Written on Nov 03, 2010 By Dan O'Connor

Religion is mostly about crowd control-Part one

Soulbuilders is not about religion.

I am not here to tell you about your faith. But, I think it is imperative that we take a look at religion and how it affects our lives.

Before we start you need to know my bias. We all have a bias. We cannot avoid it. There is no such thing as a completely neutral stance. The things that shaped out thinking early on are with us always.  We are not necessarily slaves to our early conditioning but nether can we completely escape it.

I grew up in an Irish-Catholic household. I spent the first 8 years of my schooling in Catholic schools. I changed to public schools when we moved to Texas in the 8th grade. But, I continued to attend CCD (Catholic Christian Doctrine) classes through high school. Also during this time in both Catholic and public schools I was very active in the Boy Scout program. There can be no doubt that the strict environment of the Catholic schools and the guiding principles of the scouting program shaped me in profound ways.

This is not to say that I was a model child.

As an alter boy, there was the incident with the wine before Mass for instance. As well as the time I fell through the ceiling of the scout hall.

Also during these formative years I was reading huge amounts of books on a wide variety of subjects.
It was here, at the juncture of strict Catholic dogma and freely accessible alternative viewpoints, that conflict raised its  beautiful/ugly head. In High school I had many a heated discussion with the priest who taught CCD.

Two things set me down the path of a heretic:

1) Greek Mythology
2) Polio

Included with our set of Colliers encyclopedias were bonus books. One was simply labeled “Mythology”. This book stayed on my headboard and I read it over and over before sleeping. I was a shy kid and like many shy people the world over I craved attention (still do in fact). If  I could have the great powers of the mythological gods like Thor than everybody (girls) would be so impressed with me I would be famous.

But also in these stories were everyday people and children who believed whole heartedly in these “gods”. Being of superior knowledge and intellect of course I dismissed these people as ignorant and ill informed. After all, how could anybody with any intelligence believe in a group of gods living on the top of a mountain that played games with the people of the world-Ludicrous. I mean what evidence did they have that could possibly support this idea. They simply believed it because they did not know any better and people they loved, respected and trusted told them it was so.

Not like my religion were I believed it because————because——–because———–

People I loved, respected and trusted told me it was so.

Now, obviously it was not  that clear cut and objective but you get the picture.

Okay, maybe you can see the transition taking place in the above narrative.

But Polio?????

As a child in the 1950′s  polio was still an active problem. An older cousin was crippled for life with it and children I knew were afflicted with varying degrees of severity. I remember adults discussing it. They wondered why God would visit such a terrible thing on small children. In the same breath they would say of course it must all be part of God’s plan and who are we to question it.

Then as history tells it, Jonas Salk came up with a vaccine in 1955 and Sabin an oral vaccine in 1962. Because polio cannot exist out of a  human these two vaccines have virtually eliminated the virus.

So, did these vaccines disrupt God’s plan? If so how could anything disrupts God’s plan? After all was he not all powerful?

I am sure that many of you have had similar experiences. I am not going to recount the long process of my movement away from organized religion, but you can see, to some extent, where my bias lies.

However, there can be no question the value that religion can bring to the human experience. Religion as we know it began in what has been called the axial age (900-200 BCE). It is called the Axial age because it was a pivotal time in our history where there was  a great spiritual, philosophical and intellectual awakening. It was during this time that the great traditions of the world arose. Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Philosophical Rationalism in Greece and Monotheism in Israel.

In part,these came about in response to the incredible violence that was taking place at the time.  It was ,in fact, a rejection of the idea that might makes right.  Advances in weapon technology and the advent of the horse and chariot had brought about very efficient killing societies.
Because of this, strong groups could live by taking from others. That as long as they and their immediate “tribe” benefited, it mattered little what violence they visited on “outsiders”. It was the time, more so than others, of the predators and anyone was fair game. This behavior has been a part of human existence for eons and remains with us still. But it was particularly violent during this era.

Kill or be eaten

In the world of the African lion, the male or a pair of males constantly patrol their territory fending of other males. If you are a particularly strong individual or pair you may hold your ground for 3-4 years. But in the end younger, stronger, males will depose you, brutally kill and maybe eat all of your young children and have sex with your women.

This may work to evolve stronger, smarter lions but there is not much here to recommend it for building a cohesive, cooperative society.

All across much of the world Intellectuals, philosophers, mystics and yes, downright crackpots stood up and said :


Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all Monotheistic religions. They espouse the idea that there is only one, all powerful God for all people. However, Christianity with its confusing idea of the Holy Trinity (I never understood it) is walking a fine line in the One God world.

They are all also Abrahamic religions. That is, they trace their  beginnings back to a figure known as Abraham. According to accounts in the Qur’an, Torah and Bible, he was the first to put forth the idea of “One God”.

But it was not always so.

. At the time, the people living in the Fertile Crescent believed in a whole pantheon of gods.
Yahweh was more  or less a god of war and conquest but other gods had their duties. Bael for example was the god of harvest and growth. Apparently Yahweh won out but it was not a smooth transition. After all, maybe he could fight a good battle but could he put bread on the table and wine in a cup?

Plus, later different gods were for different peoples. Yahweh became the God for the early Israelites. Dagon was the God for the Philistines. It was important to have a tough warlike God on your side. It didn’t matter how strong you were, if your God could not defeat your enemy’s God- you where simply out of luck.

God help me!

This is the basic concepts of many peoples toward God or gods. It is the gods job to help us when we cannot. Many things are out of our control but somebody or something must be in control. If we can just maintain he, she, its favor than our life will be much easier and more importantly, we will be favored with a heavenly existence after we die.

How do we maintain this favor? By following all the rules set forth by our “God”.

I call this the Santa “Clause”.

Hang on for part 2


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