ďFaith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seenĒ Hebrews 11:1

Religion

Religion is either very good or very bad, unless it's both.

What is religion? The term religion is confusing since it is meant to describe at least two things. One is a quasi-corporate structure that exercises control on people and the other is a group of beliefs that is accepted on faith.

Somewhere in the group of beliefs part there is a deistic component, but this component can vary in importance.

Religion is probably good, but what was good yesterday probably is not good today, or worse, can be used for bad today. Since faith rather than strictly rational behavior is such a large component in religious behavior, even unintentionally a religion can cause very severe damage to innocent bystanders.

Most religions aim for stability. The teachings try to develop a set of rules that apply universally, or at least to the select group, and once a formal structure develops there will be powerful forces at interest that do not benefit from change.

At the same time a religion should be extremely susceptible to change since at its basis it is a search or a path for a psychological home. A search or a path has to result in discoveries, and discoveries always alter the status quo.

This contradiction will inevitably result in strife or even violence, and the history of religion is filled with splits, breakups and persecutions.

Not too long ago a well organized religion could make major gains through evangelism, or conquest, but with the Earth about fully discovered we now appear to have developed a face off.

Today the western world is mostly populated with a mixture of Christian religions, with a small sprinkling of Judaism, and a Shinto/Buddhist corner in the prosperous Asian countries. Muslim religions are dominant in the Middle East. The third world (in a loose sense) is about evenly divided between Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu.

Most native religions have been displaced, and what has not yet been displaced, is definitely not growing in popularity.

A closer look at individual countries also shows that there are no significant shifts that are taking place between religions. The South American countries are solidly Catholic, with minor inroads from the Protestants. Africa, Pakistan, and Indonesia have a strong Muslim leaning. China is Buddhist in all its versions. India is Hindu, which by itself is a mixture of a large number of religions.

While there is some mixing, the only real trend that can be observed from region to region is a move from religion to secularism or the other way around.

While history is filled with religious battlegrounds, today the battle is over, and we are stuck in a religious cold war.

In some cases it comes very close to a real war such as in Israel/Palestine or India/Pakistan. In Yugoslavia it was a real war, and we are still trying to figure out what is going on in Northern Ireland.

Are these religious wars or do the warring parties simply happen to have different religions?

This is difficult to determine since all these conflicts exist because of claims that have been long lost in time. However, as near as can be determined, it appears that a lack of a resolution of the Palestinian conflict centers around Jewish beliefs and practices that are driven by the more conservative branches of the religion.

The India/Pakistan issue is probably more territorial than religious, but the religions do provide the basis for the argument. If there were no religious differences, India and Pakistan would have been one country today, or the region would consist of a very large number of smaller countries, but it certainly would not look the way it looks today.

The Northern Ireland issue is wrapped in a religious blanket, but it should be remembered that it was the result of British Imperialism, which while mostly Protestant, did not make any religious claims.

Furthermore, what is described as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics should actually be described as a problem between a very small portion of the Protestant population and a very small portion of the Catholic population who are making life difficult for the remaining Protestants and Catholics.

The vast majority of the Ulster population wants it to go away, they donít want to discuss it and they donít want to see it. To the vast majority of the population the issues are not even particularly significant, and they donít care who is right.

This brings us to a classic truth about war. Unless we are talking about an actual fight for physical survival, all wars are driven by a very small portion of a population, religious or not.

A small group also generally causes the initiation of a war. Wars only develop if such a group can sufficiently threaten the survival of other groups that battle lines get drawn and the larger population gets drawn into the conflict.

This slide towards war is interwoven with theory of cooperation. When taking into account that small groups can start large wars, it makes sense that the world needs a large powerful group that can detect such instabilities and deal with them before they become serious issues.

These small groups do not have to have a religious justification for their martial aspirations. Germany under Adolph Hitler and the colonies under George Washington are examples of secular wars that were started by small groups, and did not have a significant religious component, as long as we recognize that Hitlerís persecution of the Jews was a tool, not Hitlerís ultimate goal.

In dividing wars between religious and non-religious conflicts it appears that conflicts with a strong religious component are often of longer duration than those that have no real religious component.

Secular wars such as the American War of Independence, the American Civil War, World War I and II pretty much resolved themselves after 5 years.

The Kuwait component of the Gulf war and the Falklands war took even less time, although the resolution of the Kuwait war has now been converted in a weird religious conflict. It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussain made continuous attempts to turn his war into a religious war, but did not quite manage to accomplish this, while Bush took a religious war to Iraq.

