Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Beyond belief

It strikes me there's a very simple reason why religion causes so many problems. Too often people don't stop at the self-improvement aspect that religions began with. They go further and try to foist their beliefs on other people who don't share them.

It seems to me that the great religious leaders like Jesus and Buddha were only giving people guidance on how to live their lives more creatively and productively. Which is harmless enough. If you're focussing on your own life, that leaves other people to get on with their lives in their own way and no toes get trodden on.

As I see it, Jesus and Buddha never saw their beliefs as something to be imposed on others, to be followed obediently by masses of people. That desire to proselytise, to convert, to turn religious beliefs into social norms, was something that came later, something hatched up by followers with an authoritarian streak.

And that's where all the trouble starts. As soon as you stop treating religious beliefs as a personal matter informing your own life, and your life alone, and expect everyone else to follow suit, naturally it's a surefire recipe for opposition, resentment and violence.

Those who are told they have to adopt certain beliefs whether they like it or not, regardless of their own existing beliefs, will inevitably turn on these religious bullies and tell them where to stuff their unwanted dogma.

Personally I'm inspired by the principles and beliefs of Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism. They've been a great influence on my thinking, the way I live my life, and how I relate to other people. But I would never dream of telling others to follow the same principles, and telling them that if they don't they're hopeless sinners and blasphemers and infidels. To do that seems simply intrusive and impertinent.

As the Buddha himself said, "Be a light unto yourself." That's clear enough, isn't it?

29 comments:

Eryl said...

As far as I can ascertain self improvement is the last thing on many religious minds. Judgement seems to be what most of them are about. Actually I'm probably being harsh, judgemental even, I'm sure the vast majority of believers go quietly about their business. Sadly, the 'burn in hell' contingent give the rest a bad name.

Is there not something in the Bible about spreading the word, or have I got that mixed up with something else?

Nick said...

Eryl - If spreading the word simply means passing on good advice, fine. If it means converting everyone else to your sacred cause, not so fine.

Scarlet Blue said...

...and as Cole Porter said: Live and let live...
Sx

Macy said...

I've had a couple of extremely therapeutic doorstep rants at Jehovah's Witnesses and mormons in my time.
I haven't converted any, but I like to think I win on points!

nursemyra said...

You speak about Jesus as if you believe he existed.....

kylie said...

i suppose the problem comes where we recognise (as Eryl said) that Christians are instructed to make disciples of the whole world. if we are to take that seriously and if we believe our experience of eternity depends on it, we could become quite obnoxious! only being obnoxious kind of defeats the message.
as a practising Christian who doesnt wish to impose my beliefs i wonder often whether i let the side down by not being more aggressive about it, then i hope my life reflects Christ, then i wonder if i live it well enough for anyone to see value in it....

yeah so anyway, no real answers here!

Nick said...

Scarlet - Cole Porter, ha ha. The phrase goes back to at least the 17th century.

Macy - I used to argue with Jehovah's Witnesses but they can go on arguing for hours. Now I just shoo them away.

Myra - You mean he didn't? He's a figment of our collective imagination?

Nick said...

Kylie - I'm glad you don't want to impose your beliefs on others. But most religions aim to sign up the whole world, even though they can't all sign up everybody. So what happens? Endless conflict between them.

Suburbia said...

Well said Nick

:)

secret agent woman said...

Well, clearly you're going to burn in hell.

The Buddha even said specifically NOT to take his word for it but to test it out for yourself. And most of the words attributed to Jesus have a zen-like quality to them to my ears. I am drawn to both the Buddhist path and to the Quaker idea of finding the light within.

rummuser said...

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

- Steven Weinberg.

The great spiritualists like Jesus and Buddha did not want a religion to be set up in their name. It is their followers who established religions.


Imposing one's religious beliefs on others is violence. This is best demonstrated by evangelism of all kinds.

Buddha inspires me too.

I was recently visited by two Jehova's witnesses who wanted some time to listen to them. I offered to give them time on condition that they give me exactly the same time to speak about my beliefs and an opportunity to convert them. They scooted.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Thanks!

Secret Agent - Buddha did indeed say don't take my word for it. The Quakers appeal to me too, I've known quite a few lovely people who were Quakers. They have a very simple, unassuming approach to life.

