SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT “RELIGIONS”
“Religion” is a word derived from the Latin verb “ligo” which means to
bind or to harness. A person’s religion is that set of beliefs, code of
conduct or even rules of etiquette by which he regards himself as “bound”.
This can be a voluntarily accepted thing, accepted because it provides
various advantages. These can vary from extra cash in the pocket to the
conviction that the world would be a better place if “everyone were like
me”. More often the advantage is that of belonging to a defined tribe,
society, class or racial unit with the sense of entity and security which
such belonging provides.
One can be bound by a religion simply because it promises “pie in the sky
when I die”. Most religions promise life after death in some form, varying
from the Islamic promise of beautiful gardens, flowing rivers and robes and
a plenitude of coital opportunities, to the apparent “christian” essential,
that grannie’s bones be “laid to rest”. For some illogical reason they must
not be stirred into activity again until by archaeologists in 2000 years’
time. Meanwhile the elect stand around in white robes engaged in assorted
One can also be bound by a religion because of threats of dire
consequences if one is not. The Islamic apostate can be tortured and killed
legitimately. According to Holy Writ, the Christian who fails to recognise
the sanctity of a neighbour is projected into a lake of fire and the Jewish
woman can be stoned for adultery. In apparently secular, civilised
societies, there still remain dire penalties for crossing a divide between
clan and clan. Freemasonry and other “Orders” set up divisions - even golf
clubs do it. For the lower orders, there is always the football club to
provide an identity, often defended with violence.
A religion can be imposed by authority or by society with the threat to
the dissenter of being “cast out”, or, if you live in Northern Ireland,
Afghanistan etc. shot. The need to belong is still an essential human need
in spite of the coming of civilisation in its strict sense.
The acceptance of some form of religion and this need to belong is
demonstrated by a public assent to commonly held beliefs and by conforming
to various usages and disciplines. “I am not a religious person” said in
this country, usually means that “I don’t go to Church”. A person who has no
religion at all, is, however, very rarely found, if at all.
It is obviously necessary that the social need to share a common code of
behaviour must lead to the setting up and agreeing to such a code and for
parameters to be set, so how is this to be done ? “By a democratic process”
is likely to be the answer of a western politician. In spite of the attempts
over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years to establish democracy as a viable
system, there is no instance of its ever working and producing any result by
the total agreement of all. The setting-up of a discipline requires the
imposition of such by an authority. That authority must command such fear,
or respect and confidence, that its imposition of parameters is acceptable
to the group to which they will apply, even if they are not wholly
understood or completely agreed.
Social and political history show that to expect totalitarian authority
to reside in any one human being or group indefinitely is to ask the
impossible, if for no other reason that people die. “Ozimandias” is of
significance in all ages. At one time a human being may appear totally
competent and deserving of respect, confidence and affection. Sooner or
later that same person is being criticised, vilified and condemned. The
reason for this lies largely in the fact that in all of us lies the belief
that in the end, we are as competent as anyone else, leadership is never
infallible and we are “entitled to our own opinions”. We do not accept
limiting parameters indefinitely from those with whom we share human
fallibility and mortality.
Acceptance therefore of a social and moral imperative depends for its
source and especially for its maintenance on there being a super-human,
ultimate and timeless authority to whom the characteristic “religious” terms
can be applied. This super-humanity may be called “God”, or its equivalent
in other creeds and languages. Omnipotence, omniscience, immortality,
infinity - both temporally and spatially - are attributes of the God, to
which is added ineffability, to account for the impossibility of humanity
having complete knowledge of “Him”.
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004