My daughters, there is no phenomenon recorded in human history such as the phenomenon of organized religion. For over three thousand years religion has played heavily into the ideologies of men, the control of organized power, the engineering of bloody wars, land conflicts and revolutions, and an element that has been a means to controlling human masses. I want to break each of the Abrahamic religions down in separate letters in order to present you with my analysis, ideological views, and what I have learned during my studies of these religions and the history surrounding them in order to provide you will a platform to begin your pursuit of knowledge, analysis and your own development of theological and political thought. In order to begin this endeavor, I believe it is important to first explain to you the history of your father’s evolution of religious ideologies to this point and where I stand on the ideology.
Like most people, my first experience with religion was through my parent and it was the religion of my parent’s parents. We were a small, lower economic family headed only by our mother, who worked and went to school while taking care of my younger brother and me. Her parents and their parents before them brought Catholicism out of Germany and Ireland through the post-1865 immigration boom to the United States and passed it down from generation to generation. In hindsight, I now realize that religious indoctrination is a powerful addiction that allows the ludicrous to appear rational and undisputable, paralyzing the natural instinct of questioning or verifying, through a process of emotional attachment to parental ancestry, especially after the death of a parent has occurred. After all, after being taught a religious ideology since childhood by their parent’s example, it is emotionally difficult to accept the possibility that a deceased loved one was incorrect or not in the heaven or with the image of God described by their religion.
As a child, one quickly learns to trust their parents in this world. When a parent tells a child at an early age that they should not run so fast and spin around so quickly or they will fall and bump their head, the child soon realizes that the parent was correct. When a parent teaches their children letters and words to communicate, the child grows to trust the knowledge that comes from that nurturing parent. When the parent holds the child in their arms and protects the child from infancy onward, the child develops a trust in the protective strength and solace of the parent. The problem with religious indoctrination, and the originating point of an ideologically reproductive cycle, is when a parent is embedded from childhood with the teachings of the organized religion of their parents before them, and those parents indoctrinated from their parents before them, without actual contemplation, critical thought, historical verification or analysis of what is being passed down from generation to generation. Would a human being eat something which they did not know the ingredients? Would a human being jump into a hole without knowing what was below?
The case of your father was no different, my daughters. My first memory of being exposed to organized religion was early in my youth, perhaps at the age of 5 or 6 before being able to read or write, when our mother, on some occasion or another, took us to church thinking she was doing the proper thing for her small family. I did not understand the concept of God at such a young age and I can remember going into the church aisle where, if I remember correctly, it was custom to kneel and pray upon entrance prior to the start of a Catholic service. Mimicking those around me, I followed custom and can remember looking to the front of the church where the decorative altar was and seeing the enormous idol of a white European man nailed to a cross. As a child, I had no knowledge of what I was looking at and instantly began an assumption that this was God. In retrospect and after years of study, I can now look back at the absurdity of it because the historical figure of Jesus, which outside of the New Testament is not mentioned besides the brief references in writings by the first century Jewish historian Josephus under the Roman Empire (which may or may not be authentic). As a child staring at this massive idol, I had no understanding of the political structure or land expansion of the Roman Empire or the Roman instrument of crucifixion used on so-called criminals (or reformers and revolutionaries), nor did I understand economics, military occupation or government. As I said, I did not even know how to form complete sentences in written format at this stage of childhood. I was indoctrinated to believe that the New Testament was divinely written by God, instead of the truth which I would research later that Saul of Tarsus had written over half of it and the other portions were questionable in authorship, and that many different written accounts of Jesus were excluded from the canon collection (which would become the New Testament) at the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) about the same time that this new gentile religion of Christianity became mandatory for all Roman Empire citizens except citizens of Jewish ethnicity (313 CE).
Throughout our youth, my family never really fell into routine with the Catholic Church or any other Christian church, but the basic subconscious, indoctrinated Christian norms and values were injected into me over the years throughout our American society: Jesus died for our sins (which subconsciously taught me not to take responsibility for my actions and to pray for forgiveness after transgressions), the false magic of Christmas (which taught economic irresponsibility, and the falsehood that you would be given free things if you were “good”) and the deception that this holiday was about the birth of God in human form or God’s individual son instead of the truth that it was based off pagan rituals such as Saturnalia and astrology, and the ever present ideology that there was an ethnic group in the world that was God’s favorite above all others (causing division among humanity). The individualistic, automatic forgiveness ideology has provided an entire sub-population of death row prison inmates, many who have committed the most atrocious crimes against humanity and are an economic drain on the American tax payers, which have conveniently asked Jesus for forgiveness and have become staunch Christians. Ask any Christian the question “What if a murderer of a family on death row repents and accepts Jesus as his lord and savior”?
