SOME REFLECTIONS ON RELIGION, POETRY, LIFE, AND HISTORY
Communion with one’s spirit is often achieved in the realm of Nature’s great silence far removed from civilization’s persistent efforts to destroy it.
Religion and Poetry
Reflective thoughts on the meaning of life have always preoccupied people, both those who do and those who don’t accept a biblical type genesis. Beyond the rationalization or ideas postulated by the sacrosanct lies a dark curtain, which hides the truth to the believer, no matter what religion he or she adheres to.
For thousands of years, beliefs in Paradise, Heaven and Hell have had its share of believers as well as prominent disbelievers. Detractors from the common credence of the majority in a given population have appeared many times since the arrival of Christianity. An early example is Mani1 born in Babylon, Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that was a part of Persian Empire about 210 who was a Persian prophet and founder of Manichaeism. His religious movement, a rival to early Christianity, professed that the world is a fusion of the equal but opposite forces of good and evil:. Knowledge was believed to be the only way to salvation.
“The saving knowledge of the true nature and destiny of humanity, God, and the universe is expressed in Manichaeism in a complex mythology. Whatever its details, the essential theme of this mythology remains constant: the soul is fallen, entangled with evil matter, and then liberated by the spirit or nous. The myth unfolds in three stages: a past period in which there was a separation of the two radically opposed substances–Spirit and Matter, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness; a middle period (corresponding to the present) during which the two substances are mixed; and a future period in which the original duality will be re-established. At death the soul of the righteous person returns to Paradise. The soul of the person who persisted in things of the flesh–fornication, procreation, possessions, cultivation, harvesting, eating of meat, drinking of wine–is condemned to rebirth in a succession of bodies.” (1-A)
It is interesting to ponder on just what Mani considered good and evil. Something “good” in one culture may be considered “evil” in another and out of something “good”, evil may arise. Ethics, the moral principles in a given tribe, society or culture are norms that govern the conduct of its members. Most often, these are rooted in religious beliefs, ranging from simple taboos to complex ideology . Established religions with their frequently doctrinaire philosophies, aided (or otherwise) by laws created by ruling powers over centuries, have become the governing principles that determines what is good and what is evil in present day cultures.
Mani was crucified and flayed sometime between the years 274 and 277 for his belief.(1)
His philosophy spread to many parts of Europe and Asia, especially to the Languedoc area in the south of France, where people who championed beliefs strongly resembling Manichean(1A) doctrines were called “Cathars or Albegensis.” They believed that Jesus was a rebel against the cruelty of the God of the old testament and not his harmonious son.
It is not difficult to envisage Jesus as a radical, a kind of Dark Age dissident, who championed the cause of the poor and downtrodden. The persecution and tragic, cruel fate that befell the Cathars was caused as much by the Catholic Church’s prejudice toward these “unbelievers” as it was by the Cathars of Languedoc, when they rebelled against the rigid Catholic doctrine. In 1208 a genocidal extermination of more the 500,000 Cathars and dissident Catholics were carried out, the insanity of which suggest they were not unreasonable in considering the God of the Old Testament as cruel and barbaric, for it was in his name they were butchered. In the opinion of the Catholic church at the time, this action was considered “not evil”. There is much room for speculation as to what “Christianity” as a religion would be like today, had the Cathars prevailed.
The Emperor Frederick II, (1194-1250) grandson of Frederick I (Barbarossa) who for a while was Holy Roman Emperor and known as “Stupor mundi” (wonder of the world), held the view, unique for its time, that all religions were impostures2.
Many adhere to a belief that we live in Paradise now and embrace the philosophy that death is finality with nothing beyond it. Pantheism believes the forces that created our planet also created all life forms on it, including Homo sapiens. Given the pollution and destructive forces they have unleashed on it, it will some day destroy this rapacious genus. Our temporal existence and the evolutionary success of our specie is not unlike many others that in past geologic times succumbed to changes in the environment that made them thrive to begin with. The fact that we humans are facing destructive changes to our world is not the result of Godly castigation for our sins as some fundamentalist interpreters envisage, but rather due to our own success as a species in the animal kingdom, now numbering over six billion. Combine this reality with the avidity that is central to the human psyche and disaster to our natural environment is predictably the long-term result. Malthus3 explored the potential for humankind’s extinction already in 1803 and pointed his finger at humanity itself as the culprit for such an event, without prophetic reference to a divine apocalypse.
