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

Spiritual Experience

Spirituality – the deepest values and meanings by which one lives

When I got sober everyone was quick to point out I would need a “spiritual experience” and “conscious contact with a higher power” in order to survive. I thought I was screwed. How was this voluntarily lost soul going to get spiritual? The truth is my definition of spirituality, like most peoples, was outdated. Today I can honestly say that I have had a spiritual experience. There was nothing supernatural or religious about it; that was not necessary for my sobriety. But my life has gone through a great change and it has made me a better and more hopeful individual.

First, allow me to share the new age definition I found that really helped me in the beginning:

Spirituality: The deepest values and meanings by which one lives

This definition put everything is such a simple perspective. Before I got sober I did not live my life by any values and the meaning was nothing more than survival. After I left my chult (my pet name for my church/cult) I just threw everything out the window. I felt abandoned and rejected and wanted to sit in my self-pity, licking my wounds and blaming everyone for my position in life. I drowned in my alcohol trying to escape any feelings that might rise and after several years of sliding deeper and deeper into this pit of despair I finally hit my bottom.

As I neared the end of my descent, I discovered meditation which became the first true ray of light to break through the darkness. My spirit of hope was reborn and I began to allow myself to feel emotions I had suppressed for decades, since I was a young child. However, though I was enjoying the clear mind and lowered anxiety that meditation brings, it was not enough to calm the screaming obsession of alcohol. If I couldn’t drink I wanted prescription drugs and if that didn’t work then I wanted sex. I do believe that alcohol sets off a physical craving in an addicts brain; however, there is also a separate obsession of the mind to use any means of escape possible.

For three months I used meditation and spiritual readings to keep me sober, but my other activities shot up. (I don’t want to mislead, my dealings with drugs have been light, more of a substitute when alcohol was not available. However to any adults who have anti-axiety meds, sleeping pills, pain killers, pretty much most prescription drugs, dear god PLEASE make sure those are locked away and not just sitting in your medicine cabinet. The addicts of the world will thank you when we use your restroom and realize there’s nothing for us to steal.) Anyway, I began turning to other means to escape the feelings creeping out from the rock I had stuffed them under. My actions were incredibly harmful to those in my life, but I was convinced that my new “spiritual enlightenment” meant that they were the lost ones and my wasn’t I forgiving for being patient with them.

Eventually though I drank again. I had been sober exactly 100 days and figured that was a great reason to celebrate. This went on for another 6 months during which time I lost my relationship, my home, and many friends. Along with increased financial debt and my job hanging on by a thread I was broken. In typical addict fashion I planned out my suicide and considered killing myself before finally deciding to get help first. That’s when  I walked into a 12 step program and had my spiritual experience.

The reality that I was an absolute, selfish jackass stung a little at first. I spent months crying about what a horrible person I was while those with more sobriety rolled their eyes and waited for me to get over myself. But as my mind cleared and I listened to the stories of others, I learned that I did not have to be this person. Yes my self-absorption had caused me to throw out most of my morals and values. And no I didn’t bring back ALL of the teachings of my childhood. But honesty, open-mindedness and willingness were a start.

Today I can say with strong confidence that a principled life is the key to happiness and success. The addict in me reaches for instant gratification, but the spiritualism I continue to develop reminds me to first weigh outcome and consequence. A humanist approach to life forces me to think of others and not only myself. Humility, love, acceptance, and altruism are some of the values I have chosen to adopt. Truthfully these do not always come naturally to me though I am ashamed to admit it. As for the meaning of life, I find meaning in helping others and being loyal to those close to me. Life meant nothing to me before I got sober and allowed spirituality to guide me. Today I WANT to live, I WANT to make a difference, I WANT to inspire and help others to live a full and happy life. That is one reason I started this blog. I believe politicized religion is very harmful as opposed to personalized religion. So I created an outlet to discuss and address many of the issues that political religion creates in our world today. It’s also a way for those who feel ostracized by their lack of belief to come together.

If you’re struggling with addiction, please get help. There is a way out. Check out recovery.org or call their hotline 1-888-499-8846. If you’re struggling with depression then call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255. If you just need to talk then reach out to a friend or confidant and be honest about where you’re at. If you’re a recovering alcoholic or addict and you don’t like how religious your program seems then check out aaagnostica.org , aabeyondbelief.org or smartrecovery.org .And most importantly, don’t let your fears or misgivings stop you from bettering yourself. If I had let the “god talk” in my recovery program stop me from getting the help I needed then I wouldn’t be writing this post today.