Religious wars (The crusades, Hollandís eighty year war, todayís remaining conflicts described above, and the English/Spanish wars) can last for decades without resolution.

The reason for this should be obvious. While secular wars ultimately revolve around economic issues, religious wars revolve about absolute beliefs.

The winner in a religious war will impose his beliefs one way or another, the losers knows that his beliefs will no longer be acknowledged and therefore has much higher stakes in the conflict than simple economic stakes.

Religious beliefs also easily dehumanize an opponent, which makes commitment of atrocities against the vanquished much easier to accomplish.

Often the religious solution is simple elimination of the other religion. While I just pointed out that religious wars tend to be longer, ancient and pre history must be filled with quick dirty little wars, where one religion drove another religion over the cling, and completely eliminated it.

Ironically, in comparing religions, one comes to see that most religions, and certainly the major religions, vary very little in their approaches to life. Often there are more similarities than differences in religions. The differences tend to be more procedural than philosophical.

What religion does not have the following rules?

   Honor God
   Honor Nature
   Honor your parents
   Honor life
   Honor the dead
   Be generous
   Be kind
   Be industrious
   Donít steal

These are philosophical rules. But once we execute them it gets to be a bit more confusing.

Do I honor God by making an image of him, or is it a profanity to attempt to make an image of God?
Do I honor nature by taking advantage of its bounties, or do I honor it by not touching it?
Do I honor my parents by keeping them alive at any cost when they get old, or do I honor them by letting them die gracefully when they get old?
Do I honor life by making sure that no unwanted babies arrive in the world, or do I honor life by preventing abortions?
Do I honor the dead by burying them, or by publicly burning them?
Am I generous by feeding the poor, or by teaching them to read?
Am I kind by marrying one wife, or by marrying many wives if I can take care of all of them?
Am I industrious by building roads, or am I industrious by having many children?
Is taking something that I used to own a long time ago stealing?

These are choices, and when you follow a religion, the choices often have been made for you.

Anti abortion proponents call themselves pro life, thereby inferring that people that support the right to abortions are anti life. This simple statement can be attributed to simple propaganda, and therefore assumed to be untrue. However, it is interesting to try to determine at what levels this statement exists, and to determine if any of the players in this argument are anti life.

While not entirely driven by the Roman Catholic Church, it certainly is fair to say that the anti abortion forces are organized under the Catholic Church. This church has determined that life starts at conception, but no proof of any type has been provided to date.

The only life that exists is the motherís life, and a fetus can be seen as a small portion of this. An appendix is also part of a motherís life, and so is a cancerous tumor. If any of these components make a mother sick do we have a right to remove it?

A fetusí heart might beat, but shouldnít life be reasonably self sustaining? US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum addressed this very carefully in Roe versus Wade where he introduced the trimester concept for the legality of abortion.

In effect, he determined how viable a fetus was and from that point argued that a viable fetus (between 6 and 9 months) should not be aborted unless there are extreme circumstances.

Amazingly, after almost thirty years of subsequent medical development, it is still very difficult for second trimester births to survive

For non-viable fetuses, Blackmum used a privacy concept, where he argues that whether a fetus is aborted or not should be an issue that is decided by the mother.

Is this a solid argument? Well it is not great, but at least the underlying reasoning is true. Furthermore, it provides a level of fairness to all points of view, leaves some wriggle room to deal with technological change, and it is a moderate view. It is also allows almost total individual freedom.

It would be difficult for a woman not to know she is pregnant at the end of the third trimester, when she can have an abortion without anybodyís interference. If a pregnant woman does not take action before that time she has squandered her individual freedom and additional players become involved in her procreation decisions.

Most of all, it is practical; this reasoning controls the concept, while at the same time leaving the door open for adjustment.

If younger fetuses become viable one can adjust the boundaries. By allowing abortion to some level, one prevents back alley butchering, and much reduces the need for third trimester abortions.

Quite frankly the perfect world would not have the need for any abortions, but does that mean that an imperfect world with a need for abortions is better when abortions are illegal, or when abortions are legalized?

While in the United States the abortion debate is about evenly split in the female population, I would estimate that about eighty percent of the female population would never have an abortion.

My wife is decidedly pro-choice, but personally would never have an abortion if the unexpected pregnancy had anything to do with me. Does this make her a good person? One cannot tell from that single philosophical stance. All it means is that once she becomes pregnant she immediately falls in the nurturing mode and simply wants to bring it to completion. Many women are like that, and chances are they will be nurturing mothers, which should make all of us happy.

