2006 / 12 / 25
The natural phenomena which the primitive man experienced such as Lightening, thunder, rain, fire and the heavenly bodies had a great effect on his life and especially his work in agriculture, and as he couldn’t explain the reasons for their occurrence or existence he ascribed supernatural powers to them and started the cult of assigning a god for each phenomenon and tried to win their favour and avoid their wrath by worshipping them. He ascribed to these gods human characteristics; they loved, they hated, they revenged and they even got married. This practice developed further with the Sumerians by devising the concept of one god, the god of the state, and that of the sin and forgiveness, and the divine intervention in the lives of individuals.
As the human mind developed and his experience of the world broadened he could figure out the causes of these phenomena which he worshiped but was unable to decipher the original cause of existence, and he still is, which led him to ascribe it to a hypothetical god. I think it was Plato or Aristotle who said that God is “a necessary hypothesis”.
This latest Sumerian concept of the deity was the cult that Abraham, the father of the three monotheistic religions, adopted when he emigrated from Mesopotamia four thousand years ago to the land of the Canaanites, claiming that he was obeying God’s command. His God had almost similar attributes to those of the polytheistic gods..
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Abraham as an “unscrupulous liar” (1). Paul Johnson in his “History of the Jews” writes “ Abraham’s relations with settled authorities, large and small, always contain an element of unease and are marked by deception such as his repeated pretence that his wife Sarah is his sister”, which makes it quite possible that he lied in his divine claim as well.
Historical records about this incident are scarce and the Old Testament is the major source of the events that took place at that time and therefore it is not possible to know the real reason that impelled Abraham to migrate to the land of the Canaanites.
God according to the monotheistic religions is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, the model of ultimate perfection. On the other hand he is jealous, vengeful and exacts man’s worship as a reward for creating him, otherwise eternal damnation will be man’s lot. He is a model of mercy and compassion but he creates 4 billion people (Population of the earth minus Christians or Moslems) to throw them into hell. He knows the future but he offered man the liberty to chose between good and evil and thus when He creates a human being He does not know whether this creature is going to be good or evil. It is evident that these religions involve themselves in glaring contradictions. I quote Charles Templeton, a former doctor of religion, in his book “Farewell to God”. He says about the Church “It presumes to speak in the name of God and propound and advocate beliefs that are outdated, demonstrably untrue, and often in their various manifestations, deleterious to individuals and to society” and I think this goes for all three monotheistic religions.
If God is absolute and the model of perfection he should be too elevated to care whether an infinitesimal being like me worships him or not.
The reasoning behind the existence of God according to the religious is the principle of cause and effect. There has to be a cause for all the existence we see around us, they maintained, and that cause is God. But when this principle is applied to its ultimate conclusion it finds a dead end when it reaches God, because God is an effect without a cause.
As to the miracles performed by the prophets, they are beyond the comprehension of the human mind and have to be believed without question. According to Wellhausen Moses was a later fiction and the Mosaic code a fabrication of the post-exilic priests in the second half of the first millennium BC – A view still held by some historians to-day (2). Sigmund Freud who was of course Jewish, on the other hand, based his last work “Moses and Monotheism” on Manetho’s story that Moses was an Egyptian and a priest, adding the common speculation that his religious ideas were derived from monotheistic sun-cult of Akhnaten and much pseudo-factual nonsense of his own. As far as Jesus is concerned there is no mention of him neither in Roman nor Jewish annals.
There is no doubt that the human mind is so limited that it could scarcely comprehend a tiny portion of the universe. The more scientists delve in the mysteries of existence the more they are puzzled. Emanuel Kant argued that man can have knowledge only of a finite world of appearances and whenever his reason attempts to go beyond this sphere and grapple with the infinite or with ultimate reality it becomes entangled in insoluble contradictions. Scientists devised the theory of the Big Bang as the origin of the universe, but they were unable to explain were did the point from which the Big Bang emanated come from. They explained the origin of life on earth starting from tiny molecules in the oceans and evolving to the present state, but they failed to explain how was this molecule endowed with life. We are therefore left with the concept of faith. Faith means you have to blindly believe what others tell you without using your reason. When the Rabi tells the Jew that the Torah is the word of God, and the priest tells the Christian that Christ is God and the Mullah tells the Moslem the Quran was dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the prophet they have to believe these supernatural occurrences without question. As a matter of fact to use one’s reasoning to explain religious beliefs is considered to be a mortal sin.
At the time of the prophets man used to believe that the earth was the centre of the universe and that all other heavenly bodies rotated around it and that man was God’s supreme being and He had no other business but to watch over his supreme creation who is subject to severe reckoning for his bahviour. As the Monotheistic religions do not believe in the transmigration of the soul, man’s soul is created at the same time with the body. But when the body dies the soul according to these religions survives to eternity. Thus while the body is mortal the soul is eternal which is a bit difficult rationalize. When Galileo Galilee confirmed Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round he was imputed with heresy by the Catholic Church and forced to recant on his knees. Now we know that the earth is smaller than a grain of sand in a limitless desert and that it is absurd to think that man is the only intelligent being in this limitless universe.
