purgatoryOctober 22, 2014

Recently, it was Eid-ul-Adha, the commemoration of the end of the Hajj and the story of Ishmael and Abraham. I’m not really a mosque visitor, but for both Eid holidays, I go. It’s important for me to pray in a community of believers on those days.  I don’t follow many rituals. However, that one appeals to me.

In any case, I was in the mosque, and the imam was reciting the Eid sermon or khutbah. Now, a major part of Eid observance in the mosque is the khutbah. I make it a point to listen to it. Or in this case, I attempted to listen to the khutbah. The sound system and acoustics were so awful most people couldn’t even hear it.  However, I did hear one word of the entire sermon: forbidden.

That word at that moment, was an instant turnoff. Why do so many religious leaders focus on fear, guilt, and punishment? The best weapon to control others with is fear. Fear of God’s punishment, wrath, and vengeance. This type of religious teaching is the method found in many religions. Ironically, the foundation of religion is love. Love for God and all his creation. Why isn’t religion taught that way?

Karl Marx once referred to religion as, “the opium of the people.” I submit that religion is the rein of the people. Especially, when it is taught through fear. It is the ultimate tool of the victimizer over the victim, the oppressor over the oppressed, and the ruler over the ruled. It’s a shame that many times all of these titles exist simultaneously. It is God’s will. God will reward you in the life to come. Your suffering is the path to heaven.

Why must we look ahead to heaven? We can create heaven all our days. Milton said in Paradise Lost, “…the mind… can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” Watching the sun disappear over the horizon while it blankets everything in its warm hues as the moon and stars take over with their special brand of illumination, that’s paradise. Loving unselfishly and being loved in return is heaven. That’s God at his miraculous best, not the potentially violent judgment that is part of the paralyzing propaganda of many organized religions.

If we choose to teach religion and spirituality, why don’t we just focus on God’s love for us and loving one another without judgment? Someone once talked to me of studying religion from the stance of “compassionate scholarship.” Too often, we use religious teaching as an excuse for being fearful of and eventually hating other people. When a Klu Klux Klan member would burn a cross, he would talk about doing “God’s work” before he did it. How is hating another human being and then burning a symbol of God his work? When the Israeli government creates illegal settlements in Gaza and displaces and kills Palestinians when they resist, their justification is because it was the land of the Jews thousands of years earlier If the land was unjustly taken, what God wants you to replace one injustice with another? Or when ISIS beheads a human being, they demonize the God and religion they supposedly hold dear. When vicious acts are committed in the name of God or religion, that is one of the ways hell is created on earth.  Fear and hate are the foundation of hell, whether it’s here or another dimension.  ove and compassion are the foundation of heaven.

We create heaven and hell on earth in many ways every day. Focusing on what is wrong in God’s creation and what is forbidden leads to the fear and the hate.  Let’s keep it simple when we talk religion. Leave fear, vengeance, and punishment out of it. Nobody does anything productive out of real fear. Love and joy are the essence of life. They should be the essence of religion.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

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