Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Religions must be intellectually honest.
By John de Waal.

According to scientists, we humans appeared as a separate species about 2-3 million years ago and went through various recognizable stages of development, from Australopithecus to Homo habilis, Homo erectus and finally to Homo sapiens or “the thinking man” about 130,000 years ago. The verses of the Vedas of India can be traced back about 14,000 years and the Bible about half that time. Thus the religion of the Jewish people would probably be about 7,000 years old, the Christian religion more or less 2,000 years and Islam even less than that. I can be fairly said that ‘religion’ in the broadest sense has been around for only .01% of the time that humans have been on Earth (14,000/2,500,000) and is a new phenomenon.

The development of religion seems to be a function of the development of our ability to imagine things. It probably came about when our natural leaders, those that led the hunt in our hunting and gathering days, found a need to explain the various events of nature: lighting, storms, earth-quakes, volcanoes, plagues, drought, or long winters that frightened their followers. Initially each of these phenomena was assigned its own god. Then, as our mental evolution continued to develop, we went from many gods to one god and, as in the case of Buddhism etc. to no god.

Up until the time of Copernicus, about 450 years ago, and Galileo a little later, most people on Earth believed that we were the center of the Universe. However, the latter’s telescopes proved that that wasn’t so. It was clear to these early scientists that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, but that it was just the other way around and that we even had company. Then Mr. Newton gave us the reasons how it is that the various planets and moons do not fall in on each other.

As science developed further, we discovered that there are many more stars, like our sun, in the universe, in fact, that there are many more universes in addition to our own and that we are somewhere in a remote area of all this celestial stuff. When Einstein and his Theory of Relativity took away our “privileged reference frame”, while Darwin already had shown us how we developed like any of the other species on earth, and while we are probing the areas of our solar system - peering at other systems and other universes - it is clear that, in a cosmological sense, humans are not very important, but we are unique in that we have yet to find life elsewhere. However, in time we may be able to do that too, provided that we do not wipe ourselves out first through the destruction of our ozone layer in our haste to get rich, due to global warming resulting from irresponsible ways of life, or bombing ourselves into nothingness with thermonuclear devices triggered by the zealots with religious differences who lead us.

Religions have been fighting advances in knowledge, ostensibly because scientific findings do not agree with the “Word of God” as written down in their primitive Scriptures, but more likely because science threatens their power. When stories, such as Adam and Eve, virgin births, etc. are exposed as children’s tales with no truth to them, the fear of God is difficult to sustain.

However, religions should not feel threatened because they perform, or could perform, important functions. They should take a new look at their approach to the human communion and help us become more completely human. Religions can recognize and promote human tenderness and compassion, and make love of others easier. Religions should explore the realities of life and help us meet those realities with greater courage. It is time that religions be intellectually honest with us, and be done with myths and superstitions. If we need role models, let they be supplied by men and women who are consciously engaged upon a life which they consecrate through their own efforts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's only one universe that we're aware of but many galaxies. In your blog, I think your interchanging the two terms FYI...