Getting Our Heads out of the Box

by C. M. Albrecht

Fulfillment of Life

Man in Box

Here on our little earth, a tiny dot lost among the stars of the vast universe, I see organized religion as our greatest and most restrictive impediment to the enjoyment and fulfillment of life.

Religious leaders the world over constantly attempt to impose their world views upon us, citing their “holiness” or their ability to communicate directly with God, a privilege not accorded base mankind. This is, and had always been the privilege of the priesthood.

From earliest days, men, just like you and me, with women excluded of course, have had built constructions they called their temples. They told everyone the temples were sacred, and to raise their own stakes in the estimation of the populace, inside these temples they had constructed for themselves a smaller area called their “Sanctum Sanctorum”.  By the time we had reached the age of Roman domination, Latin became the sacred language of the priesthood, hence the Latin name for their inner circle, a place so holy that only the priests themselves might enter. The rest of us may have considered ourselves lucky to be able to enter the temple itself and often marvel at the precious objects that increasingly found a home within those sacred walls.

This was at a time when no one read. Well, no one but the priesthood, and by the time of the beginning of Christianity when Latin was popular, they began writing everything in Latin, thus making it impossible for any layman to read and understand save what the priests told him.

All this was accompanied as might be expected by a great deal of sanctimonious pomp and ceremony, impressive and flowing robes not lacking in gold and silver embellishments, all designed to further impress upon the general populace the power and grace of the priesthood as opposed to the squalor of the average citizen.

Today of course, most of us read and write. Most documents once available to the elite in the original Latin or Greek, are now readily available to us all in the language of our choosing.

But throughout the millennia, life on earth has developed and changed, perhaps not always for the better, but change it has.

Although today we can read and write, few of us have really spent time in consideration of what we have been taught since childhood. One thing that should come to mind when we do take a moment to reflect: the priesthood still exists. Not always with the pomp and ceremony of a relative few of today’s churches, and certainly not in the way it existed before the time of Jesus. But it still exists. It exists not only in most organized churches, but in every tiny corner church where some “reverend” or “pastor” or “evangelist” impresses upon anyone who will listen (especially if they bring a little money for the privilege) that this particular individual, whether he call himself a pastor, or a minister; whatever, this individual will claim that he or she alone has the secret reserved only for the enlightened and now the Lord has sent him/her to divulge that secret to you, if only you will listen and obey.

Bottom line here: Organized religion, while it may help some feel better, help some to want to be better citizens, it also directs us to keep our thinking inside a box. Inside a very small box with the lid tightly closed, as if we’re protecting ourselves in a storm cellar even when no storm is to be detective on the horizon.

We are admonished to listen to the words of this particular pastor as if God himself were speaking into our ear, and we are never to listen to others who only talk religion without knowing or understanding the true faith. The one and only Real Faith.

My admonishment on the other hand is to open the lid of the box, get out and stretch and look around. Read. Find out what you need to know about religion. Many live by the Bible, carry it with them day and night and believe every word has been inspired by God and must be true. Perhaps these ancient peoples were only writing the “blogs” of their day. Supposing they wrote only what they believed, or had deduced from their observation of the world around them. Isn’t it likely that a person who was able to read and write might want to keep a journal to jot down these speculations?  And, in an age where there are no railroads, no telephones, no aircraft, none of the modern products we share today, were available to that ancient scholar, then how could he/she describe mental visions that might arise in his speculative moments?

In the early days of the arrival of Europeans, our Native Americans became aware of many new objects they had never before seen and had no real words or explanations for them. Actually, it is said that when Columbus landed, the native inhabitants asked how he had arrived and he pointed to his ships. They looked and looked but saw nothing. Their minds were in a box. That box contained canoes perhaps or a raft, but that was the extent of their view of the ocean. Eventually it was necessary to row some of them out to the ships before they could actually grasp the reality of what they were being told.

They had no name for alcoholic beverages or rifles, etc. Despite Hollywood’s idea of what Native Americans called these things, such as “fire stick”, most tribes quickly came up with their own name, a name that made sense to them.

The different tribes had their own religions. Who can say they were uninformed while Europeans, or more specifically the Europeans and the Middle-Eastern Priesthood knew all the answers and were determined to correct the mistaken beliefs of these “primitive” peoples?

Thinking for a moment about this, does it make any sense whatsoever? We’ve been taught to believe in the Judeo-Christian ideology, but all over the world, since the beginning of mankind itself, people have felt the necessity of having some sort of belief in a higher power. Surely this universe did not simply spring out of nothingness.

Today we smile at Norse gods, Greek gods and Roman gods as well as Egyptian gods and most of the other deities of the past. Someday perhaps a more enlightened society will smile in the same way at the major beliefs of citizens of our century.

Listening to a good speaker exhort us to be better citizens, to behave in a more humane way toward our brethren, to show mercy, compassion and many of the other attributes taught by most of the great religious leaders, all these are good and can be very beneficial. They can help bring many through a difficult period or to make a more thoughtful decision about a contemplated action. But these exhortations should always be kept in the proper proportion. These are not necessarily from the mouth of God, not do they need to be. They’re common sense solutions to most of our world’s problems today.

Let us wake up and separate fact from fiction, and let us be mindful that no matter what our religious faith, under the skin of varied colors, we are indeed all brothers and sisters and therefore family. Real families stick together through thick and thin and the strong take care of the weak when they need it.

After all this jeremiad, I do not mean to imply that we should not have beliefs. It is the right of every individual to believe whatever he/she likes.

I’m not writing this to profess a deity nor am I here to preach atheism or agnosticism. It is my belief that any beliefs are an intensely personal choice and whatever a person chooses to believe, or perhaps to doubt, is that person’s business and it is not for us to ask nor to assume. I feel that if a person’s belief helps that person in some way, as offering hope, someone to turn to, a promise of a better life in the future, the conviction that a greater (and kindly) power presides over us,then more power to that person. Granted,  despite the strife in the world, all this may indeed be part of vast eternal plan, one however that unfortunately did not include making Tevye a rich man.

The reader of this little essay, if he/she is still reading, may profess a certain organized religion and may therefore be shocked, even offended by the foregoing. Others may never have given it much thought.

My single goal here is not to dissuade anyone from any religious belief, not from any organized church, but simply to ask the reader to open the box even if just a little and take a look around.

Haven’t you ever noticed how people use and distort religion to their own needs and desires? When Henry VIII was unable to get the Pope to permit a divorce, he changed the course of English religious history. He formed the Church of England and got his divorce as well. But that wasn’t enough. Others, not quite agreeing with one tenet or another,  formed their own organizations. Each time a new religious organization takes hold, it jealously rejects any other beliefs. This is what led to the voyage of the Mayflower.

Here in our country, the Puritans jealously guarded their faith and proscribed any other. And so it goes.

Today, with heavy fighting in the political arena, many spend more time worrying about the different candidates’ religious affiliation than any other thing. In their minds, the important thing for a president is to share the same faith as the person who voted for him/her. Here we are, an educated nation, many have college degrees, and we all forget one of the most vital caveats our wise forefathers got into First Amendment to the Constitution: (For those who don’t know, or don’t remember: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” And for those who believe this somehow to be ambiguous, Article Six of the United States Constitution reads: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States”.

One last word: Open that box you may have been hiding in. The counsel and advice of others may be wonderful, but an attribute I see as being a much more valuable and wonderful tool is to start thinking for yourself. Question the things you hear, especially when a person tells you he/she “knows for a fact”.