When we often hear of the mandates and the commandments of the supreme being, passed to us through our spiritual advisors and allocated clergy, whenever we hear the orders being given to us through a divine channel, there is always a bit of suspicion, a bit of skepticism, to those listening. This was not always the case. There was a time quite long ago when kings and queens were appointed by god himself, where the church acted as the voice of the lord to all. It was this era where science was chained and philosophy became a forbidden practice. Those who cast doubt on to the interpreters of god's will, those who argued against the religious rule, were burned, tortured, and imprisoned -- and this was done with pity on the infidels, so as to turn their heart towards god, so that while their life might be short, their afterlife might be plentiful. I think of the arguments of the inquisition over and over, and somehow, I still cannot be convinced that love of goodness will ever come out of brutalizing hatred, out of cruel and merciless torture. But today, the people are a bit smarter, they are a bit more thoughtful and reasonable. Many of them know fully well that papal law is no reflection of the law of god, that the Bible was inspired by the fears and loves of mankind thousands of years ago and not by any god, that if there is a voice of god communicating to humanity, it equally reaches all men and women.
What is a reasonable, thoughtful person to think of these so-called religious rules, these commands passed down from a higher order? It seems that the head of nearly every religious movement claims that he is the only beacon of the lord, and that every other prophet is a monstrous impostor. Between countries, too, it seems that in times of war, every nation believes itself to be on the side of god, to be defending the religious rule. And then there are certain social and political movements, each of them infused with the power of god; every leader of these social movements will often speak to crowds, telling them that god had asked them to undertake this great crusade on his behalf, no matter what the cause. It seems that every facet of society is bleeding the religious law, the laws of god. This is not an accusation with an attempt of libel. For example, many Pro-Lifers argue that they are doing god's work, that they are the living expression of the enforcement of the religious rule. Many Al Qaeda terrorists argue from the same point: that they are the living expression of god's wisdom. In a time far from here, crusaders pillaged the city of Jerusalem, against the "unholy infidels," in an attempt to recover the homeland of the lord. Individuals who oppose the legalization and decriminalization of drugs often claim that drugs are a product of the devil, and that their prohibition would be the work of the lord. All over, every person is hearing that there is new mandate of the unseen and almighty powers, and that we are responsible for abiding by these new regulations.
It is in this atmosphere that I bring out my own ideas on the issue of religious rule, with the hopes of enlightening the minds of a few individuals. What does it say about a person's argument when they are constantly referencing the master of all creation? Does it support their argument? Does it hinder it? We are all aware that the words of these demagogues are appealing, that they catch interest, burn passion, incite emotion. However, there is one discrepancy, one oblivious dichotomy, of the whole situation of religious rule. That discrepancy is: the variety of opinion. There are some figureheads who argue that the lord has chosen them to advance the Pro-Life cause by bombing an abortion clinic, and there are other figureheads who argue that such violence never solves anything, and that it is the will of the lord that they peacefully protest and petition. Those who stand on the side of militant Islam will claim that they are doing the will of the lord, when there are plenty of Muslims who believe that the will of the lord is nothing more than loving fellow man and creating a better world for all. When two nations go to war, when they have each reached the point that they want to sacrifice their sons and their daughters for conquest, each pride themselves in the fact that they are working for the almighty. Again, there is the dichotomy, in that both nations are at conflict with each other, yet they both believe that god is on their own side.
It only takes an elementary understanding of reason to see that god cannot be for violent terrorism and then at the same time also against it. The designer of the universe cannot want for France to succeed in conquering Germany and at the same time want for Germany to annex France. The divine author of the world's religious texts cannot support everyone who claims his support, otherwise there are some rather discerning doubts about the existence of such a god.
Consider the structure of the argument of a person who claims god is on their side. They will argue that drugs should not be legalized, or drunk driving laws should be more firm, or that one nation should triumph in conquering another, because the lord is on their side. The argument is null and void, for the reasons stated in the previous paragraphs. The only thing this can deduct to, is, "If god is not behind this argument, if god is not clearly on their side, then why do they need to state that he is? Is it because the argument, on its own merits, is undeserving of conviction, except by fools and sheep?" For example, someone might say, "It is the lord's will, that on every Friday, at four o'clock, every person shall write the words 'believe in heaven and hell' on a piece of paper." At a glance, it does seem that the argument is highly suspect. Primarily, because there is no other reason, excepting the religious rule, that people should follow this rule. When a person makes an argument, and it is solely on the claim that god commanded them to deliver it to the people, that means that the only reason for follow that passed-on-down to the people law, is because god asserts it -- and as we already know, it is an invalid reason.
