Monday, 4 April 2011

Religious Hypocrisy ?

Disclaimer: If you are religious (and maybe even if you aren't) this might offend you, so stop reading now.
I said stop reading now!
Well, it's your fault if you read further.

I just want to start by saying that I would refer to the different names for God in the 'Western' religions by God, be it Allah, God, Jesus, Elokim,... This is to make it easier to write. As I have had very limited exposure to the Eastern religions like Hinduism and Sikhism I would probably not talk much about these, but I would refer to the polytheistic religions' Gods as Gods without differentiating between which Gods are which.

I know people are just people but I've seen this from different kinds all my life. Some people follow their priest, rabbi, imam,... Others read their holy books on their own and make up their own minds, while even others do neither and just do what they want.
I understand that not everyone is capable of doing everything a certain holy book prescribes to them. I even understand that people interpret things differently. I understand people do not understand their religion completely and yet others do not even understand their own beliefs - let alone their religion - altogether.

Everyone is different and unique, and basically everyone is the same.

Examples to Demonstrate
Let me tell you about some different kinds of people I know without mentioning their respective religions, names backgrounds and specific beliefs. I'm also referring to everyone as "he" or "him" to make it easier to write and keep this as anonymous as possible.

  1. I got to know someone recently, who according to his religion is supposed to go pray at certain times during certain days, which he does not do. He is also not allowed to eat several things, but yet he does not care about that either.
  2. Another person I know, has been raised in a specific religious environment and has been taught most of the 'important' aspects of his religion. He was taught what he could and could not do and while in school he actually did pray every day and went further into his beliefs and tried to learn as much as possible, but then now he has stopped doing parts of these things and only keeps up with others.
  3. This person has been raised in a very non-religious environment and has 'found' God through some help from others and now is a very religious person who prays every day and only eats and drinks according to his religion. He also listens to what his authority figure tells him to do when he asks for advice.
  4. Another one would be where devout followers start heeding the word of their authoritative figure more than the holy book they believe in. It becomes as if that person is more important than their divine figure/God(s).
  5. This last person has been taught everything there is to know about his respective religion and has been a devout follower for years. Lately something has happened that has made him doubt and so he has either partly or even completely departed his religious practices to find something new or to live his life without religion.
I know these examples seem very vague, but they are partly meant to be so. This is because of my respect for people's right for privacy and because it would allow more people to partly identify with these individualities.

Now all these people have their reasons - others would describe these reasons as excuses - for doing or not doing what they are doing.

For example the person from number 1 told me specifically why he does not pray at these certain times and why he does not care about eating this particular kind of food. He told me that every morning he wakes up and thinks of God and thanks him so why should he go off and pray as is specified by others when he does what he thinks is right and is with God all day, which sometimes is more than he can say for others who go to the 'compulsory' prayers and pretend to pray as hard as possible for others to see, but when at home they do everything that is regarded as bad by the religion.
Add to that that he has started to eating healthy now. He has started eating many more vegetables, fruit and less fatty foodstuffs. However, now he does eat food that is not allowed by his religion. He then asks me to answer a simple, yet hard to answer, question: "Why is it so bad for me to eat healthy food and not take heed to my religion's millennia old rules on food ?"

For number 4, you would have people explain it by saying that the person is a Holy or Chosen One, a prophet, a seer, the great grandson of prophet and so on... By justifying these people, they give them the power to influence people as they see fit.

Why Do I Care?
You might want to know why I care about this and if it isn't obvious I would explain. My entire life I have been raised in a religious environment and until very late in high school I had never really doubted what I was told. At some point in my life I started to realize people all seem to make up their own rules and traditions within their respective beliefs and religions. Going to university only emphasized this fact, since I met people from many different religions and with different backgrounds.
I met people who would say they believed in the same thing, but then acted completely differently and I would ask them about it and they would say that they are just doing what they think is right in name of what they believe. Others might have said it is the way they were raised whilst others even tried accepting all religions and believing in all they encountered (true to the Ancient Roman style of integrating whatever culture into theirs).
I also care because it seems that some people do this  without questioning their beliefs, which sometimes can start to hurt people. I am a believer in the equality of humans and it bothers me when someone says that the other person is not worth as much by just not being of the same religion/tribe/customs/beliefs...
This is obvious in all Abrahamic religions where one may not marry one who is not of the same religion.