Scholars of organized religions applied Plato’s concept of transcendence to divinity, reiterating that God cannot be described, nor understood in terms of the human experience. This doctrine, a fundamental principle in the orthodox forms of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, brings the whole concept of a divine being into the realm of absolute ambiguity. Surreal, indescribable and incomprehensible as it is to the human mind, this tenet is the basis of faith in all belief systems.
Ralph Walter Emerson4 had some very specific ideas on transcendentalism. He opposed strict ritualism and rigid theology of all established religious organizations, including opposition to Calvinist orthodoxy and puritan religious attitudes so prevalent in New England, where he was born. Romanticism influenced transcendentalists to a high degree. They extolled the beauty of nature and awareness of the surrounding natural world. This semi-religious view of the natural world is quite comparable to the position held by aborigines in diverse parts of the world. It is common for many native people to believe in spirits they assume exist in nature. Time spent in complete isolation in the natural environment can awaken transcendent feelings within us. This is especially true when no human sounds are present and nature whispers and plays with our feelings. The joy that often derives from this experience underlines the presumption that we have an essence within us, something that has no substance, a sense not definable by means that identify it as a form or entity; yet we are conscious of the fact that it exists. It allows us to subconsciously transcend into a realm where reality becomes surreal, where thoughts and emotions become illusory flights into another dimension, into the realm of creation’s echoes outside the secular and mundane that constitute our everyday reality.
Some people attribute such emotions to a godly presence or creator spirits, as many native tribes call them. I view them as a manifestation of the forces that created the earth and all other matters in the universe, a pantheistic view as some would call it
When the word “Soul” is mentioned, the issue of religion or God instantly enters the mind of most people. The philosophy of a “Superior” or “Higher” authority may indeed have its origin in the transcendental abilities of our subliminal, our inner chi, which gives rise to the concept of “soul”. Is this a subconscious self-defence mechanism against a conscious supposition that death is an unalterable finality, beyond which nothing else exists? Whether death opens a door that will lead to something, divine or otherwise, must be relegated to the realm of faith since the reality of it is unknown. Would it be otherwise, our philosophic concept of life would collapse into utter chaos.
Emerson was a superb writer with a powerful ability to paint with words. His belief in God was fraught with uncertainty as witness his Journals5
Journal, Sep. 23, 1826
“The nature of God may be different from what he is represented. I never beheld him. I do not know that he exists.”
In his journal entry for October 5, 1835 he writes:
“I at least fully believe that God is in every place & that, if the mind is exited, it may see him & in him an infinite wisdom in every object that passes before us”
The latter pantheistic view is well equated to sentiments expressed in the poems of William Wordsworth5, who Emerson came to know and, although somewhat antagonistic toward him in the beginning, came to accept as a gifted poet with close connections to the nature that inspired so many of his poems.
Wordsworth was one of England’s great romantic poets with a fine-tuned ability to perceive the spiritual nourishment and the ecstasy that solitude in nature offers those with the facility to find bliss in its primordial convolution. He was superbly able to interpret the many moods it offers and although he said that his poetry was — “To add sunshine to daylight and making the happy happier,” It is realistic to assume that the deep feelings he expressed in some of his poems were more than just a lyrical work of art. This is splendidly articulated in several of his poems, including the following:
LINES 6 (Tintern Abbey) Lines 87 through 111)
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear, –both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being
Wordsworth’s feelings clearly go beyond mere worship of nature. He is experiencing an intimacy to something blissful, something beyond the common appreciation of nature’s inspirational moods that most of us feel. Those lines manifestly demonstrate the pantheistic faith he held during his youth and strangely, it echoes my own thoughts and feelings when I was but a stripling youth with a receptive mind, not yet tainted by the general mulishness and single-mindedness that so often characterize the adult world. In a letter of 1815 to a friend, Wordsworth denied that he was “A worshipper of Nature.” He blamed the misunderstanding on “A passionate expression, uttered incautiously in the poem upon the Wye. (Lines).” The sentiments that Wordsworth expressed are not unlike the following, penned by Byron7 in Don Juan iii. 54
My altars are the mountains and the ocean,
Earth, air, stars — all that springs from the great whole
Who has produced, and will receive the soul.