At any point, when my family came into contact with the Catholic community where we grew up, we were often looked down upon as lower economic children with a divorced single parent. I didn’t comprehend the way they looked at us and spoke to us during our youth, but once I began to study religion and economics, it became clear in retrospect. I must add here that you should not judge every person or family on their religious affiliation (once you have studied and understand the different areas and ideologies of organized religion), because it is a person’s (or people’s) daily actions that is the true reflection of their moral construction. It is most important to always judge a person or families by their actions and words, not their religious affiliation (because they may never have had someone encourage them to look into history more keenly). The letters I write to you on religion are not aimed to judge or attack individuals or families, but to analyze, produce critical thought and contemplation on the religious ideologies of organized religion. There are many moral and righteous people who have been brought up and still embrace various organized religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. One example of this that I recall is a family that was very heavily involved in the Catholic Church community in our area. The family was probably upper middle class back in those days and was led by a strong mother, who taught at the Catholic school in that community. This family always embraced us, treated us warmly and fairly, and never really pushed religion on us. They were good people. And your father and his friends were not always the best behaved young men during the years of their youth.
Another childhood observation about organized religion that I witnessed during my youth was an example of adults, who lived what Christians called a life of sin, suddenly change their behavioral pattern, open a small church, and became devout Christians to the point of no longer listening to popular music. Further in-depth details I will not go into here, but the metamorphosis completely baffled and perplexed my child mind until later in my adult studies I learned that organized religious organizations are tax exempt on federal and state levels. In retrospect, I suspect that the small church they opened and began preaching from may have had ulterior motives and when I see small, lower economic churches today I still think back to whether the opening of that church was for economic benefits and tax exemption. I will never know for certain and possibly these people simply fell into Christian thinking they were doing the right thing for their children. I would assume that qualifying tax exemptions for these organizations have become more stringent since the late 1970s and very early 1980s.
The churches of Christianity never pulled our family into its clutches although the subconscious ideological damage was done and would not be broken until I was a young adult lost in the social and economic struggle of being a working class youth with no technical skills, no formal or self-education, no understanding of politics, economics, the justice system or how to be a real man. Your father had no consistent strong, positive mentors (outside of your grandmother) while growing up and, like many of the youth today, was raised by the lies and misconceptions of television, movies and music. Your father was also a very hard headed and stubborn youth, a quality I already see in you at an early age, Khadijah, and I hope that with imbued education it will help you avoid many of the mistakes I made in my early lifetime. I made mistakes during my early adulthood which landed me in jail a few times, luckily not for very long stints and for minor issues with heavy economic ramifications, and I managed to isolated myself for advancement (and opportunity) in American society as all quality employers conducted background checks and I was not educated enough to attend university, even if I would have had the financial backing to do so. Today, employment reviews are even more stringent and there is much less room for mistakes. I am a strong believer that everything happens for reason and, by the grace of God, these difficult times led me to the pursuit of knowledge which began with reading, and eventually became a vast self-education process. The first area of that self-education process came through religious study. I picked up a copy of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and without knowing what I was selecting; I randomly pulled a copy of the Quran off a book shelf. Without realizing that the two books were related and that both collections of writings taught about the same prophets (or reformers), I began reading five pages a night starting at the beginning of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) while at the same time reading five pages of the Quran. I had no idea at the beginning of this process that I had the core doctrines and teachings before me of all three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This was the period where I began to understand monotheism and how powerful the belief in one God, a God that created all and everything with no divisions, could unify the human element. During this period of early self-education I feel like became a man. Prior to this, I may have been a man physically, but not mentally or morally. I began to understand morals. I began to understand that for every action there was a consequence. I began to understand that I must be responsible for my actions and that I must strive not for solely myself or individualism, but that I must strive to do the best I could for God, community and humanity. It was amazing how the history contained in the pages of the Old Testament flowed with only minor contradictions alongside the often repeated moral lessons and teachings of the Quran. It was truly an amazing and unique experience reading those books at the same time.
And then I got to the New Testament and the contradictions between that collection of writings from the Old Testament and Quran were like rain water and salt water, or night and day. The Old Testament and the Quran taught about one God. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had a covenant with God, and that covenant was also taught in the Quran (although in Islam the covenant had been broken after the Jewish denial of Jesus). Toward the end of the Old Testament, the descendants of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin were called Jews and proclaimed themselves to be God’s chosen people (based off the Old Testament covenant). In the Quran, approximately 1000 years later, it was taught that anyone, regardless of ethnicity, could submit to God and do right and that there were no ethnic divisions or barriers under God. Both Judaism and Islam both practiced monotheism, and quite frankly as a gentile I favored the monotheism and moral teachings of Islam because it was not ethnically exclusive and it was community based.
