151. Development and critique of religious thought. Part three
To understand the good that the religion has done, let us compare the Island of Tahiti before and after missionaries came and spread Christianity. They reformed the place. Here is an account of Darwin in 1835, when he visited the island, and the history of arrival of missionaries:
On 5 March 1797, representatives of the London Missionary Society landed at Point Venus (Mahina) on board HMS Duff, with the intention of saving the native populations from paganism. The arrival of these missionaries marked a new turning point for the island of Tahiti, having a lasting impact on the local culture.
Excerpts from the Diary entry of Darwin:
November 20th. 1835—………….
I was very anxious to form, from my own observation, a judgment of their moral
State……… (Darwin had read) that the Tahitians had become a gloomy race, and lived in fear of the missionaries. Of the latter feeling I saw no trace, unless, indeed, fear and respect be confounded under one name. Instead of discontent being a common
Feeling, it would be difficult in Europe to pick out of a crowd half so many merry and happy faces.
The prohibition of the flute and dancing is inveighed against as wrong and foolish; — the more than Presbyterian manner of keeping the Sabbath is looked at in a similar light. …….
On the whole, it appears to me that the morality and religion of the inhabitants are highly creditable
There are many who attack, even more acrimoniously than Kotzebue, the missionaries, their system, and the effects produced by it. Such reasoners never compare the present state with that of the island only twenty years ago; nor even with that of Europe at this day; but they compare it with the high standard of Gospel perfection. They expect the missionaries to affect that which the Apostles themselves failed to do. Inasmuch as the condition of the people falls short of this high standard, blame is attached to the missionary, instead of credit for that which he has affected. They forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices, and the power of an idolatrous priesthood — a system of profligacy (shamelessly immoral or debauched) unparalleled in any other part of the world — infanticide a consequence of that system — bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children — that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity. In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended thus far.
In point of morality, the virtue of the women, it has been often said, is most open to exception. But before they are blamed too severely, it will be well distinctly to call to mind the scenes described by Captain Cook and Mr. Banks, in which the grandmothers
And mothers of the present race played a part. Those who are most severe, should consider how much of the morality of the women in Europe is owing to the system early impressed by mothers on their daughters, and how much in each individual
case to the precepts of religion. But it is useless to argue against such reasoners; —I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, they will not give credit to a morality which they do not wish to practice, or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.
Bloody wars, human sacrifices, idolatry, shameless immorality of women were abolished in Tahiti.
My main quarrel (amongst many) with religions is their intolerance. Each religion is considered the latest and final word of God. So many wars have been fought in the name of religion, countless persons have died. Even as I write these lines (July 2014), Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews are fighting with each other. There are not many countries in the world where there is no threat of terrorism, or terrorist attacks have not taken place, in the name of religion ( and in some cases, the sects of same religion fighting with each other ); USA, Russia, China, France, UK, Spain, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Chad, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, Palestinian Lands, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, are some of the examples.
Critics may say that I have let go religions too lightly. I did not mention their numerous defects, especially some of their wrong teachings, even if we disregard the practices. A tree should be judged by its fruit. If intolerance and bigotry are the hallmarks of the fervent followers of most religions, then why blame the followers and exculpate the religions? It is the teachings which produced the followers. Critics are right. I have purposely avoided it, due to two considerations: When I write, I ask myself two questions ?
Is this writing appropriate for a spiritual blog?
Does it bring harmony or strife amongst human beings?
My criticism of the teaching and practices of various religions will not bring human beings closer but split them further apart.
I must mention my two conclusions regarding social role of religion. I have thought about it for some time.
1. Religion should have no role in government. In other words, in the old debate of church and state, I consider that the two should be separate. Religion is a personal matter between an individual and God.
2. In order for religion to maintain relevancy in the next thousands of years, it must learn to innovate and adapt. Rigidity, which was its greatest strength in surviving the upheaval of science and technology, is also its greatest weakness. Scholars of all Middle East religions attempt to explain those writings of their Holy Books which contradict science and common sense by interpreting them in novel ways so that they are in accord with modern age ( one can derive any meaning from scriptures, by giving new meaning to the words ; a day can be one day or a million years ) . These attempts are laughable; for instance, does anyone really believe that Eve was created from the rib of Adam? All such attempts are bound to fail. To this mote, the answer is simple; People, ideologies, culture, books, almost everything, should be judged in the context of their times. During the Vietnam War soldiers in uniform were mocked with anti- war slogans, and called baby killers, in many streets of America. Now the same soldiers are held in high esteem, because they answered the call of their country.
People were given examples, by prophets, which they could readily understand. Raging fires of hell were contrasted with green gardens, trees with fruits , beautiful women and cool canals of heaven.
Don’t apply twenty first century standards on books, ideologies and people who lived hundreds and thousands of years ago.