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Chapter 7: Religion,

Spirituality, and World Peace

In a world where reason seems to have failed, many are calling for a planetary spiritual rebirth. Faith, it is hoped, will accomplish automatically what leaders have failed to do intentionally over the centuries. U Thant, for one, suggested that: "One of the troubles of our times is that scientific and technological progress has been so rapid that moral and spiritual progress has not been able to keep up with it. . . . What is necessary in these tense times is to try to develop our moral and spiritual values in order to catch up with the technological and scientific advances."1

While religious sentiment has many positive aspects, it has also revealed a dark side (as history will attest). Therefore, if religion is to be an effective force for supporting humanity's evolution toward peace, the positive aspects of religion need to be accentuated and the negative aspects need to be recognized for what they are so they can be minimized, if not eliminated altogether.

The Beginnings of Religion

It is speculated that religion arrived on the planet very soon after humans arrived. Soon after becoming conscious of being alive, early man also became conscious of inevitable death. (Intellectual awareness, with its ability to help us anticipate problems, has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it helps us compete effectively for survival. A curse because no matter how successfully we compete, we know that in the end we must die.)

Religion has helped millions of people cope with this unhappy prospect by promising another life beyond this one. On the positive side, belief in an afterlife can help people be more at peace. However, if they don't quite succeed in believing, and decide that they require the agreement of others before they can truly believe, holy wars and other less-than-civil events unfold.

Ever since I was a child, I have often heard people say, "this would be such a peaceful world if everyone believed the way I do." And then their actions would go on to say, "and until they do, I will personally make sure there is no peace!" This made me very skeptical of religion, but I didn't give up hope. For a long time I studied religions around the world, looking for the thread of truth that united all the world's religions.

Two Primary Components of Religious Belief

My studies and deliberations thus far have led me to divide religion into two basic components: cosmological speculation and ethics . Cosmological speculation consists of ideas about the world beyond our senses, and ideas regarding our place in it. Ethics , as we considered in Chapter 3 , is simply a prescription for types of behavior which humans ought to aspire to.

Cosmological Speculation

Thus far I am familiar with six cosmological theories, or speculations. They are as follows:

1. The Heaven and Hell theory

This speculation is usually associated with Christianity, but the belief in heaven and hell is not held exclusively by Christians. According to this theory, people who live according to the requirements of their religious leaders are promised that they will spend an eternity in heaven with God after they die. On the other hand, people who do not conform are threatened with eternal torment by the flames of hellfire. In short, if you agree with the person who is trying to sell you their speculation, you get to go to heaven, and if you disagree, you are invited to go to hell.

2. The Theory of Reincarnation.

This speculation can be useful in assuaging our frequently wounded sense of fair play. In this life we often witness the triumph of the brutal and the defeat of the virtuous. Machiavelli tells us that, "A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good."2 The theory of reincarnation allows us to concede to The Marquis DeSade that virtuous people often come to terrible ends while tyrants die in peaceful old age with great honors in this life, and yet we can still feel assured that "the universe" will make it right in the end (i.e. the next life).

Reincarnation offers us another luxury. When our lives are out of control, instead of thinking about what we are doing now to contribute to the problem, we can speculate about how we are paying for some foolishness we did in a previous life. (I couldn't possible be dumb enough to cause these problems in this life!) This, of course, may make us feel better, and good feelings are a necessary start for change, but in many cases change takes more than just good feelings.

An aspect of this theory that has interested me is the promise that if we develop sufficient detachment, we will escape the cycle of reincarnation and be able to blend in with the Godhead. By doing so, it is promised that we will be relieved of the suffering that supposedly accompanies an autonomous existence. After watching some seekers lust after detachment, I couldn't help but wonder if their search wasn't backfiring, costing them even more cycles around the wheel of karma. It seems to me that it might be more productive to make this life such that we would not fear a return performance.

3. Eternal Recurrence .

This theory is neither well known nor very popular. In this scenario, we repeat the exact same lifetime every cycle of the universe--about three trillion years--and our challenge is to simply see if we can close an eyelid at the precise moment that we opened that eyelid in the last cycle. For an experience of what this cosmological approach is like, I recommend reading Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky.3

4. Paradise Earth/Eternal Death .

This system suggests that those who fall short of the glory of God will merely be dead for eternity, while the righteous will rise once again to reclaim the lost Garden of Eden. Even though eternal death is not as scary as burning in hell, I have seen elders in the Jehovah's Witness community effectively set up "toll booths" in their little religious communities, thereby enjoying lots of power and control over their congregations.

5. Atheism .

Atheists generally declare that this life is it. We have only one chance to live a good life, so let's make the most of it. Some atheists become atheists because they have been turned off intellectually by the notion of an anthropomorphic god and an all-too-human afterlife. Other atheists were turned off emotionally because of the breaches of ethics they have seen done by believers in the name of religion. In any case, there can often be a surprising amount of fanaticism on the part of an atheist who presumably has little to look forward to. (On the other hand, some righteous indignation might be in order. The voice mail message for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Denver ends with, "And remember. There once was a time when religion ruled the earth. It is called the Dark Ages.")

6. Agnosticism .

The agnostic just lives, making the best use of what can be known and not worrying about what cannot be known. As for cosmological speculation, the agnostic simply says, "I do not presume to know." For an agnostic, it requires as much knowledge of the world beyond the senses to declare that there is no God as it does to declare that there is a God.

