The word God as used in this item is done so for the very simple reason that it has only one syllable, as opposed to ‘Greater Being’, ‘Higher Power’, or anything similar. The capital G out of respect for the society in which the author was born.
Do I believe in God? I believe that I am absolutely insignificant in the Grand Scheme of Things (whatever that might be). I purposely and gratefully lost the arrogance that had me believing that I am very important, which does not mean I don’t have a giant ego I need to keep constantly in check. (Careful, I am important to some, to people close around, but only to them.) That I have a reasonable amount of knowledge about certain things, practical and unpractical, may be true. But others have it, too, so I must always be willing to learn — if not about or from them, then about me.
The headline question presupposes the existence of God. In itself, the question of a deity’s existence or otherwise depends on how you define the word God. Or god. That theism exists is undoubted, with names for the deity varying according to the religion, sect or cult that will insist owns the ‘Truth’. As you may have seen before: “There are some 5,000 deities presently venerated around the world. But don’t worry: yours is the TRUE one.”
Many of these are likely to belong to multi-theist religions such as Hinduism, the various African animist religions and those taken to America by slaves, such as Santería, Voodoo or Candomblé. These last, and many others, were adapted via syncretism to Christianity to avoid detection of forbidden practices. Practices forbidden by their supposedly Christian slave traders and owners.
For the most part it appears that religion came about by the apparent need for the human species to ‘believe’ in something other than itself. It is proven that the earliest of Homo Erectus already had venerated the sun and its powers, as well as rain and electric storms … of Nature, in other words. Worship of animals came later. In any case, all were important to Man’s survival as a species.
It wouldn’t have taken long for this need to have been taken over by what today is called ‘the elite’, but in antiquity it would have been called an equivalent to the ‘priest caste’, which pretty much defines it. Robert Ardrey, in his fascinating book African Genesis, called it the Alpha factor, which he applied to animals, of which, of course, we are in the mammal category. In a typical use of euphemism, specific to the human race, we call those leaders ‘priests’ or ‘leaders’.
There is an abundance of evidence of the alliance between these castes and their corresponding governments. Some examples of this: the Aztecs and Mayas venerated their priests, though these never governed other than by having the ears of the ruling class, which ruled only when the priests had made sacrifices and reported propitious times for major and even minor events.
Another example, from Christianity itself: the Pharisees in the New Testament were a priestly caste very much in league with the Judaic government of Herod, and thus of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine. They were very reluctant to allow an up-start called Jesus (or Yeshua in Aramaic, the language of the supposed Christ, or Isa, or Eisa — as in the K’uran, or Yahushua, as in the Jewish Torah) to have a following and advised his crucifixion. Jesus, of course, was given divine status by an incipient Christian church – a lot later than Jesus was on this planet, giving them time to formulate a whole religion they could bend to their wishes. That Christianity broke up into a number of factions very early on, is not only proof of the ‘elite’ grabbing for power, but is also what the Muslim community began to do some time later. Both ‘communities’ are still at it.
At one time in Haitian Voodoo, the ‘high priest’ was once the quasi-elected President of the country: ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, who had his own ‘caste’ in the shape of the Ton-Ton Macoute, a paramilitary force that leaned heavily on the people’s belief system, based on deities brought over by their African ancestors (who did much the same thing on the other side of the Atlantic and were crucial to the prosperous slave traffic there). Duvalier’s ‘government’, which kept his country in the desperate poverty it still suffers today, was followed by his son, ‘Baby Doc’, who was not as wily as his father and ended up in golden exile in Southern France, though not before plundering the national coffers even more deeply than the old man. The result of this, and the responsibility of successive governments, is that Haiti is still in grinding poverty even after an huge international effort to help after a devastating hurricane of 2010.
In Europe the ‘symbiosis’ of the Catholic Church with the government of Franco in Spain brought about the continuation of a repressive unelected government for almost forty years. The atrocities performed by many of the priests and nuns during that time and during the Civil War included the assassination of countless individuals for not sharing their religious views (although this fact was never mentioned in official records), as well as the selling of newborn babies of the ‘lower classes’ to government officials, military families and others of the same political persuasion. Much the same occurred throughout many of Latin America’s military dictatorships, which based their governance closely on that of Franco. These countries included the so-called Condor Group: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay … all with the support of the USA
The sworn enemy of the Condor Group was ostensibly Communism. In fact, anyone who did not think like the leaders was immediately suspect, especially those priests who, refusing to bow to their superiors’ orders, became known as Third World priests. They were all ordained, yet many abandoned their vows in order to work among the ‘lower classes’. This tendency among the younger priests has seriously divided the Catholic Church in Latin America. As a result, the emergence of ‘alternative’ Christian religions such as the Evangelical movement has spread from Brazil all the way to the USA and continues to grow apace.
