Religion. Faith. Two words that are inextricably linked. They are more than just synonyms, although in many contexts they share the same meaning. They are dependent upon one another for their very existence, for without faith one can have no religion and without religion in what is one to have faith? Although hearing or reading one will often invoke an image of the other, 'faith' and 'religion' are also linked in the idiom of the day. I'm referring to those ubiquitous phrases 'blind faith' and 'religious freedom.'
Let's examine religion from the aspect of faith for a moment. Religion was the original answer to the original question: Why?. Early caveperson Newt asked early caveperson Pat why the wet stuff was falling from that blue thing up there and Pat answered that the really powerful supercaveperson Manupstairs was watering his garden.
That may not be historically accurate, but you get the point. People turned to religion when they couldn't understand the how or why. And the more we understand about the world around us the less we, as a society, turn to religion. Why? Because religion, like most of the really troublesome things in the world , does not occur naturally. It's the product of some hyperactive imagination. And deep inside we tend to trust the organic and natural more than the artificial.
Early in our auspicious history, the concept of many gods responsible for their own little supernatural events seemed pretty damn intuitive and natural. But then this guy named Abraham rather rudely showed that as powerful as stone gods were, they were a whole heck of a lot less powerful than his one god and his one Louisville Slugger (and the believers in his one metagod were then hunted down and vilified for the next 4500 years. Hmmmm.).
This one god made sense to some people but not others. It's easier to imagine lots of gods each responsible for their own spheres of existence than it is to imagine one god that controls everything because humans can relate to lots of little gods -- they're just like lots of little us but more powerful. The concept of god in general made sense to some people but not others. Theoretically, there's nothing stopping god or gods from existing. By their very nature they're omnipotent, implying that if they exist we can't do anything to prove it or disprove it if they don't want us to be able to do so. Which brings us back to faith.
No one will be able to prove to you that his or her deity of choice is in fact an omnipotent (I'm assuming omnipotence implies omniscience and omnipresence -- if you're all powerful you can know everything and be everywhere if you're so inclined) power. The best this disciple can do is believe. And this lead to problems. An awful lot of influence is given to an institution whose very existence is based on blind faith -- organized religion.
Religion is a personal and private thing. Something to talk about in small groups and contemplate when alone. Your religion is your very own answer to the question 'Why?' It shouldn't be the basis of national decisions or a cause for war. It's definitely not a good enough reason to go door-to-door waking up people you don't even know. And organized religion is the biggest scam since, since, ummm. Hmmm. And organized religion was the first scam and the biggest one ever.
If there's something in life you don't understand and with which your bio professor can't help or if you don't like the answer the economist gives when you ask why you're bankrupt, then you can turn to religion. It may help you deal with loss or sorrow and it may be a source of solace in times of trouble. If you want, you can even attribute your success to your unassailable faith in the triumvirate of gods Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. But you'll be damned to whatever hell I may or may not believe in if you try and tell me your religion is any better than mine. Because it's not.
Let me return to my pseudo-historical analysis of history. Religion originally answered our questions about life and nature and why things happened the way they did. But soon humanity collectively grunted (probably in Greek, Egyptian, Indian, or Nautal at this point) and realized that there were all these stories about all these gods and that maybe people should act the way the gods acted. Little did they realize that the gods already acted the way people acted. We created them in our own image because we had nothing else to pattern them after.
So the behavior of divine beings became a model for the behavior of humanity. Gods became like so many smurfs (only bigger). There was happygod, handygod, brainygod, and papagod. But there is an inherent, unavoidable danger in worshipping and blindly believing in beings created in your own image. Eventually, you tend to think that you can interpret or change what the gods have to say (heck, if I created a god I would definitely retain the right to be the deity's sole representative). And then others get the gods confused with the interpreters. And before you know it, the interpreters are just winging it. It happened in Greece, it happened in Rome, it happened in Egypt, in happened to the Anglican Church, it happened to Catholicism, it happened to the Bahai's, it happened to the Jews, it happened to the Muslims, and it happened to the Hindu's. And just because I left some religion out of my list doesn't mean it couldn't or hasn't happened (got that Buddhists?). Any religion that depends on some person making decisions about right or wrong for everyone else is a bunch of dookie. Right and wrong are personal things. Perhaps the only thing that should be forced on all people is the old golden rule -- which far predates any organized religion. But even doing unto others as you would have them do unto you has it's drawbacks. Because if I don't care what other's do to me then I'll be perfectly content to do whatever I please to others. However, as I'm aware of the repercussions and don't care about them then there's nothing that says I can't be immediately put to death. Thus, those who violate society's one and only true law are easily dealt with (because they're really not violating it). All sorts of contingencies are covered. What about those with incurable psychotic illnesses who feel the need to hurt? Well if I were one I'd want to be watched over and taken care of and that's just what we would do in such a society.
Anyway, as I wrote, right or wrong is a personal thing. My personal advice to believers in the 'great' organized religions is to take a close look at the world in which we live and the 'teachings' of your religion. Compare them to the actions. Do you need some man in white telling you what to do or some woman with a funny hat directing your behavior? Maybe you do, and if so I suppose that's okay. But realize that this is your choice, that it is no more valid for me then the statement "Buchannon will be the next President of the United States."
Organized religion has its place alongside Esperanto and Soviet Socialism. But it should not be in government and it should not be in schools. Newt Gingrich and his cronies can ask for a return to spirituality and piety because Americans (and people in general) could learn a lot by reflecting on the power of common decency towards fellow men and women.