Tuesday, 1 December 2009

I Think Therefore I Am Right!

I apologise to Renee Descartes for misquoting his famous dictum. I am prompted to write about this subject because I have been reflecting upon the influence on human moral and spiritual evolution of the lack of tolerance. As in most areas of human activity, the evidence is not wholly convincing one way or the other. What can I mean by that? Surely all intolerance is, of its very nature, bad?

The difficulty I have in distinguishing good from bad in this area is that physical, mental, moral and spiritual evolution must be considered as a whole. A change in one has an effect on the others. For instance, the growth in material wellbeing, particularly in the western world, has produced leisure that many people have been able to use to improve their minds and to devote time to improving the lot of those less fortunate than themselves. At the same time it has made it possible for politicians and industrialists etc., to feed their growing greed for power and the domination of others. So on the one hand we have extended humanity’s desire and ability to be more charitable, whilst on the other hand subjecting whole populations to misery and even starvation through the unthinking and purely selfish exploitation of natural resources and the unbridled use of terrifying weapons.

Terrible though some of the consequences have been in the area of global economic development, those in the area of religion have been in many ways greater because of the way they have narrowed humanity’s mental outlook. Though today, many people in the world are at best agnostic and look upon religion as being something primitive for which modern humanity has no need, the evidence does not support this view. Religion is of all human institutions, one that is firmly rooted in ideas but because those ideas have in religion, been given the added strength of mysticism, which in many instances is an excuse for closed minds, their impact has and continues to be enormous. Its impact upon global politics and economics is as great if not greater today than at any time in human history. As has periodically been the case for over a thousand years, there is competition and therefore conflict between those political systems based upon Christianity and those based on Islam. The conflict has been made much worse by economic factors. Would there be nearly so much Christian/ Muslim conflict were oil not such a vital natural resource?

Throughout human history, religion has been used by rulers to dominate and subjugate the population. Ancient Egypt holds the record for the longest continuous rule by a single politico-religious system and that was achieved through ‘persuading’ everybody that the Pharaoh was God incarnate and much of the country’s wealth was diverted to glorify in stone and precious metal, these earthly Gods, thus perpetuating the fiction. However, the Egyptian system remained in Egypt and many alternative politico-religious systems existed elsewhere; in Greece, Persia, China, Japan, India, South and Central America etc. Individual rulers were not averse to extending their country’s borders by military conquest and Alexander the Great is a major example of this. However, it was the Romans who were the first to recognise the value of religion in aiding conquest. For centuries several different religions flourished in ancient Rome but the emperor Constantine ordained that henceforth the then new Christianity should be the official religion of the state. At a stroke Christianity was changed from a relatively minor religious sect, in which the power of the spirit was paramount, into a vast organisation where temporal power exerted a greater and greater influence.

There is no doubt in my mind that it was Roman ruthlessness and arrogance that wrought this change. Rome had never been noted for its tolerance, despite all the nonsense historians have written about the Pax Romanica. That peace was achieved through ruthlessness and brutality. As soon as Christianity sold itself to the Roman state for ‘thirty pieces of silver’, the seeds of the Spanish Inquisition and many other diabolical acts carried out in its name were sown. Eventually, as the Roman state became weak and corrupt, it was overrun by the barbarians and ceased to exist. Except that is in the form of the Christian church, which for centuries succeeded Rome as a world political power. The Pope was in fact more powerful at this time than the ruler of any single country.

I have used Christianity as an example but it is not the only one, where a spiritual philosophy that was capable of liberating humanity from ego-dominated materialism, was transformed by cynical politicians into an instrument by which to dominate and control the population and thus satisfy their lust for material power. The religion has been used and still is used today, to propagate intolerance as an instrument of political policy. No longer, as in the old religions that flourished before, was it acceptable to be tolerant and say, “All roads lead to God and all gods are reflections of the one God.” Instead the creed became, “My God is the only God and unless you believe in Him and accept Him as the one and only, we will destroy you.”

I pray the next stage in our evolution will be one that is more tolerant and recognises that spirit is the basis of all life and that how we live is far more important than what we believe.

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