The Bhagavad Gita: Part One

The conflict of war and peace in religious texts

I’ve always been fascinated with religious history. Despite my lack of belief in a god, I cannot help but be in awe of the everlasting impact of religion on the development of mankind. It has reached almost every corner of the world in some fashion or another and it is impossible for one to determine what life would be like if religion had never existed. The infamous line of John Lennon’s Imagine, “imagine no religion” is actually incomprehensible when we consider the words literally. Though the study of religion caused me to lose my faith in god and religion, I have since developed a deep respect, and fear, of what I consider THE most important aspect of our past, present and future. But I’m rambling and this post is about one religion and one specific text in particular. I’ll have to delve into a philosophical musing about a world without religion later.

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important spiritual texts of Hinduism and certainly the most well known and popular. I admit that I have not studied much of Hinduism in the past, only covering a few basics. However this year I am trying to do deeper study on 4 of the worlds largest religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. I have not included Christianity because that is constantly an ongoing study for me. I’m also trying to gain a better understanding of cults; the atmospheres, traits and similarities which took up a lot of my study towards the beginning of the year. So now I’m diving into Hinduism and it is very hard for this former monotheist to understand and comprehend.

I started with a course on Cultural Literacy for Religion: Hinduism. Its part of the Great Courses on Audible which I recommend for anyone who wants to casually learn about about any subject. Along with that I’ve been reading the Bhavagad Gita. I’m enjoying it to be honest. Of course I’m reading an English translation and my lack of interpretive skills prevent me from knowing the exact meanings of the story; however, I believe my translated version is quite solid.

The first thing that stuck out to me was the conflict of ideas between war and peace. While the ultimate goal of the Gita seems to be to teach one to achieve eternal serenity, the firs two chapters focus on Krishna convincing Arjuna that killing his relatives in battle is not something he should mourn. Arjuna actually seems like the wise and compassionate one as he grieves and avoids this violent task.

Chapter 1:25-35  – Arjuna saw standing there fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons and also companions….. Seeing all these kinsmen thus arrayed, the son of Kunti (Arjuna), Filled with the utmost compassion, sorrowfully spoke: Seeing my own kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed and wishing to fight, My limbs collapse, my mouth dries up, there is trembling in my body and my hair stands on end;…. I do not desire victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasure. Of what use is kingdom to us?….. These I do not wish to kill though they kill me, O Madhusudana (Krishna); even for the kingdom of the three worlds; how then for the sake of the earth!

I see a very compassionate and wise leader who does not see how violence, against his own people I might add, would solve his problems. And I would expect a god to understand this hesitation, though I don’t know why I expect this. I have yet to find a religion where violence is not demanded or exalted, though it is often also condemned. And Krishna is no exception as he replies to Arjuna in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: 2-3  – The Blessed Lord said: Whence hath this despair come to thee in this (time of) crisis? It is unbecoming to an aryan, it does not lead to heaven, it is disgraceful, O Arjuna. Yield not to this impotence, O Partha (Arjuna), for it is not proper of thee. Abandon this petty weakness of heart and arise, O oppressor of the foe. 

Now I must point out that in Hinduism attachment to anyone or anything is considered imprudent and a hindrance to attaining the highest spiritual state. Perhaps Krishna is simply pointing out Arjuna’s weakness for his attachment to his kinsmen. However, at no point does Krishna condemn the violence at hand and is actually there to do battle WITH Arjuna. It is interesting that 4 of the major religions actually call for violence, when necessary. And its convenient that any time one finds someone who refuses to comply to their religious code then violence is “necessary”. One of most eye opening readings in my own journey was in the Bible in I Samuel chapter 15 when God commands Saul to slaughter an entire community.

I Samuel 15:2-3  – Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 

Saul does most of what god says but he keeps some of the good livestock alive for his people. This pisses God off and is his final straw with Saul which leads him to choose David to be king instead. Seriously, if you like action, war, sex, betrayal and violence then you’ve GOT to read the Old Testament.