He is intimating his own belief in pantheism, yet he is quite different from Wordsworth, not only as a poet in general, but also as a person with a wholly different character.
The ability to discern between living or merely passing the time is well understood by many poets, philosophers and intellectuals. It is often the early, formative years that institute the guiding light that in later life determines the direction and manner in which someone fulfills their lifecycle. For many, it lays the foundation for beliefs, moral values and the ability to transcend the prosaic of everyday existence that myriads get trapped in. William Wordsworth’s poem: ‘Ode to immortality’6, expresses the belief that his youth was the moralizing initiator and Inspiration for a belief in a higher being as a creator of all things. One must consider the fact that spiritual emancipation often comes about when we are in the realm of Nature’s great silence, far removed from the noise, hustle and bustle that are the hallmarks of our cities. The English countryside was the inspiration for many of Wordsworth’s poems.
Wordsworth had the privilege of living during a time when England’s nature essentially was still well preserved and in reasonable pristine state, compared to today. Thus, it would not be difficult for him to find a sanctum and source of inspiration, especially in The Lake District where he resided, although the Wye Valley may not have been quite as marvelous as he portrays. David S. Miall8 clarifies in well-defined descriptions what the landscape looked like in the late 1800s, leaving one with a different perception, but then is poetry not painting with words that reflects the composer’s emotions? The countless academic papers critiquing Wordsworth’s poems range from basic incursions into the general meaning of his writings to utterly outrageous pseudo-psychological analysis of his state of mind. How wonderful it is that we each can place our own interpretations on his poems, utterly disregarding the many wild-eyed academic analysis that so dastardly detracts from the poets intended meaning or the joy that a simpler, less analytical mind may find in his poems.
Mathew Arnold 21 was born 52 years after Wordsworth and assumed a different attitude toward life and religion. In his book:” God and The Bible (1875)” 22 he argues for the moral and social value of a symbolic and dynamic, rather than literal and mechanical religion, not unlike Emerson’s dislike for rigidity in religion.
In some ways, he was influenced by Wordsworth as witness his poem:” Switzerland, The Terrace at Berne:
Ten Years! – and to my waking eye
Once more the roofs of Berne appear;
The rocky banks, the terrace high,
The stream! -and do I linger here?
(Lines one through four)
Compare this to Wordsworth’s “Lines” composed in 1798:
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five winters and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur. – Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
(Lines one through five)
When we are very young, our minds are less contaminated by the external influences that society inevitably inflict upon us and thus we are perhaps more receptive to the tender moods of Mother Nature when confronted with them. My own youth echoes these words all too well. However, is has been said 6 that we loose our ability to appreciate the beauty in nature, as we grow old? Wordsworth in his poem ‘Ode to Immortality’ 6 certainly implied as much, when he wrote:
But there’s a tree, of many one,
A single field, which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Wither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is now the glory and the dream?
Ode, IV) lines 52-58
I find it hard to accept that we loose our ability to enjoy the visual array of beauty that nature so superbly provides for anyone with an open mind. In the same poem, Wordsworth continues to laments his loss of the ability to see nature or life as he once did.
What though the radiance which once was so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight
Ode X-lines 176-177
In the same verse, he reflects upon the glory of youth and emotions that I think many of us go through as we enter the evening of our lives:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind
Ode X- lines 178-187
The deep emotions conveyed by these lines borders on profound religious feelings, of faith in something that transcend the secular, reaching into a spiritual world beyond the precincts of Pantheism. In some ways, Tintern Abbey (1798) and Ode to Immortality (1802 or 1804) contradict each other psychologically, yet they were written less than six years apart.
