Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It took a year...

...but I finally made it through all of the modules on Harvard's World Religions Through Their Scriptures open online courses. To be fair, I took a 6 month break, so it would have gone much faster, but I was quite honestly bored and burned out after Christianity. I was also pretty upset that so many facts had been altered and omitted in my non-denominational charismatic, hyper-protestant upbringing. At any rate, it's done. I can't change the past, but I can take what I learned and make the best of it.

The five major religions are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. Each course summarized each religion's history, belief system, deities, prophesies, and doctrines, and impact on society throughout its existence. The courses are 100% unbiased and created by professors who have devoted their careers to giving people around the world the facts about the specific religion in which they have studied. There is nothing persuasive about the material in any course.

I feel like I accomplished what I intended, and that was to venture out of the confines of 30+ years of biased Bible teachings and learn not only about Christianity from an unbiased, highly educated source, but the other large religions as well. I wanted understanding, and for the most part, I believe I obtained it. It has been quite a ride, with emotions including aggravation, fascination, boredom at times when it was snore-worthy, sadness, and inspiration. Overall, it was worth the time.

At the risk of turning this blog entry into a novel, I'll touch on some teachings that pop into my head. This will be a stream of consciousness, pretty much:

There isn't a single major religion that isn't deeply misogynist and unfair. This is acknowledged in the course material, and acknowledged in the professors' lectures. Yes, even the male professors talk about it, which is notable because it is something that is rarely admitted to by men where I'm from. Some of the courses had entire chapters on the issues that women faced within the religion. I obviously feel that this is an important topic, so I am glad they feel it is important also.

Buddhism almost doesn't qualify as a "religion" because they aren't theistic (they don't believe in one true God) and their scriptures are written by regular humans who are inspired to live happy and decent lives. It's refreshing in a way, because nobody is claiming to be a god, or God, or God's offspring, or God's favorite. It IS acknowledged as a religion, however, because people live by the philosophy of another, the Buddha, whom they believe in and pray to for help.

Both Buddhism and Hinduism are extremely complex. Whereas Christianity, Judaism, and Islam focus on rebirth and the afterlife, Buddhism and Hinduism focus on being released from it. Hinduism is polytheistic, and as I mentioned before, Buddhism doesn't worship God or gods. They do, however, acknowledge the gods of Hinduism and other religions without prejudice (isn't that nice?) and even respectfully include them in some of their writings.

The best thing about Hinduism class was getting to watch Little Krishna, ha. Cute TV show. There are more differences between Hinduism and Christianity than there are similarities, but Krishna is a strong example of a similarity. He's the chosen one, a miracle child, with powers. It even tells of him being a precocious child who would get in trouble for running off, only to tell his parents that he was busy doing his sacred duty. It's tempting to label him the Christ of the Hindus.

Everyone I've ever met who has ever cited karma does not understand karma. It is not "what goes around comes around". It is the action that produces a result exclusively in the next life. Not this one. If you have a terrible life, they believe you did something terrible in the last one. If you do something terrible in this life, they believe you will reincarnate into a lesser life after this one. In order to believe in karma, you must believe in reincarnation. Full stop. If you have bad karma (actions), the only way to cancel them out is good karma (deeds) and pray that it's enough to redeem yourself. Nobody wants to be reborn...the goal is to cease the curse of reincarnation.

Brace yourselves: Christianity and Islam are almost identical. Most of the same prophets, and even Jesus, are in the Quran. Noah's Ark? In the Quran. Joseph's oppression? In the Quran. It's all there, some stories with minor changes (for example, one of Noah's sons dies in the flood for refusing to follow God). And while I'm on that subject, I will go ahead and say that much of the Old Testament of the Bible and pre-Jesus stories of the Quran, including Noah's Ark, are plagiarized from much earlier writings and tales labeled the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is Assyrian mythology (look it up, if you care that much). The Quran acknowledges Jesus as one of the great prophets, even believing that he was born of virgin Mary, and talks about his teachings in a positive light. The one thing they don't believe is that he is the embodiment of God. That makes a little bit of sense, because in the original scrolls (called the Codex), there is no documentation of Jesus ascending to Heaven to sit at God's right hand. Those verses were added by Mark at a later date, seemingly to make the ending of Jesus' story sound nicer and more complete.

The word Allah is no different than the word Abba, or the word Father, or the word Jehovah. God is Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. He has many names, but he is the same God.