When listening to the rabblerousers of so many movements, of so many causes, political or economic or social, we will many times hear the religious reason, the argument of the lord. But, on many occasions, it is also coupled with otherwise valid reasons. We may hear someone argue on behalf of political reorganization to help boost voter confidence, and of stating all the evidence and making all the valid comparative analogies, they may conclude their piece with: "And, so too, while it is man's rule, it must be because it is god's rule." Or, they might end with an equally apologetic and beautiful phrase, such as, "By committing to this plan of action, we are committing the action of the lord." I cannot say that all of these movements (some of which might include my own) are invalid, because they rely on a small assertion of religious faith. When an individual advocates a particular type of reform or a type of action for his people to follow, and makes a good case, then it is a good case for the people to follow; the people should judge it on its own merits, its own claims, its philosophy and evidence. If there is an additional argument, a claim that it is the rule of god, then it should be ignored.
I would like to stress here, though, to those reading these speeches and those composing these plans for progress, that it is good advise to leave the question of god out of it. To bring god in to your argument, to claim that divine powers are on your side, is to force the other side to do the same thing; the end accomplishment of this would simply be to confuse and alienate listeners. A good argument does not need the sanction of spiritual powers to be considered a good argument. The philosophies of Anarchism and Communism, the plans to make a more just Democracy out of the nations of the planet, the political collectives that work for more free and just property rights -- all of these things are valid claims, on account of the evidence that they present; if the proponents of these ideals refuse to invoke god in to their sermons, it does not make their arguments any less valid. For this reason, I ask of all good, fair, and kind people, that they stop turning social causes in to religious rules. I shall quote a man who has stood behind many just and fair social causes...
While there may be many good and wholesome movements that occasionally relied on the religious rule to advance its position, there are a slew of movements that solely rely on the religious rule. In this piece, I have previously noted the Crusades, a series of wars led by the Vatican in an attempt to reclaim the holy land from infidels. The reason for the Crusades was solely on behalf of the religious rule. The arguments of the popes, the priests, the clergy, was not that the Crusades would improve the lot of all common men, nor that it would secure greater justice for all oppressed, nor that it would relieve the poor and miserable. The argument was only that it was the will of the lord, that the lands inhabited by Muslims belong to Christians and Christians alone, that Christ would look favorably upon those who slaughtered for the Catholic Church. To quote Pope Urban II, in a speech delivered on November 27, 1095...
The pope, in all of his wisdom, who claimed to be a speaker on behalf of the lord, ordered his followers to murder, destroy, and pillage. His argument was simple, direct, and to the point: the will of god almighty, is the destruction of those peoples. To quote an eye witness to the Crusades...
...another eyewitness to the armies of Christianity remarked...
The effective purpose of religion, or spirituality, has been to inspire in man a greater love of progress, a greater love of those around him, a heightened desire to improve the world. Of those Muslims that the crusaders of god slaughtered, of the men, women, and children who were put to death by rampaging armies, of these innocent and oppressed victims, I can only say this... They could feel misery, the way any human or animal could feel misery, and in those last moments before death reached them, their hearts were full of fear, of sheer terror. There is something sadly poetic in dying with your loved ones, but there is nothing beautiful or just in massacring entire families for the lord. While Christ might have declared to love thy enemy, it was his speaker who declared that the enemies were to be slaughtered without regard or question. When I think of those slaughtered by barbarous armies, I let myself know two things: there is nothing now that I can do to save them; and, I should let their memories be my inspiration, not for vengeance, but to make sure that such calamities never reach the face of the planet again.
When we look at the argument of the pope, though, there is something of particular importance that ought be taken into consideration. The pope, in this uncivilized era, has been considered to be the only authorized direct voice of god. The established religion of Europe had decidedly been the Christian faith. The church was established as a means of organizing people of the same religious creed, that they might worship together and advance their interests together. Understanding all of these facts, we see that the argument of god's will isn't just the small addition to a well-argued case. The argument that men of religion can command followers like they were the lord is a powerful argument to people who have been raised in strict and devout religious faiths. The crusaders who heeded the call of arms, to take up sword against brothers and sisters as though they were enemies, these crusaders had been reared with a deep reverence for the will of religious authorities -- solely on the grounds that they are delivering the will of god to the people. When the Pope called upon knights to ride south in to war, he claimed that it was the will of the lord. That is the message that reached people who have been taught to believe the words of religious figures since birth.