However, there are other women who do not feel this way when they become pregnant, and should they be forced to continue with something that makes them unhappy? More importantly, should we force these women to nurture a child when they are not fully committed to nurturing? Who are we helping or harming? Is it fair to bring children into the world if they are not really wanted? Is it fair to kill a fetus that is not wanted? Is it sad to bring a child into the world that is not wanted? Is it sad to kill a fetus?

These questions cannot be answered on a universal level. Some people claim that God has provided that answer, but there is no indication (note I am not using the term evidence) that God ever addressed this issue, except to state in various ways that life is holy, and commanding not to kill.

Maybe life is holy, but there is no indication anywhere that it prevents anybody from taking anybodyís life. There are numerous theological exceptions, why not abortion?

Solomon was close to God, and he proposed killing a child (not a fetus). Maybe Salomon would not have killed the child, but what if both women were not the real mother? Trust me, he was lucky; a King cannot make a threat and not carry it out.

If abortion cannot be answered on a universal level, why not answer it on a personal level?

Nobody has abortions for fun. (Abortions could be the negative consequence of fun, but so is obesity, and we do not outlaw diet plans) Taking into account that it is not fun, we do not have to worry about abuse to any significant extent.

The person who decides to have an abortion does it for personal reasons and the effect on society is neutral. While the fetus is in the motherís womb, it only affects the mother, and has not become part of society. The fetus might develop into the person that discovers the cure for cancer, but at the same time the fetus also might become the killer that kills the person who would have discovered the cure for cancer.

We donít know.

Where does the fetus become a part of society? Probably at the point that society stakes a claim in that person. In western society this claim is sudden, and as near as can be determined, is when the child is born, or actually at the moment that the birth is acknowledged by the childís expected environment. At this stage the nurturing of the child is not confined to the mother alone, but also includes the midwife, the proud grandfather, the husband, and the lady down the block.

The baby becomes a symbol of renewal, and signals to its surroundings that additional investment in infrastructure is warranted.

Supreme Court justice Blackmum pushed this concept back to some extent by defining that this stake in society starts at the start of the third trimester, and this makes sense, since at this stage the baby can survive without its mother.

There is no doubt that this reasoning is based on shifting assumptions. Once we make it possible to raise babies in test tubes (today we can make fetuses in test tubes, we cannot raise them in test tubes), any stage of conception has a societal stake. But then again, would we start this process if there were no intent to finish it? Then again maybe we would start the process for the generation of human spare parts. At that stage, and not before, we should readdress the morality of the issue.

Change is constant and morality needs to be examined every day, but with consideration for all. Most of all religious texts tend to be provide inadequate guidance in determining whether a new trend is moral or not. Religious texts were written when those trends did not exist, and to use them as a reference on a new trend is almost silly.

For example, the amount of slaughter that was praised in the bible, today is considered to be less and less moral. Religious texts might provide guidance on basic moralities (Be kind, be industrious, honor life), but cannot put it in the context of todayís world. Morality always has to be reflected in a societyís abilities and possibilities as they exist at that point in time.

I stated that the societal stake in a child in the Western world is sudden; in other societies this stake grows slowly.

Today we fully expect a child to grow to adulthood, which means that a child is a significant investment. In many societies a child is a tenuous investment, and is treated as such until it reaches young adulthood.


Who comes first: Mother, wife, or child?

I remember reading the results of a psychological experiment. A large group of men was asked to imagine that he is in the water with his mother, his wife, and his child. He can swim, the other cannot. He can only keep one other person afloat. Who does he keep afloat?

Northwestern cultures tend to keep the child or wife afloat, while many Asiatic cultures keep the mother afloat.

The Asiatic reasoning makes plenty of sense; I can get a new wife or child, but I only have one mother.

Why do the Northwestern cultures keep the child or wife afloat? Maybe there is a stronger detachment between mother and son after marriage in Northwestern culture. Maybe life is considered to be more equal and there is a higher moral duty to help the helpless (the child) or maybe marriage has stronger connection to love, which implies certain burdens.

-------------------------------------------------

Letís go back to abortion and the societal stake argument, since it provides good mental exercise.


The pregnant mother on the deserted island: What is survival?

Suppose we have a mother who washes up on a deserted island. She is pregnant, but knows that she does not have enough food for both her and her baby to survive by the time help arrives.

Is she justified in terminating her pregnancy? Is she justified in killing her baby once it is born?

She is there alone, and has no help. She has to make her own decisions. There are only two options: kill a baby or both die. She might choose that both die. In Western thinking nobody would fault her for that, but that is based on Western thinking.