Agnostics have been known to draw criticism from both believers and atheists. According to the believers, "outright atheism is more to be respected than worldly indifference . . . the complete atheist stands on the penultimate step to most perfect faith, . . . but the indifferent person has no faith whatever except a bad fear."4 From the atheists we hear, "[t]he agnostic . . . thinks he is avoiding any position that will antagonize anybody. In fact, he is taking a position which is much more irrational than that of the man who takes a definite but mistaken stand on a given issue, because the agnostic treats arbitrary claims as meriting cognitive consideration and epistemological respect."5, 6

According to the believer, the agnostic lacks faith, and according to the atheist, the agnostic lacks reason. However, their statements, when juxtaposed to one another suggest that "[t]he opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not."7

To the agnostic, it makes little sense to trash this life over disagreements about the next one. The Supreme Power of the Universe will be what it is, whether or not we kill each other in our desperation to find out.

7. Fill in the Blank.

There are probably more cosmologies that I am not aware of. Nevertheless, they, too, are speculations about what is to become of us once our bodies go on strike and refuse to breathe air any more. What is probably more important than having the "correct" speculation is how we use our chosen speculation as a guide for everyday living.

The Emotional Need for Cosmological Speculation

Fortunately, some religious leaders are beginning to reconsider the folly of "cosmological-speculation-jealousy." The First World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in 1893 and the Second meeting was held in Chicago, Vancouver and Bangalore in 1993.8 U Thant summed up the sentiments of enlightened believers very nicely: "I believe that Buddhism as a religion is superior to other religions, but this conviction does not blind me to the fact that there are hundreds of millions of people who believe otherwise. I understand this, and because of this understanding I believe in peaceful coexistence."9

The task of considering and acknowledging the subjective nature of cosmological speculation will not be an easy one. The conviction that we possess ultimate truth for all times is a seductive notion. Unfortunately, the demand for such knowledge says more about our inability to accept our finite selves than it says about our ability to actually acquire such an all-pervading awareness.

Faith, by its very nature is an emotional act. Its purpose is to calm us down and to protect us from being overwhelmed by the fleeting nature of our existence . (I have found it useful to mentally project myself to the other side of the grave and then look back on my life. Such a perspective tends to shrink the pressing problems of the moment significantly. However, this doesn't require cosmological speculation. The knowledge that we will all die someday is sufficient.)

Ultimately, in matters of cosmological speculation, any answer will do. To spend an excessive amount of time using our intellects to count angels standing on the head of a hypothetical pin is to divert valuable time and resources away from an aspect of religion we can do something about--ethics. Ethics is our more immediate concern because specific behavior always has corresponding consequences regardless of the picture we hold in our mind's eye about the world beyond.

Spirituality and Religion

In recent years I have been hearing more people say, "I'm not a religious person, but I am a spiritual person." Although the dictionary tends to lump religion and spirituality together, I shall attempt to draw a distinction between the two. At first, this distinction may seem arbitrary, but over the course of the next couple of paragraphs, my point should become more clear.

Throughout my life, I have heard spirituality referred to more in terms of a person's heart and his or her overall relationship to life, whereas religion tends to focus on divining the one correct cosmological truth. Typically, a spiritual person is thought of as one who is at peace with herself or himself and at peace with the rest of the world. A religious person is as likely as not to start a conflict because someone else does not share the same cosmological vision.

Over the years, I have met many spiritual people. Their choice of cosmological speculation mattered little. People with gentle spirits are at peace with themselves and the world whether they be Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic or whatever. Of course, this means sharing the vision of U Thant: preferring one's own faith and staying true to it while allowing others the right to their own beliefs.

The possibility of different faiths tolerating each other may be quite new. "In the past, the larger proportion of religions has helped only select groups of people, fostering harmony and friendship within that group, but greeting others with hostility. This is why religion has been such a divisive force in human history, a catalyst for war and destruction."10 Religious doctrine offers a powerful conduit for bringing smaller groups of people together, but spiritual development is the key to both inner and outer peace. It is at once a very individual journey and our best hope for people to identify with humanity as a whole.

To me, the essence of spiritual development is the recognition that we are interconnected with everything around us. Furthermore, we do not have to look beyond our own experience to figure out that we did not create ourselves. A person can come to that awareness of our interconnectedness by studying any discipline of knowledge in depth. Biology can help us comprehend the "reciprocal-feeding-and-maintenance-of-everything-existing-in-the-universe." Economics convinces us that an interdependence among many people is necessary for the full enjoyment of a peaceful and prosperous journey between the cradle and the grave. And the list goes on. . . .

Eric Fromm speaks of two types of faith. "Psychologically, faith has two entirely different meanings. It can be the expression of an inner relatedness to mankind and affirmation of life; or it can be a reaction formation against a fundamental feeling of doubt, rooted in the isolation of the individual and his negative attitude toward life."11 Naturally, I advocate the former.

