I would say that on any given day, around 30% of my Facebook newsfeed is filled with finger pointing, judgement and anger around religion. Blaming one religion for terrible deeds. People using a religion for reasons to condemn the actions or lifestyles of others. Atheist proclaiming religion, or the religious cause war and suffering.
Are they right?
Around 2000 BC saw the start of what is known as Hinduism, the oldest of the still most widely recognised/practiced religion, also one of the few religions not started by an influential leader spreading new ideas and philosophies. Prior to this, early communities seemed to believe in Animism – the belief that all things have a spiritual essence.
It is written that 1813 BC saw the birth of Abraham, regarded as the father of Judaism, The old Testament explains Abraham (in my words) to be a direct descendent of Noah, and the first Jew – promised land by the lord, land that he must travel to so that he may start a great nation. Judaism championed Ideas of love and awe, the preservation and saving of human life and prohibits causing suffering to non human life. Among many other teachings. (Abraham is also an important figure in both Christian and Islamic faiths)
About 2500 years ago (roughly 350BC) came the next great spiritual, religious leader/philosopher Siddhartha Gautama, (Buddha) preaching acceptance, kindness and mindfulness. He also highlighted the pitfalls of egocentric pleasures. He appeared to reserve ideologies on higher powers or after-life, instead teaching methods for inner-piece and contentment during life. His life marked the start of Buddhism which over time incorporated many of the traditional Hindu beliefs.
Around 5 years BC (oddly) Jesus was born, on a day I like to remember, as Christmas. Jesus was the next great philosopher, about 27 years later his ideas of love, community, kindness and compassion began gathering him a great following. Word of the “son of god spread across Judea (the Roman province) and some of the Romans felt he was getting a bit ahead of himself, especially Pontius Pilate, who had him executed.
However, in the Bible it is written that Jesus returned from the dead (Easter) and commanded his teachings be spread all over the world, a job taken on by the apostles – this is widely regarded as the start of Christianity, mid-1st century AD.
570 AD so the birth of the next great religious leader, the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. Muhammad spent much of his time in solitary prayer to God among the mountains. One day aged 40 he returned to explain he had been visited by Gabriel, and that Gabriel revealed to him direct messages from God, The Prophet Muhammed continued to reveal his messages from God until his death. The messages formed the book of Quran (The Word of God) filled with teachings of courtesy, equality, kindness, love and charity, as well as prohibiting slavery and wrong doing unto others. Scholars deem the life of the Prophet Muhammed as the start of Islam, however within the faith, Muslims believe Adam, Noah, Moses and Jesus were also Islamic Prophets.
Now to me, having taken the time to try and understand the heritage and messages of todays most practiced religions. It seems they are founded upon similar values of compassion, love and kindness. Spread by influential and engaging philosophers. The religions they have founded have all worked as a beacon of commonality to people. People that have instinctive and primordial aspirations to belong, and lead their lives in a manner that serves a greater good for themselves and their loved ones. Whether in this life, the next, or both.
However, an ideology shared by huge populations, as well as serving a great purpose for community, love and progress, also enabled for the first time in the history of our species co-operation on a mass scale. If you can control co-operation on a mass scale, you have A LOT of power.
So what may have started as well meaning wisdom from enlightened, spiritual philosophers has been manipulated, tweaked and twisted over time to suit the agendas of power hungry collectives and individuals.
Scripts altered and added to so that they may suit needs and requirements. Stories and metaphors extrapolated and literalised to bend towards the personal beliefs and will of the rewriters.
Historically this has lead Emperors, Kings and rulers to mobilise huge armies of well meaning believers, trying to do right by their faiths, to conquer huge lands and riches. Usually by peddling fear, fear that punishment will rain down from god. Or by trying to reclaim land that god had subscribed to them.
And it seems to me today is no different, Western media fuels the vilification of Muslims, with messages of fear, terror and risks to our freedoms and liberties. Mobilising us into backing wars against middle eastern lands so we can control trades, goods and resources that bring with it power. Fought out by well meaning servicemen trying to protect the world from acts of evil.
Whilst the “fundamentalists muslims” play right into their hands by inflicting acts of terror carried out by indoctrinated, alienated individuals lead to believe they are doing right by their god, by power hungry collectives looking to control arms, resources and finances for themselves. Again using the guise of religion to mobilise their forces.
Blaming Islam for an act of terror in my mind, is comparable to blaming Tesco’s if one of their employee’s decided to go into Sainsbury’s and open fire with an AK47.
If religion was not used as a device to divide us, if we had the opportunity to live our lives according to some of the great philosophies of it’s founders. Then we wouldn’t need to live lives of fear, anger, devision, conflict and discrimination.
If we have learnt anything from history it is that it is unlikely that we will stop being manipulated. Even in an increasingly secular west, where traditional religions have been replaced by new ones such as capitalism, Ideologies will always be a dominant force on our shared narratives.
This is why it is so crucial for us to take individual responsibility for our understanding of situations. We can not afford to subscribe blindly to the ideas of those in power, without first asking questions of agenda.
Hate only fuels hate. Attack only creates counter. We need to ask ourself what kind of world we want to live in, and then be a pro-active part of making that a reality. We need to remember no matter how different others may seem they are just driven by forces of a different nature of then our own. And at the heart of most is the yearning for acceptance, inclusion and love.