A lot of people believe that religions infuse morality and values in society, yet a proper reading of actual religious literature exposes some shocking quotes and verses that are as far from ethics as can be. While a lot of wonderful sayings are quoted from religious literature and teachings, it is also good for us to take an objective look at what has gone wrong and make a conscious effort to break free from the matrix of religion and replace any scriptural contradictions with good sense that comes from within.
- Abuse of Women: Religions often reflect social attitudes based on an inferior treatment of women with rape, domestic abuse and an overall lack of gender equality prevalent even to this day in most countries and cultures. Consider the Biblical passage 1 Corinthians 11.3 ‘the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God’ and Timothy ‘Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. Do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet’. According to Quran, verse 4:34 ‘Men are in charge of women by right of what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend for maintenance from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. But those wives from whom you fear arrogance – first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally, strike them.’ In some Islamic countries women are not permitted to be independent even to this day. Hindu literature such as The Laws of Manu, 9.2-3 state, ‘Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males of their families… A woman is not fit for independence’ and this attitude has been prevalent in many Hindu families. Regarding a woman accused of not being a virgin on her wedding night, Deuteronomy 22:20-21 of the Bible says ‘If.. no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.’
- Earth and Environment: Most religions have believed that a ‘higher’ being called God created Earth, making the planet inferior in comparison to God. According to such religions humans beings are superior as they are created in the image of God and that the creator has bestowed special authority and rights to humans over all of earth to dominate over. According to Genesis 1:25 ‘Have many children and grow in number. Fill the earth and be its master. Rule over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth and in Genesis 1:29 ‘The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand.’ The Judgement and Last Days are prophecies of horror upon earth meted by God and his angels as detailed in Revelations ‘The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.’and in Quran 56:4-6 , ‘when the earth is shaken with convulsion, and the mountains are broken down, crumbling, and become scattered dust.’
- Ritual Slaughter: Popular religious literature are replete with animal sacrifices mentioned multiple times in continuance of pagan traditions. For example, Quran 22:36 ‘The animal offerings are among the rites decreed for you by God. In them there are benefits for you. So mention God’s name on them while they are lined up, then, once they collapse on their sides, you shall eat therefrom and feed the poor and the needy’. Bible’s Exodus 29.10-14 ‘You shall slaughter the bull before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. You shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; and you shall pour out all the blood at the base of the altar.’ This tradition of killing and blood sacrifice extended in Jesus’s sacrifice as the ‘lamb of God’ with his blood purifying believers of the religion. Hindu texts such as Ramayana mention Lord Rama hunting animals such as deer while ritual sacrifice of bulls and other animals such as Horses is detailed in ‘yagyas’ such as Ashvamedha or horse sacrifice in Rig Veda Chapter I Hymn CLXII ‘ The four-and-thirty ribs of the Swift Charger, kin to the Gods, the slayer’s hatchet pierces. Cut ye with skill, so that the parts be flawless, and piece by piece declaring them dissect them…Such of his limbs as I divide in order, these, amid the balls, in fire I offer..’ When it comes to ‘blood’ some religious people feel they can drain or wash off the blood and eat the flesh not the blood….some scriptures encourage you to eat animals slaughtered a special way, or to eat specific animals. Originally in Genesis in the sixth day of creation, after creating human God says ‘ Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all of earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food.’ Later after being upset with humans for being evil God destroys everyone except Noah and his ark and then permits eating of animals.
- Racial Discrimination: Gods in religion have been partial to certain communities and castes at times, for instance the Biblical deity favors Israel and curses Egyptians with several plagues and wrath including killing of newborns in order to display his power sparing people of Moses who were instructed to smear blood of lamb upon their doors described as the Lord’s Passover in Exodus 12. ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.’ This Passover is a popular Jewish festival. In Hindu texts such as Manusmriti caste system has been detailed which has led to centuries of social stigma and discrimination against what is denoted as ‘lower caste’ or ‘Shudra’ by birth or work while giving higher respect to ‘Brahmins’ or priestly class.
- Child Abuse: The horrors of circumcision have been imposed upon babies and the practice is strangely widespread in religious cultures promoting male circumcision as well as in some cases female genital mutilation, both of which are painful and forced upon the child by parents. While FGM has been criticized internationally, male circumcision, in-spite of being extremely painful and in certain cases fatal has been widely promoted by the medical and religious community to preserve the tradition. Child marriages while abolished in many countries are still prevalent in many cultures and ancient texts whether Biblical or Islamic have also included dowry as payment to the bride’s family in return of marrying the bride which may have led to families marrying young girls early to the highest bidder. In Hindu societies a reverse dowry in which women’s families pay large amounts to the groom’s family has led to numerous deaths of brides who are unable to arrange payment. Due to the overemphasis on respecting elders and obeying one’s parents in religious instructions of most cultures, child abuse and pedophilia has been a common social phenomena that often goes unnoticed in families although religious institutions such as churches have been strongly accused of the same. Ritual child abuse and infanticide has not been unheard of in ‘tantric’, pagan, shamanic and tribal rites.