There might very well be societies where the preservation of a mother is much more important than a young child, and her choice to kill both is considered taboo.

She might choose to live and kill the baby. Should we fault her for that?

She might have other children at home, and decide to kill the baby so she can nurture her other children. This is called a choice, and it is a difficult one.

Nobody can judge this. When she returns to society she will have to decide whether she made the right choice or not. Not society, or a church.

This exercise can get worse, what if the mother does not know if she has enough food, but thinks she might run out? Killing the baby increases the chance of survival, would she be justified to terminate the pregnancy, would she be justified in killing the baby?

-------------------------------------------------

In a slightly different form, this dilemma was played out by the survivors of the ESSEX; a whaling ship that was sunk by a whale.

The survivors floated around in a whaleboat, and realized they could make shore, but would die from hunger before they would reach it. They actually drew straws and killed and ate one of the members of the whaleboat crew (they ate others that died from starvation).

How do we judge this? It is hard to externally judge it. In the end we cannot judge the action, which took place under great duress and difficult realities. We can only judge how it was performed. Were the straws fairly drawn? The survivors claim they were. Was the victim dispatched as humanely as possible? The survivors claim he was. Were they speaking the truth? Who knows, but they could just as easily have stated that the victim died from natural causes.

As far as the act is concerned one can only say: ďIf I was in that situation I would have Ö..?Ē But I doubt anybody can imagine what it must have been like, and even if the depravation can be imagined, one still cannot determine how their own brain would function under those conditions.

Judging is always based on context and too often on perceptions. We have to be careful not to judge issues of which we have limited knowledge, and most of all we have to avoid snap judgments. It is generally found that most decisions and judgments are made at the point that a person is no longer willing to evaluate additional information.

Letís examine our ability to judge.


What meat can I eat?

I donít hunt, but I have no problem with hunters. Bambi ambles through the woods, the hunter sees it and shoots it. He skins it, dresses it, takes it home and eats it. Some people might object to killing animals and I commend their restraint, ÖÖ.. if they are strict vegetarians.

However, there is nothing cruel about what the hunter did; he was merely competing with the wolves in the woods. In many ways hunting is a more honest expression of carnivorous behavior than my method of going to the grocery store. I have others do the killing for me.

Worse than that, the meat we buy in a grocery generally comes from animals that have often been raised under truly cruel conditions. If I ever pause over my pork chop, my moral hesitation comes mostly from the treatment of animals raised for slaughter.

Personally I do object to a hunter who kills for sport. If you donít eat it; donít kill it.

I also object to murder. While I would rather avoid war at just about any cost, I believe there is justified killing in war, and have no objections to the concept of capital punishment. This is a point of view that is common in the United States. In most of Western Europe capital punishment is considered to be morally wrong and most Western Europeans find it very difficult to understand why the Americans manage to execute so many criminals without any qualms.

Nevertheless most Americans consider cannibalism to be wrong, primitive and disgusting. This makes sense if everybody tries to kill everybody else simply for food, but letís keep it simple.

What if two warring tribes eat their victims, or better yet both their victims and their slain comrades?

This situation is comparable to Bambi. Killing is bad, but maybe killing and eating is less bad? If you donít eat it; donít kill it.

It is hard to judge.

-------------------------------------------------

You and I did not float around in the whaleboat, and did not fight with a tribe in New Guinea, and therefore should refrain from judging.

Most of all we should refrain from judging since some of the things we are doing ourselves can hardly be described as moral or logical.

A lot of our judging is based on our personal perceptions; a lot of our personal perceptions are based on religion. We have to be careful not to mix judgment and religion.

Religion grew up in small cells, and while we would like it to be universal, it is not. Therefore any religion, especially a religion that is doctrinaire and unchanging, applies poorly to a single and changing world, and therefore will fail to apply as a basis for judgment.

Religion should be positive, and judgment is a necessary evil; a negative.

Therefore, in our One World, refraining from judgment is an important component of peace and happiness.

Another way of stating that is to allow personal freedom to the fullest extent possible, as long as it harms no others. To tie this concept to abortion is difficult at first glance, but it is a solution that is fair to all.

The Blackmum approach is very similar to the Clinton decision on gays in the military.


Donít ask, donít tell in the military

In the last decade or so, gays in the US military had become more vocal about having the right to express their sexual preference. The US military stuck to a simple policy about gays: if you were gay you were out. The gay community felt that they were being unfairly excluded and managed to force President Clinton to come to a resolution on this matter. After a lengthy review Clinton issued a directive that the US military was not allowed to ask recruits whether they were gay and as long as gays did not state they were gay they were allowed to be in the military.

