Tuesday, August 30, 2005

206. Religion

"But us Catholics aren't the shiniest spoons in the drawer either I suppose ..." (Woodson)

Oh, Lawdy la ... never a truer word spoken.

To my way of thinking (such as it is) religion depends on where you are born: if you come from Northern Europe you are a Protestant and if you come from Southern Europe you are a Catholic -- Reformation faultlines -- with the notable exceptions of Poland and Ireland.

In America (North) and Australia, NZ -- new countries by definition -- everything gets mixed up. America (South) is basically Catholic because of Spanish and Portuguese influence but Prod evangelicals have been making significant inroads for social rather than religious reasons (JPII messed up in curbing the radical wing of the Catholic clergy who supported the poor)!!

If you come from the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa you could have been just about anything until about 60-70 years ago when the Arab world squeezed out most of the minorities -- the Copts, the Armenian Christians, the Greek Orthodox, the Ba'hai, the Maronites, the Syrian Christians, the Druze, the Sufis, the Parsees, the Allawi, plus the so-called devil worshippers, and all the jigsaw puzzle of tiny sects that have existed for the best part of 2000 years. What a loss, although Syria and Lebanon still have vigorous minority communities.

In India you could have been born Hindu or Muslim (for family and historical reasons) or maybe Parsee in Bombay -- sorry, Mumbai -- or St Thomas Christian in the south. And then we have the Sikhs, of course, half Hindu and half Muslim in the beginning but now neither: distrusted from both sides and now aggressively independent.

Buddhist in SE Asia, mostly hinayana, but mahayana when you move north to China (combined with animism, Taoism and Confucian precepts) and then a strange mix of animism and Buddhism in Korea and Japan. Tibet stands alone, totally different from all its neighbours.

Looking at the geographical spread of religious belief, I can't help but believe that people create different culturally-defined approaches to the mystery of creation and the meaning of human life -- whether one or many gods. That seems pretty obvious. I don't think God (hello!) has much to do with the way people codify their beliefs. God is defined in different ways in various cultures according to their traditions and way of life -- and I don't think it really matters. A belief in a spiritual world or even a Supreme Being is more imortant than the actual description.

All rivers lead to the sea.

Organized religion is political by definition: but the core of human religious belief is not political at all. It is a yearning for love and truth -- and trying (seriously) to maintain ethical values, i.e. preventing yourself and others from behaving like selfish idiot children.

Does this apply to Islamic intolerance and tunnel vision? Big time. Does it also apply to American evangelicals and their "born again" claptrap? Sure.

Does it apply to the Jews and their idea of being God's "Chosen People"? Of course it does. You need to be a slightly quixotic person these days even to raise that question. Immediately you get attacked for being anti-Semitic. But this is total nonsense. Semite refers to a language group rather than an exclusively Jewish ethos. Arabs are equally Semitic, because their language is akin to Hebrew and vice-versa. Bite on that.

No religion controls God. Look at the world. You need to be really stupid to believe your religion is right and everyone else's is wrong. Unfortunately, such beliefs are common.

You atheists ain't out of the woods, either -- NOT believing in God is just as much an act of faith as believing in some (not necessarily religiously circumscribed) Creator. How can you really know? At best you can go 50-50.

In closing, allow me to piously hope that everyone gets what they deserve after shuffling off these mortal coils. You believe in nothing? You get nothing. You believe in hell? Off to hell you go. You believe in 72 virgins waiting for you in paradise? Check your dictionary: it might be 72 raisins instead. You believe in heaven above the clouds? With a harp, for God's sake? Well, it's probably more fun than living in Utah.

The Irish heaven will be very different ... I can visualise great music and fine-lookin' women in a pub that never closes and the barmen never asking for money. If God has a sense of humour, we should all get what we believe in.