by Ray Jason
A handsome catamaran recently docked near my lovely sailboat. The captain is Russian and his wife is Turkish. They have two children, and although they are too young for passports, I suspect that they are from the Kingdom of Joy. That’s because all day long they spread their laughter and happiness throughout the marina. Whether it is riding their tiny bicycles or fishing with their parents or trying to learn how to swim, their vibrant innocence delights and comforts me.
It has also inspired me. The essay that I had been working on seemed lost in a mental labyrinth. It deals with the immense subject of religion, and it had become too big and too confused. But then a wave and a smile from the two kids suddenly made me realize that I should narrow my focus, and concentrate on religion and children.
The Ultimate Terror
Witnessing the carefree exuberance of these youngsters, bequeaths me both joy and sorrow. I am happy that they live so effortlessly in the ecstasy of the moment, and that their youth shields them from the woes of the world. But I am sad that all around the world hundreds of millions of children are having such blissful contentment sacrificed on the altar of hell.
How do we not understand that churches that preach hellfire are the most evil terrorist organizations on the planet? The worst that a political enemy can do is torture and murder a person. At least that victim’s suffering ends with their death. But if a Christian fails to abide by certain rules, they are supposedly doomed to eternal fire and damnation. And if a person is NOT a Christian, they too are sentenced to endless fiery agony.
If such a virulent dogma was imposed on people when they arrived at adulthood, at least they would have enough life experience to evaluate it. But forcing such a terrifying vision on an unknowing child is so repellant that I can’t find a word for it – oh wait, here’s a good one – DESPICABLE.
Consider for a moment, the child-raising process. Human nurturing revolves around the parents steadily and incrementally passing along life-lessons to their offspring. The kids learn that snakes can be deadly, that deep water can drown them and that fire can kill them. As this knowledge is passed along to the children, a bond of trust is established. So when the parents claim that there is this horrible place called hell, where bad people suffer eternal torture, the child believes that as well.
And so their world, which had been such a magical, immediate, constantly unfolding realm of wonder, is suddenly darkened and poisoned by the horror of hell. Destroying the innocence, optimism and joy of youth with such a doctrine is an indisputable act of terror!
But even more appalling is the fact that it is also an act of deceit. There is utterly no way that a parent or a priest or even a pope can absolutely know that there is a hell. And yet they proclaim that this is the case. When someone insists that something is true, even though they cannot prove it, that person is telling a lie.
And how do the hellfire spreaders defend such a perverse dogma? They insist that without the threat of eternal incineration, these children would not behave themselves. And yet the huge portion of the world that is not hypnotized by hellfire religions, such as the Hindus, Buddhists and non-believers, do not rampage around the planet wreaking havoc upon it. Even though nobody is screaming at them from a pulpit with threats of devils and pitchforks, these people manage to behave with decency and compassion.
So this is my first example of how religion is profoundly harmful to children – it mutilates the innocence and wonder of youth with the terror of a hell whose existence cannot even be proven.
Morality Does Not Need Religion
One of the common defenses of religion is that it is the keystone that keeps the arch of morality from collapsing in ruin. This is a preposterous claim that is easy to disprove. There were about 10,000 generations of humanity that preceded the appearance of the sky god monotheisms that dominate today’s religious landscape – or should that be battlefield? Without any commandments from Hebraic gods, these people managed to discover enough moral principles to not destroy each other and thus they carried on the human line.
Furthermore, throughout history there have been hundreds of other religions that arose, prospered, declined and disappeared. As each of these disintegrated there was no widespread chaos and carnage even though their ethical precepts had vanished.
Moral knowledge - the awareness of the difference between right and wrong - is innate in all of us. We do not need priests or mullahs or rabbis to reveal it to us. The revered “ten commandments” are a perfect example of this. Four of them are just a megalomaniacal insistence on reverence toward one particular god and the other six are essentially self-evident. Any New Guinea hunter- gatherer has figured out these things without the need for stone tablets.
Rather than being essential to morality, I find that religion is actually a keystone of immorality. For decades I have been arguing that the most far-reaching way to improve the world is to replace religion with “BASIC HUMAN DECENCY.” Consider this short list of things that you cannot do in the name of basic human decency, but that you can do in the name of Jesus or Mohammed:
· Suicide bombings
· Book burnings
· Holy wars
· Female oppression
· Homosexual bigotry
· Ethnic cleansing
· Unwanted children
· Demonization of scientists
One of the main reasons that religion is such a malignant rather than benign force, is because it immediately allied itself with the kings and pharaohs after the arrival of so-called human civilization. During pre-Agriculture, in the long Paleolithic hunter-gatherer era, there was no hierarchal division of rulers and ruled. But when Neolithic agriculture provided food surpluses and then division of labor this also initiated what I call “division of importance.” In simple terms, this means a society comprised of a tiny elite of dominant people and a huge mass of subordinate people.
Those that ascended to the top of the political class tended to be the most ruthless and immoral. And since religious leaders wanted to be the handmaiden of these pitiless demagogues, they camouflaged their immoral deeds with moral platitudes. They had already sold their souls even as they were claiming that their mission was to save souls.
As I sit with my back against the mast, finishing this essay, the two beautiful children come scurrying past. A few steps behind them are their parents who are carrying tiny swimming goggles and life jackets. As they disappear down the dock this little scene of happiness somehow inverts itself in my mind’s eye. And I realize that halfway around the world there are two other parents sobbing in almost unbearable agony as they hold their dead child in their arms. Ten minutes earlier she had been the joy and blessing of their lives – a bundle of sunshine in human form.
I wonder on which of the current killing fields of the Holy Land this sad event is unfolding. Is it Gaza, where one religion opposes another? Or is it Iraq where the carnage is even more perverse - since it is warring sects of the same religion?
I quietly curse all of the senseless, cruel tragedy of life as I sit here pondering it from the evening of my years. And then I wonder about the future of those precious children on the nearby boat, who are only in the daybreak of their years. Will their twilight decades see a planet that has been purged of this evil force? Will their children get to savor a new golden dawn emancipated from this curse which has caused so much horror and suffering down the centuries?
I will not pray for this … but I will yearn for it … and I will work for it!