Now if God created me with an intellect He must have intended I should use this intellect unless He stipulated that I was barred from using it to prove His existence. As limited as my intellect is I have no option but to do with it unless I am prepared to believe people like Abraham and his cast without a shadow of doubt..
History reveals unequivocally that religious hatred, violence, and discrimination started with the advent of the three monotheistic religions. The Jews do not recognize Jesus Christ as the messiah; the Christians accuse the Jews of crucifying Jesus Christ; and the Moslems, although they venerate both Moses and Jesus and their scriptures, they consider Jews and Christians as heretics because the Christians deify Christ and the Jews believe that Eleazer is the son of God, (The Holy Kuran – Surat Al-Anfal No. 8 – Verse No. 29). The Jews upon emigrating from Egypt invaded the land of the Canaanites . They invested Jericho and broke into its walls then as the record in the Old Testament states, “With the edge of the sword they destroyed everyone in the city: men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and asses and later burned it to the ground”. (3) The Old Testament is full of tales of similar horrific massacres with divine sanction. Christians forced conversion to Christianity by the sword as Charlemagne did to the Germanic tribes (4) and the Spaniards did to the native inhabitants of South America (5). In the middle ages the Europeans waged war against the Moslems of the Middle East for one hundred and seventy five years in the name of Christ – the Crusades. The Moslems invaded the vast area of land from the borders of China in the east to mid France in the west passing through North Africa with the war cry “Jihad” (Holy war) and converting the majority of the conquered peoples into Islam, The Ottomans invaded Anatolia and the eastern part of Europe and invested Vienna, and now some of the Islamic fanatics are promoting terrorism in the name of their religion. It is true that the Moslems did not force the conquered people to adopt their religion by the sword, but they offered them three choices, namely, conversion into Islam, paying the Jizya (Poll Tax) or death. The majority who could not afford to pay the tax had no option but to convert into Islam. Admittedly some of these acts of violence and cruelty were not ordained by religious teachings but the followers of these religions had a sense of allegiance and belonging to their religion that they were intolerant of people who did not profess this religion, and they believed that their sense of duty toward their God required them to act the way they did.
I am not claiming that there were no wars and violence before the advent of Monotheism. There were, of course, a great many wars, but the causes for these wars were political or economic, not religious. What is more important is that the status of the religious minorities in the countries where one of these religions predominated became precarious even though some of these minorities were the original inhabitants of the country such as in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The Jews were persecuted in Europe in the middle ages. They were even expelled from some western European countries such as Spain, England, Germany and France (6). Although Shylock was one of Shakespeare’s most notorious characters there was not a single Jew in England at Shakespeare’s time. Of course the action of the Merchant of Venice takes place in Venice and not in England. Jews were massacred in some countries in Eastern Europe and Russia in the Middle Ages and in Germany in the nineteen thirties in what was termed as the Holocaust. In France under Queen Catherine de Medici Protestants were massacred on August 23, 24, 1572 in what was called the “Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day” (7). In Moslem countries non-Moslems are considered, though not legally in some of them, second rate citizens. In the Arabian Gulf countries non-Moslems cannot be citizens by law. In Egypt, which is considered to be a relatively advanced country, Christians, even at present, are not permitted by law to build new churches or repair old ones. Under the Abbasids and the Ottomans in the middle ages Christians and Jews had to wear a special kind of habits that distinguished them from Moslems (See p. 178 – Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews) and were barred from walking in the middle of the road or mounting a horse. In Turkey until recently Christians could not become officers in the army. In Israel non-Jews are considered second class citizens. The struggle that lasted for several years in Northern Ireland was between Catholics and Protestants and in Iraq nowadays is between Shia and Sunna.
The religious maintain that religion imposes moral discipline on its followers. Yes it does, but by employing the principle of the stick and the carrot. People adhere to the moral precepts imposed by their religion for egoistic motives. If they deviate from these precepts they are warned that their destiny in the hereafter will be eternal punishment and if they behave they will be rewarded. Ideally one should help the needy not because one expects to be rewarded for one’s deed but because one wishes the person being helped to be happy and one doesn’t rob or kill others not because one fears retribution but because of the inhibition to harm one’s fellow men.
It is time for all peoples of the world to live amicably together in peace and tolerance regardless of their colour, nationality, religion and beliefs. Voltaire once said “I disagree with you but I will fight to the death for your right to uphold what you believe in” or something in that sense.
(1) Encyclopedia Britannica – 15th Edition – Micropaedia Volume 1 - P. 36c
(2) Paul Johnson – History of the Jews – p. 27
(3) The Old Testament – The Book of Joshua – Chapter 6 – Verse 21.
(4) Pierre Bezbakh – Histoire De La France – p. 31
(5) John A. Crow – “The Epic of Latin America” – Chapter 12 “The Church As Inquisitor And Moral Censor”.
(6) Paul Johnson – A History of the Jews
(7) Encyclopedia Britannica – 15th Edition – Micropaedia vol 2 – p.955a