It is a great mystery why some inanimate parts of this planet or
possibly any other planet came together in chemical reactions that led
to life. The immediate question is, “Did a supernatural being cause
Creation stories of various religions expound belief in a creator.
Adherents take them on faith; skeptical scientists do not. Much to the
dismay of religious leaders, skeptical scientists advance modern
versions of Darwin’s theory of evolution. But religious believers and
scientists can neither prove nor disprove that life is the work of a
creator or that a creator exists.
Religious leaders throughout the world deny the validity of Darwin’s
theory. Although they can provide no proof, some trumpet intelligent
design and demand that schools teach it as a theory equal to the theory
of evolution which they vigorously contest.
Judeo-Christian religious leaders insist that everything that is was
created in a specific time; the Bible says six days. Some explain away
archeological findings that contradict the Bible story by saying that
six days is a metaphor for six periods to make it consistent with
The faithful believe in miracles like the dropping of manna from heaven
to feed the starving Hebrews in the desert, the Savior’s healing of
the sick and lame, the Prophet’s travel to paradise and back on a
flying horse, and the seven mentions in the Bible of raising the dead to
life. Religious leaders use believers’ faith in miracles to enhance
their power over their followers. Skeptics think they are made-up
grandmothers’ tales to enhance belief.
The Catholic church requires sainthood candidates to have performed
miracles. Although the church confers sainthood from time to time,
skeptics doubt that any miracles occurred. They are apt to say that
people who believe in miracles or hear the Word of God suffer from
The stone commandments, which the Bible says God gave to Moses in Sinai,
hold religious sway over Jews and Christians. But religious adherents
observe them more in the breach than in the practice, even when they
place copies prominently in the public square.
A great mystery that puzzles some of us is, “Did life arise purely by
If one assumes that life is the creation of a supernatural creator, we
can reasonably ask, “What was the purpose of its creation?”
We have no answers nor can we answer the question, “Why did the
creator make life finite?”
In our experience, all living things begin at a beginning and die at an
end. It is logical to ask, “Couldn’t an all-powerful creator have
made it infinite, and why didn’t it?”
Thinking about what an all-powerful creator could have done raises the
questions, “Why did the creator arrange things so that his creations
kill and eat each other?” and “Couldn’t the creator have arranged
for its creatures to get their energy directly from the sun?”
The biblical story of the fall from grace in Eden attempts to justify
humankind’s, and especially women’s, hardships. But it offers no
explanation for the appetites and killings of nonhuman creatures by
other nonhuman creatures.
Accepting that its life must end is the most difficult and fearful thing
for a sentient creature. Because of the fear of death, a central theme
of most religions is belief in an afterlife. Belief in a Savior and a
future life in heaven ease the fear. What this offers to believers who
confess their sins and repent is assurance of a resurrection in which
they will spend eternity in a glorious heaven. The religious
establishment declares that sinners who do not confess and repent will
be consigned forever to suffer in burning hellfire.
Recognizing the difficulty of leading a sinless life, one religious
doctrine offers purgatory or purification to a sufficiently holy state
for some sins of limited degree where, after sufficient but not eternal
punishment and relenting, repentant sinners gain entry into paradise.
The creators of religions wear the guise of wise men that can explain
life’s mysteries and miseries and offer comfort about its inevitable
end. Arguably, their true purpose is to gain power over people by using
the constructs of temples, churches, and mosques, rituals, the creation
story and the words of prophets to whom God or the gods speak, and the
beliefs that their words evoke.
Religious leaders amplify their power and control over people by telling
their followers the one and only God’s will or the will of one or more
of the multiple gods in which they profess belief. They create
structures of miracles, histories of prophets’ acts and their
prophetic sayings which they incorporate in the faiths’ holy books.
Some religions go so far as to say that individuals cannot determine
God’s will and only by intercession of the priesthood can the
congregants know God’s will. The priests interpret the meanings of the
holy books’ words for the faithful, thereby eliminating challenges to
the power structure. Political leaders who are also religious ones use
religious belief as a means of retaining and exerting power.
Religious belief has, at times, made a mockery of the scientific
establishment of fact. When Galileo Galilei asserted that Copernicus’s
heliocentric idea was correct 73 years after it was published, the
Inquisition disagreed and cast him into jail. Despite its contradiction
of the Bible’s view that the sun revolves about the earth, Pope
Benedict XIV granted an imprimatur in 1741 to the first edition of the
complete works of Galileo.
