Lapham’s Quarterly – Religion

I am not a religious person in the traditional sense. Here in the USA in 2023 it remains that most religious people are part of an institution filled with traditions, rituals and rules. The vast majority subscribe to their faith because their parents and ancestors did and because their community does. The Christian religion aptly identifies them as “sheep” who need a pastor to lead them. They do not take offense to this label because their parents, nor their ancestors did not, it has always been. The majority have not traveled, have not tried to understand the origins and histories of their faith. They simply rely on their pastor to tell them what to think.

Thinking about the hold of religions on much of humanity, I’ve come to the conclusion that at its base, we are all here temporarily, are all going to die and are simply trying to the best of our ability to make sense of what this reality is. The supernatural fills this void with easy to understand answers. As science progresses we find that there are scientific reasons to help explain this reality and so many previous religious answers, such as the earth being the center of the universe, simply stop being used. Maybe one day science will discover “God,” but I believe it will be an infinite rabbit hole, something that our minds cannot comprehend. I think about Indiana Jones and “The Crystal Skull” and how the Russian scientist wanted to understand everything as the ancient alien did. The alien granted her request and it drove her mad being too much that she simply disintegrated.

Although I no longer subscribe to the veracity of religious dogma, I remain fascinated by its history and hold on the human race. The more I learn the more I understand religion is simply man’s way of trying to understand his world. For me, I would say I’m a spiritual person, always seeking, always trying to understand. I study, travel and for the spiritual side do my meditations. Instead of supplications through prayer to the divine I turn inward and use zen meditation to simply ‘be.’

And with that, I was very much looking forward to reading these gold nuggets about religion in this edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. Here are my highlights and notes.

You cannot kill a breeze, a wind, a fragrance; you cannot kill a dream or an ambition. God, manufactured by mortals in their own quintessential image, exists only to make daily life bearable, despite the path that every one of us treads towards extinction. As long as men are obliged to die, some of them, unable to endure the prospect, will concoct fond illusions. We cannot assassinate or kill an illusion. In fact, illusion is more likely to kill us – for God puts to death everything that stands up to him, beginning with reason, intelligence, and the critical mind. All the rest follows in a chain reaction. – From Atheist Manifesto – Michel Onfray

We are all passengers on the way to death. The more I dive into meditation the more I’m surprised at how much we busy ourselves with inconsequential activities. Perhaps we make ourselves so busy so we do not have to contemplate death. For me, I believe we should live life to experience as much as possible, to help others and get the most out of this short existence. We were not alive for the billions of years the universe has been around and we will not be alive for the billions of years after we die. I think it is good practice to take time to contemplate this through meditation on a daily basis to really understand this very short gift of life we’ve been given. It will all be over soon, be mindful of the present and make the best of it.

A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superperpersonal value. – Science and Religion – Albert Einstein

I had to look up “superpersonal” and see it means “a profound sense of meaning and purpose that goes beyond ones own desires and interests.” This is what I try to do through meditation on my own. Religion at its core provides this in a package through structured ritual, tradition and guidance. Unfortunately, I believe like most things manmade it has and will continue to degrade. Furthermore, I don’t believe there needs to be an object such as Jesus or God to be the focus. I think it is miracle enough to look at our own consciousness and instead of directing prayer to an external, supernatural being which has been made up by humanity, it is better to look inward and to others. I think Christianity even eludes to this when they mention the “light” within each of us. Although they do not go so far to say we are part of God but rather a “reflection” which is a safer conclusion in that faith.

The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained the gradual decay of religious faith in a very simple manner. Religious zeal, they said, must necessarily fail, the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately, facts are by no means in accordance with their theory. – Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville

I just mentioned that religion has decayed and glad to see eighteenth century philosophers feel the same way. As Mr. Tocqueville correctly ascertains, the opposite seems to be true, even now in the year 2023. We have universities, libraries, the internet, and now AI; it is the greatest access to human knowledge in the history of mankind. Yet, we now have a speaker of the house, elected by the people who is a zealot. I believe the advance of science and knowledge is frightening to most and so they retreat into the fortress of religion to ease their anxiety. With science, the universe and reality is getting more complex, more incredible and eventually becomes downright scary. People couldn’t handle social media, nor a new disease “COVID,” very well. They will not be able to handle AI, disclosure of aliens, what reality actually is, so they retreat into the safe and secure harbor of religion.

God is a complex of ideas formed by the tribe, the nation, and humanity, which awake and organize social feelings and aim to link the individual to society and to bridle the zoological individualism. – Maxim Gorky

The foundation of irreligious criticism is this: man makes religion; religion does not make man. Religion is, in fact, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet gained himself or has lost himself again. – A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right – Karl Marx

Would it not be hard upon a little girl, who is busy in dressing up a favorite doll, to pull it to pieces before her face in order to show her the bits of wood, the wool, and rags it is composed of? So it would be hard upon that great baby, the world, to take any of its idols to pieces and show that they are nothing but painted wood. – On the Spirit of Monarchy – William Hazlitt

Indeed. There are so many idols of worship in the world: idols made of clay, of wood, of stone, they may look different but almost all deities are shown as humans. It is in our own arrogance that we depict the divine in likeness of ourselves. How could we not?