It is profoundly difficult to envision Wordsworth’s thoughts and frame of mind when he wrote Ode to imortality.
Do the melancholy feelings he expressed reflect depression or perhaps transitory despair? If not, do they reflect his way of describing feelings that changed from year to year, echoing the gradual transformation his life was undergoing? It seems unlikely in view of short time span between composing them. Being born in 1770, in the reign of King George III, he was only in his early thirties when he wrote “Ode” and thus had no personal experiencewith old age, yet he clearly recognized that in most people, age produce a more solemn and philosophic outlook on life. It is something quite discernible in our grandparents, although not understood until we leave our childhood and become mature beings capable of recognizing this characteristic in older people.
Pantheism9 is no newcomer to present day society. The idea of divinity and nature being the same and that spirituality is derived from the impact of nature on our psyche, is found as far back as the early Greek philosophers. Heraclitus (c.535-c.475 B.C.E.), Empedocles (c.495-c.435 B.C.E.), and Democritus (c.460-370 B.C.E.) all of whom subscribed to various philosophic premises of the harmony between body and spirit, between Nature and God.
Perhaps the best know is Zeno of Citium (c.334-c.262 B.C.E.) – a Greek philosopher who founded Stoicism (from the ‘stoa poikile’ or ‘painted porch’ in Athens where he lectured). Zeno and later followers, including Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.E.), Chrysippus (280-207 B.C.E.), and Epictetus (55-135), created the first pantheistic school of philosophy. They postulated that God and Nature was one and regarded everything as composed of one substance (fire or energy), reduced into the different elements of the corporeal world. The universe formed a summary of all things of God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Later St. Paul of Tarsus borrowed this Stoic saying and applied it to Christianity).
The Stoics saw history as pre-determined cycles in which the world was eventually consumed by fire, and then renewed, in endless repetition. He proposed that the calm acceptance of such a divine natural order brings happiness. “Ask not that events should happen as you will,” said Epictetus, “but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.”
From a modern-day scientific point of view and with the knowledge scientists have gained of the natural history of our planet, one cannot help but reflect that the Stoics at least in part were correct. The periods of destruction are perhaps cyclic only in the sense of the ice ages and the accompanying climatic changes and consequential environmental modification, which results in mass extinction of species unable to survive these calamitous changes. Volcanism, comet and meteorite impacts may well have major effects on the Earth, but they are neither cyclic, nor pre-determined. One should perhaps note that the constituent parts of the universe itself perhaps might fit the description of endless consumption and renewal, but that is moving too far away from the core subjects of this discussion.
To me, Pantheism is neither a religion, nor a form of cultist worship of nature, but rather an enlightened response to the vibes that seemingly emanates and can be perceived in nature in moments when one is receptive to these. Some call this a feeling of “divinity” but that brings religion and “God” into the issue, something too “man-made” to have any relevance on the matter.
There are those who were not brought up to believe in a God or any belief system, who later in life made a conscious decision to become part of an organized religious group and adapt a belief in a God of some kind. Their reason for this may be manifold, but for some it is a need to be assured that life is not finite and that some superior being is responsible, not only for our creation, but also life after death, thus a refusal to accept the finality of death For most, worship in a church is a means to commune with the inner spirit that exists in all of us, to activate the endorphins, those natural opioids in the brain that sometimes is referred to as “the aphrodisiac of religious belief”.
An article in New Scientist magazine, January 28, 2006 called: Belief Special: How evolution found God by Robin Dunbar hypothesize that the idea of a “God” is evolutionary with respect to mankind’s development over the eons. I won’t go into details of the article, since I thought it was a bit too far fetched, but there were a number of letters to the editor of the magazine responding to it that I thought creditable. One in particular struck me as having a remarkable simplistic, yet reflective logic to it.