In 1178 of the common era, Maimonides said that God created the world
4,938 years ago. Jews worldwide use his calendar to celebrate religious
holidays. Despite the participation of many Jewish scientists in studies
of the origin of the universe that prove otherwise, the religious
In Germany, the sale of indulgences scandalized the Catholic monk Martin
Luther. He could not accept that monetary fines could take the place of
punishments and contrition for sins which the church would forgive upon
payment of a fine. And he thought it made a mockery of the purpose of
confession to permit the sale of indulgences.
Following a custom of the time, on October 31, 1517, he posted 95 theses
written in Latin on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The
theses covered what he saw as many flaws in Catholic theology. This was
the root of the Protestant Revolution and the religious warfare that
followed between Catholics and Protestants and between Catholic and
Protestant nations and arguments within Protestantism and discrimination
by some Protestant groups against others. All held non-Christians in
Islamist theology parallels that of Judaism in that Ibrahim (Abraham in
Judaism and Christianity) is the progenitor. But they assign different
roles to Hagar and Ishmael. To Jews, Hagar was Sarah’s handmaiden to
whom she urged Abraham to go in unto so she could give birth on
Sarah’s lap. It takes a visit from angels and a miracle for Sarah, who
at the age of 90, was past the childbearing age, to become pregnant by
Abraham . . . who was 100 . . . and give birth to Isaac. (The name means
He will laugh) People interested in the angels’ visit and Sarah’s
pregnancy can read about it in Genesis.
The Jewish story goes that Hagar became uppity because she had
Abraham’s child and Sarah did not. So Sarah convinced Abraham to cast
Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert where God gave them water and told
Hagar that her son would be the father of nations.
Islamists agree that Ishmael was Hagar’s child, Abraham’s first son
and the father of the Arab nation. Islamic exegesis assigns him a far
different role than does that of the Bible. To Islam, he is a prophet.
And there is a difference of opinion between Arabs and Jews about which
of his sons Abraham was willing to sacrifice in answer to God’s test
of Abraham’s (Ibrahim’s) faith.
In agreement with God’s command, Jews circumcise their male children
eight days after birth. Muslims believe that Ishmael was 13 when Ibrahim
received God’s command. They circumcise their sons at age 13,
Ishmael’s age, when God told Ibrahim to circumcise all the males in
But the real purpose of all the rituals is to bind believers to a faith.
The religious dispute between Sunnis and Shiites and their offshoot
sects stems from a power struggle between descendants of Muhammad about
who his legitimate successor was. They have different interpretations of
the Quran, rituals, and celebrations. The hatred and murder of this
struggle are part of a continuing struggle over who manipulates the
levers of power over people clothed in a theological dispute about who
carries Muhammad’s mandate.
Another mystery is, “Why does humankind so fear the exchange of
genetic material of the different races that evolved over the
The answer to this question, and the attendant mistreatment of humans by
other humans and promotion of fear of miscegenation, is the quest of the
powerful to attain and maintain power over people through the use of
racism and religious texts that support it. The biblical theory, which
supports anti-black racialism, is that Ham committed the sin of incest
with his mother and that is why their descendants are black. The Bible,
however, does not seem to have an opinion about why the descendants of
Japheth are people with slant eyes and ivory-colored skin.
Does the quest for power over people not answer the questions, “Why
did explorers and conquerors treat native populations as less human than
themselves? Why did South African apartheid and the American laws treat
black people as only partially human? Why did the explorers and
conquerors of the Aztec, Incan, and Mayan civilizations and the
civilizations of the islands of the Caribbean Sea use missionaries’
conversion of natives to Catholicism and enslavement to justify their
destruction? Why did they kidnap and murder native leaders who, in an
ironic twist, also used native religious beliefs, slavery, and rituals
of human sacrifice, to hold power over their people and enslave them?”
The Brownist English Dissenters fled the burden of the English
church’s weight for the tolerance of Holland. Then, for fear of losing
their cultural identity and power over their followers, their leaders
led the immigration to North America where they settled the Plymouth
Colony. Their search for religious freedom is a central theme of
However, when the Pilgrims arrived on the New World’s shores, they had
little sympathy for the Native Americans they encountered or for their
religious beliefs. Their search for power underpinned the treating of
the original inhabitants as savages, stealing their land, converting
them from heathen beliefs, and sometimes justifying massacring them.
This marginalized and seized the power that Native chiefs and religious
leaders held over their people.
The religious leaders of the Virginia Colony did the same. The Virginia
colonists used the Bible’s Leviticus 25:44 to justify enslavement of
miserably treated Africans and Caribbean natives who were, unwillingly,
brought to the colony. The struggle for freedom and recognition as
equals with equal rights to other Americans has been long and hard and
only partially successful.