Ramana - Religion does indeed bring out the worst in some previously likeable people. I like your response to the Jehovah's Witnesses. That just shows how open-minded they are. Not.

Whirlochre said...

Proscriptive dogmas of any kind are best avoided.

Apart from chocolate advertising.

I'm always open to discovering new opportunities for having chocolate rammed down my throat.

Nick said...

Whirlochre - As a fellow chocoholic, I heartily agree. Anyone who stands on a soapbox and declares that redemption for us miserable sinners lies in a daily bar of Bournville Dark Chocolate is obviously in close touch with the infinite.

e said...

I was once told by a not-so-brilliant neighbour with whom I'd been cordial that I would burn in hell and not be "saved" because I am Jewish...

I hastened to remind her that Jesus was a Jew, never said anything like that to his followers and that without Judaism, the world's first Christians would never have developed.

We don't try to convert anyone and I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and State, something the U.S. increasingly only gives lipservice to...

Nick said...

e - I just don't understand how people can believe such nonsense about Jews burning in hell and not being saved. Have they personally seen any Jews burning in hell? I think not.

Wisewebwoman said...

The Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper. The cause of all the conflict, the cruelties, the wars, the perversions, the misogyny, the cash-greed.

One rule for me:
My rights end exactly where yours begin.

And if we all followed that because it felt good, our little planet would be a far, far better place.

Religion is a totally destructive force in this universe.

Example 1 of 9000:

Breed till you drop.

XO
WWW

Liz said...

Jesus himself said something along the lines of, 'If someone's not interested, leave them alone.'

Nick said...

W3 - Hey, steady on, I don't think all those things can be blamed solely on religion. The idea that women are inferior to men for example is encouraged by many sources. Like teachers who don't think women can be engineers or scientists.

Liz - Exactly. But the original messages have been twisted and distorted and turned into inflexible dogma.

Wisewebwoman said...

Ahem Nick:
Sorry to disagree 'n all but misogyny is rooted in the bible and other so called mystical books of 'instructions' - implanted in the brains of generations of young men. I only have to look at my own family for starters.

The world is still vastly patriarchal.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

W3 - I think we must agree to disagree on this one! Sure, religious teachings have had massive influence, but there are plenty of other factors involved. And patriarchy flourishes indeed.

Baino said...

Whhooooaaaaa , , not getting on this bandwagon not for love nor money. And we think Muslims are mad? Oops, said I wasn't going there

Nick said...

Baino - Religion is a bandwagon, for sure. Everyone leaps on board even if they don't really know what they're supporting. Or what's being done in the name of holiness.

tattytiara said...

When I was a kid I couldn't understand why we weren't out helping people instead of sitting in church talking about a guy who always went around helping people instead of sitting in church, and that's about as far as I got with religion per say.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Well said! Why are all these virtuous souls wasting time praying and singing hymns when they could be out and about helping the needy?

Roses said...

Sorry, I've come late to the party. You didn't think you'd get away without me throwing my pennithworth in?

I think Jesus and Mohammed would be appalled at what has been done in their names.

I have little interest in sharing time with people who think their Way is the only Way. I prefer to paddle my own canoe, try to live right and see what happens. Sure, I might end up burning in Hell, but I sure as heck wouldn't want to spend an eternity hanging out with those bigots.

Nick said...

Roses - I also think they would be appalled at what had been done in their names. Yes, try to live right and see what happens. A perfectly practical approach. And I don't believe for a second in the existence of Hell. It belongs in a book of fairy stories.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I couldn't agree more. I sincerely hate proselytizers and missionaries, and consider them terribly arrogant as they are stating that their way is the only way. It is a complete misinterpretation of anything Jesus or the Buddha taught or stood for.

I am not a big fan of organized religions because of their divisiveness, their belief that they alone have God's ear and everyone else is going straight to hell. It is also wrong that atheists and agnostics are treated as lesser beings in most religions. Buddhism comes closest to my own belief system, but it is also a bit male chauvinist for my taste.

Nick said...

Heart - The idea that your religion's way is the only way is idiotic and destructive. All it can do is set people against each other. Yes, unfortunately there are still some Buddhists who for no good reason regard women as less capable of self-knowledge.