The basic conflicting ideology between Judaism and Islam, which basically taught the same religion and studied the same prophets, was that Muslims believed that after the covenant between God and the Israelites-Jews ended, the prophet-hood was taken from the descendants of the Israelites-Jews and given to the gentiles (through Muhammad). It all stemmed back to the Biblical figures of Isaac and Ishmael, and again sub-divided by Jacob and Esau. Of course, members of Judaism would not want to relinquish such rights. When looking at these conflicting ideologies, which still exist on the international stage today contributing to land conflicts and political affiliations, you must understand the timeline as it unfolded. I will cover this timeline more in-depth in the letters addressing each individual religion and how they relate to each other in the larger historical picture. I will only recommend to you that the surrounding geographic and political histories are very important in understanding these religions and to understand each specific history it is vital to go outside of the pages of scripture. Never constrain your research to a single source of information, especially if you are unable to identify an author or the author’s political, religious, economic or ideological background.
It was very simple to see the similarities between Judaism and Islam. There were many more similarities than differences between the two religions, with the main difference being the ethnic exclusivity of Judaism, and the minor differences being geographic location and historical time period. Christianity, which originated from Judaism and before Islam, was the odd ideology from the other two (Judaism and Islam). I had always felt in my soul that something was not correct with Christianity and as I embarked to read and understand the New Testament and the synoptic Gospels, my doubts were solidified. What had happened? I had already read the creation story where God supposedly created the Earth, and now there was a rewritten story where Jesus was with God at the creation? And how was it that the gospels were different accounts of the same events? I carefully read these accounts of Jesus being God’s begotten son or even God in human form born of a virgin (which didn’t appear until Luke). How did events go from the worship of one God, creator of everything, to God in human form and God’s son dying for mankind’s sins? Who were the witnesses? Who wrote these accounts? Were these plausible events or folklore? Questions formed and compiled in my mind and I was forced to go outside of these scriptures for answers. In my research, I found that Saul of Tarsus, raised under the priesthood of Orthodox Judaism, was accredited by historians to have written over 50% of the New Testament and was accredited with the creation of organized Christianity (Pauline Christianity). I found that the authors of the synoptic Gospels (the accounts of Jesus) were unknown and not the actual accounts of the apostles that supposedly walked with the reformer Jesus as most Christians are allowed to believe. I found that the Gospel of Luke was not written by the apostle Luke, as most Christians believed, but by a man called Luke the Physician and a close affiliate of Paul/Saul. Understanding that Jerusalem was a cross road sea port and a great center of trade between Europe and Africa and the east, and that many gentiles during this period of history were becoming interested in the regional monotheism of Judaism, I began to question if the creation of Pauline Christianity may not have been originated as an effort to protect the ethnic monopoly on monotheism from gentiles. After long consideration, I was forced to discard Christianity as a religion based on inconsistencies which continued to compile, along with blood on the Christian hand, throughout the centuries, and an ideology that greatly expanded during the Holy Roman Empire and European colonialism. We will discuss the impact of Christianity on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the methods to justify slavery with Biblical scripture in the letter on Christianity.
I embraced the basic monotheism without ethnic barriers of Islam and began to practice the basic pillars in my own manner and on my own. I concentrated on the areas that I learned such as prayer and self-reflection, giving to the poor (zakat), treating parents and women respectfully, not judging others, enjoining good on others, avoidance of backbiting and the talking of others which causes mischief among society, neighborhood and family, concentrating on taking responsibility for my actions, and avoiding idolatry. Many of these positive concepts I still practice today as they have become a part of my moral construction. As long as I considered Islamic teachings directly and solely from the Quran, I was able to consider myself Islamic to an extent. The problem with the organized religion of Islam, which was minor compared to the discrepancies of Christianity, began to show itself as I branched out and began to have discussions with other Islamic minds and I studied Islamic scholars.
The first common sense problem was that, while the basic concepts of Islam were very good, the cultural norms and values surrounding these teachings had been concreted in 7th century Arabic culture and the majority of organized Orthodox Islam refused to budge from a 1300 year old culture when it came to modern American culture, which prevents the majority of Americans from being able to adapt to the morally uplifting basic components of Islamic teachings. The lawful marriage of more than one woman is one of several problem areas that clearly show the outdated mode of culture surrounding orthodox Islam. In my letter concerning Islam, we will discuss how this culture emerged. It was not simply sexual or social to have more than one wife, it developed during a time of war when many Muslim men died on the field of battle and the taking of more than one wife was aimed at provision and protection for the widows and orphans. Like many areas of various organized religions, this is another example of religious norms and values which have been exploited over the centuries and has quite frankly outlived its cultural relativity. The Orthodox Muslim will argue that everything contained in the Quran is divinely revealed by God and that Muhammad was the last messenger, resulting in the resistance to cultural change.