In my cassette tape series titled Your Power to Create Love, I introduced a concept I call "Using the Slide Rule of Sanity." In the tape I made the following comments:

The term, slide-rule of sanity , is probably new to you because I coined that term myself. In a nutshell, this concept refers to our ability to acknowledge our interconnectedness with everything else. One important characteristic of insanity is that the person suffering from it believes they are alienated and separate from everyone and everything else. It is really scary to believe that everyone is out to harm us, and if we make the slightest misstep we are done for. . . .
As we become more sane, we focus on creating value instead of confiscating value created by others. As we become more sane, we encourage people instead of putting them down. As we become more sane, we recognize that we are a part of something larger in which we participate. Sanity means recognizing that we are not alone, and that "life is a gift to be enjoyed--not a sentence to be served."12

From this perspective, spiritual development has more to do with becoming sane than it has to do with choosing the "right" cosmological speculation from one of a number of "roulette wheels" of religion.

The Roulette Wheel of Religion

This section is a side-trip from our exploration of religion and ethics, but I cannot throw out a term like roulette wheel of religion without explaining it. To my knowledge, both Christian and Moslem religions have around 500 denominations each. I know there are "sects" within Buddhism and Hinduism, but I don't think they have quite as many divisions religiously. (Their fights seem to be more motivated by nationalism--a secular religion, if you will.13) In any case, the scenario goes something like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! Your challenge is to pick the one true faith that Mr. God approves of--to pick the one peg of truth from a number of wheels of religious experience! If you make the right choice, Mr. God will forever celebrate your name in paradise where the weather is always 70 degrees, where there are mountains of sweet meats to gorge on, and beautiful maidens will be available simply for the taking. (Unless, of course, you are a beautiful maiden.) But . . . if you lose . . . you will be forever cast into a lake of fire where the air reeks of sulfur and you will be given no water to drink and only one heavily salted cake each day. Now that you know how serious the stakes are, are you excited yet?"

The typical believer is fated to have access to only one wheel of religion to begin with. Then that person is likely to have studied only five religions (pegs) to any depth. With such scant knowledge, the believer must make three assumptions. First, the one true faith is to be found on the one roulette wheel of religion presented by fate. Second, the one true faith is to be found among the five pegs that were available for in-depth study. And third, that their own personal nature and inclinations will somehow mystically guide them toward choosing the one correct denomination out of the five. Given the statistical improbability of finding that one true faith, this might be why we call it faith.

It has amused me for some years now to hear people try to convince others to share their particular brand of cosmological speculation. These people offer directions for safe passage to the world beyond the grave with greater certainty than they would give for a trip to a store three blocks away. When we consider the odds of finding the one and only faith Mr. God approves of, given the number of faiths to choose from and the limitations of our senses, such claims can appear quite presumptuous.

This brings to mind an experience I had during breakfast at a restaurant some years back. While I was sitting at the counter, sipping my cup of caffeine and studying, a man came in and sat down next to me. Pretty soon he feigned an interest in the book I was reading. This turned out to be his opening to start a conversation that was intended to bring me into his fold. He was an interesting young man, so I took time away from my book to ask him some questions--most of which he answered with clichés that I was already familiar with. Nevertheless, even though he was not faring well in the discussion/debate, he decided to "close the sale" with a story. He said something to the effect of, "You know, Larry; every morning I get up and pray to the Lord: 'Send me where you would have me go.' This morning I made that daily prayer, and lo and behold, here I am talking with you." I thought for a second and then replied: "That is interesting. I wonder who was sent here to save whom?" Much to my amazement, he stopped cold, thought for a long moment, and said, "You might be right."

I never saw him again after that morning. Hopefully, he did not give up his faith because he caught a glimpse of its subjective nature. The best outcome would be for him to carry his faith a little lighter. I do not advocate that people give up their faiths. Rather, I advocate what I call mature faith . By mature faith, I mean a faith that is self-sufficient. People with mature faith do not have to go on crusades in pursuit of agreement from others.

The more we try to justify our faith the weaker we reveal it to be. If one's faith can engender a sense of peace and purpose, that is sufficient. In the end, the best we can hope to gain is "the peace that passeth all understanding."15 (And that is no small accomplishment.) This life offers us plenty of challenges to use our intellects to map out the cause and effect relationships that guide nature and human relations. Just think of all the possibilities that would be available for humanity were we to stop using our intellects to figure out what is beyond the reach of our senses, and instead started using them to solve pressing everyday problems?

Once again, there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. Just because a religion claims to know the absolute truth for all time doesn't mean that the people who ascribe to that belief are peaceful. Religions often use coercion in order to win converts and/or to control the lives of others. They are anything but spiritual. On the other hand, people who are at peace with themselves and the world are spiritual even if they do not entertain any cosmological speculation.

The Psychology of Religion

After my initial disaffection with religion eased up, I started to wonder what psychological needs religion could fulfill. Earlier I mentioned that religion can offer a sense of knowing about what's to become of us after we die. While this promises to make our fleeting existence more meaningful, common traps such as confusing faith with knowledge carry their own hazards.

Eric Fromm suggests that "If we analyze religious or political doctrines with regard to their psychological significance we must differentiate between two problems. We can study the character structure of the individual who creates a new doctrine and try to understand which traits in his personality are responsible for the particular direction of his thinking. . . . The other problem is to study the psychological motives, not of the creator of a doctrine, but of the social group to which this doctrine appeals. . . . Only if the idea answers powerful psychological needs of certain social groups will it become a potent force in history."16

Thus far, I can think of four reasons why religion is both popular, and is in some cases useful. They are projection , certainty about the future, belonging to a group, and power . In this section, the motive of the followers (projection, certainty, and belonging) will be considered first, and then the motives of the leaders (power) will be looked at.


