Literacy and Religion
Pagan and polytheistic religion evolved over time as a response to man’s observations of nature. Rituals were ripe with symbolism, allegory, science, creativity and wonder and celebrated natural events such as the change of season, phases of the moon and the timeless cycles of birth, death and rebirth. Religion grew alongside man’s knowledge of his place in nature expanding in intricacy and depth with time. The human quest for knowledge and understanding was unimpeded by man’s religious beliefs. In fact, the very reverence for nature and her wonders prevalent in pagan cultures encouraged exploration and human curiosity.
In contrast, Yahweh’s doctrines according to contemporary fundamentalist interpretation demand strict, unquestioning adherence. The very act of inquiry is a betrayal of faith. The Bible, limited though it is by the scientific knowledge available at the time it was written, contains the only truth that fundamentalist Christians accept or think they need to know. Recent discoveries such as the law of relativity, theory of evolution, globular shape of the earth or climate change are never discussed in the bible and therefore, as far as fundamentalists are concerned, are irrelevant at best or untrue at worst. Rather than being an evolution of civilization and culture as monotheists suggest, the rise of the contemporary fundamentalist monotheistic faiths in Christianity, Judaism and Islam have succeeded in dumbing down and closing the minds of those who subscribe to their dictates. Sadly, as was typical of the eras in which they were written, ancient religious texts including the Koran and Old and New Testaments are ripe with beautiful symbolism, numerology and innuendo that are completely ignored by those who would seek to take the texts literally. In doing so, the deeper, richer meaning that does exist within the traditions is lost.
And the ripe minds of children are also being dumbed down. In an act that should be considered a form of child abuse and is certainly consistent with brainwashing conducted by cult leaders, fundamentalist parents often withhold accepted scientific knowledge from their children by indoctrinating them into the faith in madrassa like schools that instill in vulnerable children’s minds a fear of inquiry and science. Or they are homeschooled to protect them from the dangers of curiosity. By the time the children are old enough to make decisions for themselves, in most cases their minds have been deprived of real learning and are closed forever. Anything that differs from the biblical world view is conspiratorial, false or inspired by the devil himself.
Clouded in ignorance, with an ideology that confuses passion with truth, the mind is not able to make rational judgments and so relies instead on inflammatory emotional responses to important issues of the day. Hence, we live in a sorry society where a large percentage of people question the authenticity of the President’s birth certificate and his sincere desire for the betterment of our country in spite of all evidence to the contrary. We find ourselves living in a world where irrational, unscientific falsehoods are translated into “fact” based on faith. Anything that elicits a strong emotional reaction can be used to manipulate the uneducated into a foolish frenzy. The media picks up on the frenzy and fuels the fire. How sad for our democracy.
Our newscasts and other media cater to the lowest, emotive denominator and now consist of catchy sound and video bites rather than real balanced discussions on the serious topics that overwhelm our world. But we are often only getting what we ask for. The innate quality of human beings to attempt to clarify, compartmentalize and simplify complexities into concise, manageable units may be at the heart of the movement of the world’s religions towards monotheism and contemporary society's movement towards brain numbness. Monotheistic religions are after all, a simplification and synopsis of their more complex pagan counterparts. The simplification of faith and reason certainly contributes to the environmental woes that plague the earth today. Global warming is real, we are slowly but surely contaminating the earth to the point it may not sustain life, we are consuming resources at a rate that is not sustainable, and the President of the United States is a U.S. Citizen born in Hawaii. These are irrefutable acts.
Just as every beginning ecology student knows, diversity is the key to a healthy ecosystem. For thousands of years, a diversity of human cultures and beliefs scattered across the globe creating a veritable cultural web of competing thoughts and a wealth of cultural artifacts ranging from the hanging gardens of Babylon to the Mayan pyramids. Apart from one bleak period of time known metaphorically as ‘the Dark Ages,’ humanity has advanced itself dramatically from cave-dwelling nomadic wanderers into beings that travel beyond the outer reaches of our own atmosphere to walk upon the moon fueled by nothing more than our species’ innate curiosity and constant quest for answers to the unknown. As a species we are caught in a constant tug of war between a search for truth and a fear of venturing into the unknown.
For millennia, those afraid to venture from the darkness of the cave did not have a large impression on the rest of the globe. The small, fear-mongering sects that clung to their faith in hopes it would save them from the wrath of the unknown were largely ignored by the rest of humanity engaged as it was in joyful reverence and embrace of the earth and her bounty. Eventually, however, the fear-mongers seized power and began to inflict their closed-minded fare on the rest of humanity. As globalization unifies the planet, the buffer of alternative ideologies becomes as scarce as the endangered frogs lost in the Amazon rainforest.
Governments urge us towards conformity. ‘Either you’re with us or you’re against us.’ From the pulpit, fundamentalist preachers warn us against the threat of science and its underlying principles of constant inquiry. Education, inquiry and knowledge are the enemy of fundamentalism. It is not the fundamentalist male God that will save us now. We must use our nature-given intellects and save ourselves.
The ancient goddess of wisdom and enlightenment, Sophia inspired wisdom, open minds and knowledge flowing in a continuous stream of new ideas and creativity. When she attempted to share her wisdom with Yahweh’s child Eve, by inviting her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Sophia became the enemy of the patriarchal God who ruled over his subjects through fear and intimidation. For over 2,000 years, ignorance and blind faith have been His creed, and the results are telling. We can never dwell in Eden again, but we can create a better world in which people once again make decisions based on the fruits of wisdom, logic and knowledge towards the aim of shaping a better world for all the organisms that dwell here.
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