The Essence of Religion PART IV
“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7).
Another oft quoted passage from the Bible that we might consider here is John 8:7. It is often quoted, but – unfortunately - it is very rarely heeded, even by those who have quoted it. We are just so quick to use it against one another in an argument, but we forget to apply it ourselves. It makes perfect sense to follow the section on love and hatred with a short discussion on the blatant hypocrisy of moralizing. Morality, and especially religious morality based on senseless theological fictions, has been a most efficacious weapon of hatred. This weapon has inflicted so much pain, produced so much misery, and taken so many lives that it simply must be addressed. It is this weapon - and the suffering that it commands - that makes life a living hell on earth. With morality, we have convinced ourselves – time and again - that even the most inhumane atrocities were acceptable. With morality, we convince ourselves that, “they deserved it” never once stopping to wonder whether or not our particular brand of morality was wrong. Religious morality is the worst of it, in that religious morality is often based on spurious beliefs and absurd theological speculations which are altogether unassailable by reason.
Thus, let us consider the meaning of this passage in light of our all-too-prevalent tendency to condemn others for what we consider to be immoral. This passage is meant as a challenge to all would-be moralizers. It puts the question to us: which man amongst us is so pure and unstained that he has any right, whatsoever, to play the part of a moral judge? Which man amongst us, even, meets his own standard of morality? If we are honest with ourselves, no man would step forward. We have all made mistakes, we all make mistakes, and we will all continue to make mistakes until we learn better in due course of time. It is not the place of men to go around as many moral judges when we are all, more or less, immoral ourselves. This is hypocrisy. This senseless moralizing, this quick and unthinking condemnation, is a matter of hatred.
The Fear of God
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
In other words, love and fear are not consonant. Fear is an expression of hatred – and where there is hatred, there can be no love. As such, that popular religious locution, “the fear of God”, is utterly senseless. It is just as well to say, “the hatred of God”, for what man loves what he fears? Now there is an example of blasphemy made plain for all to see – the handiwork of our beloved theologians.
For all the religious hatred or, more precisely, religiously motivated hatred, there is in the world today, there are only two truly defensible religious freedoms: the freedom to believe and the freedom to practice. The freedom to believe is such that every man, woman, and child is free to believe – or not – whatsoever they will, insofar as this does not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. The freedom to practice is such that every man, woman, and child is free to practice – or not – howsoever they will, insofar as this does not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. If we could see fit to honor these two religious freedoms – the only truly defensible religious freedoms – we would be spared much unnecessary suffering. Why should we hate each other over such trifling differences in belief and practice? Can we not see that each and every individual, as an individual, must – of necessity – follow his own path? Even those who have no faith are walking their own path. There are many paths, but only one destination. As it has been said:
“For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
As free, and not using your liberty as a cloke for maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Peter 2:15-16).
In other words, our freedom is not to be used to infringe upon the freedoms of others – that is unlawful.
The Purpose of Religion
The purpose of religion is tripartite: to promote the idea of brotherhood, to ennoble its adherents, and to inspire acts of goodwill.
The first and foremost purpose is, undoubtedly, the most important: to promote the idea of brotherhood – or, put another way, to promote the message of Christos. As it has been said:
“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11).
According to Christos, the formless Essence of Religion is brotherly love, plain and simple. It is the purpose of religion to bring people together. It is the purpose of religion to help realize right human relations. As it has been said:
“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:” (1 Peter 3:8).
“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).
“And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided amongst yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving Clear Signs: For them is a dreadful penalty” (3.103-105, Qur’an).
Properly understood, the above statement indicates the Essence of Religion and its primary first and foremost purpose: to unite us. It is, in truth, no exhortation to one form of religion or another despite its appearance; rather, it is a statement indicating that love, unity, and brotherhood is the way. God, Allah, or whatsoever you wish to call him, is the very love which unites us. This is the sign that is being shown here, and yet how many will see it? This is the message that ought to be proclaimed at every point of the globe, and yet how many will do so? All men are the “Children of God”; all men are brothers under God. Every man, woman, and child of every race, class, and creed. There are no exceptions. There are no special cases. The belief in exceptions and special cases is little more than masked hatred.
The second purpose is to ennoble its adherents. According to Christos, the Essence of Religion, love, inspires in us a will to become better men. As our hearts and minds are turned towards love - the source and wellspring of all that is good, right, and just – we instinctively begin to strive to orient ourselves ever more towards that all-embracing love, just as much as flowers strive to orient themselves ever more towards the nourishing light of the sun. We cannot help it, for all life is attracted to what is good; likewise, in being attracted to what is good, we are made to repulse what is evil.
It is here that the importance of disciplines, or practices, become significant. Prior to the discovery of the Essence of Religion, that which lies at the heart of ever faith, disciplines are more or less empty rituals. They are performed because they are prescribed and not because it is a need to do so. The man who has fixed his mind and heart upon love is so moved to discipline himself that he will go out seeking discipline. He is moved to go out and seek a discipline that is right for him. He is moved to orient himself towards the good, right, and just. The purpose of these disciplines is to cultivate one’s character. It matters not what it is, only that it is consonant with his distinctly unique nature. God cares not, but rather smiles down upon the man for he exhibits true faithfulness. He was not forced to discipline by ill-founded beliefs, nor was he forced to grovel at the feet of God for fear of misery, but rather because he chooses love, unity, and brotherhood. After all, what matter is it how one prays, where one prays, when one prays – is it not more important what one feels in prayer? It is entirely possible for a man to pray correctly in form, but without heart. It is love that makes it genuine. The quality is important, not the ritualized form. If your prayer is devoid of love, then it is nothing but an empty performance: the appearance of faithfulness.
Thanks for your time,
END OF PART IV - See PART V