August 28, 2012

The Problem of Religion. ~ Chad Woodland

The culture wars.

The real wars.

Wars since beginningless time. Most, if not all, fought for something unknowable; and to the victims of their oppression and death, unreasonable.

What is it about mankind’s nature that insists on forcing our individual religious fantasies onto everyone around us?

We are inspired by the naiveté of children. We marvel at their wonder and belief in magic and fantasy, in immortal elves and whimsical fairies. Magic powers. We all loved to pretend we had them.

My cousin and I would spend hours acting out complex dramas centered around some kind of magical tale. Children love fairy tales. Most fairy tales have a great purpose in teaching us the idea of consequence, that actions have results.

Religion is often brought into the equation fairly young.

It’s impossible to escape its vast reach. With it comes a different kind of magic and drama. This one is sanctioned and taught as if it’s real.

Rather than being lessons to teach us the difference between wholesome and less wholesome actions, religion becomes a monolithic type of terror.

Her stories attempt to coerce us with the frightening idea that we must accept them as truth, or face eternal punishment. The punishments tend to vary by culture, but living on the wrong end of religion usually ends badly.

It puts us in a difficult spot psychologically.

The harder truth of science is everywhere. In the time before real science, religion was science. But now we know that the Earth is round and moves about the sun. The Hubble telescope takes breath-taking shots of distant galaxies. The Higgs Boson particle was all over the news.

Science is outing religion for its impossibility.

I remember when I was very young my mother and I were flying to California to visit relatives. As we flew above the clouds, I asked my mom, “Where are the angels?” Her reply was that they must be invisible. Even at that young age I found the answer a bit too convenient.

The larger problem with religion is the demand of absolutism.

The demand of commitment to a belief coupled with an idea of eternal punishment for lack of commitment to that belief creates a frightening personal prison. The person must believe, but the truth of the matter is deep down inside there is always doubt.

This doubt is demonstrated most apparently by the need to convince others of the singular truth of our religion. If I can convince you that what I’m saying is right, then I will feel a little better about my own hidden lack of faith. Then what I believe must be true because you agree. Even though I used the same type of coercion to convince you of my point (eternal damnation, threats etc…) and somewhere deep down inside I feel little dirty for that. Person to person, community to community, country to country, age to age this twisted pattern continues to spin.

The underbelly of this problem is that we are then led to believe that we are special because we are a “believer.”

Photo: stock.exchng

We alone are going to the great reward—the kingdom of God, or Allah, or other mystical realm upon our death. In our self-deception and inward deceit we fall into the same kind of trap as people with depression. We believe we are special because we are suffering. Religion often wraps this suffering into a “greater good” ideology, just as Christ suffered on the cross, etc. Martyrdom has some kind of tragic appeal to mankind.

I actually have no problem with religion.

I am a very committed Buddhist. But I think it is very important for people to take the time to step outside their religious beliefs and be objective about them. It can never be known whether there is an afterlife; whether there is a reward in Heaven or punishment in Hell; whether we are reincarnated, rebirthed or the karma created now will affect us in those subsequent rebirths. We’ll never know.

Not knowing does not denigrate faith. It strengthens it.

The problem is fear. The fear of death is so great we want some kind of reassurance that death is not our individual extinction. But as a Buddhist I have learned that not knowing is in itself comforting. We can learn to accept and welcome it. It’s really a great relief to accept that we don’t and won’t ever have all the answers and no matter how far science evolves I doubt we will ever be able to have all those answers those questions.

Then, what is the answer to the problem of religion?

The answer is to live your life according to your faith or lack thereof, but have the wisdom to allow others the same prerogative. Don’t be so arrogant to attempt to use your religion to force others to conform to your ideas. If you’re truly voting your conscious you won’t vote your religion. Because deep down inside you know that you have your own reservations about your religion.

Have the humility to allow for the fact that you may be wrong, because you probably.


Chad Woodland has been meditating since he was around 18 years of age and in the Buddhist tradition for the last 17 years. Don’t ask his age, that’s not polite! He attends Phoenix Shambhala Meditation Center and Emaho in Scottsdale and is taking the Lam Rim Chen Mo course through Jamyang Center in London. He and his partner have been together for almost 17 years! If it weren’t for Buddhism he would still be single. You can follow him on Twitter .



Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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