(Letter to the editor- New Science Magazine From Peter Still, Boronia, Victoria, Australia)
The capacity to believe is inherent. The form of what is believed is cultural. Children are incapable of disbelieving anything told to them by a parent or adult. Thus, a child believes in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Jack Frost, the Easter bunny and God with equal sincerity. In time, when children challenge the beliefs imposed earlier in their lives, those about Santa Claus etc are permitted to slide. When they challenge the existence of God they are confronted with threats of death, hellfire and parental rejection.
As the history of religion has been, and still is, the history of the slaughter of millions of non-believers, perhaps over millennia the genes required to challenge irrational childhood beliefs have been largely culled from the population. Believing has definite survival value, whereas disbelief brings ostracism, rejection and death.When parents stop threatening children with death for challenging the existence of a God, perhaps the relevance of religion will be assigned a status similar to that of Santa Claus. However, as a method for a ruling elite to manipulate a largely ignorant population, religion has no equal. The altruistic values espoused by religion clearly (I believe) have a genetic origin. Otherwise, they would not persist in unbelievers and believers alike. Religion is an incorrect parental response to questions about the origins of life and the universe. The correct response is: nobody knows
I consider the suggestion that religion is a method for a ruling elite to manipulate a largely ignorant population to have substantial historic truth to it.
Pantheistic beliefs and ideas flourished through the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the better-known exponents of this philosophy was Vanini.
Giulio Cesare Vanini9 (c.1585-1619) – “Also known as Lucilio Vanini and Pompeo Uciglio, the Italian Carmelite friar, and later teacher, aristocrat, and government official, imprisoned and killed for his pantheistic ideas. Author Lynne Schultz states “For Vanini, natural law was the divine. He rejected the idea of an immortal soul and was one of the first thinkers to view nature as (an entity) governed by natural laws. He also suggested that humans evolved from apes.” Vanini spurned Christianity as a fiction invented by rulers and priests to secure their power, a stance that forced him to flee from place to place to avoid Catholic authorities. Vanini wrote a book in 1616 entitled “De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque mortalium arcanis” (“of the marvelous secrets of the queen and goddess of the mortal ones, nature “) which held that divinity could not be rationally conceived outside of Nature. The book triggered his condemnation and savage execution in Toulouse at age 34, just 19 years after Bruno’s martyrdom. Persecutors removed his tongue before they strangled and burned him to death at the stake. Vanini displayed incredible courage to the end– he pushed back a priest assisting the torturer and exclaimed, “I’ll die as a philosopher!” Described as a charismatic man with verve, irreverence, and charm, who ‘collected patrons like flies around honey,’ many mourned his death”
Religious freedom through separation of church and state became one of the strongest foundation stones of The United States and as a consequence, the dumping ground or refuge for every radical religious sect from Europe. The development of the puritan Plymouth Colony10 is one of countless examples of religious zeal that still characterize life in many parts of the Unites States today. By 1640, more than 20,000 immigrants had arrived in the Plymouth colony. The rise of Cromwell in England resulted in cessation of immigration and by 1648, the now isolated colony developed into an extreme fanatical, puritan religious society, where the slightest offence, “Idolatry, blasphemy, burglary, robbery or for just being “a rebellious son” was a hanging offence10. Vestiges or vastly expanded adherents of the many religious sects that settled in The United States, encouraged by the constitutional guaranty of freedom of worship, still exist
Calvinism stresses the sovereignty or rule of God in all things, not only in salvation, but in all life. The Dutch Boer settlers in South Africa were Calvinists and lived in strict observance of the word of the bible. thus the black Africans to them were “Hewers of wood and Drawers of water”, interpreted from the book of Joshua-9
The result of this literal interpretation of the bible led to the development of the racist policy of apartheid, which in many respect was a form of enslavement of the indigenous Africans, who became less than second-class citizens in their own country
I strongly believe that moral behaviour is the result of the rules imposed by a given society on its members. If it is religiously based, enforcement becomes simplified when the majority are believers and supports the guiding principles behind the rules of behaviour. I hold that to be truly free is to be liberated of manmade symbolisms and bonds that flog the mind into submission to doctrinaire or arrogant beliefs that assert sublime knowledge of good and evil. In 2004, I concluded an essay on Che Guevara14 with the following:
Freedom, in the truest sense of the meaning does not exist in a structured society; there is only liberty to live within the rules established by the same.
