Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Religious History Undermines Political Claims


For most of my lives, I have been reading and writing about religious history.  My interest has always been in how a belief developed, not in its accuracy.  After all, no one has enough knowledge to know a belief is “true” or not.  That would require post-life experience to prove there’s a heaven or hell, a god or anything else people believe in. 

By studying history, religious historians have shown how beliefs arise, what they are based on and what they absorbed from other faiths.  That’s good enough,

The information also serves as a counter against claimants of various faiths who insist that their belief is “true” and, therefore, everyone else is wrong.

That’s nonsense.

Ancient Egyptian monotheism
For starters, all modern beliefs are derived from older faiths.  Judaism drew upon the ancient Canaanite and Egyptian concepts.  Christianity got its inspiration from Judaism and Greek ideas, while Islam amalgamated Judaism, Christianity and existing Middle Eastern pagan faiths.  Judaism is the oldest surviving of those age-old beliefs.  Christianity is the last surviving mystery religion, once so popular in the Roman Empire.

That reality does not make any of those beliefs true or false.  It simply explains their origins.  Claiming a modern religion is correct necessitates claiming that the precursor faiths are also correct.

Mary Baker Eddy
No religion appeared out of thin air.  They all needed a spark, some event or individual to galvanize belief.  You might recognize many of the names of religious leaders: Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus/Paul, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Muhammad, Báb/Bahá’u’lláh. Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy, to name some of the most prominent.  There are others whose religions have faded away, including Jacob Frank and Sabbatai Zevi.

Events that galvanized a faith included the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt (which hasn’t been proven historically, but is real to Jews), Jesus’ crucifixion (also not proven historically but real to Christians), the hegira (Muhammad’s escape from Mecca to Yathrib) and the death of Báb, which led to the Baha’i faith.

Thus inspired, followers were sure that the fledgling belief had a basis in reality.

Maybe.

After all, historical research has rarely confirmed religious claims.  Worse, woefully little is known of the lives of Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses or Jesus, for example.  Much of what is still touted as truth has been filtered through believers, creating more myths than facts.

Statue of Buddha
Besides, all the beliefs vary, which makes it hard for any to claim some kind of divine imprint.  Christianity may be the world’s largest faith, but Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism all have at least 1 billion followers, which must be an indication of their strength and “divine” support.

In some cases, they are diametrically opposed and impossible to reconcile.  That’s one reason there are conflicts between them.  Ironically, they are all basically similar: they each offer a way to live built around harmony and cooperation.  Unfortunately, those are abstract concepts that fail to stop violence and hatred.

(Please read Comparative Religion for Dummies, which illustrates how similar the three major monotheistic faiths are.)

All beliefs change.  For example, the idea that the Bible is 100 percent correct developed in the 1800s because of new research that demonstrated it wasn’t.  Prior to that, the Bible was recognized as a moral and ethical guide, not an encyclopedia of facts.  The Judaism of today does not resemble the Judaism of Moses, nor does Christianity correspond to what Paul taught. 

Then, too, all of these faiths started small and usually as spinoffs of existing religions. Christianity was a sect of Judaism; Baha’i, a sect of Islam; Latter Day Saints, a sect of Christianity; and so on.  Farsi developed as a counter to existing Persian faiths.  Buddha was trying to clean up Hinduism and ended up as the “enlightened” center of a different belief.  Muhammad was instilling a monotheistic view into his culture.

And so on.

Everyone involved in creating a religion did so with the highest ideals and a firm conviction of heavenly support.

Whether that’s true or not does not matter. 

The maelstrom of religious ideas explains why the founders of this country opted for freedom of religion rather than get caught up in the ever-whirling battles between believers.  That may have been the wisest decision that group of men ever made.  Look at what happened when that didn’t happen: the endless enmity between India and Pakistan; Israel and its Muslim counterparts; and so on.

Crusades
History provides clear illustration of similar events, especially between monotheistic faiths.  In fact, Christianity was at least in part engendered as the result of wars led by Jewish zealots against the Romans.

Too many of today’s run of politicians, each vying to be the most ignorant, continue to try to shove their beliefs down the throats of Americans.  They run for office, touting their faith, without the slightest indication that they understand how and why that belief developed and its place among the 4,600 religions known to exist.

Sen. Ted Cruz sermonizing
They are convinced of the rectitude of their beliefs, and the “errors” of alternative faith, apparently unaware that all faiths have multiple sects, each with differing views.  Nor do they understand what their religion truly believes or the similarities between all faiths.