The first, and most subtle motive is projection . According to the Dictionary, projection is, "[t]he naive or unconscious attribution of one's own feelings, attitudes, or desires to others."17 Projection is most commonly identified as a defense mechanism people use to deny their own faults by insisting that those faults belong to someone else. However, people can project their virtues as well as their faults onto other people and things. (Besides, it would be philosophically inconsistent to have only a devil to take the blame for our weakness and/or depravity.)

Once, while I was at a public art exhibit held by a Denver art school, I saw a series of pictures showing humorous similarities between people and the pets they were walking. The one I most clearly remember was a white, fluffy poodle being walked by a woman who was wearing a white, fluffy fur coat. It was a wonderful example of how people choose things and relationships that are reflections of themselves.

Some years back I heard a radio interview with a leader of a humanist group. During the interview, the representative commented: "We have noticed that nice people worship nice gods and angry people worship angry gods. We are not worried about gods as such. We would just like to see more nice people." This struck a chord in me for I had observed the exact same thing. It is as if people have projected a blown-up image of themselves onto the sky and then proclaimed, "Behold, God!"

This brings to mind the story of a man who dreamed he was an ant. He quickly ran over to another ant and asked, "Quick. Tell me! Is God anything like you?" The other ant replied, "Oh, no. God is nothing like us. God has two stings." In other words, "If you think I am angry, you should see my God!"

While this next story only deals indirectly with the topic at hand, I must tell of a fun experience I had when a couple of Jehovah's Witness ladies cornered me on my apartment parking lot.

They first offered to give me a couple Watchtower magazines, which I politely refused. Then one of the ladies asked me if I wanted to learn about God's plan for man. I replied that I was familiar with a number of cosmological speculations, and that I believed that one speculation was good as the next.

Then the other lady asked me if I had children. I said, "no." She then informed me that if I had children, I would want them to obey me. And because we are God's children, it only stands to reason that God would want me to obey her. I was kind hearted that day, so I refrained from performing Kahlil Gibran oratory18 right there on the parking lot.

Finally, one of them asked me if I accepted the belief that humans sinned and were cast out from the Garden. I couldn't resist the temptation, so I countered, "If the forbidden fruit had been broccoli, we would still be in the Garden." Immediately, they broke out laughing. Lacking the necessary lung-power to support further debate, they just walked away. Obviously, no opinions were changed as a result of our debate. Nevertheless, it turned out to be fun for me, and I suspect it was fun for them also.

It is very difficult to imagine a God without making God a big human. That may be why the Hindus have said, "to define God is to deny God." When we think about God, we can only shrink God into a conceptual framework that is no larger than the limitations of our minds. Nevertheless, if we must think about God, I would suggest that by learning to be happier and more caring, God will become happier and more caring too.

Certainty About the Future

As individual human beings, we are not able to know what our individual destiny will be. Mortality tables can tell about how many people of a certain age will die each year, but it cannot tell which ones will die. Even though we can feel like the odds are on our side, we still have no guarantee. Naturally, we are bound to feel a certain nervousness about our precarious position in life.

For some people, the dread of not knowing the future is extremely painful. Even philosophers have had a fetish for declaring that anything that is temporary is not as valuable as that which is permanent. Between the common dread of death and philosophical assumptions that devalue the temporary, the demand for certainty has increased to the point that people will pay dearly for it. This means that anyone who convincingly declares that they know the future will enjoy a large, ready-made market.

Knowing the future with total certainty can be heady stuff. Whether certainty is gained through belief in God's revelation or through understanding the unstoppable "march of history", the psychological result is the same. People shift their identity from their puny flesh and blood selves and identify with a much larger force. Of course, the ultimate climax heralded by the vision does not take place until another life or at least until a future generation. "In all ages men have fought most desperately for beautiful cities yet to be built and gardens yet to be planted."19

Tragically, it does not seem that people can simply know the absolute truth and let it go at that. Increased certainty in the next life, or for the next generation, seems to come at the price of increased uncertainty in this life. During the inquisition, the religion of Christianity killed thousands of bodies in order to save the souls residing within them. The religion of Dialectical Materialism hastened the return of millions of "soulless" bodies back to the earth so the molecules and atoms composing them could be "recycled" more quickly. This, of course, was necessary in order to speed up the arrival of paradise on earth. Today, the Middle East is a hot-bed of religious activity. And of course, we know that their violence will stop just as soon as everyone around the world starts agreeing with them. (Prudence suggests I not hold my breath in anticipation of that grand day.)


The need to belong to a group and to be cared for and respected by others is very strong. As was mentioned in the chapter on economics, there is practical value in forming associations with other people. Through the principle of "economy of scale" people can increase their productivity through specialization. Of course, nature has also given us the need for companionship, nurturing, touch and sexual union. This way, when we get what we want, nature gets what she wants. To enjoy all of these advantages, we must associate with other people.