But back to the Gita, I admit I was disappointed in another religion endorsing the need for violence. Perhaps it was necessary for the rise of civilization, we will never know because violence was used so often in the homosapien’s drive for survival. And while the wise sage will always tell his followers to live in peace, it seems that the gods will always drive their followers to choose violence. Regardless of this, I am still enjoying my reading and will soon write a post about some of the passages in the Bhagavad Gita that I do like. Until next time…

-H

 

Resources: The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eliot Deutsch / The Bible, King James Version / Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know taught by Professor Mark Berkson

Gay and Atheist

A belief is held that I’m an atheist because I’m gay and my atheism perpetuates me to stay in my gay lifestyle

Coming from such a conservative background and then enduring a pretty difficult coming out experience, often prompts people to speculate about the root “cause” of my atheism. As if its some kind of disease I contracted along the way and in time can be cured through doses of prayer and thought submission. And in part I can see why someone would assume that resentment drove me from god. It certainly drove me from church and created a need to find answers outside my realm of comfort. In some ways I can’t help but compare my journey’s of coming out and godlessness; and the fact that they both happened simultaneously makes those comparisons easier.

The other day someone mentioned that perhaps I was resentful of god even though I didn’t believe in him. This has been mentioned to me on several occasions by more than a few people. And even those who love and accept me as I am still struggle with understanding my complete lack of a belief in a god. I could not resent a god any more than I could resent Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. However, since god and religion are so intrinsically intertwined my resentment towards religion, and I must admit it’s there, makes it difficult for me to explain my complete separate feelings towards the two.

And then you add the fact that I’m gay. And that I was shunned and abandoned by my religious friends and family because of my homosexuality and naturally everyone assumes they have me figured out. A belief is held that I’m an atheist because I’m gay and my atheism perpetuates me to stay in my gay lifestyle. This vicious cycle that I could escape if only I would let go of my resentment for god and allow him back into my life. The fact that I don’t believe in a god is completely ignored; and I honestly believe that some people believe if I were to quit being gay or quit being an atheist, the one change would solve the other problem as well. Wow. It’s exhausting just thinking about it, I don’t know how people live with those thoughts.

This thinking is a huge common misconception about the atheist, agnostic and non-believer community. The idea that our lack of belief perpetuates our so-called moral deficiencies is exactly why some feel so deeply against atheism. However, we know that many who fervently believe in a god also participate in REAL morally deplorable actions. How many stories have we read of pastors or christian workers that participated in or allowed child abuse? What of the beheadings, torture, and stoning of women by Muslim leaders? We see constant actual wrongdoing by religious people all the time and shame on us if we ever attribute their sin to their belief in a god. Yet atheists almost always have their lack of belief brought up when they fail or are perceived to have failed.

According to some in my past, my being gay is a failure or sin. Of course I don’t believe that at all. But even if it were true, what would my atheism have to do with anything? Plenty of those in the LGBTQ community believe in a god, attend a church or even are clergy members themselves. And plenty of the most anti-LGBTQ individuals have committed terrible atrocities to their fellow beings. My point is simply that this stigmatism against the atheists is easily refuted if we’re willing to look objectively at the facts. Despite my fierce feelings about religion, I also respect the rights of belief. And I respect the peace and direction that religion or a belief in a god affords others. All I ask is for the same respect myself.

-H

Why I Became an Atheist

The beginning of my journey

My journey started in a fundamental baptist church in Northwest Indiana. Even by Indiana standards my church was extreme, but it was all I knew. Literally my entire life revolved around the church which is why I attended our Christian school from 3rd -12th grade. Of course a non-accredited school, run by ultra right wing conservatives (more concerned with teaching Bible stories than any other subject) didn’t lend for a solid education. But I did develop a deep love for religious history. Despite being handicapped with the lack of information afforded, I found enough about my religion and the religions of the world to fascinate me.

Several years later I came out as gay. Which is a HUGE no, no in the Baptist movement (see anything Westboro Baptist). This admission forced me out of my church and I began a journey to find another, more accommodating place of worship. I started with a Lutheran church. I had heard rumors they were gay friendly. I soon learned those rumors hadn’t reached Indiana and the Lutherans were just as close minded as the Baptists. So I tried a non denominational church. At first they seemed pretty hip and open minded. Someone said “We must all learn to co-exist. It’s not about the name we use when we worship God, it’s about worshiping him at all.” Boy that sounded nice! Unfortunately the gays couldn’t worship there either which I found even more insulting than the Baptists and the Lutherans. At least they had the balls to call me a heathen to my face rather than trying to woo me in and then silently judging me.