Future generations would be wise and just to tell their children that, if there is a god, if there is a supreme being governing the rules of the universe, his will is communicated to everyone, and not just figureheads. The concept that only one person or only some people can hear god was an idea created and fostered by tyrants. It was not by men who were deeply moved with religious convictions; it was by men who wanted to control the masses, who would call war the will of god, if it was also their own will. And, the churches would be a greater part more honest, fair, and humane, if they were to tell the listeners of their sermons to use their reason in making decisions, to uphold the light of truth as the greatest end of all religion, to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. Sure, this may be a bit of worldliness, and yes, the church may lose some followers (or, the reverse maybe) if they were to tell their flock that the ultimate end of all activity is the general happiness of all beings. But, the church that tells its members to spend time in aid of his fellow man instead of in prayer, to act as a friend of liberty and not as a sacrifice to religion -- the church that tells its members a humane philosophy is the only church that would receive my deserved respect.
While this may be a popular observation by Christian and Freethought philosophers alike, it is fitting to ad here that the conflict between religions stresses doubt in the mind of man. Sir Francis Bacon commented, "The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division, addeth zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism." ["Of Atheism," by Sir Francis Bacon; found in "Essays."] When individuals behind movements make the claim that the god of creation has taken sides with them, and not with the other side, it creates a rather enormous amount of skepticism and doubt. Not just skepticism on behalf of the motives of the movement, but also skepticism on behalf of religion. (Which, I must confess, is perhaps the most liberating skepticism.) After all, we might want to ask this question: how is it that only one side is familiar with the will of god? If it is true that a god exists and his voice is equally reachable by all men and women (as would be believed with for a god of justice), then why is it that his voice does not extend to the other side? Just for an example, imagine that the pope was truly carrying out the law of the lord in ordering the crusades. Why then, did not the Muslims also hear the lord; why did they not also hear the words, "This land is the homeland of Christ; it is for the Christians."? Seeing as god is usually defined as all powerful and all knowing, how is it that god's message only reaches a few select individuals? If god truly was ever on the side of one nation warring against the other, why is it that the other side did not hear the pleas of god to surrender and submit? All that we understand of religion, all that we have extracted from religious texts and not theological treatises, it would indicate to us that god always makes his will clear and prevalent. With this understanding of the lord, why is it that he would inform one side of a detailed plan of attack, yet keep the other side in complete ignorance? To the leader who tells me that god has consecrated his blueprints for conquest, I ask him this question: Why, then, did god not also inform your enemies of his decision to side with you?
True, we have heard all sides claim that an omnipotent power is what inspired them and created their philosophy. We have heard the rhetoric over and over. Those of us who side with a philosophy of humanity, those of us who are committed to preserving justice and maintaining equity, we will have nothing to do with those claims that god is on our side. When we speak of justice, we are speaking of the ideas of truth, honor, and respecting the rights of all those who are capable of consciousness. When we speak of what is good and what is bad, of what is right and what is wrong, our heart's intent is to create a state of civilization in which mankind is left to his liberty and freedom. As a philosopher of Freethought, the reason why I have ever labeled anything as moral or immoral, as ethical or unethical, is for the sole sake that it is an enemy of all that is good -- that is to say, those things which I consider immoral are so, because they create misery, pain, and suffering throughout the world. One hundred years ago, when women were denied the right to vote, when the direction of the nation was determined solely be testicle-bearing humans -- when I look at this previous state of society, I must say that it was wrong what happened. When I think about society in the United States two hundred years ago, my mind is filled with images of slavery and cruelty, of men held in shackles because of their race, of women raped because the state concluded they deserved no rights. I look back at this barbaric era, this moment in time that was as much thoughtless as it is heartless, I must tell you, it was wrong what happened. The actions committed by our forefathers are sins in the eyes of all of us. In a really significant way, this is just evidence of how far the spirit of humanity has truly progressed.
