Istanbul). In the early 16th century there were further splits when Martin Luther broke with the Roman Church and formed one of the Protestant groups, and King Henry VIII of England set up a separate English or Anglican church.

While there is a complete lack of authentic evidence that a man named Jesus ever lived, Christianity has the largest following in the world. The evidence against Christ's historicity, the credibility of the Bible, the alleged miracles and the rituals and doctrines associated with Christianity are manifold and become obvious when a comparative study of the Bible and other religious tracts are made.

In Jesus Christ a Myth, (1981) Indian atheist and scholar Joseph Edamaruku posits that the con-spicuous similarity between the stories of Christ, Krishna and Buddha for example, suggest that the exhortations of Christ in the New Testament were the pieces of advice by Buddha who lived five hundred years before, and that the entire life story of Jesus Christ was copied from the life stories of Buddha and others. The customs and doctrines too would appear to have had their origins in other religions.

Islam

In the 7th century AD. a new religion, Islam, was founded in the desert country of Arabia (Iran) by the prophet Muhammed which taught the Submission to the Will of Allah (God). Muhammed claimed to have had visits from the angel Gabriel who gave him God's message to deliver to mankind. An illiterate merchant, he learned the messages by heart and taught them to his followers, a committee of whom collected them into a book called the Koran, the holy book of the Muslims.

Muhammed is believed to have been an epileptic who wandered the desert and fasted for long periods. Subject to these conditions, hallucinations and the 'hearing' of voices are not uncommon phenomena, and it is doubtful whether any credence can be had in those types of claims.

Hinduism

Hinduism is different from the other religions in so far as it has no one founder but developed over thousands of years, probably based on the religion introduced by the Aryans who reached Northern India from the West nearly four thousand years ago.

The maleficent effects of Hinduism on the population of India can be seen in the discrimina-tory caste system introduced by the Aryans, which successfully restricted any prospects of socio economic advancement by the disadvantaged classes in India until its technical abolition at the time of India's independence in 1948. The Hindus worship a multitude of gods, every village has its own, and the results of having faith in non existent entities rather than adopting a more pragmatic approach to life's problems is evident in the widespread poverty and squalid living conditions in that country.

Judaism

Whereas in the ancient world people worshipped many gods, about 4000 years ago the Hebrews or Israelites began a new religion based on the belief that there was only one true God, who created the universe and everything in it. They believed that their God called Yahweh (Jehovah), or the Lord, made a covenant with their leader, a shepherd called Abraham, and promised them that in return for obeying his laws and commands he would look after and favour them. Much of Bible is based on Babylonian myths picked up by the Hebrews while in captivity. Like the religion of Islam, the Jewish faith stems from the alleged hearing of supernatural voices and the seeing of visions.

Buddhism

The Buddhist religion, founded by Prince Siddhartha Gautarna in the 6th century BC, did not expound any new ideas about any kind of god but introduced three new ways of thought, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

The Buddha, or Enlightened One, came from a Hindu country where it was believed that people were born over and over again to suffer in the cycle or "wheel"  of existence, but he also taught that people could break away from this and reach Nirvana, an abode of blissful spiritual life after death. Buddha taught his followers the Four Noble Truths. The first is that life is full of suffering. This is caused, states the second Truth, by people’s desire for worldly success and fondness for material possessions. The third Truth is that suffering can be ended and Nirvana reached by ceasing to desire the things of this world, and the fourth Truth shows how this can be done by following the Noble Eight fold Path.

The Eight fold path can be summed up as right beliefs, right aims, right speech, right conduct, right occupation, right effort, right thinking and right concentration.

Confucianism

At about the same time that Buddha was preaching in India, two Chinese teachers were developing philosophies that were to grow into religions. Kung Fu tse, better known as Confucius, and Lao Tzu whose ideas became known as Tao, or Way. Confucius based his teachings on the wisdom of the past and believed in the caste system of rulers and subjects, and masters and servants. He consi-dered the family unit particularly important as the basic unit on which society was built.

Taoism

Lao Tzu was against all systems of government and adopted a fatalistic line. He believed that people should not try and influence their destinies but just drift along through life like sticks in a stream. In Kung Fu tse and Lao Tzu’s time the Chinese, like the Indians, believed in hundreds of gods and in trying to accept all of these Taoism became a rather muddled religion, its priests resorting to magic and spells.

