–There is only one God and one Truth. These are our God and His Truth. Everybody else is fatally wrong and they will suffer for their sins. We are the only ones to be saved.
Who told me this? Was he a Buddhist? Mmm, no. With a different wording, Buddhists told me the same thing in Luang Prabang (Laos), in 2006, and in Kumbum (Tibet), in 2008. Was he a Hindu? No, Kali Hindus told me this in Nasik (India), and Krsna Hindus did it in Varanasi, both times in 2005. Nor was he a Sikh, because that happened in Amritsar (Punjab), in the same year. He wasn’t an Evangelical pastor, this guy said that to me in Kashgar (Xinjiang), last year, and another one did recently in Kampala (Uganda). Nor was he a Jew, this old Haredi man “taught” me this last November in Jerusalem. Of course, he wasn’t a Catholic: I’ve been hearing this in Mexico since I could understand language, and more so now, when fundamentalists have a big say in our government.
No, he was a Muslim. Not the first one, I’ve been reminded of the obvious Truth of Islam in many countries, from Xi’an to Madrid, with stops in Iran, Syria and Kenya. And as so many others, from all religions, this pious man from Cairo who spoke to me this morning, could not accept that people from every faith believe that theirs is the only divine one, that all the others are infidel and wrong. They, as this Egyptian friend, present as the very only evidence of their statements the visible truth of their word.
To my eyes, religion distorts and manipulates people’s faith. Some say that, without religion, we would still be living under the law of the jungle, that religion has given us moral and ethics. They rush to dismiss the humanity’s ability to develop and teach herself moral and ethics. This is false, and as an ancient, massive and living evidence of this I provide Confucianism, a strict philosophical doctrine without a God that has ruled the lives of hundreds of millions of Asians since long before Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism were invented.
One of the perverse things of religions is that, as they give you a moral and an ethics that you should always follow, they also give you the very only valid “reason” for which you should burn, steal, rape, hurt and kill: for the sake of religion. Religion teaches you that you should restrain yourself and respect your neighbour, life, property, nature. That’s good. But it also tells you that, when God is enraged (and it is the men of religion who will tell you when is it that He is enraged), you should kill by sword and fire, and that you shouldn’t feel remorse or regret for this: you are justified because God is with you. Don’t think, don’t feel, just obey His divine word and find satisfaction in that. (Perhaps with the sole exception of Buddhism, but Buddhist monks were behind many bloody Tibetan wars, as they were behind brutal slavery until just half a century ago.)
I’ve seen the rage of God in several countries. Or rather, the rage of people who thought they were acting on behalf of God.
Not all religious people are like that, of course. I have a deep respect for religious people who, in turn, show respect for others. For the others who believe in something different. And for the others who don’t believe. Sometimes I think that these kind of religious people are not exactly religious, but rather people who have managed to live their faith apart from the perverse call of religion. Many of them, though, will tell me that they feel religious themselves, and I’m no one to tell them they are wrong.
So let’s talk of organised or institutional religions, then, whose shortcomings, evildoings and contradictions are there for those who won’t close their eyes. Religion is something far too delicate to be touched by the hands of mortals, but it can’t be spared from them because it was created by mortals.
A recent example comes with the latest scandals of paedophilia within the Catholic church. The Pope wrote a kind of apology letter to the Irish people, which fell far short of satisfying the victims, as they publicly stated. The papal spokesman, Federico Lombardi, denounced an anti-Catholic plot and complained that the Vatican is being unfairly mistreated for this matter, for peadophilia is as common within the Church as it is in any other human institution. Is he accepting that the Church is as low and worldly as a rugby team or a State-run orphanage? Does the Church want to be held to the same standards as any other organisation? As The Economist magazine stated: “That sits oddly with the Church’s claim to represent God on Earth and with the trust and respect it expects from the faithful, particularly from children (exemplified in the priestly title: ‘Father’)”. From The Economist too: “If you preach absolute moral values, you will be held to absolute moral standards”.
But religions are not self-critical. They can’t be, as each of them claims to be in exclusive possession of the God’s Truth, and God is perfect.
The fact is that religions, in their institutional forms, are mere human creations based on myth and legend, with no real arguments to pretend to have a better truth than any other human explanation of existence. They sustain themselves in their own sayings, no more. Still, they tend to meddle with other people’s lives, they dismiss everybody else and, thus, they justify and provide the moral ground for their faithful to abuse others.
I think that believers on this or that, and non-believers, would live together and understand each other a lot better without the heavy pressure of institutional religions. It is inflamed Hindu priests who demand the faithful to burn mosques. It was Shinto Buddhist monks who conforted the Japanese soldiers who launched Chinese babies to the air only to pin them with their bayonettes in Nanjing. It is passionate Evangelical pastors who campaign to apply death penalty to gay people in Uganda. It is Shia Muslim ayatollahs who demand to execute young Iranians for expressing dissident ideas. It is Sunni Muslim clerics who call to kill all infidels. It is curly Jewish rabbis who promote the anhiliation of Gaza people and call Orthodox Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to stop the occupation of thy neighbour’s land. It was revered Catholic military priests who accompanied and gave moral support to the believers when they tortured innocents to death in Franco’s Spain and in Videla’s Argentina. It is also pious Mexican Catholic clergymen who are promoting legislation to send women to jail, the very victims of rape who have had to go through clandestine abortions. We don’t forget.
Yes, I know. There are also enlightened ayatollahs, rabbis, priests, monks, imams. But their good work doesn’t make up for the evildoings of the institutions they belong to.
There is no need for that, people should be able to gather to pursue their beliefs without an institution ruling and exercising power over them. Because at the end of the day, that’s what religions are: huge power mechanisms, with a strong tendency to invade other people’s lives. And for that, we have more than enough with our politicians and generals: let’s at least disposses them of the religious arguments they use to justify their wrongdoings. Evil should never be done in the name of God. Anymore.