Of course, simply associating with a group of people is not as effective as identifying with them. "An individual may be alone in a physical sense for many years and yet he may be related to ideas, values, or at least social patterns that give him a feeling of communion and "belonging." On the other hand, he may live among people and yet be overcome with an utter feeling of isolation, the outcome of which, if it transcends a certain limit, is the state of insanity which schizophrenic disturbances represent."20 This has proven especially true in the case of prisoners of war. Those who identified strongly with their homeland held up much better under concentration camp conditions than those who did not feel that bond.

Once again we must ask what price is rational to pay for the privilege of belonging. We have already considered the high price many have paid in the section on certainty. Even so, there is still a big demand for belonging. According to Charles Malik, "The dialectical, polemical, and forensic skills of the communist representatives at the United Nations are on the whole quite outstanding. With notable exceptions--and the exceptions are quite important--the representatives of the West are not as gifted or as trained."21 This has been one of the major selling points of communism and socialism since its inception. In America, conservatives are attempting to use fundamental Christianity as a means of countering socialism's advantage.

Possibly because of this need for belonging, there is not much demand for philosophies that promote individual autonomy. "The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself."22

As was stated earlier, the need for belonging is not destructive in and of itself. However, when people so strongly identify with their little group that the word "stranger" is automatically equated with the word "predator," the scene is set for less peace and prosperity. One reason for the increased prosperity of the Western world in the last two centuries has been the increased "radius of trust" resulting from the formation of larger societies. Unfortunately, nationalism, coupled with technology, has created some gruesome spectacles as well.

Ultimately, if we are to have a feeling of belonging, it needs to be an identification with humanity as a whole. This is not to belittle the truth that predators are out there. Nevertheless, it is best to judge individuals on their own merits. The most we should do is to note that some cultures have a higher percentage of predators than other cultures, but even then we should hesitate to brand everyone within those culture as predators. (If they are surviving at all, someone is taking time out from predation in order to do some work.)

The final need people seek to meet through the feeling of belonging is the need for a sense of personal worth. Many people fail to find meaning in their own personal lives, so they attach themselves to their group with such ferocity that they exclude and condemn other groups. "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."23 We are in a sad mental state when we must validate ourselves through accidents of birth, or through the accomplishments of those we esteem.

Many religions and other societies thrive on feeling persecuted. To an extent, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people go into the world expecting to be abused, there will always be someone who will try to knock the chip off their shoulder. (Which indicates insecurity on the part of both parties.) Every persecution that has been suffered by the Jewish people, for instance, has only strengthened their resolve to remain cohesive. On the other hand, some intellectuals have expressed concern that they might be "loved to death" in America, because without persecution, younger generations are blending in with the larger culture.

In short, we need to try to keep our need for belonging down to a healthy level. A certain level of belonging is essential to survival, but beyond that, it is often counterproductive. Fortunately, we have two additional ways of establishing our value as autonomous human beings. First, we can acknowledge our intrinsic value--we have a right to be here, like the trees and the stars, otherwise we would not be here. Second, there are ways we can be productive in the service of our fellows. We do not have to be the best at something in order to be good . With at least this minimum amount of autonomy, we can love our God, love our family, and love our culture without having to declare war on the rest of the world.

Richard Ebeling probably sums it up best: "The idea of tolerance means that we recognize that not all that is good only belongs to ourselves, and that only reason and experience can teach us and others which ways of life are most beneficial and desirable. And the principle of individual liberty means that we respect each man's right and responsibility to choose his own way of living, speaking, and acting, though we may not share his choices and beliefs or always agree with all of his forms of conduct."24


Now we are ready to look at the motives of the leaders--the people who collect the sacrifices offered by the believers. This is not to say that the leaders are not also believers, but they do enjoy certain advantages unavailable to the rank and file.

Eric Hoffer suggests that most mass movements start as a result of men of words --intellectuals whose writings undermine the current regime's authority in the minds of the populace. After the men of words have done their work, men of action take over and spearhead the movement.25 Sometimes the men of words also fill the role of men of action, but most often they do not.

Many leaders start out with the purest of intentions, but when they actually achieve power, their hearts change. "A Luther, who, when first defying the established church, spoke feelingly of 'the poor, simple, common folk,' proclaimed later, when allied with the German princelings, that 'God would prefer to suffer the government to exist no matter how evil, rather than to allow the rabble to riot, no matter how justified they are in doing so.'"26 Other intellectual leaders find themselves horrified with the results of their ideas when they have been interpreted by the men of action. These distressed souls end up as outcasts from the very movements they inspired. Unfortunately, when a philosophical system calls for the use of force in order to create paradise on earth, most leaders who acquire power will take the use of force to its extreme.

Religion and politics have worked together and/or fought each other for a long time. "Throughout history the relationship between religious leaders and political leaders has varied from open conflict to collusion."27 In Chapter 5 , we explored the symbiotic relationship between religion and politics. With this in mind, we should not be considered too rash if we conclude that the pursuit of power is a strong motivation behind many religious philosophies and practices.

Ethics and Religion

One of the major problems of religion throughout history is that it has often promoted dual ethical systems: one code of behavior for relations with fellow believers, and another code of behavior for relations with outsiders. As was discussed in Chapter 3 , double ethical systems reduce the size of the "radius of trust," and in turn lead to less happiness and prosperity for cultures and communities who adopt such ethical norms.

