Most of the world’s major religions put at the top of their hierarchy a concept that they term god. This god is usually a patriarchal figure who is credited with being the creator of all things and passes down rules and ways of living a “good life” to his creation. Through the promise of a reward in the afterlife, usually everlasting happiness and immortality in a utopian paradise, this god encourages his creation to adhere to the rules he sets out. To further dissuade his creation from going against his rules, this god threatens his creation with painful punishment in the afterlife. The most common of these punishments is that the sinner is thrown into fire and burned in a place often referred to as the underworld or hell.
This creates a very similar relationship between god and his creation as exists between a father or mother and his or her young children. Young children have no developed reasoning or understanding and often need to be shown the correct way to behave through the encouragement of reward and the fear of punishment.
I wanted to explore in this post the importance, and even relevance, of god to the spiritual development of the human being. Please note I use the term spiritual development, as I have no better term to use. What I mean by the term is the development of a human being so that they are able to tear away the illusions that they hold onto and face the truth of themselves and the universe around them. I want to explore the idea that a human being’s belief in god may actually be counterproductive to this understanding of truth.
I have spent a lot of my youth talking to people of different faiths and religions because I wanted to understand what draws them to their faith and how much they actually understand their own motivations and the consequences of those motivations.
One question I would start with when talking to a follower of one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is this:
"If your holy scriptures told you that death is the end, that you will not be reborn or resurrected or enter into a heaven or a hell, that believers and non-believers will all just end up dead at the end with no reward for believers and no punishment for unbelievers…. Would you still worship your god and follow all of his rules?"
The answer I would often end up getting is:
“No I wouldn’t, I worship so I can be one of god’s people and end up in heaven and be kept away from the eternal torment of hell”
This is a very good mental exercise to do yourself if you are a follower of one of the faiths that offers reward for adherence and threatens punishment for disobedience. Ask yourself that same question and answer the question with as much honesty as you can.
So what truth does this little mental exercise teach us? It teaches us that most of the followers of these religions worship god and follow his rules because they want something in return. The relationship between god and human is simply a contract: I will do this for you if you do this for me. I will worship you and follow your rules if you place me in heaven afterwards. So worship and faith in god becomes an insurance policy for the afterlife. Further to this, because worship is often seen as something admirable and worthy, humans can often lie to themselves about the core reason of worship, humans can get high and mighty about noble and spiritual reasons that they worship their god, but in the end and at the core it is because of fear, a fear of not existing after death.
Going back to the main point of the post, if the concept of god is something that exists as a way for the human to ensure its own survival after death, then isn’t the concept of a patriarchal god just a creation of the human ego? An idea created to make humans feel better about what we actually know to be the truth through our own experience of life? I would like to add here that I am strictly speaking about the concept of god as described in the Abrahamic religions as there are different ideas of what god is that doesn’t lead to this conclusion.
As we can see, the concept of god can become a way for the human to further insulate himself or herself from truth. Please also note that I am not questioning whether god exists or doesn’t exist. I am just asking if our belief in a god is necessary, if not counterproductive, to spiritual development or the understanding of truth.
Subscribers to this way of thought, which are most of the believers of Abrahamic religions, often argue that morality and goodness exist because of what their faith teaches. My question is this…..
If you are a good person because your religion tells you to be… Then are you really a good person?
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!