Michael Amram . . .

Would God
Move a
Ping-Pong Table?

In the light of of the events of September 11, 2001, the sudden impact of loss of life, the demolition of a symbol of American freedom and power, and the way it has proven the strength of humanity in the face of adversity under the guise of religion, I have chosen to weigh the two concepts: faith and religion. Religion is a greatly subjective concept created by humans for the simple purpose of directing their faith. This seems harmless enough, although human nature most often, as history has proven time and again, cannot maintain this simple purpose. Faith in God, humanity, the future, basically anything worthy of trust and a firm, positive belief is mostly objective. It is a personal, private, metaphysical concept that supersedes human interpretation. Therefore I see faith transcending any values religion has taught because faith cannot be changed or taken away, persecuted or proselytized. It is human nature to cling blindly to certain concepts such as those cited by psychologist Abraham Maslow. If we take his hierarchy of needs, for example, we find it impossible to eliminate a common need to belong to something. In short, while religion's benefits are finite to the point of human conflagration, faith's personal and collective benefits are infinite. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1.) In this book I suggest that the elimination of organized religion would ultimately benefit humankind. I submit that religion cannot be contained (in most cases), and was designed with no regard for human instincts and is therefore pre-dispositioned for corruption. From the earliest times, man (usually the one in charge) has profited from religion and its manipulative effects. The wealthy prosper, the poor stay at their level, and blood spilled and lives lost is alright because it is in the name of religion, the path a select few have mandated for all to reach God. Does this sound like there is love for our fellow human anywhere to be found? Does this sound like there is an altruistic thread in the tapestry society has immaculately woven? I humbly pose these as rhetorical questions, the answers to which lie somewhere deep within the subconscious collective minds of humanity. The answers to these questions remain repressed in the recesses of a large portion of society's minds because their recognition might mean the cessation of what has been a very lucrative business for centuries, something that has rationalized some of the most violent behavior man can perpetrate, something that has been used to conceal criminal action over time, but also something that has proven to get humans through the darkest hours.

Excerpt . . .

Webster's definition of religion : “a belief and reverence for a supernatural power, a specific unified system of this expression.” A specific unified system of belief? In America at least, this set concept seems to contradict a freedom afforded us in the Bill of Rights. Therein lies the problem, the conundrum that has remained tucked deep within the human fibers that bind America and the world, a conflict of two concepts that have inherently provoked more loss of human life than the Civil War and the events of September 11, 2001, put together. I choose these two events because they were perhaps the two most horrific occurrences on American soil in the past three centuries. The Civil War was fought for political reasons. Though there were many reasons, slavery was perhaps the most volatile. While it became a matter of politics, which states were to be free and which slave, the compelling force or doctrine to enslave the Negro was rooted in religion and justified by the ensuing faith. The terrorist attacks two centuries later were acts of hatred under the guise of religion, this time Islam, the largest of the three major religions in the Western world. The blind faith in Allah, the supreme being in the Moslem world, justified this violence. The doctrine of Islam dictates that one love the next world and not be afraid of killing. This conflicts with the Christian doctrine of “Thou shalt not kill,” while Christianity also dictates a better life in the next world. A complex phenomenon defying definition, religion has played a part in social, political, and economic interaction for centuries. Religion has been studied in various ways throughout time, trying to understand this brainstorm of man that, according to the word's etymology, brings humanity together. The word religion itself originates from ligament, a connecting tie or bond. It is my purpose, however, in this book to establish the clear separation of the two concepts: faith and religion. It would appear that by Webster's definition one cannot have faith without religion; that the two words have been used interchangeably for centuries. Faith in one another, a belief in a higher power, faith in the future it seems cannot exist without the doctrines and subjectivity of religion. The two concepts have almost become synonymous, which I see as a dangerous coupling because human nature is intolerant, as history has proven, of even the smallest deviations in the organized world. Perhaps the idea of the binding force of religion is harmless to a point, but as soon as a fundamentalist starts dictating how the doctrines should be followed, how one culture is wrong because it doesn't practice and observe the way the current fundamental group has deemed necessary, power corrupts a course intended to lead to a peaceful life and the cycle of violence begins. Religion has been studied from a historical, phenomenological and behavioral perspective. The historical approach relies on texts such as the Bible, Torah or Koran. Whether or not one chooses to accept these writings as the written word of God, these texts are subject to gross human interpretation, thus presenting a system of belief that most often leads to conflict. The rituals practiced by a community as a whole are studied to create an idea of how religion shaped a peoples' lives, how their devotion to a certain set of laws dictated their way of living. The phenomenological approach may draw from the historical while its true intent is to get to the nature of religion, the factors that lie behind the manifestation itself. However, this approach has sometimes been criticized for losing sight of the aspects certain religions have, as it can overly generalize and speculate on the occurrences of such belief systems. The behavioral approach studies religion from psychological, sociological and anthropological standpoints. The writings of Sigmund Freud are often referred to in the psychological approach to tracing the need for religion, the human need to organize one's own life and then develop situations for conflict because of it. William James dealt with the conscious expressions of religious interpretation while Freud deals with the unconscious motivation for the religious experience. A problem with this approach is that of translating the individual's religious experience with that of the community. While the community can have a doctrine followed by participants of the experience, the individual can have many conscious or unconscious variations by which he or she may practice the religion. Having free will, a luxury purportedly afforded humans by God paradoxically, it is not inherently in their nature to strictly follow a proposed set of ideas. The Taliban, for example, preaches a rigid, extreme form of Islam not followed by the majority of Muslims. Fanatics like Osama Bin Laden oppress their people with the forced followings of these precepts. In this country Jerry Falwell, on a less extreme, much less oppressive scale by the fact that it is preached in a democracy, as a representative of the religious right, tries to implement a following of Christianity that most often causes controversy. It is not possible for a religion to be coerced on a people as we see in Afghanistan and many societies in the Middle East. In this country we have the constitution protecting our freedom of religion so the fundamentalists never get very far in the coercion of a religion. In this country many denominations of Christianity exist peacefully while in other countries these differences have often been at the root of conflict. However, even now in America, relations between Christians, Jews, and Muslims aren't always peaceful. Still, in America, anti-Semitic phrases are thoughtlessly, at times intentionally, uttered and infrequent acts of hate occur. For the most part faith, or the positive energy one puts into following a code, is left untouched until one begins to try to get others to follow the same code. Religion, because we are human, and thereby subject to free will, cannot be contained. In many instances usually born-again Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses feel their message must be spread, insinuating subtly that any other way of living is not worth much. This condescension only creates fear, annoyance, and animosity towards those with the arrogance to profess that their pattern for a simple belief is better than anything in this world. Many of these disciples of God are perceived as annoying and ultimately end up alienating any potential converts. Indeed, misconceptions of many of these people are bound to be formed and hatred is often the end result, ironically, although possibly systemically, the direct opposite of the initial intent. I surmise that the potential conflict enticed by the random, constant solicitation of an organized religion can result in achieving of the ultimate goal, whatever that may be. In short, conflict is essential to the equation.