Gurdjieff described the ascendancy of religions this way: "[T]he adherents of any sect are sectarian for other beings as long as they have no 'guns' and 'ships,' but as soon as they get hold of a sufficient number of 'guns' and 'ships,' then what had been a peculiar sect at once becomes the dominant religion."28

In other words, we only have to look at history and the world around us to know that religious faith alone does not guarantee peaceful relations among people. While I know religious people from various faiths who are truly peaceful, I also know others who ascribe to the same faiths who are anything but peaceful. Therefore, a factor other than cosmological speculation must be the crucial factor for determining whether or not "faith" will lead to inner and outer peace.

One major reason why ethics is hard to understand is because religion has set itself up as the authority on ethics, and it has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in defining ethical norms. As we considered in Chapter 3 , defining ethical behavior in terms of relationship dynamics is a more universal framework than ethical systems that require agreement regarding cosmological speculation.

Ever since childhood, I have often heard the wise refrain: "Never talk about religion or politics." Like most such truths, it was presented as self-evident, with little thought given as to why that bit of advice was, in fact, true. In recent years, however, the reason why we are wise to avoid these subjects has become obvious to me.

Religion and politics have been the two primary institutions that have, throughout history, asserted that some people have the "right" to live at the expense of the rest. Furthermore, those living at the expense of others demanded to be worshipped as part of the bargain. Consequently, people are wise to get concerned when religious and political debate takes place, because whoever loses the debate may lose their property, their freedom, or maybe even their lives. (When the talking stops and the guns come out.)

Religion as a Tool of Oppression

In the last two chapters, I have suggested that the proper role of government is to exercise defensive force on the behalf of productive citizens (who live by creating positive value for voluntary exchange). Of course, we know that governments routinely use force, fraud, and guilt to attain ends that are anything but defensive in nature. Religion has operated in much the same way, only it has been obliged to be more subtle in the Western world in recent times.

Whereas government has access to the tools of force, fraud and guilt, religion is limited to using guilt, with an occasional bit of fraud thrown in. (Jimmy Bakker, for one, tried selling real estate on earth using the same principles he had used for selling real estate in heaven. When people caught on, he ended up in jail.) Of course, the game is not over yet. We can anticipate that religions will work hard to regain control of the government. In the Middle East, for instance, Khomeini took over Iran and ushered in what appears to be a new Dark Age.

In America, there is a growing political activism of the "religious right" in order to escape abuses from the current liberal government. (David Koresh may have suffered from many delusions, but his fear of the government proved to be well-founded.) While many complaints by conservatives about the injustices brought about by the secular state are accurate, I doubt they would create a world I would want to live in. Oppression would not be lifted--only shifted.

In a sense, the ongoing battle between materialist liberals and religious conservatives could be seen as a holy war. Cosmological speculation does not have to include an anthropomorphic God, nor does it even have to promise an afterlife for the individual. Ludwig von Mises offered a new perspective when he wrote, "The history of the world's great religions is a record of battles and wars, as is the history of the present-day . . . religions, socialism, statolatry, and nationalism."29 This century has seen the grisly deaths of millions upon millions of people in the name of the inevitable workers' paradise.

Guilt as Religion's Prime Control Strategy

In Chapter 3 , I explored "The 5,000 Year-Old Con Game," how it has caused so much misery throughout history, and how even today it divides the world into two camps: givers and takers . Sacrifice is offered as the ideal and it is assumed that exploitation is the only alternative. The principle of voluntary exchange among people is regarded with disdain or disbelief because the dominant world view says that one person can gain only at the expense of another.

As a coercion strategy, guilt is as effective as it is subtle. Guilt can be used either offensively in the pursuit of involuntary transfers of wealth and power, or it can be used defensively as a means of slowing down the predators. Religion also has the potential to use this powerful weapon either way.

The primary negative use of guilt is to promote ideals that denigrate the survival instincts of humanity. Kierkegaard, for instance, offers this prescription for the ethical life: "The genuine tragic hero sacrifices himself and all that is his for the universal, his deed and every emotion with him belongs to the universal, he is revealed, and in this self-revelation, he is the beloved son of ethics."30 These words can be quite heady for someone who believes their life is irretrievably spoiled, but humanity would become simply another extinct specie were everyone to successfully fulfill these ideals.

Given that anyone who is alive has fallen short of these ideals, there is another possibility that might explain why such ideals are so popular. "Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men. Of course, you must dress it up. You must tell people that they'll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. 'Universal Harmony'-- 'Eternal Spirit'--'Divine Purpose'--'Nirvana'--'Paradise'--'Racial Supremacy' --'The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.' . . . The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it. . . . It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. . . . The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master."31

Very often the whole scheme backfires. Dr. Peter Breggin has observed: "Typically, a person disillusioned with life has been pursuing some variation of the ethics of altruism, with a heavy dose of self-righteous self-sacrifice. The individual learned self-sacrifice at the hands of parents who taught the child that 'selfishness' is wrong and that the needs of others come first. This was then reinforced by church, school, and government propaganda, all aimed at getting the individual to pursue the self-interest of others at the sacrifice of his or her own interests. When others then fail to repay in kind with sacrifices for the altruistic individual, and when altruism per se fails to bring joy, the individual can become embittered, disillusioned, and very vengeful."32