I regard these words to be a fundamental reality in all societies, regardless of their ethnic origin or geographic local.
Religious freedom has given rise to the promotion of individual interpretations of so-called “Holy” scriptures which too often has lead to tragedy such as genocide, mass suicides, murder, sexual depravity, cultic veneration of the bizarre or, as the Calvinist and Baptists, a literal interpretation of the bible, which leads to an ignorant acuity of the factual world. The American Moral Majority (Christian fundamentalist church) started by Jerry Falwell in 197915 in response to what he saw as a decline in American traditional moral values has become highly politicised, although it appears their power, represented by membership in their “Mega-Churches” are waining a little. 23 Falwell died May 15, 2007 at the age of 73.2
The Baptist church can be traced back to 1609 in Amsterdam, with John Smyth as its first pastor.
. “The group’s embracing of “believer’s baptism” became the defining moment, which led to the establishment of this first Baptist church. Shortly thereafter, Smyth left the group, and Thomas Helwys took over the leadership, leading the church back to England in 1611, from where it eventually spread to USA” 16
Today, it ranks as one of the largest congregations (23 million) in the US, the largest being The Southern Baptist Church. Enumerable independent, Baptist-style evangelical movements have emerged and many already passed into history. Of these, I find some of the tele-evangelist to be amongst the most sanctimonious, phoney, money-grabbing individuals that ever flourished. Their capacity to prosper by lining their own pockets with contributions solicited for the church was (and is) solely due to ignorance and naivety amongst the supporters of these movements, which they expertly exploit.
Evangelism is alive and well in all parts of the Americas, but especially in the United States. It stresses the idea of “Being born again”19 The Moral Majority movement is highly politicized and carry substantial (although waning, as mentioned above) political influence in view of their great number. The former President of USA, George Bush, is a fundamentalist,at least outwardly speaking.
19 Evangelicalism is typified by an emphasis on evangelism, a personal experience of conversion (born again), biblically-oriented faith, and a belief in the relevance of Christian faith to some cultural issues. Historically, the movement is based on a literal interpretation of the testimony of Jesus Christ (John 3:3 “I tell you the truth, no one an see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (NIV) and has been represented since the first century church. It stressed a more personal relationship with God at the individual level; as well as activism based upon one’s biblically based beliefs. (Wikipedia) NIV=New International Version (of the bible)
Some of the things he did after “consultation” with God left many sane people with Goosebumps, wondering about the man’s sanity.
Some of today’s religious beliefs were “Made in USA,” the best known being “The Church of Latter Day Saints” (the Mormons) and “Jehovah Witnesses”. Both have rather uncommon beginnings, especially the Mormons, as the following quote greatly elucidate.
“Joseph Smith, the son of a poor Vermont farmer founded the church in Fayette, New York in 1830. His family moved to New York in 1816. Smith reported having visions from God and said that an angel named Moroni appeared before him and told him he would be used to help restore the Christian church. Smith said Moroni then directed him to some solid gold plates, inscribed in an age-old writing. These plates contained the history of ancient peoples in the Americas.
Mormons believe Moroni gave Smith the plates on a hill near Palmyra, New York in 1827. Smith’s translation of the plates was published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. The book describes the history, warfare, and religious beliefs of a group of people who lived sometime between 600BC-AD421, who migrated from Jerusalem to America. In the beginning, Smith attracted a small following but because of persecution, the church moved to Ohio. Later they moved to Missouri and finally settled in Nauvoo, Illinois where they built a big city. Again, people resented the Mormons and rumours began that Smith has slyly introduced polygamy into Mormonism.
Smith was put in jail and on June 27, 1844, an enraged and armed mob assassinated Smith. The mob then proceeded to burn Mormon homes and the Mormon people had to flee. After that, Brigham Young, the head of the church’s Council of the Twelve Apostles was voted leader of the church. He organized the historic march from Nauvoo, Illinois across the plains and mountains to the Great Salt Basin.” 17
Failing to describe just how this group of people managed to travel to USA from Jerusalem may be a convenient oversight. The story of “The Gold Plates” is sure to leave anyone with any objectivity wondering just what kind of mindset Smith was in when he concocted that story. The fact that the Mormon Church has flourished must leave most people completely confounded. How can People with a reasonable lucid mind believe in such chimera? Approximately 2 per cent of US citizens adhere to the Mormon belief.
