Forgive me Tolkein for ripping off your beautiful poem from Lord of the Rings. It is perhaps aptly fitting, considering he was quite famously a devout Christian man.
I should preface this rant on monotheistic religion by saying I don’t intend to belittle your beliefs; I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions. It is your God-given and basic human right to be allowed the freedom of thought. What I plan to do here is simply state just how out-dated and perhaps antiquated a lot of our religious doctrine and axioms are. I want you to see that just because you’ve been told something, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Because someone (or some people) wrote something 2000 years ago, it does not make it accurate or true today.
Let’s begin with the creation of the Hebrew Bible, or the Torah, sometime around 1300 BC, and the major contributing factor to monotheism in the world today.
Curiously, depending on the interpretation, some people claim that the God that exposed himself in the Torah wasn’t the ONLY God — he was just the only God that showed himself to Abraham. He may have just been the God of Israel, an idea which would fit in with the polytheistic pantheon of Greek and Egyptian Gods, and the slew of other tribal Gods that existed all around the world. Over the following years, and as more scripture was divinely inspired and added to the Hebrew Bible, it seems that the Israeli God slowly pushed out all other Gods until he was the only one:
“Know this day, and take it to heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is none else.” Deuteronomy 4:39
And thus, monotheism was born. Polytheism quickly fell by the wayside, shunted aside by the vast strength of the monotheistic belief system. Christianity quickly followed in the first century AD, with Islam following a little later.
Fast forward to today and the belief in a single almighty, all-knowing and dreadful God rules more than half the world.
Humans have long believed in some kind of spirituality. We want to believe that we’re not just lumps of meat that walk around for 80 years and then die, to be consumed by the earth; there’s something in our DNA or our physiological makeup that makes us inclined to believe in some kind of higher power. Somewhere along our genetic time track, between being primordial ooze and the humans we are today, something went click, and we started explaining away certain phenomena as the actions of Gods, or at least some kind of omnipresent force that watches over us.
With so much belief, it’s unsurprising that Gods literally sprung up everywhere. A God of Wine, a God of Battle, a God of Love — you name it, at some stage there was probably a God that ‘oversaw’ that sphere of reality. When Caesar won a battle in Gaul against an army 10 times greater than his, that belief in something greater, that urge to find explicate all things wonderful, he attributed his overwhelming good luck to a benevolent Mars, the God of War.
It is this slightly odd urge to attribute everything that happens to some kind of higher power that makes us susceptible to religion in general, and monotheism in particular.
I wonder if, when a male lion fends off his pride from another male, he stops to thank the Gods or God, or if he just marvels at his own prowess and strength. Why then must we, as humans, always be humble in the eyes of God? Why can our greatest endeavours only be realised and ratified with the grace and benevolence of God? Why can we not be great and powerful in our own right, and why must we thank God instead of the work by other great men and women?
The thing is, monotheistic religion actually had a valuable place in ancient civilisation. Most things happen for a reason, and monotheism was required for the development of the world that we live in today. It’s widely believed that the development of monotheism went hand-in-hand with the development of large cities and trade between countries — as people moved from villages and tribes into larger cities, monotheism began to take hold. In such a large, messy and dangerous environment — a veritable melting pot of different cultures and tribes — a single religion, with a single God, was undoubtedly a desirable resolution to such problems.
When you swear on mighty, vengeful God to make good on a trade agreement, other believers of the same religion are very likely to believe and trust you. Before monotheism, trading and buying goods from around the world was almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, for the believers, some intelligent people quickly realised something else about monotheism: it’s very good for controlling people.
While polytheism was generally about explaining away unknown phenomena, monotheism is much more about the control of people, and much more importantly about the control of thought. God expects you to act like this and treat other people like that; God tells you what is right, and more importantly what is wrong.
Therein lies the rub: it’s not actually God telling us these things, it’s a bunch of prophets, scribes and priests. Not to be left out, even a few kings and emperors, over the millenia, have leaned over the shoulder of a scribe and said ‘Oh, I don’t like that bit… take it out.’ If an almighty being, one that was actually omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent had written the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, then we might be on to something. Sadly, they didn’t — humans did. Now, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Religion had its place, historically. Sure, it preyed upon our inherent belief that there’s something bigger than us out there, but it did enable civilisation to grow, and develop. It made it possible for people to live in relative safety, and to develop empires that shaped the world we know today.
Now that we’ve reached modernity, religion seems a little outdated. It still controls what we say and what we do. Once upon a time, eating bacon or shellfish was undoubtedly risky; just as a homosexual relationship probably was too. Today, they are not. Today, religion — organised religion, with a hierarchy, with priests, and with a system for regulating our actions and thoughts — serves very little purpose. It might be argued that religion has killed more people over the past 2000 years than it has saved. It might be argued that the world would be a different, wonderful place if the intellectual and spiritual road-block of the Dark Ages had never existed.
The problem is this: our need to believe in something is so great and so unerring that once belief is instilled in us, it’s almost impossible to shake off. The most monstrous atrocities can happen to a person, and they will still believe in God’s infallibility; they will still believe that God is watching over them, and that he has a mighty plan that justifies everything.
The root of almost every failed civillisation can be traced back to an over-zealous High Priest
I use the term ‘High Priest’ loosely; it could be a king, emperor, president or anyone that is buoyed up by the belief of a religion’s followers.
The thing is if God actually existed, and he actually guided us, there wouldn’t be a problem. He would actually know everything that has happened and will happen in the future. Unfortunately, I can’t disprove God — no one can. That’s the key, the linchpin and the crux to every single organised religion: they prey on our fear of the unknown. That’s why every religion exists and why they are followed fervently — from tribal polytheism to modern monotheism — to explain unknown phenomena. Every single religion has some tie-in to an afterlife, or heaven, or hell, or purgatory, or even rebirth. They rely on ideas that most likely can never be proven wrong. They rely on appealing to that spiritual side of us that we seemingly have very little control over.
Perhaps it is finally time to throw away a God that disables and lessens our vast abilities. Letting someone else decide for us what is right and wrong, what we can and can’t do, is such a damn cop-out! We, the human race, are so infinitely capable; why would we listen to anyone, or a God, that tells us otherwise?