Not only does the morality of sacrifice kill the joy in personal relations, it has an impact on how the larger world works as well. In the early stages, sacrifice as an ideal is expressed with words like, "Today resources exist in such abundance that a world-wide extension of the principle of welfare is physically possible. All that is lacking is the political decision to do so. Is it possible that a society which boasts of its humanity and its Christian inspiration should ignore the challenge? Is it conceivable that such a society, having done so, should deserve to survive?"33 What makes these presumptions of moral superiority even more interesting is that "advocates of aid do not spend their own money; they advocate taxes."34

At the later stages, ". . . a nation brought up to regard the principles of duty and sacrifice as cardinal virtues will be helpless when confronted by a gang of thugs who demand obedience and self-sacrifice."35 And finally, the orgy of sacrifice comes to its logical conclusion. "'To be a socialist,' says Goebbels, 'is to submit the I to the thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.' . . . By this definition, the Nazis practiced what they preached. They practiced it at home and then abroad. No one can claim that they did not sacrifice enough individuals."36

Dual Ethical Systems and the Radius of Trust

Killing and stealing are held to be bad by the majority of religions--at least from fellow members of the religious community. Unfortunately, it often happens that people will be honest and faithful to members of their own religious community, but everyone else is considered fair game.

Extensive studies have been made comparing the difference between the Protestant and Catholic traditions and how their different assumptions have led to two totally different outcomes. According to Max Weber, "The God of Calvinism demanded of his believers not single good works, but a life of good works combined into a unified system. There was no place for the very human Catholic cycle of sin, repentance, atonement, release, followed by a renewal of sin."37 Lawrence E. Harrison suggests that Iberian cultures are hostile to economic advancement because the people within them only trust their family circle. That, coupled with a "winner take all" code of honor, greatly reduces the radius of trust, and in turn reduces the amount of prosperity that can be developed through trade. (This explanation goes a long way toward explaining the chronic poverty that is characteristic of Latin America.)

Fortunately, positive forces are at work in the international religious community seeking to promote tolerance among people who entertain different cosmological speculations. If they are successful, we can hope to see the day when the power of religion will aid in predator control instead of being just another vehicle for the predators to use.

Separation of Church and State

The notion of separating religion from politics has been a fairly recent development in history. Before that innovation, religion and politics were generally one and the same, with the king or emperor being either God or God's representative on earth. Of course, any device that would help these rulers stay in power was employed. Generally, religion and politics worked together. Faith and mysticism was used to calm the masses by offering them justice in a future life, and force was used to subdue the remaining few who refused to be calmed.

The separation of church and state was a significant step toward freeing individual productive human beings. Nevertheless, there remains much yet to be done. Some would go so far as to suggest the elimination of both church and state. However, that will probably never be feasible. People are always going to fear the unknown world beyond the grave that awaits them, and there will always be a certain portion of the population that is predatory by nature. Religion will always be useful in salving people's fears about death, and government will always be necessary for subduing predators. Our challenge, then, is to keep those crafty predators from gaining control of both the church and the state.

The Positive Use of Guilt

It has already been mentioned in Chapter 3 that guilt has positive possibilities as well as negative possibilities. Guilt is the feeling of regret we experience when we have fallen short of an ideal we have accepted. (It makes no difference whether we accept our ideals consciously or unconsciously.)

To be fair, religion has offered injunctions against predatory behavior with commands such as "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal." Were it not for these prohibitions, there might be even more predators than we now have.

Religion, then, offers a positive and practical service to humanity to the extent it attempts to plant these prohibitions deeply into the "operating program" of the human psyche. To an extent, religion has done this. Otherwise its value to people in everyday life would be nil.

Other Considerations

Thus far, this chapter has focused on cosmological speculation and ethics. Two additional issues need to be explored: epistemology and metaphysics . This section will only consider each issue briefly, given that a more in-depth study will be made in Chapter 10 .


From an epistemological perspective, our confidence in the value of our minds has been attacked consistently by religious leaders who do not want people to think for themselves. This attack has been precipitated on the notion that because our minds are powerless to understand God, they are powerless to understand the rest of the world as well. While it is true that our minds are limited when it comes to considering unlimited concepts such as God and eternity, our minds are not totally useless. Otherwise, our species would have gone extinct long ago.

Just because we cannot understand everything, that does not mean we should not try to understand anything. "An acre of Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia. The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promises of impossibilities."38 In some respects, people who seek to totally devalue the mind because it is not omniscient may have an investment in failure. "In their fanatical cry of 'all or nothing at all' the second alternative echoes perhaps a more ardent wish than the first."39


Regarding metaphysics, religion has painted a picture of the world in the minds of millions that depicts a hostile universe--a universe ready to crush anyone for even the slightest mistake. (The fact that 6 billion "raving maniacs" are still surviving on the planet in spite of ourselves suggests a nurturing universe that has an investment in our being here.) Such a frightening world view is bound to cloud peoples' judgment, inspiring them to react with hostility out of proportion to the size of the problems they face. In many cases, calm deliberation is more productive.

Starting the adventure of life with a negative mind set cannot be an asset if we aspire to live a peaceful and abundant life. Many prophecies become self-fulfilling prophecies, and religious prophecies are no different. It is common for people who expect a calamity to create it in order to get it. Often the pain of anxiety is worse than the calamity itself. As Job said in the Bible, "That which I have feared most has come upon me."

