The Dark Side of Religion

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From time to time, I post on the dark side of religion. I am certainly aware that some of my religious friends may not like it. But I have to be honest. I don’t disparage religion for fun. But I criticize it with a heavy heart, knowing and seeing the negative effects religion has on our society. And when I speak of religion, I mean all kinds of religion — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Religious Taoism, etc.

Especially in the last few months, after reading Genesis in detail, I am ever more convinced that OBEDIENCE is the primary virtue for people in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why do religious people make sacrifices to God? It is to appease Him and to avoid invoking His wrath. This is clearly illustrated in various stories in Genesis. After the mythical flood, for example, Noah immediately made sacrifices to God. He had seen the terror. There is even a saying from the Old Testament: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”(Proverbs 9: 10)

Such teaching would make sense only if God is identified with nature (which is impartial), but not if God is understood as a person who takes sides and plays favorites, as portrayed in Genesis. Yes, we should RESPECT the forces of nature — there are natural disasters, floods, droughts, diseases, etc. I would prefer the use of the word “respect” over “fear.” Obeying and respecting the laws of nature makes tremendous sense. Who would want to put his hand on a hot stove? When we respect nature, we take precautions and we don’t behave recklessly. But the fear of a capricious or tyrannical God will do us no good. It will only foster a general atmosphere of fear and give excessive power to priests and clergy. It is a recipe for disaster and an open invitation to abuse.

Obedience also tends to discourage questioning and disagreement. An obedient believer tends to avoid critical thinking and comply with religious dogma. To the best of my knowledge, among the world religions, only the Buddha had encouraged questioning and the empirical verification of what the master taught. Buddha started the tradition of free inquiry in a speech recorded in the Kalama Sutta. But even in popular Buddhism, I have not observed true freedom of thought. Blind acceptance of religious authority is a common feature of all world religions. As such, the religious attitude is totally contrary to the scientific spirit.

Jiddu Krishnamurti says, “In obedience there is always fear, and fear darkens the mind.” I agree totally. Fear is psychologically damaging. Just have proper respect and reverence, and understand that our actions have consequences. On the positive side, have love and compassion towards all sentient beings. Live a holy life that is based on the Golden Rule. That would be enough.

There is no need for the fear of God. Such concept belongs to the dustbin of history. If human society is going to make progress, this is one item high on the religious reform agenda.

Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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