The second perturbing area in the organized religion of Islam was that I began to notice an emphasis on Muhammad on being “His (God’s) prophet”. In the Uranic verses taught by Muhammad, the teachings always stated that no human being or idol should ever be elevated to the same level as God, creator of all and that prophethood was the greatest level of achievement that any human being could obtain, and that there was no distinction between these servants to humanity. It was disappointing to hear more and more Muslims make statements such as “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet”. What about the other prophets? It was evident to me that by elevating Muhammad above Moses, Abraham, or the others, that this type of special emphasis was similar to the elevation of Jesus by Christians.
A third area, and the largest problem area, that I found with organized Islam stemmed from the largest discrepancy that I found within Christianity, the reliance on the divine authority of the New Testament. By this time, I had come firmly to believe that Christianity was a genius creation by Saul/Paul (the self-proclaimed apostle who had no witnesses for Jesus’ appearance to him on the road to Damascus) to give the gentiles a religion separate from the ethnic monopoly of Judaism (since being a chosen people of God was politically and economically lucrative, and therefore to allow all of the various gentiles to integrate into Judaic monotheism would strip, or diminish, that exclusive world reputation). Elements of Christianity and Judaism were present in Arabia during Muhammad’s historical period and while Muslims will argue that every portion of Muhammad’s teachings were divine (from God), I find it very difficult to believe that these Christian and Judaic influences did not impact his teachings and the moral reformation he led. The problem that results from this theory is that if the questionable credentials of the New Testament are considered and found to be disputable, then Muhammad’s teachings matching the many accounts contained in the New Testament will cast all of Muhammad’s divine revelation in doubt and make his historical position as a prophet vulnerable to attack. In my opinion, the good he did in Arabia is beyond reproach or discredit. When I asked Muslims about modern Western culture and 8th century Arab culture and how society has changed over the centuries, Muslims again responded that everything revealed to Muhammad was divinely revealed and that the cultural norms could not be changed. Just as a Christian will tell you that you must take Jesus as your “Lord” and savior or you will not get into Christian heaven (no matter how righteous you live), the Muslims will not budge from the belief that everything taught by Muhammad was divinely revealed by God and is unable to be modified. Make a note, my daughters, that Muhammad was reputed to be illiterate before he began his teachings and in my research, I have become convinced that it was his first wife, Khadijah, who educated him on the religions of Judaism and Christianity because, as the daughter of a prominent trading family in Arabia, Khadijah had been exposed to Christianity and Judaic ideologies and teachings. Truly, the woman is the first teacher.
I broke with any hopes of organized Islam based on these arguments, although I will always be appreciative for the lessons that I have learned and the moral values that I embedded in myself from studying the Quran and Hadiths. I truly understand what Malcolm X understood when he saw human beings from all ethnic groups and colors praying collectively to one God.
As for Judaism, while Christianity and Islam both study the prophets of the Israelites with respect, the religion is an ethnic based religion and this prejudice can clearly be seen in the text of the Old Testament and the Talmud. What else can I say besides “you, my daughters, are gentiles” and are considered by some orthodox as second class citizens and even secretly slandered as goyim. It is a sad and pathetic form of human racism based on the oldest origins of the Abrahamic scriptures, but it is a quiet reality which still exists today and it is my duty to educate you concerning its existence instead of remaining silent over an uneasy topic. In the forthcoming letter that discusses Judaism, I will be sure to discuss the dangerous area of being proclaimed an anti-Semite for any analysis that, does not prove positive, or any intellectual criticism to Judaism or the modern political entity of Israel. It is a very tricky slope indeed.
As I write this opening letter on organized religion to you, I must express my hopes that you will research, study and self-educate yourselves in these historical and theological fields while always treating all fellow human beings with the utmost respect while avoiding those who are dominated by their prejudices and lower base desires. Always remember, a religious ideology may influence a person’s actions or views, but it is ultimately their actions and words that give exposure to their actual moral or immoral structure.
In closing this introduction on the topic of organized religion, I tell you that I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. When I look at this Earth, the elements, the sky during the day and planets at night, and all of the amazing varieties of life on this amazing planet, I simply am unable to take the atheist’s view of a bang explosion that created the random development of such complex life chains after a vague pre-big bang theory anomaly. Watching your mother give birth, observing the human element in its glory and despair, studying human history, technology, and understanding the human abilities of memory, learning, communication, feeling, and emotion …I simply find myself unable to accept man made doctrine that individualizes or humanizes that higher power that no human being has seen or returned from. I believe in God and try my best to live a righteous life, respectful of all humans, as I believe in the great potential of the human element and I hope (and pray) for a stable future for your sisters and you.