Every morning, millions of muslims wake up, wash their feet, their hands, their face, then perform a very basic exercise, from standing straight, down to the ground and back up.
They are worshiping god, but the act itself has more immediate benefits: exercise. They’re keeping fit, they’re moving, they’re doing things. More so than had there not been this requirement, at least for some of them – the overweight or the elderly.
In an age of no law, when the powerful claimed power and fame from divine right, some very smart men claimed the same, but from what they said was a better, or a true, god.
Muhammed is the last to make such claim and have a significant effect. That was 1,600 years ago. Moses was the first, as far as modern times are concerned. He, or those that immediately followed, probably invented this idea of a divine ruler.
Jesus rebelled against it. His teachings far too advanced even for our times and still ignored in Christian America where love thy neighbor takes second place to a politicized “caravan” of the poor from Honduras, all of whom Trump alone could house and feed for life.
Muhammed regressed in a way, but a good way to understand religion, even if one truly believes these men are sent from god, is to understand its effects within the context of the time and of course now.
One feature that stands out for devout muslim men is the beard. It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to go to heaven, Jesus and Muhammed said.
Rich men at the time could of course easily afford to shave. The poor and even the then middle class couldn’t. That visible discrepancy creates a barrier. The chosen solution was to make the growing of a beard mandatory.
Likewise the woman’s veil. In an age of no law, the idea may have been to protect women by making them very unattractive by covering with what is usually a black shapeless veil.
With this sort of analysis, even if we assume these men are truly from god, so revealing why god made the rules that were made.
It of course wasn’t about beards. There is nothing special about beards, it’s just hair. Why would god care if you grow that hair or not?
It was about morals, about some feeling superior to others. Thus in an age where anyone can afford to shave, does that still apply? Or are the morals now different for the rich can afford to make their beard look all fine, while the poor have to leave it scruffy. Wouldn’t that differentiator so be removed by everyone shaving?
Here is where things go wrong. Let us say there is a god, and let us say this god has sent these men. The fundamental laws so laid, like though shall not kill, should god now send a new prophet to update us on such irrelevant matters as whether we can shave? Is the principle not enough?
Muhammed is the chief example of a man of god to those who so believe. That means it isn’t quite a matter of detail, but of substance. Yet, there is no better way to undermine that substance than by chaining it through detail.
You can not shave, say the true believers. That was the command, that is the law from god. The law can’t be changed, thus we are the law where it matters, with principles ignored.
Thus the true believers become the new powerful. Less about what can be done and more about what can’t be done. So making them the new rulers, the superiors, the rich.
It is not god that needs man, but man that needs god, many religious teachings say. They are right in as far as religion at its base provides distilled knowledge derived from millennials.
We do not have time to experiment in our own lifetime with all things that can be experimented so that we ourselves can reach our own conclusions. Thus religion usually gives the benefits of experience from those that came before us.
Its greatest benefit is discipline, which itself derives from the certainty the framework provides. You’re told what is, so now you know what is. You’re told what to do, with it effectively being a sort of shortcut which you follow because obviously hell punishment, or more correctly, a worse life in this lifetime.
Yet all books contain very vivid warnings about the devil. The deceiver, the cunning other that wants to trick us into not doing what is “good.” Both christians and muslims claim the devil can even pretend to be god or from god.
Thus returning full freedom back in a circle, for now they have to decide whether a certain interpretation of a religious teaching is from the devil or from god.
It is here where any 15 year old realizes there is something wrong with the certainty they were led to believe. They’ll need some more time to realize it is all a great, and in many ways a very useful, metaphor and even framework.
Love thy neighbor is not just nice words, it has many practical benefits. The stronger the neighbor, the stronger you might be if the neighbor abides by the same protocol.
Meeting your neighbor in a weekly gathering also has its own advantages. It might be a relaxing time if nothing more.
But some might not like this pleasure. They might take religion just as literally as children and may conclude that there may or may not be a hereafter but can abuse in the here.
Rather than seeing god, the ever living who always was and always will be, now not quite a metaphor but actually a revelation, they see it more as a literal what if it is not true and I can do what I want.
Here, the religions of India elaborate on their metaphorical telling of birth and re-birth. They do not quite have a hell or heaven. They have a return to this earth, but as a low life or as a king.
In other words they are speaking about atoms, or more correctly energy. Science tells us energy can not be created nor destroyed. It always was, it always will be. What form it takes is a different matter, but something was and always will be. Conceptually thus, the atoms that make us now will necessarily again combine in the same design if time as a parameter is indefinite.
Meaning religion, in its very foundation, can be a great truth. As are its fundamental teachings, like be kind because others will be kind in return and make your life easier. The details, however, such as whether to shave or not, to cover in a veil or otherwise, are in many ways not part of religion at all.
The men of god can not start a movement every decade to tell us whether the latest fashion is in line with god or otherwise. They’ve laid out the principles. We have basic reasoning capabilities to know whether shaving or not is within such principles, do we not?
Yet that gives us too much freedom as far as those who wish to rule us are concerned. Detail is all important to them. For details nitpicking allows them to tell us what is, not god’s principles and not our free will, but mere men’s thinking.
They have thus turned one of the finest aspect of religion – discipline – into a mortal weapon – suicide bombing. The trick there is simple: god says thus, thus one must do what god says.
With the easiest and almost automatic “weapon” against the “devil” – the formation of fine habits which you somewhat semi-automatically operate upon – so turned into a tool of satan.
Now if we are to be objective and impartial, one perhaps can understand. One can actually say they are following principles, although different sorts. That they have to use the devil’s tools in what may well have been, if it is not a continuing, nationalistic fight for a greater arabia.
But the point being made is more fundamental. The principles that were developed against the rulers, were co-opted as time went on to the point the rulers actually gained more power.
The Emperor of Rome was the devil according to Jesus. His aim was to free the people by invoking god. As time went on, however, the people were effectively told god is all controlling, with certain rulers determining just what exactly are god’s rules. Rulers that effectively, practically, and temporarily, claimed to be god. Not in words of course – which they’d deny as blasphemous – but in actions.
And so a weapon against the powerful was turned into a controlling mechanism of the many. You don’t wear your trousers above the ankle? You may be punished. You turn fine young men into murderous robots? Well, you are the ruler. You abuse the poor while dressing your palaces in gold? Why, now, it’s a religion for them not for all.
Yet it may perhaps be time for a new religion. One based in objective science. Where it can grow and evolved based on rational thoughts, with it running on top of principles of old. Where the good parts are maintained while the other ones are thrown away. An upgrade of sorts after two millennials.
But we did not write all this to organize modern thought on religion, although that was useful too, but to warn of how hope can be chained. With the manual very simple: discard principles, focus on detail.
Refrained for long we have to lurk into what can go wrong for as 1984 well tells or Huxley, warnings can become just steps to follow.
Yet necessary it is to reveal a certain perverse thinking that our lives are so long to the point one becomes a religious fundamentalist in oppose. Taking much literally, through a prism of old, when it is perhaps time for us all to evolve.