I was raised in and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I attended a Christian university for one of my degrees. I've read the Bible cover to cover, though I've hardly memorized it.
I've also studied a good many other religions. I find it impossible to claim one of these belief systems is superior to all others. Creation_Myth is my attempt to explain how they can all be valid, useful, and powerful, and how any one of them can become destructive when misused.
As noted in my Creation Myth, religions are a mixture of explanation-for-the-unexplained, and rules for proper behavior. In the former case, science has overtaken all religions where the scientific methods can be used, and exposed the folly of arguing where it can't. In the latter case, the modern multi-cultural, global, fast-paced environment has strained traditional religions beyond hope.
There is an academic field of comparative religion. To the extent its participants use their studies to "prove" theirs is the superior religion, it fails the test of academic even-handedness. To the extent its participants keep rigorously to even-handedness, it fails to reflect the deep convictions engendered by religions.
Still, comparative religion has been successful in making us aware that other belief systems are possible.
These come out of the Middle East, and are based on the Bible's Old Testament.
The Old Testament starts with a fairly standard creation myth, an oral tradition genealogy, and a probably true oral tradition of a Great Flood. The culture is patriarchal, and closely aligned with the paradigm of a shepard guiding his flock. Not too surprisingly, the God happens to be male and dominant, and devoted to guiding his flock -- sometimes with a swift kick in the behind.
The first reasonably historical figure, Abraham, offers to kill his son to appease this God. At the last minute, the God relents, and the child is spared.
Anyone who has ever lost a child knows that, taken at face value, this story shows both Abraham and his God are evil. The only way I can square this story with the relatively decent Jews, Christians, and Moslems I've known is to assume Abraham was doing a bit of spoofing:
Jews were migrants newly arrived in an area where bulls, calves, and lambs were sacrificed to an assortment of local gods. Having seen a good many lands, each with its one true religion, the Jews had abstracted to a single God. It was an excellent innovation, but the neighbors weren't interested. How to get their respect? Make a really stupendous sacrifice, like a child. That would get folks' attention. Of course, don't actually do it -- have the God say it wasn't necessary.
In other words, I can accept the Abraham story as a comedy skit, but not as a serious statement of belief. The 3 main branches are disastrous when they insist on sacrificing children (e.g., by waging war), but successful when they focus on raising children in loving homes.
Start with the Old Testament (the Pentateuch -- the Five Books of Moses), with its tales of Jewish warriors, cunning generals, and femme fatales. Add a couple thousand years of being mistreated by dominant cultures, leaving only commerce and scholarship as outlets for passion. Still basically the same religion -- a single God suitable for a migrant people buffeted by dominant cultures wherever they go.
Then add WWII and the Holocaust. That was enough of a jolt to make even bookish scholars take up the craft of war -- and do it very well. To do so they had to reach back to Solomon, David, and Moses for role models.
Start with the Old Testament, with its long history of prophets, would-be messiahs, and harbingers-of-messiahs. Add a quiet young rabbi. His words and deeds leap off the page, and apparently had that effect in person as well. Out of all the Bible, both Old and New Testament, his specific words are the kindest and most insightful of the whole lot. In a culture steeped in eye-for-an-eye, and devout adherence to the 10 Commandments, he claims the greatest law is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".
How could this insight have arrived in that culture? What were his role models? His mom was impregnated out of wedlock -- a disaster for a young woman of that time. The common solution was to claim a god did it (e.g., a swan, a bull, or some satyr in the woods). The claim was only accepted by society if the girl was basically a decent person who was unlucky. In other words, the fact that tradition insists Mary was impregnated by her community's God is good reason to believe she was a genuinely decent girl. But there is more: A nice older gentleman from the community offered to marry her, to make the child legitimate. Again, this is an unusually kind gesture, given the time and place. It speaks to the warm, loving, tolerant natures of both mother and father.
In this context Jesus grew, becoming a carpenter -- a calling which tends to give a sturdy body, appreciation for hard work, and a tradesman's respect for fair dealing. At some point these traits combined to produce first rage at money-lenders in the temple, and then a role as a wandering teacher, and finally a death as a martyred messiah.
It doesn't require belief in miracles or magic to see his impact as a leader. Consider this non-magical rendition of the loaves and fishes: A preacher up on the hillside is asking people to care for one another. They are poor folk, and have bits of lunch tucked away in their robes, to be jealously guarded against pickpockets and professional beggars. But as the preacher talks, they one by one realize they are better off as a sharing community than hunkered down alone and fearful. First one offers up his hidden lunch, then another and another. It requires no magic to see the emotional power this has for poor people. By extension, anyone (no matter how rich in goods) is poor if alone and afraid.
Of course, like most religions, once the original thinker is dead, the notions get twisted. Mark pretty much invented modern Christianity on the road to Damascus. Scholars and con-men and warrior kings have twisted it further, so that we have Christians devoutly hating those of slightly different cultures, or different skin tones.
In the most bizarre twist, the Revelations story was hyped in the 1800's and again in late 1900's into an us-vs-them ethos of fear and hatred. It has (of course) been used by plutocrats and their politicians to win elections and to justify greedy environmental destruction. I suspect the young rabbi would gently chide them, and invite them to join in a glass of good wine.