I couldn’t bring myself to try the Catholics. The sex abuse scandal had split wide open just a few years earlier and I couldn’t pretend to have any respect for the Church. My last effort at some form of Christianity was the Unitarian Church. Of course they would be offended that I classified them as Christians. But since the Unitarians are just as caught up in their rituals as the Catholics and Protestants I don’t know who they’re trying to kid. I was momentarily impressed with the bowl of condoms sitting next to the pamphlets on the front table. I wondered if maybe I had been wrong all along and this was secretly a sex orgy meet up. Sadly I sat through an incredibly boring and scripted hour long service only to be bitterly disappointed at the end. I grabbed a handful of condoms anyway as I left. My mother had been adamant that this gay thing was sure to wear off and I thought I might as well be prepared for a sudden hetero experience.

At this point I decided to branch out and try a different religion all together. The problem was, I knew little about other religions. Most of what I had been allowed to read growing up was all told from a very slanted, christian perspective. I knew about some Middle Eastern and East Asia religions but only in a negative light. So I headed to my local library and began searching the shelves for an Encyclopedia of Religion. A title caught my eye, “Gods Lunatics” by Michael Largo. Great! I thought Another one of those bitter Atheists trying to make fun of what they refuse to accept. I heatedly grabbed the book and read the back. I was actually surprised, it turned out I had found my encyclopedia.

If you’ve never read Largo’s book and you enjoy brief histories then I highly recommend it. For me, it was exactly what I needed. A one to two page summary each of 1,001 religions. While Largo can’t contain his sarcasm periodically towards some of the most extreme of religions, the account as a whole is pretty straight forward. (If you ever read this Largo then you’re welcome for the free plug.)

As I begin to read I started seeing similarities between the religion of my youth and many other religions. I thought this was odd since my leaders had always been so fervent in teaching us followers that we alone had the “truth”. I didn’t have much access to the internet at this point in my life so my work was all done through old fashion book study. I did check out a few documentaries from the Library as well to aid in my research and I began to map out the history of religion. After a few months I came to an unsettling conclusion: all religion was a man made tool used to manipulate and comfort humankind (but mostly to manipulate). And that almost every religion was a copycat of previous religions and folklore.

It was so obvious but yet I could see why most people had never stumbled up this discovery for themselves. For starters, the leaders of nations had worked tirelessly for millennia to convince the masses of a need to please the god/gods. Naturally the leaders would interpret the gods needs which inevitably coincided with the leaders desires. There were many other reasons people had clung to religion for so long including tradition, community, personal guidance, answers to life’s problems, a desire for justice, and a fear of death. In fact, until the Renaissance and the advances in medicine, science and technology that followed, mankind really didn’t have a reason to dispose of religion.

Realizing why we had religion, it didn’t take me long to question the existence of a god. If we didn’t need religion, then did we need a god? I read a few more books but this time from a scientific approach. I admit I pulled a classic budding atheist move and first read Dawkins The God Delusion. However he did make many compelling points against the existence of a god. Yes his analogy of the Flying Spaghetti Monster rang true for me and would cement my decision to identify as an atheist rather than an agnostic. But that came still later.

My biggest argument for the need for a god was morality. If we concede as a whole that there is no god, will mankind continue as a civil and moral society or disintegrate into savagery? I found a book by Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue, which I later discovered is a very popular book in the field of science and morals. This book very clearly detailed where humans get their virtues/morals. The tit for tat theory and subsequent studies were the most compelling argument for me. I cannot recommend this book enough.

I continued to study the subjects of religion, evolution and human psychology and eventually came to my personal belief that the probability of a god is in fact as likely as the probability of Flying Spaghetti Monster hurdling through space. Most important, I came to see the incredible harm religion has place on all of humanity and that is the purpose of this blog. Whether an individual chooses to believe in a god is of little concern to me; but the infiltration of religion into our politics, education and social issues quite frankly terrifies me. So i’m dedicating this blog to addressing these issues, answering questions for the faithful and the faithless, and cataloging my own experience and journey as an atheist in the most religious developed country in the world.

Enjoy! – H