The fundamentalist Christians firmly believe in Genesis of the Old Testament and advocate that the Earth was created 6000 years ago (in six days) and all the dinosaurs roamed the earth at that time. This issue has become highly contentious, since it contradicts all scientific evidence to the contrary. There are schools in the States that insists on teaching the biblical version of Genesis rejecting the idea of evolution and Darwinism. Such insularity of thought cannot be explained in rational terms; it belongs to the dark ages.
Jehovah’s Witnesses has a different origin:
“The history of Jehovah’s Witnesses dates from 1872 when Charles Taze Russell began to lead a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Originally known as Bible Students, they experienced a major schism in 1917 as Joseph Franklin Rutherford began his presidency. Rutherford stressed 1925 as a date for Armageddon. Rutherford gave new direction to the movement and coined the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in 1931” 18.
This church has also spread to many countries around the world, especially Central and South America, where the missionaries are banging down the doors of faithful Catholics, causing considerable resentment locally as I experienced in both Colombia and Venezuela during the years I spent there. It is few people who have not encountered one or more of these pesky, persistent ‘missionaries’ who insists that theirs is the only “true faith, or been asked to purchase their magazine: The Watchtower”. Their refusal to let any member of their congregation have blood transfusions have caused many legal dilemmas, especially if a child of one of the believers can be saved only by such a procedure. In today’s world of modern medicine, such a medieval demeanor is completely out of touch with reality. Members of the church who disobey any of the strict rules that govern their lives are castigated, ostracized and barred from the church and indeed their own family members.
I cannot condone their lack of ‘Christian’ charity and “Love thy neighbour” approach toward those who disagree with them. What kind of emotions goes through a persons mind when he or she purposely commits to such a belief system? Why does anyone commit or submit to belief in a “God”, a divine creator, when they all too well know that they can never definitively substantiate the existence of such an entity? The simple hypothesis that it creates bonding amongst members of a society, a kind of brotherhood amongst people of similar belief may have some validity, but that leaves out passion and religious fervour, the emotions that believers experience (a state of grace?) One must consider the possibility that such feelings are quite akin to those experienced by people who venerate objects or idols, which demonstrate a belief in a higher power in quite the same manner as Christian holy images.
In primitive shamanic beliefs, the trance that triggers the ability to “Talk to the Gods” are achieved in a variety of ways such as dancing, starvation, use of drugs, infliction of pain etc. The latter is commonly used in several modern-day religions as self-inflicted punishment for perceived sins (Shiite Moslems). Many types of physical exertion, religious prayers or nature-induced emotions release endorphins in the brain that may produce a “high”.
But what about beliefs by more primitive cultures during all those millenniums that preceded the rise of organized religions? I have often thought about and tried to visualize Paleolithic and Neolithic man and his feelings, his belief, his perception of the spiritual world. How he coped with fear of the unknown and the forces within our minds that questions the singularities in the world around us and in the universe. The Neolithic cave paintings in France and Spain and similar spiritual and hunting scenes painted by the Aborigines of Australia and the American Indians opens a door into the world of the Stone Age man and a strong evocation of his thoughts and perception of a supernatural world
There is no arguing that we humans are spiritual beings. I never quite understood, however, how those feelings and experiences that often surface when one is far away from people or in the solitude of nature, could develop into religions or the concept of a God creator.
ARE WE ALONE?