The agriculture of the Southern American states depended upon slavery
for its workforce. The more industrialized North depended upon free
labor. The basic conflict of the American Civil War between the Northern
and Southern states was the antislavery movement in the North that
threatened the economic power of the South.
After the North prevailed, the Southern states passed miscegenation laws
prohibiting mating between nonwhites and whites. This was despite many
former slave owners, such as Thomas Jefferson, for example, having
fathered children by their slaves that led to a population of mulatto
and quadroon slaves. Some mixed-blood slaves were so Caucasian in
appearance that they could pass for white when they escaped. But they
lived under the threat that their children might be black skinned even
when the father or mother was white.
Political leaders use fear of genetic mixing as a powerful lever to
exert power over people. Until the changes to the Constitution that
succeeded the American Civil War, the Constitution’s enumeration
clause treated slaves as three-fifths of a person. Imagine being
three-fifths of a person!
Despite the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the
American Constitution, in the post-Civil War period, segregation in the
states of the Confederacy that lost and discrimination in the states
that won kept African Americans in a lower class of poverty and
powerlessness. Their climb to full personhood and autonomy has been
arduous, long, and slow.
Other laws, tested in the Supreme Court by the Dred Scott decision, gave
separate but equal education to African American children. Separate it
was, but equal it was not.
Laws in the former Confederate states prohibited black people of African
origin from using facilities that white people used, required them to
ride in the rear of public transportation, subjected them to curfews,
etc. It was not until 1950 that legal segregation came to an end. It
took a long struggle by black religious leaders to gain a share of power
that the white majority held.
Despite the election of an African American of white and black ancestry
to the presidency and election of nonwhites, Hispanics, Muslims, and
Jews to governmental bodies, much of America hates them all as a threat
to the power structure to which they have become accustomed and believe
is their right.
The mystery of this hatred is, “How can believers in a just God and
his only begotten Son justify such prejudices and at the same time
preach that we are all God’s children?”
Most religions amplify their financial power by requiring believers to
contribute to the maintenance of their churches, mosques, synagogues,
and temples on a regular basis, such as tithing or collections during
Although all religious doctrines speak of God’s peace and love for the
poor and repeat their prophets’ words, for example, Again, I say to
you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than
for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, cited in Matthew 19:24, one
needs only to visit the Vatican, great mosques and temples, for examples
of religious leaders’ lust for treasure and power. Do not their living
arrangements and garments show the hypocrisy of their expression of love
of the poor espoused in words but rarely accomplished in deeds?
We note that it is unfair to attribute such behavior to all believers.
In every religion there are charities and charitable people who truly
try to help the poor and disadvantaged.
Isaiah 2:4 readsHe will judge between the nations and will settle
disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword
against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Despite this hope for peaceful pursuits rather than warfare, the violent
and bloody history of humanity’s power struggles has not changed.
Indeed, in the name of God, religious leaders have often advocated
warfare with and torture and murder of those with different beliefs. For
example, the distortions of Muslim calls to jihad.
The wars of the Hebrews and other tribes and countries of biblical
times, the disputes between Sunni and Shiite descendants of the Prophet
and conquest of nonbelievers during the spread of Islam, the Catholic
church’s Inquisition and auto-da-fé, the wars between Catholics and
Protestants all exemplify the violent and bloody history of religion in
quests for power.
During the many latter day wars, each opponent propagandized its people
saying that God was on its side. During World War I, German leaders
propagandized their people with Gott mit Uns (“God with us” in
translation). Their enemies invariably said their struggle was for the
good of God. A noteworthy variation during World War II was the American
prizefighter who commented that, “We is on God’s side.”
But despite invoking God’s help, ungodly racial and religious
discrimination prevails. Woodrow Wilson, the former Princeton professor,
who was a mentor to the deeply religious future Secretary of State John
Foster Dulles, led the United States into the First World War with his
slogan of making the world safe for democracy. But his belief in
democracy was limited. It did not extend to all Americans. He was a
racist former member of the Ku Klux Klan and a firm believer in the
inferiority of black people.
There were precious few black and non-Christian officers in America’s
armed forces in both world wars. During and after both conflicts, black
people were denied equal rights to whites despite the profession of
religious leaders that we are all God’s children.
"The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there
are eighty thousand servants and 72 houri, over which stands a dome
decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from
al-Jabiyyah to San'a." Hadith 2687
Excerpted from "2084 The Secularist Revolution: How Technology Changed the World" by Stanley Yokell. Copyright © 2014 by Stanley Yokell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.