Consider a hypothetical example. Imagine if the lord were to pass down to his people, through certain prophets only, the law that rape shall no longer be condemned. Imagine if the religious rule applied as thus: "It is the will of the lord, that no woman should refuse the flirtations of men, that no female human being should ever deny man his greatest pleasure." True, this might be a stretch of an example, I am not arguing that. I am trying to demonstrate a point: rape is wrong, because it causes misery, it creates suffering, because the thought of it can turn some to tears, because the act of it can ruin lives completely. If a member of the religious community was seriously asked to give a dissertation on why rape is wrong, I imagine he might bring up the amount of human suffering it has caused, but no doubt, I can (with a limited imagination) also see him making an appeal to the will of god. We, men and women of reason and hope, consider rape, murder, and torture all wrong, because these acts inflict pain and suffering on to the masses. If god disapproves of rape, that does not make it more wrong. The immorality of the act of forcing some woman to the ground, beating her that so that she submits, forcing her to engage in cruel and violent actions -- the immorality of all of this stems from the fact that it creates misery. Whether god condones it or not, whether there is a divine power who has passed a commandment for or against this, it is irrelevant. The only reason why any action is unethical is because it causes suffering.
Consider another hypothetical example. Imagine if the creator passed a new regulation: to wear the color green is a sin. This is the other side of the spectrum of the previous argument. This action, of wearing the color green, causes no misery, it incites no depression or sadness, it creates nothing that could be construed as destructive of a humane ethic. As critics of a society that once sold slaves and traded men as though they were property, we say that the right to wear the color green is a matter of liberty. If man cannot wear the color green, it is an invasion of his rights as a human being, just the same as if the law condemned the reading of "perverse" (read: liberating) literature; or, just the same as if the law had imposed the death penalty for those who openly spoke the thoughts that came to their mind, in hopes of finding comrades and friends who can relate. Wearing the color green, as far as any reasonable person is considered, can be considered no crime, no violation of the rights of man, no impervious action to undermine the collective will of society. For this reason, regardless of whatever the current will of god happens to be (according to the blind men of religion), we must say that wearing the color green is not wrong, that it should not be discouraged for any reason.
Let's consider a more fitting hypothesis. Few people are unaware of organized religion's position on Homosexuality. Leviticus 20:13 reads: "If there is a man who lies with a man as those who lie with woman, both shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them." Other books of the Bible and many sections of the Qur'an are equally sympathetic to those who are attracted to their own gender. Consider, for a moment, whether there is injustice in a sex act between two consenting members of the same gender. They are engaging in an activity that gives them happiness, that gives them peace and security. Just as many heterosexual men find a way to rest from life's torments in the arms of a beautiful girl, so too do many homosexual men. The peace, satisfaction of heart, fulfillment of the spirit, that comes with a warm and loving relationship between a man and a woman -- this can also be accomplished by a relationship between a man and a man. There is no doubt to this, as there are many Homosexuals today, actively working to change the law so that their right to happiness is respected by the majority. I think of the countless millions who are part of the Homosexual population, and I am also thinking of my brothers and sisters, men and women who have an interest in bettering the position of the world, in securing social and political justice for all nations. With what I understand on the homosexual lifestyle, with my personal experience and with the books I've read by learned writers, I must say: there is nothing immoral or unethical about Homosexuality.
When we think of the many Homosexuals who are forced in to secrecy, in to the darkness of being alone, in to the closet, when I think of all the suffering that Homosexuals have endured, I am moved. Those people who have attacked and belittled the suffering of African Americans, of Jews, of women, of all minorities that have been oppressed by the state, these people also attack the Homosexual lifestyle. They claim that it is an abomination, because it is the will of the lord, and that must be respected. Think of the many men and women who are pushed to tears, when they must think about how their religious family has rejected them entirely. Think of the many men and women, like you or I, who have been forced into humiliation and degradation, led by the church. Think of the many who have swung in the gallows, think of the many who have tasted the bitterness of flames, think of the many whose flesh was ripped and torn in tortures -- think of the Homosexual and Bisexual people of the past, and the cruelty that they were forced to endure. I look at the past, I look at the present, I look at the attitude of the churches towards Homosexuality, and I say out loud that this is a crime, it is among the greatest of sins. It is immoral. It causes suffering, it brings misery, it destroys lives. When a better world is formed, I imagine that among the rights of all, there will be a right to freedom of sexuality; this right being defined as the right of a person's sexuality to be decided upon their conscience and their conscience alone.