I hope every person finds a spiritual path regardless of which direction it guides them. Living our lives by values and meaning will bring about a greater peace on earth.

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.  – Thomas Paine

– H

How atheism caused me to put more value on life

By seeing how morals evolved with the evolution of mankind, I could trust that religion was not necessary for morality.

I often hear the argument that atheists believe in nothing and therefore have no purpose in life. It’s really a transparent lashing out by those who cannot fathom purpose without a god. The truth is that I found a freedom and renewed zeal for life once the boundaries of religion were broken. To be fair, I was part of the extreme version of Christianity. My life was nothing but rules and fear of harming my relationship with god or losing it completely. The messages and lessons taught in the church and my Christian college classroom constantly reminded me that I was no good and only gods grace and mercy made my life of any value. Those who had turned from god had lost their purpose and fellowship with them would ultimately harm my purpose. I became obsessed with a never ending pursuit of imperfect perfection (because true perfection can never be achieved but damn you if you don’t hopelessly strive for it).

Even once I accepted that I was an atheist, I did not believe there was measurable evidence of a god or creation, I still wondered if my morals would suddenly tank. The book Origins of Virtue by Matthew Ridley helped me immensely in the beginning. The book detailed how humanity has created and evolved the morals of thriving and compassionate societies. It really comes back to survival of the fittest and and the way in which the human race has become the dominant species. Empathy was developed as our ancestors realized that by working together we succeed. By seeing how morals evolved with the evolution of mankind, I could trust that religion was not necessary for morality.

Of course some of my ideas about what was and was not moral changed. Many views about sex shifted to amoral, while I adopted human rights as a value over biblical demands of obedience. I found that my relationships with people mattered more. In the past, I had no problem abandoning a friend who had strayed from my beliefs, today I enjoy the variety of perspectives and lifestyles my friends lend to my growth. The biggest gain I have found is the drive to enjoy this one life and my one moment to leave an impact on my world.

When I believed in an afterlife, I spent my time worrying about that life instead of this one. Was I doing everything right? Was I doing everything wrong? What happens to my loved ones if they get off our path to heaven? Now I find immense joy in living today with no worry of a judgement day or eternal damnation. I can prioritize what is important to making life count instead of building my life around the guidelines of a fairytale.

The other day a woman on my Facebook thread, a Christian, admitted she was finding inspiration from different versions of the Bible. If you know anything about fundamental baptists, they believe the King James Version is the ONLY authority from god. So for the entire day I watched this woman get shredded by her Christian friends for veering away from gods word and I thought, what an awful way to live. For a person to spend their lives living in past beliefs or obsessing over a future afterlife, how frustrating and depleting. Atheism allowed me to live in the now and I’m incredibly grateful for this new perspective on life.

– H

The Netflix Biopic of Madeline Murray O’Hair Was a Joke

I was so excited to watch the story of Madeline Murray O’Hair. I admit I didnt know much about her, but I did know that she founded American Atheists, sued to get prayer out of public schools, and was a staunch defender of separation of Church and State. I had also heard that she was a bit crass and something about her and her son not getting along. So okay, I wasn’t completely clueless, but I’m an atheist and I have to know SOMETHING about the woman who started it all. But I wanted to know more and I was sure from the trailer that Netflix was going to knock this out of the park.

I couldn’t have been more disappointed. While I wouldn’t compare O’Hair to MLK as a person, the best way I could describe the movie would be if someone had made a biopic of MLK but only focused on his affairs and assasination. The impact of her landmark court case, the way she consistently fought for the rights of minorities, and her tireless efforts to make all faiths and people equal in the U.S. were barely and almost apologetically mentioned. Instead the movie focused on her horrific death with the director sporadically sprinkling in details which subtly insinuated that she brought it upon herself. They also, somehow, made her estranged son the hero. A struggling alcoholic, he abandoned his daughter and family and sought Jesus to maintain his sobriety. A recovering alcoholic myself I can’t judge the extreme measures people will go to in order to escape the terror of addiction. But the way O’Hair is silently blamed for her sons choices is one more example of the movies bias against an atheist.