It is strange that the Romans were more inclusive in their time than we are now - of course they did have a donkey as a minister at one point too, so maybe that doesn't say too much.

Does It Matter?
Does it actually ? Does it matter that everyone makes up their own religion ? I guess that in some ways it doesn't. It makes people happy to believe in whatever they want to believe. On the other hand, this creates a lot of tension amongst people. This can easily be seen in the bigger denominations of religions where until recently Ashkenazi Jews would not marry Sepharadic Jews, it can also be seen in the major sectarian violence in Iraq where literally - and I do mean literally - more than 100000 people have died. These things usually just start as a small disagreement but then get larger and larger. The African Anglican Church has had some of their higher members voicing their opinion for a split with the rest of the Anglican community on different beliefs towards homosexuality (same-sex marriage), women priesthood, and other issues.

This doesn't seem as obvious as one Christian saying that drinking is not a problem, while others denounce it or that one secular Muslim drinks moderately, while his more religious counterparts would be shunned for drinking. It might just seem like a minor disagreement and it might just be that, but it might not. It might go very far indeed.

And More
Long post I know, but there's more. Back to the title of this post ... Can this also be part of major hypocrisy on part of some people ?
Muslims drinking, Christians not going to Church, Jews celebrating Chrisnukkah and so on... All this while presenting yourself to other members of the community as respectable members who follow the rules and sometimes even give advice to people when broached on the topic. Isn't this hypocritical ?

A simple example would be the Jew who eats Kosher, goes to pray and teaches the Torah thinks it is alright to kill thousands of innocent people ? Is that what God wants ?
Another where a Christian who goes to church, only because it is what everyone does, picks up girls in church, but pretends to be pure in the eyes of Jesus ?
Another where a Muslim who eats Halal and goes to the mosque and does pray five times a day, but then comes home and starts drinking and beat up his wife who in public gets forced to wear the full body dress. Is that the will of Allah ?

How are any of these part of the religion for which they so strongly put their views forward ?
Or is the religion itself flawed ?

Holy Books in Context
Of course not everyone is being hypocritical... That is a very harsh view and my title is partly just a draw to attract people, like good news headlines.
"Religious Hypocrisy?" strikes more into the heart of people than "Are people being honest?".

Well, to continue my - now very long - rant. Not everyone is hypocritical. A lot of people who do not to do as everything is prescribed in their holy books say something like this: "The book is very old and some of the rules do not apply anymore. Times have changed and our religion needs to move along as well."

Yeah, why not ? This seems like a very valid argument at first, but then collapses if put under any scrutiny like the houses of the two first little piglets, which got blown away by the wolf.
In case you are too young to know this story or just have never been told it : Three Little Pigs

If your argument is that the rules you do not adhere to are too old for you to adhere to them, why do you adhere to the other rules, which come from the same time period ?
Why do you think you can decide upon which rules you can and cannot adhere to ? Why is it alright for example to eat unholy food, but not alright for same-sex marriage ? Why is it alright for you to not pray, but not alright for others to live their lives in peace ?

This subject baffles me as I have seen very smart people answering some of these questions by saying things like:
"Some things can be seen to not be fitting with the eye of God."
"It is not a natural thing to do this"

So what ? Is it natural to eat seedless grapes ? But I'm pretty sure you do ! And some things are not fitting of God ? Yeah, but didn't he tell you do this or that too ? Who appointed you God's lawmaker ?

It Doesn't Make Sense...
But what does ? I know I'm too much of a rational person to ever understand the divine. It does bother me by the fact that some people believe they do. It bothers me when they try to make others do what they believe God is telling them to do, when they ignore some of it themselves.
All in all, I'd say live and let live! Unfortunately, not everyone is like that and I have seen and read about these kinds of things all of my life. And that's part of being religious, it is to try and impose your beliefs on others, but I guess that makes me a hypocrite too. Am I not trying to impose my beliefs on you right now ? By making you read this ?

