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Published by John Graham

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Published by: John Graham on Aug 25, 2010
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Thoughts on growing up with belief and the development of belief in society
Early Days
My parents weren’t greatly religious. They were both born of large families in rural Welsh andCumberland communities at the beginning of the 20
Century when it was the ‘done’ thing toattend a church or chapel on Sundays, dressed in their ‘Sunday best.’ Religion was something onenever spoke about … one simply attended church on Sundays as a member of your community. Ithad nothing to do with belief of anything.My earliest memories include Sunday attendance at church and chapel. They include my Father making the time pass by handing out mints to the family and even to neighboring pews. Theyinclude my Mother’s concern that she attended the church with the best choral singing and evenof her moving when the choirmaster moved. They include my own reluctance to do more than toobey my parents, to be forced to wear my best long trousers and to spend my time in the pewskimming through the hymnal to find composers for every letter from A to Z in sequence whilethe preacher droned on.My sister and I were never encouraged to do more than attend that one weekly service, whereashow we behaved and what we ate were constantly monitored. Sunday school was not for us, sowe never got more than peripheral instruction in religious stories or lessons. I was allowed to stopgoing to chapel when I insisted on taking a book. It was so much the better that my sister and Icould come to our own beliefs later in life.In college, church and religion did not exist although, in my postgraduate years, in the US, I meta girl who was faintly religious. Together, we attended a different church each Sunday to test thewaters and I continued that practice for a while after leaving the area. I even found one church, inSan Bernadino, California, that struck my fancy. It taught only those things upon which greatreligions agreed and, therefore, it honored some of the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Mohammed,and others equally. Other dictates in each religion, the church ignored. “Turn the other Cheek”was, for example, not compatible with an “Eye for an Eye” so neither had a bearing. However, asfar as I know there was only that single church that sought a common ground. There was, indeed,very little common ground between the churches that I visited.As I grew older, I learned what great religions had truly done for the world … not much that was positive but a great deal that was negative. I learned of the Christian Crusades against theMuslims and others who displeased the Pope. I learned of the persecution of Jews for their  presumed part in the plague and for their usury. I learned of the wars initiated by German bishops; of the intolerance of the Lutherans and Calvinists; of the Nazi adherence to Prussian perfection and Tibetan mysticism; of the Holocaust against Jews and Gypsies; and of the 21
Century right-wing Christian Bush-crusades against Muslim unbelievers. Religions, driven bytheir fanatics, have been responsible for the majority of wars and most of the agonies of ‘civilization.’I also learned of the finer divisions of intolerance within religions … Shi’ite versus Sunni versusKhawarij; Methodist versus Lutheran versus White Supremacist; Protestant versus RomanCatholic; Haryana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists; Baptist sects and all the finer sub-divisions that showed that any god, if a god existed, was not a forgiving or tolerant ‘god.’ It wasan individual intolerant ‘god.’I came to the conclusion that none of it mattered one jot. ‘Religion’ was the home of theintolerant and that, instead, one should rely on thought, logic and understanding. That, inevitably,
led to the conclusion that the concept of ‘god’ was a myth constructed as a placebo for the poorlyeducated.My first family of children was raised on the basis that my son and daughter would make up their own minds when they were of age. They are intelligent. Now that they have reached their forties,neither is religious, nor do they attend any house of worship. My second family of two girls ismore of a problem. They attend a nominally Roman Catholic school and have grandparents andrelatives that still pay some small obeisance to Catholicism and its church. Hopefully, they willalso make up their own minds because Roman Catholicism has become merely a historic symbolin northern Belgium. The church is an artistic relic. Priests rarely disturb its precincts.
