God Continues; religion declines

It being Sunday, let us talk of God, faith, morality and religion.

So it’s reported at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197 that “religion” is dying, or being abandoned in several countries. And the implication of course is that a belief in God is being abandoned. And I don’t think that’s true. In fact, a belief in God is pretty continuous, it’s not declining whatsoever. It’s how mankind is coming to view our way of organizing our belief in God, and so it is Religion that is declining.

For Religion is organization, it’s buildings, bureaucrats, property, money, systems, bylaws, policy positions and leaders who are men and sometimes women. Religion is all sorts of man made contrivances to organize mankind’s belief in God. All societies believe in a God or Gods one way or the other. They just organize it differently. Religious wars have always been about who claims the best organization, and often, it is true, the best organized have the most resources and so thus can win any war it chooses to wage. Until some other organized religion comes along to fight for their organization; like some Muslims, and some fundamentalist Christians too. They’re fighting, one more violently for sure, for the right to establish the organization of religion for everyone, for the “true” way of God. But God didn’t create religion; this is an invention of mankind. And I think that’s what’s disappearing – the need for organization, the belief that there’s a system of worship, rather than only a method of living. But belief God is still here; it’s not going away.

For God is really morality, and people are still no more or less moral than they have ever been. Some are better at it than others, others need to be put away for their morality is just skewed. And this morality is pretty much the same in all religions: treat others as you wish to be treated; help those who need it if you can; harm no one; don’t kill, don’t steal; be moderate in one’s consumption; share with the needy, help lift up the depressed, be responsible for yourself and those you bring into the world, do good work, love they neighbor as thyself – all these moral things are within every culture pretty much the same, regardless of what religion or religious texts they have come to use. This was in evidence with earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, and other places with natural disasters. Indeed, morality comes to the fore immediately, and people do what they can do salve the wounds. It’s morality based on Help Thy Neighbor which always brings out this immediate assistance.

Throughout history it has been some leaders of religion while rile up some followers to go attack another religion. Imams of today calling for Fatwa and Jihad against Christians isn’t really much different than 500 years ago when Catholics made war on Protestants. But Christians who blamed the earthquakes on gays (New Zealand) on not being Christian (Japan) – they’re just issuing Fatwas. They’re no different, except maybe I’m less worried about the Christian fundamentalist bombing a pizza shop. But I am worried about their beliefs when they say such things. And so religious war, of one kind or another, is still being waged, over whom gets to organize the religious practices and collect the dues for the leaders to live the good life.

This was the argument with the Reformation – it wasn’t necessary to have the Pope in Rome decree all things; it wasn’t necessary to have a curia, or bureaucrats, and collect money for some far away people, it wasn’t necessary to have a big collection of monasteries and cathedrals. And you certainly couldn’t just buy faith and God’s love with money. Nor did it really make a difference how the words used were said, but so long as it was in your heart. This is what Jan Hus argued as early as the 1370s, and John Wycliff, and a few others. And when I look at the list of nations in which this abandoning of organized religion is taking place:

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.”

I see it’s all countries that were part of the Reformation wars (even if three of them are transplanted cultures.) I see that five of them are English speaking, and the Netherlands and Finland have huge populations of English speakers, and Switzerland isn’t far behind on that. And it was John Wycliff who started it there in the 1350s by publishing a Bible in English, so that individuals could know morality and God without the intercession of Mystery and Latin speaking priests. Jan Hus took up the work in Prague.

Which is why then there’s the Czech Republic on the list, an English challenged country for sure. It is said to be the most nonreligious of them all, at some 60% or more of the population professing no faith. But they asked about religion, as if religion and God were inseparable; they did not ask about morality and God, which are not. Well, yes, the Czechs are not religious at all, haven’t been since 1400. They’re Hussites and Moravian Brethren and Freethinkers and Bohemian Brethren – these are the four loose organizations which came from the teachings of Jan Hus, and later, John Amos Komensky.

And when Hus preached the Czechs listened, and abandoned the Catholic Church in droves. To the point of the Pope calling for the suppression of the Czechs unless they returned to Catholicism. And Hus said, “no.” So he went to Constance, Switzerland, to discuss the matter, and was quickly arrested, tortured, and burned at the stake, in 1415. And the Czechs took grief, and really rose up against the Catholic Church, and for the next 100 years there were the Hussite Wars, and every Catholic Army that could be raised was sent against the Czechs. And they were fought off.

Then came the Reformation a 100 years later, and then it just gets messier. Eventually, the Catholics won, and chased away the Moravian Brethren, who wound up in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And the Bohemian Brethren went underground. And the Hussites and the Freethinkers you can’t find because they have no organization, they don’t have to meet together, or they can meet in a field, or at school. Or they might profess their faith in God while doing other things.

This abandoning of religion by Czechs, but maintaining Faith in God, made it to Louisiana. There’s a small Czech town, or community, called Libuse and Kolin, of which wrote half a book on, and they had no church in their area. There were some 200 Czech families, all speaking Czech, in the piny woods of Louisiana, at the turn of the 1900s, and they built no church and they worked on Sundays. But they did build a Komensky School. And this lack of Church, this work on the Sabbath, was not looked on kindly by the Louisiana Christians who populated Rapides Parish. And there was some bit of discussion, which couldn’t go far, for the Louisianians did not speak Czech, and the Czechs pretended to not know enough English. And thus nothing came of it more than disapproval of this bunch of foreigners.

When one of the people of the communities was asked about this he said, “We have no need of religion, for we have a faith in God and our Freethinking ways. We work on Sundays for there is work to be done, and we pray to God was we do it.” Then he was asked about the lack of a city hall or mayor. “We have no need of politicians for we each take care of ourselves and each other when it’s required.”

So when I see surveys like this, I think, well, the implication is wrong, and far too many people will take away that implication, that somehow an abandoning of religious practice is an abandoning of morality and Faith in God. For when you look at that list of nations, they are among the most decent on earth. They have maintained their morality, and perhaps increased it by not being so religious, for then you don’t have arguments over systems of belief, or liturgy, or curia, or the business side of it, the money; all you have left is Freethinkers with a Faith in God and a call to do what they can for the good of themselves and all. It is possible to follow the Ten Commandments without a preacher telling you to. Indeed, one should.

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