Yemanjá, the gentle mother goddess of the oceans, who dresses in blue and white, is the Virgin Mary – in her incarnation as the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, who wears the same colors.

I highlighted this because I discovered who Yemanjá is while metal detecting and wrote a post about it. Interesting to learn that under the suppression of the Christian religion African slaves were not allowed to worship their native gods. So, they just disguised them as Christian gods with Yemanjá becoming the Virgin Mary.

Creeks and summits are brilliant at sunset.
I laze in a boat, my way in the wind’s hands.

Watching wild landscapes I forget distance
and come to the water’s edge.

Grazing at lovely far woods and clouds
I guess I’ve lost my way.

How could I know this lucid stream
would turn, leading me into mountains?

I abandon my boat, pick up a light staff
and come upon something wonderful,

four or five old monks in contemplation,
enjoying the shade of pines and cypresses.

Before the forest dawns they read Sanskrit.
Their nightly meditation quiets the peaks.

Here even shepherd boys know the Dao.
Woodcutters bring in worldly news.

They sleep at night in the woods
with incense, on mats clean as jade.

Their robes are steeped in valley fragrances;
the stone cliffs shine under a mountain moon.

I fear I will lose this refuge forever
so at daybreak I fix it in my mind.

People of the Peach Tree Spring, goodbye.
I’ll be back when flowers turn red.

Wang Wei, an untitled poem

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly: That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions, or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess – and by argument to maintain – their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. – The Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom – Thomas Jefferson.

Somebody needs to tell our current congressman (Republicans) about this. Especially the speaker of the house.

On contemplating our blindness and wretchedness, on observing the whole of the silent universe and humanity with no light abandoned to itself, lost in this nook of the universe not knowing who put us there, what we have come to achieve, or what will become of us when we die, incapable of all knowledge, I become frightened, like someone taken in his sleep to a terrifying, deserted island who wakes up with no knowledge of what has happened, and no means of escape. At that point I am astonished that we do not despair at so wretched a state. I see others around me whose nature is the same as mine, and I ask them if they are better informed than I am. They say they are not.

This is fantastic. In one simple paragraph it sums up the situation we’re all in. Religion makes up answers and I’d say that regarding science we’re about the level of a 1st grader in understanding what reality and the universe actually is. I’ve started to lean towards the idea that we’re living in a simulation. We’re in a greatly advanced computer where nothing exists until it is observed. There is no external reality outside of our perception. But then this begs the question, if the advanced civilization that created this simulation are in a simulation themselves? Maybe there infinite simulations, one inside another without end like putting a mirror up to a mirror? And even if we somehow got to the end, what is the origin of it all? That would be what we call God but then what created God? I believe the truth is incomprehensible to us.

Then these wretched, lost people, having looked around and seen some agreeable enough objects gave themselves to them and became attached to them. For my part I have not been able to find such an attachment, and considering how much more probable it is that there is something more that I cannot see, I have sought to find whether this God has not left some mark of himself.

Perhaps this ‘mark’ is the energy that is found when science looks at reality in the smallest scale possible. Everything is inherently energy, but is that really a true mark? Or again, are we in a simulation? Or perhaps our senses are extremely limited and we simply cannot perceive the truth?

If there is a God, he is infinitely beyond our comprehension, since, having neither parts nor limits, he bears to relation to ourselves. We are therefore incapable of knowing either what he is, or if he is. That being so, who will dare to undertake a resolution of this question? It cannot be us, who bear no relationship to him.
– Pensées – Blaise Pascal

Spain – 1513 – Juan López de Palacios Rubios, from Requerimiento. Conquistadores were required to carry a copy of this statement and read it aloud to the American natives they encountered. As a lawyer and jurist, Rubios found fault with the barbarous breaches of European civil society, among them promiscuity and domestic matriarchy.

This is a declaration that basically everything belongs to the king of Spain and sets down rules. Basically, the Spaniards show up with a powerful army and says all you have is ours now. It was barbaric and as much as I love Spain, their colonial legacy is one of poverty, and a religion that offers no relief except for make believe hope.

Excerpts from “Church & State in America – by Elisabeth Sifton

By 1776, however, a century and a half after the landing at Plymouth Rock, what do we find? George Washington went to church infrequently and rarely took Communion. Benjamin Franklin was suspicious of all organized religion. John Adams wrote to Jefferson in 1815, “The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?” James Madison believed that an established religion – a church whose doctrines were guaranteed and enforced by state law – did harm both to religion and to free government, and he found it abhorrent to imagine God being twisted to fit political expediency: this was, he said, to throw religion to the wolves.

This is shocking to read given the conservative swing towards religion that is currently happening in the US government. Republicans try so hard to convince everyone that the US is a ‘Christian land.’ This is false and all one has to do is read select writings from the founders. Republicans (and Democrats too) lie and have gone completely off the rails.

Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government instituted to secure and perpetuate it needs them not.” Nearly fifty years later, having experienced these issue firsthand as president (1809-1817), Madison remained steadfast in a letter written to Reverend Jasper Adams in 1832

It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.

Again, leave religion out of government. We have the basic doctrine of Separation of Church and State for a reason. Republicans are doing their best to try and override this using religion to gain votes from a populace that is terrified of the pace of change happening with technology and in society.

In his sustained political opposition to even a hint of an established church, Madison was joined by his great collaborator Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had another worry on this point: he hated the very idea of enforced uniformity of opinion, or coerced belief, and he rightly associated church-state alliances with it. In 1782, he wrote in Notes on Virgina:

Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men, men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public resons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature … Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion … Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity.

Agreed. When religion gets too strong it never works out well for the populace. Freedoms are restricted, people killed and it is generally a dark time. One need only look at any example current or past to see this. Religion needs to be kept in check and away from government. It is just too tempting to pull that lever when politicians do not have much else to go on.

To my mind the finest modern expression of it can be found in Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 opinion – written when wartime pressures to conform to America’s patriotic ideal were predictably strong – that struck down a law requiring the uniform recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette); this passage from it ends with one of the greatest sentences in all of American jurisprudence:

Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the state or of the nature of origin of its authority. We set up the government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent … If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith theirin.

END of excerpts from Church & State in America

Currently patriotism has been tied to Christianity as a way to win votes. Not saying the Pledge of Allegiance or kneeling to the Star Spangled Banner is anathema to the Right Wing. It is well and good to be proud of your country but using nationalism as a main marker of identity, especially against others is pretty low. Current identity markers of the right include nationalism, religion and skin color all of which none of them consciously selected or strived to attain. It is something they already had.

Begin excerpts from “The Courtesy of God” by Garret Keizer

Lacking the credentials, say that entitle any expert on a nanolayer of slime covering a pebble called earth to give us the complete skinny on absolute being, a hubris beside which the nitwit ruling of a Kansas school board seems cautiously understated, I want questions better suited to my pay grade.

The more “primitive” the Christianity, the less prominent the devil. Judiasm, which Christians of the past and present fancy themselves beyond, is so primitive it hardly pays any attention to him at all. Golems, okay, but a master of metaphysical evil? “With such a son-in-law, I should need a Satan?” For the fourth and fifth-century Christian hermits known as the desert fathers, the devil was real enough, but seems to have been something on the order of crabgrass or computer spam – nasty to be sure but perfectly manageable if you kept after it.

Notice the quick slide to self-reference: the mark of religion at its lowest common denominator, blessme, blessme, blessme, like that scoundrel Jacob in the Bible, or whyme, whyme, whyme, like that complainer Job.

Yet among those who would gleefully sign the papers for my committal are individuals who will tell you that it’s possible for a capitalist society to produce a healthcare system in which making many people well can and will take precedence over making a few people rich. They have their magical thinking, I have mine.

END excerpts from The Courtesy of God.

This is wonderful. I noticed the “blessme blessme blessme,” part after I had separated from the church and went to mass with my mother. For perhaps the first time in my life I listened intently to the mass and what was being said. I was astounded that the priest was telling God, what he should know and what he should do. Do this God, bless us God, forgive us God, and so on. The whole thing was a supplication ending with a sacrifice. Modern audiences would squirm at sacrificing a live animal so it has been changed to a piece of bread and chalice of wine that ‘represents’ body and blood. What a very odd ritual indeed when thinking about it critically.

The Taliban’s demonic and demonizing attitude toward women represents merely the most current extreme manifestation of the grotesque misogyny fostered throughout history by religion and patriarchal tribal culture. – The Original Sin by Francine Prose.

We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. – Bertrand Russell

Unlike the ruthlessly intellectual Ivan, the common people want to worship, not understand, and the Church’s traditional combination of miracle working, a cloak of mystery and enigma, and an authority which appeals to no purely rational foundation, graciously allows them veneration. The Grand Inquisitor understand, as he is sure God does not, just how weak and wretched human beings are. His love consists of protecting them in their frailty, not sadistically rubbing their noses in it. – Reconsideration: “The Grand Inquisitor” by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Freedom by Necessity by Terry Eagleton.

In summary, looking at religion critically is fascinating when we realize how much of a hold on humanity it has. It is all magic and superstition, something that should have been left behind in ancient times. I concede that the search for the answers to this reality is a noble one, but the various religions are not hitting the mark and the majority of them are a decayed remnant of what they were originally. Religion today is a tool for population control. If we look at the origin of Christianity historical scholars are starting to agree that Constantine adopted the religion to bring more people under his control. As the myth goes, he saw a cross in the sky which was painted on his soldiers shields and armor which helped him win the battle of the Milvian Bridge. However, if we look at Constantine’s Arch commemorating the battle there isn’t one cross or reference to Christianity. One would think that if the story were true the cross would be prominently displayed. Instead we find references to other religions such as the god Mithra. It is amazing to think that this story basically ensured that the western world would adopt Christianity, when the real reason was simply to convert more people to his side. When scrutinizing the origins of religion they seem to all fall apart into superstition and myth.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/