The main Oriental religions, Buddhism and Confucianism, are philosophies, and while there may be something to be said in favour of the more altruistic tenets of both the Eastern philosophies, Islam and the teachings of Christianity, the common absurdities of creationism, eternal life, life after death, reincarnation, the promises of rewards for conforming to their dicta, and miracles in general, all remain unproven.

Religions of all creeds are the most widely followed of all paranormal beliefs. Many are born into them, indoctrinated before reaching an age of reason, and in many cases they dominate our lives and even the destinies of nations. They are organized systems of belief generally revolving around the existence of supernatural beings. There is no empirical evidence for the existence of these beings, and as with all paranormal beliefs — the reality of unknown energies and forces is purely a matter of faith, fantasy, or conjecture. How did they evolve?

Unable to rationalize nature’s phenomena, primitive man attributed them to the activity of unseen spirits, which he concep-tualized in similar forms albeit more powerful than those with which he was familiar — man and beast. The spirits or gods needed to be propitiated, kept happy with praise and gifts, and important stages in people's lives were marked with ceremo-nies and rituals. Temples were built to house the images of the gods and in which to worship and pray.

Eventually the shamans and prophets of tribal societies were replaced by an organised class of priests, who with their knowledge of the holy writs and special powers became the intermediaries of the gods. With the consolidation of tribes and villages under one ruler, the god of the most important tribe became the chief object of worship in that kingdom. Myths were composed to explain the creation of the world, and the putative deeds and powers of the gods became exaggerated through the legends that grew up around them.

As nations grew and coalesced in the Mediterranean world, the pantheon of Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities disappeared and was replaced by one true God who, it is said, reveals his laws and rewards obedience with eternal life. Thus it was on this debris of nature that man raised the imaginary colossus of the divinity. Elsewhere, particularly in places such as India, the worship of many different gods still prevails.

By word of mouth whole peoples adore the God (gods) of their fathers and of their priests, the customs, submission, authority and confidence unassailed, they prostrate themselves and pray because that is what they were taught.

Not withstanding the absence of any empirical evidence for the concept of supernatural beings, the less fundamentalist and militant religions endured for centuries until the advent of scientific rationalism in the 19th century. Today, atheists, rationalists, humanists and free thinkers, posit that while an untenable belief may have served a purpose in the past, it is unacceptable and retrograde thinking in today’s world.


Bibliography:

Blackstone, W.T 1963. The Problem of Religious Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs. Prentice Hall, Inc.
Cooper, Steven. 1991. To Hell With God? Waller House, Auckland, NZ.
Crees, A. 1989. Anatomy of Religion. Freshet Press. Melbourne.
Ducasse, C.J. 1953. A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion. The Ronald Press Co. New York.
Edamaruku, J. 1981. Jesus Christ a Myth. Indian Atheist Publishers. P.O. Box 2713, Karol Bagh, New Delhi. India. 110005.
Ferr, F 1969. Language, Logic and God. Harper & Row.
Greeley, R. 1978. Ingersoll: Immortal Infidel. Prometheus Books. NY.
Halton, E 1984. Religions. Granada Publications. London.
Ingersoll, R.G. 1944. Ingersoll's Greatest Lectures. T'he Freethought Press Association. New York.
Johnson, B.C. 1981. The Atheist Debater's Handbook. Prometheus Books.
Kaufman, W. 1972. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Harper & Row.
Kovoor, A. 1980. Gods Demons & Spirits. Jaico Publishing House. Bombay.
Matson, W.I. 1965. The Existence of God. Cornell University Press.
McTaggart, J. 1906. Some Dogmas on Religion. Edward Arnold. London.
Robinson, R. 1964. An Atheist's Values. The Clarendon Press. Oxford.
McWhirter, Norris and Ross. 1970. Dunlop Illustrated Book of Facts. Doubleday & Company Inc. Garden City, New York.
Russell, B. 1957. (Ed. P. Edwards) Why I am Not a Christian. Simon & Schuster. New York.
Smith, G.H. 1979. Atheism: The Case Against God. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. New York.
Sommers, T. van 1966. Religions in Australia. Rigby Ltd. Adelaide.
Stein, G. (Ed.) 1979. Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism. Prometheus Books. Buffalo.
Wells, D.A. 1967. God, Man and the Thinker. Dell Publishing Co. NY.
Wilson, A.N. 1992. Jesus. Sinclair Stevenson Ltd. London.

.From: Edwards H. A Skeptic’s Guide to the New Age

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/