In Spain, something called El Culto (The Cult) his rapidly taking over from the traditional church run from the Vatican. Its leaders were wily enough to focus their evangelism on the marginal communities, particularly among the gypsies. It is seen as a different way to get off drugs, at which it has been considerably successful. In any case, the line between religion and religiosity is decidedly hazy in Spain. Another organization, the Opus Dei, considered by many to be a sect of the Catholic Church, provides large numbers of government ministers, always for the Rightist party Partido Popular, and, of course, for the Franco regime in its time.
In most countries, the churches, or religions, don’t pay taxes and often get a hefty subsidy from the governments they supposedly serve. That’s your tax money, and mine. Other religions, sub-religions, sects, etc. have you tithing, which is your money, thank you, not mine.
Again in an earlier Europe, a host of religions arose principally as a protest against the allegedly Christian sword brandished by the Vatican, which resisted anything aimed at curbing its power with un-Christian ferocity. Thus, those religions were, and still are, called Protestant by the Rome. They protested too much for the See of St. Peter’s liking. So much did they protest that in England, for example, that a whole church was formed in order for a king to be able to divorce. Subsequent kings and queens have since been titled Defenders of the Faith. If that is not a ‘symbiosis’ of Church and State, nothing is.
Faith and spirituality
Now we come to the word ‘faith’. It is variously defined as ‘1. complete trust or confidence. 2. firm belief, esp. without logical proof . 3a. a system of religious belief (the Christian faith). b. belief in religious doctrine. c. spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof. d. things believed or to be believed.’ Even the Oxford English Dictionary can’t be any more precise.
Most people acquire their faith close to birth. In other words, they suckle the stuff together with mother’s milk. Most people don’t question mother’s milk, either. Most people are closer to sheep than the human race. This brings us back to the Good Shepherd, somehow, a term I have wondered about since I first heard it at Sunday School ( a Protestant brainwashing process that this former Roman Catholic attended for a number of years, though I have no idea why).
In the definitions of ‘faith’ researched for this article there is not a single mention of ‘spirituality’. The only mention of ‘spiritual’ comes in the OED definition above. So let’s see how it defines ‘spirituality’. Surprise, surprise, there is no single definition, either. In fact it isn’t even mentioned in my large edition.
However, there is a definition for ‘spiritual’ (slightly edited to remove definitions not relevant here): 1. of or concerning the spirit as opposed to matter. 2. concerned with sacred or religious things; holy; divine, inspired. 3. (of the mind, etc.) refined, sensitive; not concerned with the material. 4. (of a relationship, etc.) concerned with the soul or spirit etc., not with external reality.
In order to understand the above, here’s the definition of ‘spirit’ : 1a. the animating or life-giving principle in a person or animal. b. the intelligent non-physical part of a person: the soul.
So ‘spirit’ and ‘faith’ are not the same thing? Apparently not, although most of the Western world has been taught that religion, therefore faith, is spiritual; definition 2. for ‘spiritual’. Certainly there is nothing ‘material’ about faith.
One of the definitions for ‘spiritual’ is clear enough: ‘of or concerning the spirit as opposed to matter’. Lucre is matter; money is matter, church buildings and lands are matter, robes, surplices, hymn books, all matter, or material. Sheep will be told that matter matters because there is a religion to maintain, which takes us stumbling straight to a blurring of the difference between spirituality and organized religion.
A recent posting I saw on Facebook page said this: ‘Religion is for those who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.’
Faith and trust
Is there a link between faith and trust? Absolutely! It would be impossible to have one without the other. When a bond of trust is broken, faith crashes with it.
You cannot have faith in a person or organization you do not trust. Alas, this has proved all too sadly true with the apparent thousands of cases of abuse from clergy of all kinds, as well as those of parental abuse of children. It is proven, too, in millions of divorce cases that use adultery as the catalyst.
Spirituality, on the other hand, does not need of anyone else because it is something very internal, very personal, although it can have massive influence on others. Yes, achieving any level of spirituality may need guidance from others, and there are always those who take advantage of this to propound their own agenda —beware of them, for they are usually closely attached to a religion. After all, the only thing we can change is ourselves; we cannot change anyone else, except, perhaps, through example.
So, in answer to the headline question: It is not God who needs religion, but people. Particularly the people in power, or wanting it.
© 2015 Alberto Bullrich