Clintonís ďdonít tell, donít askĒ policy about gays in the military has the same unprincipled reasoning as the Blackmum decision; it does not try to address what is right or wrong it simply develops a working solution.

Clinton was vilified by both sides for coming to this ďlameĒ decision, but I believe that there was something spectacularly elegant and wise about it.

It is totally unrealistic to remove every single gay from the military. It would be costly and no matter how much money is spent, impossible to achieve.

The military argues that it should not be a laboratory for politically correct thinking. Letís face it; these men and women are supposed to kill, not to understand each otherís feelings. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with gays, or even suggest that gays would not be good soldiers. It simply means that the military trains its people to be single focused. To force the military to make this focus a soft focus is counterproductive.

The gays argue they have just as much right to serve as straights. They point to the (mostly) successful racial and gender integration of the armed forces, and believe they should be given the same opportunity.

However, the giver has different feelings about racial and homosexual integration. The transition from racism to racial equality is more easily accomplished simply because most religions do not actively support racism, and most people, even racists, know it is wrong.

The opposite is true for homosexuality. Most religions suppress homosexuality or at least consider it to be a sin, and there are many religious people in the military. Furthermore, a significant portion of the population, and the military considers homosexuality to be simply disgusting.

Accepting homosexuals in the military is like accepting homosexuals in the church. Clinton could have forced the military to accept homosexuals, but what does it benefit?

It alienates a large proportion of the military, and unnecessarily makes it difficult for those gays who choose to join the military.

However, why are we having a philosophical argument here? Is this really a philosophical argument? Can this problem be resolved on a different level? Clinton decided to avoid the philosophical argument and to make it a Miss Manners argument.

Manners exist to avoid truths. This is why white lies are acceptable behavior, but ethically wrong.

Instead of finding the truth, whatever that may be, Clinton decided to find a code of coexistence. While the source might not have been the Catholic Church, the code that Clinton ended up proposing has been applied for many years to Catholic priests; donít ask, donít tell.

While the ďdonít ask, donít tellĒ doctrine has not been entirely successful for the Catholic Church, it has a better chance of success for the military.

The military has a very strict code of conduct that regulates all sexual relationships, and regulates conduct between different levels in the military structure. The Catholic Church also has a strict code of conduct, but it is voluntary, and has few controls especially in the vertical direction.

While Clinton has been attacked from both sides for this decision, his decision simply states that everybody should be considerate, and that the military code of conduct has the power to back it up.

It preaches tolerance and does not try to define what is right or wrong on a subject that cannot be defined as such.

-------------------------------------------------

While not all religions are tolerant, tolerance is the bedrock of religion. Without civil tolerance there would be only one religion today, and I am sure it would be quite dominant.

If we can make the world more tolerant will there be more religions or will there be fewer religions?

Will these religions be new religions or will these religions be old religions.

At first glance it would appear that tolerance would generate thousands of new religions, but this is not necessarily true. The many different forms of Christianity result from a general intolerance of each otherís point of view. Greater tolerance is already resulting in increased dialogue between religions, and religions have a tendency to feed from each other.

Most major religions see Jesus as a major prophet, and even the Catholic Church has a hard time keeping the Christmas trees out.

Will there actually be one religion in the future? Probably not, since religion is based on faith. Faith is not scientific truth, and there only is an advantage to unitize a religion if religion is being used as a tool for domination.

In actual fact, organized religious policy is a careful balance of inclusion and exclusion. A churchís leadership always tries to keep its message as sharp and clear as possible, while at the same time trying to capture as large a share of a population as possible. It takes a very disciplined church leader to keep the same message while at the same time preaching in an emptying church.

Often the big question is: which part of the message can be adjusted?

This brings us to the beginning of the chapter:

Honor God
Honor Nature
Honor your parents
Honor life
Honor the dead
Be generous
Be kind
Be industrious
Donít steal

This part is easy. Well maybe not, but at least we are used to the concepts.

But all of it is easier if we add a few rules:

Nothing stays the same
Be tolerant
Be fair

But wait a second! This is not all new. If we are talking about change, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed lived change. They changed the world in their lifetimes. They were tolerant and they were fair. None of them forced their beliefs on others. They were all looking for volunteers, not slaves or subjects.

It was the change from religion to political entity that forced the prophetsí concepts to the back burner.

Religion can be very good or very bad. With these additional rules it will only be better.


Home

Last Updated: 2/17/05
First Uploaded: 2/16/05