The idea of visits to earth by extra terrestrial beings has occupied the mind of many contemporary men. There are those who tend to put either religious or genetic connotations to the subject, or more serious minds that study the probability scientifically. To me, the very idea of such visitations is completely without a realistic foundation. Distances to any other solar system that may have planets with intelligent life, as advanced or more than Homo sapiens on our own planet, are incredible great. Even if it was possible to travel at the speed of light, journeying to or from them is impossible, at least with our present knowledge to astrophysics. It would take hundreds of years to complete such a journey. I cannot, even in my wildest fantasy, imagine any extraterrestrial intelligent life form having visited our solar system, since they would have the same technical limitations on galactic travel imposed upon them that we humans have.
Are we the only advanced life form and the only intelligent specie in our galaxy? An affirmative answer to this would be presumptuous. The probability of intelligent life forms on other planets elsewhere in our galaxy or the universe is too great. As a biological genus, however, I dare propose that we are unique in the cosmos. The odds of developing a being identical to our specie elsewhere in the universe are so great as to be almost incalculable. The very fact that humans developed at all on our planet can at best be considered an incredible piece of good or bad luck, depending on which side of the genetic fence that separate the human animal from the rest of our biological world, you are situated.
Had the effects of the impact of an asteroid not wiped out most of the dinosaurs, which survived for 150 million years on earth, it is doubtful that humans would ever have developed. The fact that they did can only be considered within the Darwinian hypothesis that survival is reserved for those most able to adapt to changing conditions. However, many catastrophes happened in the history of earth, several of which resulted in the eradication of entire species, but some life forms invariably survived. From these, other species evolved, each adapting to a particular environment and exploiting it in order to survive. The history of the human race, only a few million years in the making, shows it to be more adaptable to changing conditions in the environment than most other species. Its ability to destroy the environment in which it developed is unique, however, and does not speak well for the continued survival of the specie; it may indeed be the catalyst that will eradicate the far too rapacious race forever.
1 Mani: Born in Babylon, Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that was a part of Persian Empire about 210-
277 CE. A religious preacher and founder of Manichaeism, an ancient Persian Gnostic religion
1-A: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mani_(prophet) “Manichaeism” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=51774&sctn=1&pm=1
2 H.G. Wells: The Outline of History, vol. II PG 545
3 Thomas Robert Malthus, 1766-1834, Essay on the Principle of Population, 2nd edition, 1803
4 Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) an American essayist, poet, and leader of
The Transcendentalist movement in the early nineteenth century
5 Ralph Waldo Emerson: Journals, 1819-1874, edited by Peter Y. Chou, 2002
6. Dupont Syle, M.A. (Yale): From Milton to Tennyson, Masterpieces of English Poetry, Allyn and Bacon, Boston and Chicago 1894. Op. Cit.
7 George Gordon Byron, born 1788, died 1824, English poet, sixth Baron of Rochdale.
8 David S. Miall: Locating Wordsworth: “Tintern Abbey” and the Community with Nature
9 Gary Suttle: Pantheist Panorama. http:/www. Utm.net/pan/panorama.html
10 Tim Flannery: The Eternal Frontier. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, NY 2001
11 CalvinistHistorical background.
12 Huguenot asylum in Germany and Scandinavia.
13 King James Bible: http://kingjbible.com/joshua/9.htm
14 Kenny Larsen: Freedom and Justice, a brief examination of Che Guevara. Unpublished essay, Dalhousie University, Dept. of Spanish, Nov. 9, 2004
15 Christian Fundamentalism in The United States: http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-391738/Moral- Majority
16 History of The Baptist Church: http://www.yellowstone.net/baptist/history.htm
17 History of The Mormons: http://mi.essortment.com/historymormons_rtaz.htm
18 History of Jehovah’s Witnesses:
19 Evangelism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism
20 Jerry Falwell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Falwell
21 Mathew Arnold: English poet and critic, born in Laleham, near Staines, UK, December 24, 1822, died April 1888
22 William H. Marshall, Editor: The Major Victorian Poets, Washington Square Press, 1967
23 NBC TV News reported on November 30, 2007 that membership had dropped by some 20,000 and that young people were rejecting the right-wing political views of the churches, forming their own small, youth-oriented congregations instead.
25 Christopher Hill: God’s Englishman, Oliver Cromwell and The English Revolution. Harper Tourchbooks, Harper & Row, New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London
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