I considered both of the arguments when it came to the matter of Homosexuality. My concluding opinion has always been: why must it be a matter at all? Why cannot the people be let free to do as they wish? The rules of god, according to the Bible and many other archaic texts, seem to dictate to us to punish those who practice Homosexuality. The only reason why we have come so far in civilization, why we have abandoned the practice of burning Homosexuals and why we are on the brink of granting them the right to marriage, the only reason for this progression is quite simple -- an opening of the human mind, a softening of the human heart. Homosexuality is not immoral, but those acts which create misery and alleviate no suffering, those acts of the religious fundamentalists and bigots, who have hoped for lynch mobs to reign again and to force the Homosexuals back in to the darkness -- those acts are truly immoral. Our logical conclusion is thus: Many of the arguments that claim the religious rule (the orders of god) are also immoral, unethical, and unjust, regardless of the sanctioning of a super being.
Again with Homosexuality, as we have seen on so many other issues, the problem is the idea that an outside agent must be present to decide whether two consenting adults are to be allowed to their activities, so long as they do not disturb public peace. (And so, too, I hope for a day when the intoxicating substances that our lord has given us will meet no banning, no criminalization, but complete and pure freedom.)
Only a slight investigation in to Western religions will tell you that the cultures of these people had a particularly awkward view of sex. While many of them professed it to be sacred, they did not mean that it was something to uplift human personality -- rather, they meant that it was something for the lords of religion to regulate. I do believe that sex is sacred, but by this, I mean that it is a wonderful thing, capable of giving happiness, peace, and pleasure to the people. In that respect, I think sex is a part of the greater good in this life. It seems that religious interference with sexuality doesn't just begin and end with Homosexuality. Religious Fundamentalists have argued, in the past and the present, that oral sex is a sin, that sex before marriage is a crime, that flirting is immoral, that lust is a part of man's depraved nature -- that sex among multiple partners, consensual or not, is a mark of indecency, a permanent scarlet letter. I truly do believe, that if society is ever going to make serious progress in eliminating suffering and increasing the general welfare of all, that it should declare: the only sex act that is immoral is the one done without consent, by the aid of coercion or trickery or deceit; that is to say, the only sex act that is immoral is the act of rape. All other acts of sex must be viewed as methods used to relieve stress, to gain insight, to feel at peace -- and, when a sex act we have decided to try does not make us feel as these things, then we are benefited by experimenting. Because now, we experienced something that granted us wisdom in living our lives.
One last example of religious figures violating the spirit of humanity is necessary to my argument. Consider the terrorists that come from the Middle East, those men who use weapons to put barriers between the earth's people, these terrorists are motivated by religious inspiration. The Islamic terrorists that rely on car bombing, kidnapping, murdering, all of these men would tell you that they are doing nothing but following the will of the lord (or, at least, the will of the lord interpreted for them by another person -- in this case, Muhammad). From the apologists of Islamic terror to the preachers in the churches, we will hear the same argument on behalf of their actions: "It is the will of god." When the television stations were carrying news reports of the collapse of the Twin Towers, of the thousands of people who were being killed, the Islamic Terrorists look to these and feel a sense of accomplishment. More than that, they feel that they have secured a place for them in heaven and the admiration of their own creator. Many of my readers being from the Western sphere of the world, few of them will read these words and feel sympathetic towards the Islamic Terrorists. They see all terrorism and demeaning and enslaving. To those readers who can say with full confidence, that these Islamic Terrorists are enemies of the people, not the tools of an unknown entity, but the real enemies of all that is good, take into consideration this. It was for the sake of the lord that these men committed these actions; it was through use of thoughtless and zealous propaganda that these men hired recruits to their ranks. "For the glory of the world's creator," was the battle cry. To these readers who accept this, but do not accept the rights of Homosexuals, I ask that you rethink your opinions on the matter. For both movements, the Islamic terrorists and the religious fundamentalists against gays, both movements operate upon the same principles. They both create a greater misery for the majority of mankind, they both play on the fears and misinformation of the people, and according to the leaders of both movements, their actions are inspired by the will of the divine. Unfortunately, civilization has not yet reached that point where all men live the way Thomas Paine professed...
All arguments considered, all positions hypothetically taken, we are left with one thing that stands out. That is, the religious rule. It is to declare that your position is not just in line with the position of the lord, but to declare that the lord has chosen your position for you. Those who are taken in by such stupidity are ignorant. To obey the law of man because he claims it is the law of god is to become a pawn of cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity. Each person is equally capable of hearing the voice of our own creators. At this point, I feel I have exhausted the topic of the religious rule, and that there is not much more that can be said. One last question someone might ask is this: "If god does pass a rule, and it is obvious to all, then should we follow it -- should we become the adherents of this new law?" To this question, I answer this: Sure, but only if there is a god.