Posted in Photography, Psychology, Writing

Has Religion Lost its Way?

During these trying times of politics, terrorism, and Trump, the world has become a scary and unpredictable place. The religions and belief systems typically used to promote peace, community, and the betterment of the individual are now being used as a form of social control. Using religion to promote fear, ignorance, and exclusion is based on rule books or bibles written thousands of years ago. While the stories and techniques may differ, I believe that all religions are virtually the same in their end goal —the betterment of the individual and their life.

Christianity, the most practiced religion, has Jesus Christ as the central figure. The son of God, sent to die for us and save our sins, is symbolized by a cross. In Christianity, people who follow the religion exist to worship God and Jesus Christ and must guide their life by the Holy Bible and the Ten Commandments. When acts, thoughts, or deeds go against the lessons and orders given in the Bible and Ten Commandments are not followed, it is considered a violation or sin. To get into heaven after death instead of hell, people must live by the teachings of the Holy Bible. Forgiveness is at the core of Christianity.

Anabaptism includes traditional Christian religions such as the Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite among others known for their simple lifestyles void of modern technologies or conveniences. The Amish are the most extreme. They refuse to use cars, power lines, or power tools to assist in their farming and daily living. Mennonite and Hutterite, however, are more accepting of modern conveniences. They use some modern technology such as phones and cars but must still live a simple life.

To maintain the simple lifestyle associated with Anabaptism, strict rules and harsh consequences are doled out. Shunning, for example, forces a member (and sometimes their whole family) to have no contact with their community or extended family. They can no longer attend any community events, family functions, or their church. So, by not following rules that are hundreds of years old, dissenters live in complete isolation and are essentially mentally tortured in an effort to maintain social control and order.

Islam, the second largest religion, is concentrated in the Middle East including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt. Followers of the Islamic religion, called Muslims, believe in one god known as Allah. Like Christianity, Muslims believe in Jesus Christ and live by the laws outlined in two holy books: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Like Jesus Christ, Islam’s founder and the prophet is Muhammad who was sent from God. Allah (God) is a powerful and strict judge who will be merciful toward followers depending on the sufficiency of their life’s good works and religious devotion. The teaching of the Islamic religion says that giving up one’s life for Allah is a sure way of entering heaven. And when one goes against Allah, they should be punished.

Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion in the Southern Asia including India and Nepal. Unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. There are many gods that take different forms, which is why they believe in reincarnation. Hindus have different beliefs or laws. One law is Karma, which says the actions and the way you live your life will be returned to you in your current life or in a future one. Dharma is another law that helps to maintain society. It encourages people to be more moral or gives them the opportunity to act virtuously.  So, a Hindu’s goal is to become free from the law of Karma by using Dharma.

Buddhism is a spiritual religion that is mostly located in Southeast and Western Asia including Thailand, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Buddhists don’t believe in figure heads or deities. They believe that nothing is fixed or permanent, and that change is always possible. The goal of Buddhism is to reach a state of enlightenment or nirvana through the development of morality, meditation, and wisdom. The founder and teacher of Buddhism is the Gautama Buddha, who achieved a long state of happiness or enlightenment. Just like Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, Buddhism is a collection of guided disciplines, values, and directives that a person may want to live by.

New Age is a wide variety of different beliefs, practices, and therapies found in North America, but mainly in the USA. The goal of New Age beliefs and practices is to develop an altered consciousness and one’s own divinity while trying to reach a higher consciousness within themselves. Popular elements of New Age include alchemy, alternative psychotherapy techniques, aromatherapy, astrology, channeling, crystal work, divination, color healing, magic, mediums, psychic powers of every kind, reincarnation, and past life regression, Tarot card readings, Yoga, and many other unique movements and zany practices. To society, these techniques are better known as self-help methods and alternative therapies. But like the already mentioned religions, New Age promotes a sense of betterment within the individual.

So why am I describing these different religions? To make a point that, no matter what the figure head or founder is, these religions are striving towards a similar goal of betterment and prescribing to a higher (sometimes unknown) power. I believe that religions are just coping strategies that people use in times of difficulty, death, hardship, and when struggling with a lack of guidance. By putting all religion on equal footing, it allows commonalities to come to light.

Religion allows people to deal with the issues of life, society, death, and struggle. When people are in desperate need, they seek answers through religion. A good example of this is when people are facing death or a loved one are attempting to deal with their loss. They end up praying to a higher power even if they aren’t religious. Religion and spiritual beliefs also provide people with an escape from reality to establish comfort and relief. This is seen with prison inmates, who claim to have found Jesus. Inhumane living conditions can negatively impact one’s mind and body, so religion offers a mental escape just like reading, learning, or inane tasks.

Religion and spiritual beliefs have also been used as a method of control or locus of external control. By believing a higher power has control over your actions, destiny and eternal life have become a scapegoat for actions that result in negative actions. This is seen when people claim to act as God’s messenger.

What often results from trying to live religiously is that instead of trying to live to your best potential, religious groups try to oppress and establish some type of social control. This appears to be a common issue when groups of Christian terrorists, extremists, or believers, kill and protest because it says to do so in the bible and they want to please God. This often results in the oppression of immigrants, women, and LGBTQ.

I am not claiming that all violence is due to religious ideals, but these views of religion, places of worship, and leaders tend to skew peoples’ views of our current society by opposing change that needs to occur. If you look at protesters, there seems to be a common thread: people against LGTBQ, immigration, abortion and any sort of discrimination frequently have religious tendencies advertised on their protest signage.

“Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Quoted by Karl Marx, who is known as the father of Communism, Marx believes that during trying times of depression, religion can serve as a distraction. This quote, I believe, is still quite relevant, but religion has become less about love, forgiveness, reaching enlightenment, and living to be your true self. Today, it is more about following traditions, orders, and laws, even if that is through oppression and discrimination.

One example of such discrimination is with the conflicts in the Middle East. There has been much controversy over the Muslims and Islamic religion. Uttering words like “ISIS” or “Muslims” seems to be the equivalent of saying the Dark Lord’s name from Harry Potter (Voldemort). These words promote fear, and with that, paranoia. Associating all Muslims are terrorists is a joke.

Stereotyping all Muslims and people who wear hijabs or turbans, and denying Syrian refugees and immigrants from having an opportunity to live a normal life, is disgraceful. This can also be said for LGBTQ community, where protesting against love and acceptance of LGBTQ members, one the perception of being sinful is horrible, and should not be tolerated. If religions like Christianity are all about love and forgiveness, then why are same sex couples, who want to be married, live a normal life and have a family, considered sinful? This is where I believe religion comes into play. Through all this hatred, it appears that religious groups have lost their way as they try to establish social control.

This dictatorship of social control by religious groups needs to stop. I hope that, by putting all religions, spiritual beliefs, and belief systems on equal grounds, it can lessen stereotypes, fear, and religious social control, while promoting a sense of equality and an openness to different ideas and people. Whether they are Muslim, LGBTQ, black, white, or those with purple polka dots, acceptance and openness is key for the survival during these difficult times.

For this weeks featured photo, I have posted a photo of unique donuts. Each donut has its own special characteristics (whether it be sugared, glazed or feature different flavors like bubblegum). The bottom line is that they are all the same — they are donuts. This I believe is a metaphor for religion, that when it comes down to it, they are all the same — each religion has similar goals — self-improvement, guidance, and enlightenment.

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