As such, they are continuing to heighten animosities between religions, creating the kind of combative society exactly the opposite of what their beliefs hope to inspire.

One solution would be to return religious history to the classroom, which was allowed in the past, but was blocked by religious fanaticism.  Another would be to ban religious discussion in political campaigns.  A third would be to continually vote against anyone announcing plans to impose any religious idea on constituents or promising to follow the dictates of faith rather than the needs of society.

Until proof exist for any religion – claims in a “holy” book are the exact opposite of proof – the best choice is ensuring that religion remains a private choice and not a requirement.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.







Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Understanding Scientific Mistakes

Bacon
When Franciscan friar Roger Bacon began his development of the scientific method some 800 years ago, he was not trying to create a new way of investigating the world.  A devout Catholic, he was hoping to discern God’s design through research.

The same reason motivated scientists and scholars who were gathered in the two Houses of Knowledge created separately in the Muslim world.

Their efforts helped unleash a cornucopia of information that has been enhanced by each generation of scientists who have followed.  At the same time, they undermined the very reason that prompted their studies.

MRI scans
Scientists today have pierced through the inner realms of the body.  Such formulas as DNA have surrendered their secrets as have the origins of many diseases.  Our modern understanding of medicine and treatment has erased thoughts of Furies and divine punishments.  Our diseases don’t come from some heavenly mandate, but are often the result of microorganisms inexplicable to Bacon and his successors for centuries.

Prayer may soothe worries, but is not an antidote to any disease.

At the same time, scientists have developed tools to explore space, to understand how the universe developed, where planets come from.  Nicolai Copernicus moved the Earth from the center of the universe; modern astronomers now know we are on small, rocky planet on the outer arm of a medium-sized galaxy, one of innumerable planets and almost as many stars.

Rover on Mars
In doing so, however, they have shown that no God is necessary.  Planet and star formation continue and have been observed.  The steady hum of the Big Bang still informs sensitive listening equipment.  Our satellites have filmed the other planets in our solar system, landed on some of them, dove through their poisonous clouds and explained their presence.

On this planet, scientists are cloning animals, understanding the process of animation and nearing the time when life itself with be no mystery.  God will soon be erased from that realm, too.

Tectonics
In addition, scholars in archaeology, paleontology and anthropology have demonstrated conclusively the natural processes that led to man, how the Earth breathes, how the land moves so slowly that the results must be seen across millions of years.  The evidence in the chemicals and in the geological processes have created paradigms, while effacing any need for some divine figure

Faithful folks looking on, refusing to acknowledge their beliefs are fatally wounded, see disagreements among researchers and assume that means the findings are wrong.  They don’t realize that’s how science works and has since Bacon initiated his experiments.

Some scientist proposes an idea, a hypothesis, based on current findings.  Others search for contrary evidence.  If they can’t find it, the concept moves to a theory.  If not, the idea is discarded, one of many proposals that have vanished or lingered on the borders of science. 

Sometimes, the evidence shows up much later, when technology reaches the necessary level.  That’s what happened with plate tectonics, a theory ridiculed at first and then proven accurate.

Darwin
All theories are continually tested with new proposals constantly raised.  That’s how science advances, with each idea pulled and debated until it is honed into something demonstrable provable.  The process never ends.  As a result, even something as accepted as The Big Bang or evolution remains under study as scientists prod and probe.

Today, for example, we know Charles Darwin was wrong -- not about evolution or natural selection, but about the process. He thought it necessarily took eons of time and that all creatures were endlessly fighting for the survival of the fittest.  Today, we know that some changes can be abrupt as a result of environmental impact or mutations.  We also know that some living creatures work in harmony rather than competition.

To believers, the understanding of Darwin’s errors constitutes a sign that his theory was wrong.  Actually, it’s evidence that science is alive and well.

None of this relates to God.  There’s no proof of the existence or nonexistence of God. There can’t be.  As a result, the concept cannot be tested.  No scholar has ever submitted a single paper to a reputable scientific journal that uses evidence to prove such theories as creationism.  Besides, centuries of research have repeatedly demonstrated that natural reasons exist behind everything.  Injecting a god would simply contradict clear evidence uncovered by extensive human effort.

Bacon would have been stunned by the ironic results.  The Church definitely was and soon banned scientific studies while attacking scholars.  Caliphs did the same thing as evidence piled up, contradicting religious teachings.

It was too late.

The research continues.  God has no part to play in that either.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.