- Harmful Superstitions: Fear based ideas such as demons, devil, sin, angry and vindictive gods, hell and eternal torment of the soul and condemnation preached to the masses including children in religious institution can cause tremendous psychological harm. Images of fearsome deities, sacrifice, crucifix, torture and judgement day or apocalypse can be equally terrifying to sensitive individuals. The story of Adam and Eve exposes angry Gods who lies to humans to keep us away from knowledge and curse us, and the story of the Tower of Babel where the same jealous Gods divide us and confuse our languages directly goes against the concept of truth and love as God. Paranoia of witchcraft has contributed to the murder of thousands of innocent women and children for no fault of theirs by simply accusing them of bringing upon misfortune on families and neighborhoods. This practice has been continuing to this day not only in villages of India and Africa but also in certain parts of the western world especially in closed communities with intervention of priests in many a case to exorcise the child accused of being possessed by devil or bad spirits. The Bible clearly states in Exodus, ‘You must not allow a sorceress to live in Exodus 22:17’ and with no clear understanding of who is a ‘sorceress’ any woman could be accused and put to death whether or not actually a witch and even if she had no malicious intentions.
- Religious Bias and Prejudice: Some religions preach that those who accept and follow their faith are righteous and forgiven while those of other faith are unrighteous and condemned. This gives right to biased and prejudiced attitudes even if unexpressed verbally and a superiority complex based on a belief that followers of the said religion are special people of God or the chosen ones for heaven while non-believers are inferior. These attitudes are openly conveyed by believers of popular faiths whether through churches or religious literature which are in continuous circulation despite of the perpetration of religious tensions, fundamentalism and hate crimes in many parts of the world. Multiple passages in religious scriptures speak of killing and judgement of pagans, idol worshipers, those who practice divination, work with spirit or practice magical arts. Believers also prevent others from saying anything at all regarding any of the unethical aspects of their faith so that we respect their religious sentiments even though they seem to not have much respect for any other views except that of their religion. In the past Blasphemers have been executed or killed and till date there are countries where the national faith has to be respected regardless of ethics if one does not wish to be severely punished by law.
- Wars: Not only has the history of earth been marred by religious wars such as jihads and crusades, religions have also been tools for controlling the minds of people with an aim of political domination by monarchs and dictators. Royalty, Nations and Parliaments have had many conflicts, civil wars and fights for defending their religious sect for example Protestantism in Britain, and the continuous wars in the middle east. Religious texts are replete with glorification of war crimes, for example Psalm 137.9 of the Bible, the popular song By the rivers of Babylon goes, ‘O Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, blessed is he who repays you as you have done to us. Blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks’ while Isaiah 13.16 states ‘Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes, their houses will be looted, and their wives will be ravished. Bhagvad Gita was dictated on the battleground to motivate Arjuna to fight in war against his own relatives by Krishna who displayed his enormous form and delivered a mesmerizing philosophical speech to convince his disciple to participate in war. Quran chapter 9 says, ‘fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)’ and verse 8.65 ‘Prophet! Rouse the believers to wage war. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will subdue two hundred: if a hundred, they will subdue a thousand of the disbelievers’
- Animal Husbandry: Treating animals as possessions and slaves against their will, kidnapping them, forcefully breeding them, stealing their milk and eggs and finally killing them for food has been the largest continuing problems of human society yet legalized as an industry. Regardless of ample scientific evidence concerning health, nutrition and environment to support transition to plant based and vegan living, people still justify the abuse and murder of dairy cows, male calves, hens, male chicks and billions of farmed animals year after year. The common religious excuses are that Krishna loved dairy, Rama and Sita ate meat, Jesus ate fish and that popular texts such as Bible and Quran state that God allowed humans to eat ‘every moving thing’ with very few exceptions. No amount of nutrition education or documentary evidence of animal suffering seems to move the hearts of some people who are brainwashed by religion and culture and addicted to taste.
- Human Slavery: Religious scriptures have promoted slavery, sexual slavery and apartheid as stated in Peter 2.18 ‘Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.’ Exodus 21:7-11 ‘When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again’, and Leviticus 25:44-46 ‘you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.’ Verse 33:50 of Quran ‘ We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty. We all are aware of the terrors of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Daesh in the middle east with women and children captured and taken as slaves.
- Plagiarism: Many people are now beginning to examine how religious scriptures may have been influenced or plagiarized from other historic sources predating the common era by thousands of years. Similarities exist for example Biblical Seven Days of Creation to Mesopotamian Seven tablets of Creation called Enuma Elis, the Genesis flood and Noah’s Ark is strikingly similar to the flooding and ark in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Exodus to the Ipuwer papyrus, Ten Commandments to Babylonian Code of Hamurrabi, the Biblical stories of devil being defeated resembles visions of deities such as Durga overcoming ‘asuras’, the story of Christ and Second coming bear semblance to birth of Krishna and his return as Kalki Krishna avatar at the ‘end times’. The claim of western religion that it is the one and only true religion and their scriptures are from God, or that their God is the only true God are not usually regarded as factual with the diversity of rich and complex mythologies from Egypt, India and from all over the planet enriching our understanding of religious history.
It is indeed strange that all these religious texts no matter how violent or unethical are still legal and widely circulated as ‘holy’ and ‘noble’, and taught even to children. Children are considered to be ‘born into’ faith by parents and often ‘baptized’ as if they are bound to the beliefs of parents by default. We are required to respect religious beliefs for fear of how strong minded adherents of these beliefs could react, having seen tremendous violence and terrorism from religious believers and fundamentalists in the past. We continue to appreciate and accept religious scriptures regardless of what is actually written in them, either because we do not have time to read every line the voluminous texts or because we would rather not use our own minds when faced with grandiose authority of religious preachers and elders. In either case when it comes to ethics, we can only heal our planet by rejecting those parts of religion that have been very harmful and focusing instead on only liberal, positive and equality based messages from all sources, religious or otherwise, especially the voice of our own hearts.