Consequently, painting a mental picture of a nurturing universe is bound to be more helpful. Besides, when people insist on God being cruel and vengeful, we need to ask: is cruelty and vengefulness a description of God, or is it a Rorschach test that reveals the disposition of the believer?


Religion is composed of two primary parts--cosmological speculation and ethics . Some people hold cosmological speculation to be the primary concern, while others consider ethics to be the first priority. The first group can be defined as "religious," while the second group can be defined as "spiritual." Throughout history, people in the first group have often breached basic ethical principles in the name of spreading the faith. Others, being appalled by such behavior wish to distance themselves from religion, so they define themselves as spiritual (or atheist) instead.

By separating religion from spirituality, we now have the means of drawing ethical boundaries around religion, keeping it from exempting itself from codes of behavior expected of everyone else. If believers and non-believers alike can use an earth-based code of behavior as guidance, we will be more successful in creating a peaceful planet.

Although cosmological speculation is often an effective means for allying fear in the face of our inevitable death, it sometimes backfires, making the cure worse than the disease. Killing the body to save the soul is neither healthy nor does it facilitate either peaceful relations or an improved standard of living.

Because of the many breaches of ethics perpetrated by religion over the centuries, it is necessary to question its self-proclaimed monopoly on the subject of ethics. From the viewpoint of Behavioral-Analysis Ethics , religious people are encouraged to believe whatever cosmology makes them feel good, but using force, fraud and guilt to gain converts needs to be discouraged.

In everyday life, people find it hard enough to agree on cause and effect relationships that operate within the world of the senses. That being true, we should expect an even greater divergence of opinion concerning cause and effect relations that operate beyond the world of the senses. Therefore, if in everyday life the solution to many of our problems is found in giving each other as much space as possible, how much more should that be true regarding issues of religious faith?

I would like to finish with a quote from Hugh Ripman, "First, God created the angels and gave them reason; then God created the animals and gave them lust; finally God created Man and gave him both; so that the man whose reason overcomes his lust is higher than the angels, and the man whose lust overcomes his reason becomes lower than the animals."40 Let's not let our lust overcome our reason--not even for the sake of religion.

Footnotes for Chapter 7:


Robert Muller, Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978), p. 133.


Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 84.


P. D. Ouspensky, Strange life of Ivan Osokin (New York: Hermitage House, 1955 [c.1947] ).


Dostoyevsky quoted in Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), p. 148.


Leonard Peikoff quoted in Harry Binswanger (ed.), The Ayn Rand Lexicon (New York: New American Library, 1986), p. 4.


Skepticism about projecting what is known in this world onto the next does necessarily mean skepticism about the efficacy of the mind for comprehending this world.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., p. 81.


Dr. Robert Muller, speech at University of Denver College of Law, Sept, 24, 1992.


Raymond B. Fosdick, The League and The United Nations After Fifty Years: The Six Secretaries-General (Newtown, CT: Raymond B. Fosdick, 1972), p. 146.


Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto (Pra Debvedi), A Buddhist Solution For the Twenty-first Century (for 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., August 28&emdash;September 4, 1993), p. 11.


Erich Fromm, Op. Cit., p. 97.


Larry L. Barnhart, Your Power To Create Love, Side 2.


Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1966), p. 148.


I hate needles, so I have elected to stick with oral caffeine.


Philippians 4:7.


Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Avon Books, 1941), pp. 82-83.


American Heritage Electronic Dictionary (Sausalito CA: Writing Tools Group, Inc., 1991).


"Your children are not your children. . ." Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986, 115th printing, published 1923), pp. 17-18.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., p. 73.


Erich Fromm, Op. Cit., p. 34.


Charles H. Malik, "The United Nations as an Ideological Battleground," E. Berkeley Tompkins (ed.), The United Nations in Perspective (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1972), pp. 23-24.


Erich Fromm, Op. Cit., p. xiv.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., p. 23.


Richard M. Ebeling, "Nationalism: Its Nature and Consequences," Freedom Daily, June 1994, p. 16.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., pp. 120-127.


Ibid., p. 122.


Dean M. Kelley, "Church and State," The Academic American Encyclopedia, (New York: Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993).


G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson , Vol. 1 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1950), p. 256.


Ludwig von Mises, Op. Cit., p. 148.


William Augustus Banner, Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (New York: Scribner, 1968), p. 136.


The character Ellsworth Tooey in Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1943), p. 638.


Peter R. Breggin, The Psychology of Freedom (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980), p. 108.


Barbara Ward, "The Economic Revolution," Adventures of the Mind from the Saturday Evening Post (New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1959, 1960, 1961), p. 264.


Peter T. Bauer, "The United Nations and International Development Assistance," E. Berkeley Tompkins (ed.), The United Nations in Perspective (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1972), p. 41.


Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallels (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1982), Introduction.


Ibid., p. 19.


Max Weber quoted in Lawrence E. Harrison, Who Prospers?: How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), p. 12.


Macaulay Quoted in Bergan Evans (ed.), Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), p. 3.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., p. 73.


Quote by Hugh Ripman who attributed it to the Talmud. Regretfully, I have not been able to find a more definitive source for this quote thus far.

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