Gods, religions & active imaginations

By | March 30, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Active imaginations; many gods

Over the millen­nia, humans have created thou­sands of supernatural belief sys­tems and have wor­ship­ped everything from the Egypt­ian scarab beetle to the Hindu elephant; from the Sun god to gods of the seasons, to mother Earth; from sex gods and goddesses to spirit trees, to scary mythical creatures, to everything being god. In fact, the idea of mono­­theism, one god, was a relatively recent invention in a very long his­tory.

A Few Supreme Gods

Akditi: Mother of gods, India

Aten: God of the Sun – Egypt

Brahma: Creator and Absolute –India

Coyote: God of creation – Crow Indian

Gamab: Supreme god – Africa

Inti: Supreme god – Inca

Jar-Sub: God of universe – Turkey

Kumani: Virgin goddess – India

Marduk: Supreme god – Babylon

I’m sometimes asked, aren’t all these different gods really just aspects of the one true God? But then why have all these different gods (speaking through their prophets, gurus, shamans, ayatollahs, mullahs, clerics, swamis, channelers, priests, mini­­sters, rabbis, holy books, etc.) told their followers quite different things regarding birth control—abortion—gay rights—souls —women’s rights —slavery —reincar­nation —hell —human sacrifice —prophecies—purgatory —limbo—idolatry —heaven —omens —devils—demons —angels —voodoo —ghosts —salvation —witches—incubi—dancing—virgin births —exorcisms —incarnations —petting —drinking —smoking —judgment day —the origin of evil —whom to kill —faith healings —and just about everything else?

The origin of monotheism

Around 3,300 years ago Amenhotop IV, the pharaoh of Egypt, chose Aton, a little known Sun god, as the one and only god of Egypt, thus intro­ducing the idea of monotheism. After Amenho­top died, the Egyptians went back to wor­ship­ing sev­er­al gods. However, the wor­ship of one divinity lingered among the Hebrews in Egypt. Some scholars believe that this is why the one god concept became an impor­tant part of the Hebrew religion. The Hebrews were also influ­enced by the Greeks who, unlike the Egyp­tians, made their gods in their own image.

Religious beliefs persist in spite of scientific advances

By the late 19th century it was be­lieved by some leading intel­lectuals that with in­creased edu­ca­tion and improved standards of health and economic well being, our classi­cal relig­ious orth­o­­doxies would be replaced by a huma­nis­tic civil­iza­tion based on com­passion, rea­son and science. Yet, even though the scientific revo­­­­l­u­tion has invaded our lives at al­most every level and has dis­credited many sacred dogmas and re­lig­ious myths, religions still flourished. Religious loyalties still persist.

Why should we be sur­prised? After all, humans still fear pain and lone­li­ness. Most still find it hard to ac­cept death as a final­ity. We still look for some ulti­mate divine purpose to our lives; we want all our suffering to have some higher meaning. We also marvel at how this uni­verse and life came into being. And, of course, many of us want to be­lieve what we really want to be true. Logic and sci­en­tific evidence are seldom enough to dislodge per­son­al beliefs and pre­j­u­dices, particu­larly if these beliefs offer great comfort and even joy. Our mind’s capacity for self-delusion is enor­mous!

Many of religions have ac­cepted the findings of science up to a point. Others have to­tally rejected all findings that go against their spe­cific sacred teach­ings. Still others have dis­torted science to sup­port every conceivable pseudo­scientific and para­normal belief. Many have been taught that to hold onto beliefs that have been disproved by science represents the highest of virtues, one to be reward­ed by God on the final judgment day. Examples include a literal belief in bib­li­cal creation stories, Noah’s ark, the Resur­rection and other religious miracles.

Yet science has so often proved to be superior to gut feel­ings that when our intuitive exper­i­­ences contra­dict scientific evi­dence, we would do well to look close­ly at our own rea­son­ing to see if, once again, we’ve been deceived.

Religions abound

So today we live in a world that, in spite of sci­en­tific appearances, is still very religious—a world rang­ing from countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where Islam remains the dom­inant so­cial force, to South America which is predomi­nantly Catholic, to the indus­tri­alized West where reli­gion has become frag­men­ted and diversi­fied.

One estimate is that there are cur­rently over 7000 different religious sects world­wide. The history of Christianity, alone, is a history of doctrinal schisms and fragmentation, resulting today by one count in 23,000 separate and distinct Christian denominations around the world. In fact, just the conservative Christian movement in the U.S. has been described as a quarrelsome conglomeration of fundamentalist and evangelical groups whose differences are every bit as great as those setting apart Catholics and Methodists.

In very recent history, the United States also has seen the appearance of Mor­monism, Christian Science, Jehov­ah’s Wit­nesses, Seventh Day Ad­ventists and the Church of Reli­gious Science, to name just a few. We now have more than 1,500 different religious bodies and sects, including 300 different Christian denom­ina­tions, a number of deep­ly divided Jewish traditions and a growing but divided Muslim con­stituency.

We have hundreds of various faith expressions, including millions of Buddhists, a million Hindus and hundreds of thousands each of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Bahai, Jains, Confucians, Pagans and Shintoists. We have over 360,000 churches, mosques and syna­gogues. We have 10,000 Bible clubs on public school cam­puses across our country. Everywhere we find evidence testifying to the con­tinual persua­sive­­ness of faith and dogma in our so-called rational and scien­ti­fic so­ciety.

Furthermore, the chances are that our children will come to believe that their parents’ religion is the true one. In one study of uni­ver­sity stu­dents, over 95% who said they were Cath­olic were raised in Catholicism. The same was true for Jews and Protestants.

Most of us are raised athe­ists when it comes to some­one else’s reli­gion. Christ­ians reject the Hin­du gods, Hindus don’t worship Allah. Those born in Israel or in Saudi Arabia would likely be raised Jewish or Muslim. Either way they would not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or in his divinity.

Religious transformations

Christian believer: But isn’t God telling us that Christianity, by its awesome transformation power, is His one true religion?

A. It’s true that the personal experi­ence of “know­ing Jesus” is very power­ful for un­told millions. But as many, if not more believers in the Koran (the sacred text of Islam) have also ex­peri­ence religious trans­­formation. Yet Islam holds Muhammad to be the one true prophet and doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God. So who’s right and who’s being deceived?

The thousands of quite different re­li­gions through­out the world and throughout history proves to the skep­tic that equally sincere people who are “transformed” are not all see­ing or hearing the same thing. Catholics see visions of the Vir­gin Mary and are transformed. Prot­es­tants, on the other hand, see Jesus but rarely the Virgin Mary be­cause the wor­ship of Mary is often den­i­grated. Or the In­dian brave, after days of cold and hunger in the forest, fi­nally sees the expected vision of a bear or eagle and is “trans­formed.” Our minds really want to be­lieve.

The power of the human mind to be de­ceived is absolutely enor­mous. Our evolved brain easily hal­lu­cinates (hears voices, sees visions, has out-of-body ex­per­i­ences, and feels pos­sessed). This can hap­pen through star­vation, ex­treme soli­­tude, drugs, fear, epi­lepsy, mi­graines, pain and oxygen depra­vation. Yet we are rarely educated in such areas as the psychology of self-de­cep­tion.

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”

—Francis Ba­con

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