She was a champion of human rights and the first amendment, but instead she was portrayed as nothing more than a publicity hungry crazy woman. Though I’ll at least commend the director for pointing out that her critics were just as hungry for public attention as she was. Madeline Murray O’Hair, for all her flaws and crass, had the guts to stand up to an entire nation and remind them of their own constitutional and historical roots. She insisted that the individual matters, and that in a country as diverse as America all cultures, religions and beliefs should be celebrated. But The Most Hated Woman In America is a movie that seems content to wash away yet another legacy under the tidal wave of Christianity.

-H

How to Create a Religion 

Tlacaelel figures out how to build an empire

I am a lover of history and therefore am prone to read any and everything concerned with the vast subject. I also have an Audible account and absolutely cannot wait each month until my new, “free” credit drops (is it really free if I have to pay $14.95 for a subscription that STILL charges me for each book? But back to my post). So this month I chose the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann, a historical and anthropological study of the people of the America’s prior to Columbus’s so called discovery.  A fascinating book that provides so much new insight on the ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. If you’re a fan of Native American history then you need to read this book.

As I was listening to the book, the author tells the story of a man named Tlacaelel who built the Mexica people into the mighty Aztec Empire. Interestingly enough when I was in 7th grade I did my final history report on the Aztec Empire. My sister had just returned from a missions trip (see story about my religious upbringing) to Mexico and I figured I could use some of the souvenirs she brought back as props. I honestly had little interest in Aztec history, but I had to turn in the subject of my project the next day and her maracas just spoke to me. Had I tried a little harder in my studies I would have stumbled upon this story and perhaps my journey of questioning god and religion would have started a lot earlier. You’re bored now and wondering if I’ll get to the point so I’ll keep you in suspense no longer.

Tlacaelel was the nephew of the Aztec king Itzcoatl and is most likely the most influential person in Aztec history. He is responsible for creating schools, a military, and a judicial system; as well as, redesigning the economic and social construct of the Mexica tribe, later to become the Aztec Empire. But in my opinion the most incredible thing Tlacaelel did was to change the thinking of the Mexica people by literally rewriting their history and religion. He realized that the defeated past of the Mexica people could only hold them back, so he persuaded the tribes leaders to burn their history. Once this was done Tlacaelel presented a new history, with a conquerors perspective, and with this history a new religion.

In his religion Tlacaelel told the Mexica people that they were the chosen defenders of the cosmos and their god, Huitzilopochtli. He explained that Huitzilopochtli was in constant danger of dying if he were not regularly quenched with the blood of men. If the god died, so did the Sun (some versions have the god as the Sun) and if the Sun died then so did all of mankind. It was the duty of the Mexica to insure the safety of humanity by supplying the god with daily human sacrifices. And in order to obtain these many sacrifices, the Mexica must conquer as many lands and people as possible. Tlacaelel was literally using religion to establish an imperialist state, and it worked. The Aztecs became the greatest civilization in Mesoamerican history. And while they were certainly no less brutal and bloodthirsty than their 15th century European counterparts, that’s not saying much. As Europeans crowded their town squares for a public and gory execution, the Aztecs flocked to their pyramid temples for human sacrifices. After one particular battle, it is said that the Aztec king Ahuitzotl sacrificed over 20,000 prisoners of war. It’s astounding what religion can motivate us to do.

But what I found so shocking about this story was that is was so transparent. While we can point to countless times in history when a person/persons have used religion to gain what they want, we cannot often find the origins of a religion so clearly detailed. And certainly not when those origins paint such a negative light on the beginning of that religion. Perhaps peoples ability to ignore this blatant political creation of religion plays more to our entitlement than to our love for all things holy. Had someone so crudely pointed out that Christianity had started this way the outcry would be endless. Yet the history of a “savage” people is not one that particularly moves us or motivates us to delve into the history of our own beliefs.

Just as Tlacaelel created a religion befitting his people, so all religion has been created. And just as his religion ultimately led to the suffering and discrimination of so many, so has all religion. It is sad that such a brilliant man chose such a rudimentary idea to stimulate the growth of his people. But then how many world leaders have been and continue to fall prey to the same thinking? I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight as much as I have and I strongly encourage you to look up the origins of your own faith (if you are not a faithless heathen like I am). I will periodically post the origins of different religions through history to build upon the truth.

-H

Resources : 1491 by Charles C. Mann :/:  www.aztec.com :/:  http://www.gmsdk12.org/Downloads/Tlacaelel.pdf