Start with the Old Testament. Let Jesus be recognized as a special prophet, but not the final prophet. Then add a new prophet from a sword-wielding nomadic culture. Split the faith over lines of succession, with centuries of blood feuds between the two camps. Let these warriors overrun the Middle East and impose their language (Arabic) on most. Leaven with Persian culture and scholarship.
Next, conquer these people and hold them in contempt for a century or so. Then give them unparalleled power by way of petrodollars. The reaction will have little to do with Islam as a faith but a lot to do with pride.
Start with a wealthy young man who realizes there is something amiss in his culture's very complex religious pantheon and its hypothesis of eternal cycles of suffering. After trying the life of an ascetic, he realizes the trick is to just live the moment in harmony with self and others. Of course, this is no easy trick, and is easily corrupted into a Rabelaisian romp or a fierce Zen-based form of self-denial.
I take Buddhism primarily as a (needed) reaction to a too-complex religious structure. However, I do find Zen koans useful in that they can knock your mind out of its deeply ingrained ruts. A week-long hike in the wilderness can do the same.
Start with a highly structured society, with a few winners on top and everyone else serving them. Add a hypothesis that this status quo is divine. Hammer down anyone who complains. Call it a religion.
When I hear folks talk about George "W" Bush and the neo-cons, I think neo-Confucian.
By any name, these are religions of place. Sacred waters, rocks, and trees. The hypothesis is that we (humans) are part of a larger whole. We must understand our neighborhood of Earth intimately, and in doing so love it and leave it better than we found it.
This is quite appropriate for longterm eco-friendly co-existence. But it is easily overrun by the those who believe "My God is the only God. My task on earth is to convert or kill those who disagree. I'll burn, rape, bulldoze, or bomb as needed to achieve this goal. And incidentally make myself wealthy in the process. To heck with tomorrow."
Because the world's pagan cultures have been overrun by aggressive Abrahamic cultures, only the inconsequential of society retain (or re-learn) pagan values. In a patriarchal culture, that means primarily women. It is no surprise, then, that pagan religions often have a "Goddess" hypothesis.
If women can aspire to be priestesses of the Goddess, what is the role of males? At least in European/North-American context:
It seems to me this represents the female rendition of two interwoven world-views. A warrior-scholar-culture of males and a nurturer-culture of females. In current world context, it thus gives divine power to the nurturer role, which is missing in the purely patriarchical cultures.
"Mists of Avalon" may be taken as a key English text. Its metaphor of seeing through the mists is potent: The world isn't factually different for the true believer and the non-believer, but it sure seems that way. And, because many roadblocks are self-imposed mental constructs, calm belief can open paths to solutions. A priestess seeing through the mists is the same as a Zen practitioner achieving satori, or a golfer getting his putting groove. A priestess too distraught to see is an author with writer's block, or a batter with the yips, or a marksman with a flinch.
What religion or belief structure is sufficiently sustainable on a technical basis (ecologically sound) and also has a chance of standing up to the soul-destroying (and biosphere-destroying) greed of plutocrats, their multinational corporations, and their armies?
The Abrahamic religions fail that test. They descend from a father who was willing to kill his own child to appease a single, jealous God. Whether or not any one Christian, Jewish, or Moslem parent would actually do that is beside the point -- it is the basis of their religions. And they certainly live it out by sending their children to fight wars of conquest and domination.
T'ao and various forms of Buddhism are ecologically sound, but not aggressive enough to withstand plutocrats with guns.
Native American belief systems range from really horrendous human sacrifice to T'ao-like animism. However, even the most eco-friendly of these has been overwhelmed by the Christian onslaught. I do note that as casinos bring money into the reservations, there is some attention placed on traditional culture. It may be a race between the corruption of commerce and the resurgence of culture.
Similarly, various African belief systems range from destructive to benign, but all have lost heavily to Christianity.
Paganism comes in various flavors. "Green Pagan" is most closely allied with ecological sanity (and least distracted by fakery, druidism, and new age mumbo jumbo). Interestingly, Green Pagan has lived within Christianity from the beginning. The best of European Christianity (e.g., St. Francis) is very Green Pagan.
Nevertheless, any form of Pagan is also considered heathen, evil, and satanic by the more fanatic Christians. Since plutocrats rely on those fanatics for their storm troopers (and thus encourage their hatreds), Pagan is a hard way to fight the good fight.
One might despair, except for noting one thing: Each of the eco-friendly belief systems is place-based. No matter what the official creation myth may be, they depend on intimate knowledge of and affinity with some specific parcel of earth.
Environmental watchdogs, river wardens, sea stewards, adopt-a-highway, adopt-a-park, garden clubs, pea patches, or just tending one's own backyard all provide "accepted" modes of connecting with the earth.
Thus, I propose to use this as the basis for spiritual resistance to and eventually overthrow of the plutocrats' destructive agenda. Where possible, we meld in local cultures and myths, but ONLY where they acknowledge supremacy of place. Globe-trotting, abstract, un-rooted belief systems need not apply.
Of course, it takes global coordination to overcome global pirates. Even though each of us takes personal responsibility for only a small part of the whole, we must reach out and work with others doing the same. If the bad guys are clear-cutting my forest today, you come help me. If they are polluting your stream tomorrow, I come help you.
Creator: Harry George