Whereas Christianity stops at Jesus (unless you're Protestant or Mormon, in which case Martin Luther and Joseph Smith are important to you), Islam continues with the prophet Mohammad. Mohammad was a regular man who devoted his life to scripture, and after spending time with a Christian monk, who declared him a prophet, he began to form his own doctrine based on scripture and his supposed direct line with God. He sounds no different than Moses or Jesus when you learn that. He simply isn't acknowledged by Christianity because the Bible had already been written by then. I repeat: a Christian is responsible for Mohammad claiming prophesy.

If you're unaware, King James was an English Episcopal royal who wanted scripture to be rewritten to his specifications, including the dialect. He had things added and removed as he saw fit. Do whatever you like with that information. It was first published in the year 1611.

Martin Luther, a German man who reformed Christianity in the 1500s and is responsible for Protestantism, omitted Mary's book and several other books from the original Codex that he didn't like. I never knew this, but Orthodox and Catholic (the first two Christian denominations) have these books in their Bible. He didn't like the concept of salvation by deeds, so he formed his own doctrine (sound familiar?) and used his status as a professor to teach it to the masses. Opinion: I was raised Protestant, as I've said, but I find it astounding that this man had the nerve to remove parts of the Bible simply because he didn't like it. Perhaps he thought he was above the scripture? I'm only speculating, but it states very clearly at the end of Revelation that if anyone adds or takes away from the book, they will be cursed for eternity. I guess he didn't think that applied to him, but it's there, even in his version.

I don't have much to say about Judaism, and I'm sorry if that's offensive. I'm sure if that offends you, you're already pissed off by previous paragraphs anyway, revolves around Moses, who said God gave him new laws about how to live. He asked people to follow him. And they did.

I also don't know what to say about Mormonism. A guy named Joseph Smith in the 19th century said God gave him new laws about how to live. He asked people to follow him. And they did.

Okie dokie.

Opinion: The problem with religious terrorism is fanaticism. It's not the religion itself, it's the radicalization of the ideals of people who are overboard. Call it obsessive-compulsive disorder if you like. Hyper-religion is indeed a facet of mental illness, but the religion in question is not the problem.

The problem with religion is people. People are control freaks, and they want everyone to think like them, believe like them, look like them, act like them, and be like them. People have egos, and they insist that they're right and anyone who doesn't agree is wrong and is therefore dangerous. To resolve the many, many problems with religion, we would have to first resolve ourselves.

People who are radicalized take an idea or doctrine, interpret it in a bad way, and run with it like a maniac. For example, the Bible says "Go into all the world" and bring the masses into the kingdom so that they may be saved. Radical Christians take it as a fundamentalist (literal) command and pillage other lands, taking ownership of everything and everyone, and forcing Christianity upon them because it's what the book says to do. Except it doesn't. Lunatics are scared, and sometimes, lunatics with money and resources do terrible things because they can. In modern times, people have murdered OBGYNs in the name of Christian beliefs. Tea Party American militant Tim McVey bombed a building, killing over 100 people including a daycare full of innocent babies because he felt threatened by the Feds. They think they're protecting themselves and others.

And obviously, we know other religions do the same. Radical Islamists (Jihad) are militants who think non-Muslims are trying to harm them, so they do everything in their power to take them out before they're taken out. Destroy or be destroyed. They have it in their heads that they're in danger and it is the instinct of humanity to prevent danger even if it means removing the source. It's extreme paranoia by reason that they've seen and heard and read about the infiltration of other cultures and know that other radical religious people are just as serious as they are. The Quran isn't anti-Christian. Lunatics are scared, and unfortunately, they have the money and resources to fuel their twisted ideas.

It's a tremendous delusion to believe that all people in any religion see things this way. The crazies are a minority, but we live in an age where we are enslaved by radicalized media news sources who thrive on our fear, lack of real education, and instinct to outlive the next guy.

Thus, radicals on all sides are obsessed with taking out the others to protect themselves. It's sad and terrible, and it has existed since the beginning of time.

I remember the OKC bombing and 9/11 well and know how scary and infuriating terrorism is. But, I think it's really important to remember that there are billions of people out there that we don't know and never hear about because they are perfectly normal and are simply living their lives.

In summary: an immense amount of discord in the world is the result of misunderstanding and misinformation. I'll go as far as to say that I think if everyone was willing to accept unbiased, non-persuasive education about world religions, there would be far less manipulation and abuse, fewer xenophobes, and a reduction of conflict altogether; not an absolute resolution by any means, but positive change. Too much to ask? Apparently so. But I'm putting that out there.

Thanks for allowing me to share.