Isn't this world amazing ? It can be so beautiful and so sad at the same time. Isn't it wonderful that me trying to enlighten other people about things they have not thought about before can open my eyes in the same way ?

It seems as if I have written an essay for a politics assignment right now, even though I do not study politics and I have asked many questions, which I would probably not see answered. Oh well. I hope this at least was  a tad interesting.

To whoever stayed with me this far, congratulations.


  1. Very thought-provoking stuff here.

    I think people in general are terribly confused about religion. It's a mix of identity, belief, practice, and external symbols, and it's really easy to confuse one thing for another. And it's usually the practice and external symbols that get people into trouble, when they conflate them with belief and identity.

    My experience with Buddhism—Zen—has kind of opened my eyes to the value of religious practice, regardless of the specifics of that practice. Keeping kosher, doing salat, taking Communion, or reciting the name of the Buddha are, I think, 'meaningless' actions in the everyday, trivial way of 'meaningful.' That is, they do not specifically mean anything in particular, the same way, say, whittling a wooden ladle or writing about something 'means' something.

    But consistently pursuing something like that does shape you. And it connects with those other aspects of religion; identity, belief, and the rest, in a very powerful way. Sometimes—rather too often—there's some really nasty baggage that comes with it, such as the exclusionary nature of the Abrahamic religions you mentioned, the misogyny of traditional Theravada Buddhism, or the belief in 'godmen' of Hinduism. But the practice itself is neutral; it's like a lens that focuses and concentrates stuff. And one of the things I think it does is direct attention away from your own navel.

    By default, we act as if we're the center of the universe, and in a way, we are. The universe we experience is only made up of stuff we experience and make up. My universe is radically different from your grandfather's universe or the universe of somebody being tortured in a cell in Damascus right now. It's terribly easy to slide from that into a hollow self-centered existence, where literally the only thing that matters is me, me, me.

    Most religions—religious practices, especially—have, somewhere in it, a movement away from this, the self: a letting go; a surrender. Islam means submission (to the will of God); in Christianity this is expressed as God's grace; in Judaism... well, you know that better than I do. Same thing in the Eastern religions; Buddhism calls it awakening, Advaita Vedanta calls it the fusion of the Atman into the Brahman. And so on and so on, as Zizek would put it.

    Yet this thing goes terribly wrong almost all of the time. You take a wrong turn somewhere, and take all those religious trappings and turn them into yet more building-blocks of the small self; ways to exclude, judge, fell (self-)righteous, condemn, and so on.

    I don't think the world would be any better off without religion. In our neck o' the woods where it's almost dead, we've just substituted other stuff, like mindless consumerism, which is clearly doing as much damage to the world as all the religiously influenced conflicts going on at this time.

    No easy answers. But the questions are good to ask.

  2. Oh no, I don't think religions are bad in and of themselves. Human beings on the other hand can alter the religions to suit their own needs and specifications and that's what I was trying to bring to table.

    I actually think that religion can be a beautiful thing, but unfortunately, a very nasty one too.

    Also, I think that whether the religion tries to push the you away from you, I don't think that actually works. I think it just shifts the me,me,me to my religion, my religion, my religion, which is about me,me,me anyway.

    Since most people alter the religion to suit them in any case.

    Also, yes I'm very confused about religion too.

  3. I think religion in general is simple - its believing. But like you said people bend it to suit themselvves mainly because they feel like they should still be religious because they grew up in that environment.
    But to truly be religious, you need to understand the hows and whys through reading the books and discussing it to gain a better perspective. If you believe in a more involved God, you can also pray for guidance that you find the right meanings to the words you've read.
    But most people prefer to not read by themselves at all and instead be told by leaders but they can get it wrong or even worse they can mislead you if they choose. I've seen so many people conned by people claiming to be spirittual leaders.
    As far as doing what the leaders do - they're not perfect. As my dad puts it"Follow what they teach you not what they do".

  4. I think that might be some of the best advice ever :)

  5. Unless they teach you how to do something bad of course.