Regarding the following quote of Mao Zedong, Chinese communist president during the 1950s:
“… but of course, religion is poison. It has two great defects: It undermines the race …(and) retards the progress of the country. Tibet and Mongolia have both been poisoned by it.”
First, it is worth noting that this comment was made by Zedong in reference to Buddhism. It was during this time in the 50s when China siezed control of Tibet. They forced the Dali Lama into exile for over 50 years and counting. The Dali Lama is still in exile. China is still communist.
The fact of the matter is that I completely agree with Zedong’s statement albeit sadly misguided. If one only realizes the poison religion has produced over the thousands of years humans have walked the earth, it’s quite understandable and easy to make the assessment that religion is the cause and source of countless deaths, wars, and hatred; hence it is poison. This of course only touches the surface of how and why religion is the source. Like any institution it has its pros and cons. Most if not all religions have had a tremendously good effect on humanity as well. Instead of harping on what makes religion both good and bad, it will be worth pointing out a few reasons why it simply is not a logical pursuit.
Faith is the number one culprit. When people speak of faith, they say that it’s something you feel; it’s a leap that binds you to god; it’s taking a chance that what you believe in is true. With this fairy-tale mentality, faith is just as whimsical as a gamble. In fact gambling is a type of faith, but in place of god, there is money–the greatest god of all for some. How can faith make poison? It is simply the void of logic in gambling that enables the addict to continue blindly placing bets. When in fact the gambler should fold, he continues to wager and, ultimately, loses. The same scenario occurs for our faith-based religions, especially with the monotheistic wrathful gods of christianity, islam, and judaism. The believer is required to simply believe and of course follow some set of rules and rituals. The more the believer believes without factual information to guide his faith, he becomes a weapon of the religion itself. Every word of the religious texts becomes truths, then divine truth, then human interpretation of the divine truth, and so forth. Interpretation is key to understanding where the faithful gambler has gone wrong. Words are no more truthful than the minds that give them meaning. If I say I am a plant, and people believe me, does that make me a plant? No. I then am just a person calling myself a plant. Furthermore if the [textual] god commands the gambler to protect all that is holy by declaring war on all those whom do not believe, then the gambler then takes his interpretation literally. He declares war in the name of his patron god fueling his debt. In any case this is a bad scenario.
Human interpretation is vast. We can see many points and many reasons within such a limited scope of knowledge. It must have been wonderful to have lived during the time of the Buddha or to have met Jesus Christ. I could only imagine what it must have been like to see two enlightened humans of that time, and speak with them about the idea of existence. In both cases, their thoughts were invariably changed over time, perverted by rulers, and interpreted by the common folk. Perhaps their knowledge and understanding of the world was before its time and soon before long, they were idolized, catalogued, and ritualized, simply because they tapped into some sort of consciousness that most people never realize.
Religion also creates its own world. As we each live in our own worlds, with perception molded by our everyday interactions, so does the healthy gambler. Although the gambler, not only lives in his world, he also lives in the world of everyone else, including the world of his faith-based religion. What are these worlds and why are they important? Each evolving consciousness develops its own world, or reality. My perception of the way the color red appears, for instance, is undoubtedly different from yours. The thoughts that develop in my mind when I see a (perceptually) beautiful woman are invariably different from what my brother might think or conversely my mother. In this same way, religion creates a world of perception for its followers. Ritualistically visiting a temple weekly, reciting text of words spoken by long deceased men, listening to stories stretched by exaggeration, and centuries of time all adds to a changing perception that exists within the realm of the faithful. Partly imbued with fear, these gamblers wager that their perceived reality with their faith is stronger or more meaningful than that of someone outside of their belief-circle. The very fact that more than one version exists of the fill-in-the-blank mysteries of life such as death, creation, birth, love, etc negate the probability of there being one true anything. It seems much more plausible that nothing happened at all rather than the multitude of theories that exist today.