Do not be misled. Despite the decline of orthodox Western religions, the world today is notdevoid of ‘religions’. It is rife with extreme opinions, ranging from beliefs that some sects are so‘right’ that others should be destroyed; to the sanctity of animal life above that of human life; to adedication to revert society to that of ideal ‘green’ society; to the continuing inferiority of womenand to the belief that a white skin is preferable to a black one. There are even more extreme ideas… all religions to their believers, and unfortunately, there are always people who have little elseto do in this world than to force their ideas upon others.Does this seem curiously familiar … does this sound, in each case, like the Crusaders’ cry of “Convert to Christianity or be damned?” For example, the slogan used by PETA, an organization,which believes that animals deserve PETA’s own idea of ethical treatment, “Meat is Murder,”shows similar Crusading bigotry. They certainly don’t want a member to equivocate: “Well, OK,meat is murder, except for pork. I like pork.”These new ‘opinions’ are the new ‘religions’ of the third millennium. They are based on thesesthat followers are expected to accept and follow without question. They include such beliefs thatdictate that a true follower of Allah or Jehovah be guided by an Imam or a Rabbi; that a cowshould not be milked because of animal pain; that anyone following Muhammad is more (or less)worthy than anyone following Yeshua bin Jozef; that one should not step on a worm; that globalwarming is attributable to human behavior; and, generically, that my opinion is worthier thanyours.These religions are ‘supported’ by writings such as the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, Mein Kamp, the Greenpeace manifesto and PETA action statements. There is very littledifference between any of these manifestos. Believe what I believe or be damned.We can all create our own religions on that basis.
A Religion
In the United States, a religion is defined, like it or not, by its tax status. Religions, confirmed bythe Internal Revenue Service, do not have to pay certain taxes, including taxes on property. InCalifornia, religions arise, therefore, on the slightest of pretexts. One church named the HolyTurtle Church gives its priest tax-free status for his property. The Church is on the InternetFacebook under ‘Organizations – Religious’. Their honest description says, “
We might actuallyhave "services" from time to time, but this is mostly for people who love Turtles and believe thisreally should be a Religion.
Others are not so benign. The manifesto of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is direct:
Webelieve -- and vigorously preach -- the 5 Points of Calvinism! Anyone preaching otherwise is a
 Hell-bound false prophet, a messenger of Satan, to whom we say, ‘Anathema Maranatha!’ and,‘Let him be accursed of God!’ 
The pastor of another church in Florida is sponsoring a “Burn the Quran” Day in 2010 and says:
"We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is adeceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times." 
Forgiveness is no part of the belief system of religious fanatics.While these are American examples, the same extreme sects with the same extreme beliefs andmanifestos exist in all religions from Christian to Muslim to Hindu throughout the world and,especially, in the Middle East.
With this introduction it is difficult to know what to make of Buddhism.The Buddhist religion is fundamentally different from others since it consists simply of theteachings of one person, Siddhārtha Gautama, who did not feel a need to provide an authority for what he taught. Abraham needed Yahweh, Yeshua bin Jozef needed God, and Muhammedneeded Allah as authorities for their teachings, and those who listened variously interpreted thesedeities as being caring, if one followed the teachings, or threatening, if one didn’t. The deity was,at the same time, the carrot and the stick.Gautauma, who lived sometime between 400 and 600 B.C., is known as Buddha … theenlightened one … and following his death his followers defined the religion to include others before him. However, Gautama used his own authority to teach and, knowing human frailties,even warned his followers not to deify him after he died. Unfortunately this message has beenignored and statues of Gautama abound and are worshipped.Yet fundamentally, in Buddhism, the students simply have to follow Gautama’s words. Theywere pretty simple to follow by the people of 400 BC and they should be even clearer today.The four Noble Truths that Gautama taught are that: Life leads to suffering, suffering is caused bywanting things, one will be happy once one stopped wanting things, so follow the teachings of Gautauma through eight stages to achieve this end. The eight stages of the recommended pathinclude: looking at things realistically; developing an intention to do better; speaking, acting andliving in a caring manner; and making an effort to improve whilst concentrating on the path tohappiness.It’s tough to object to those instructions. Nowhere do they say that alternative teachings arewrong or that there is a God to follow or to obey. Life is in your own hands.Sounds reasonable.However, as in all religions, extremist followers have deformed Buddhism … by worshippingGautama as a deity and by building temples where none are required; by defining meditation(‘concentrating on the path to happiness’) as a substitute for work so that begging for food isacceptable and by taking ‘caring’ to such an extreme that one should not kill a worm during roadworks (especially road works to which one objects!). Tibetans Buddhists even created a nationalgovernment, an army and a military-style police. No wonder that their secular religion attractedthe admiration of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler.

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