The Ganges River (or Ganga) in India has been the longest holiest river in any religion. Hinduism spans almost three millennia in the history of humanity and it is the longest surviving religion on the planet with more than 950 million followers. The Ganges River bears huge religious significance to the Hindu religion. The Goddess Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier in the Hindu Himalayan mountains 13,451 feet above sea level and flows an incredible 1,569 miles to the Bay of Bengal. For 420 million people the river sustains life in the form of food, water, bathing, and agricultural irrigation. As a river the Ganges contributes to more than 25% of India’s total water resources. It is the ONLY River in the world with such a massive impact and significance on so many lives.
The religious significance of the Ganges River to her people/followers cannot be overstated. Subhamoy Das from India writes from Ganga: Goddess of the Holy River:
“Hindus believe that rituals performed by the river Ganga multiply in their blessedness. The water of Ganges, called ‘Gangajal’ (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water), is held so sacred that holding this water in hand no Hindu dares to lie or be deceitful. The ‘Puranas’ or ancient Hindu scriptures say that the sight, the name, and the touch of Ganga cleanses one of all sins and taking a dip in the holy Ganga bestows heavenly blessings. The ‘Narada Purana,’ prophesied pilgrimages in the present Kali Yuga to the Ganges will be of utmost importance.”
But the river is even more than just blessings and cleansings. Being on the banks of the Ganges has spiritual significance too:
“The land over which Ganga flows is regarded as hallowed ground. It is believed that those who die around this river reach the heavenly abode with all their sins washed away. The cremation of a dead body at the banks of Ganga or even casting the ashes of the deceased in its water is thought auspicious and leads to the salvation of the departed. The famous Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and Hardwar are known for being the holiest funeral detestation of the Hindus.”
Today’s River Ganges
Over at least the last four centuries the Holy River has become the most polluted river in the world. The very children, who suckle from her spiritual nipples, turn around and contaminate the very milk from which they suck oblivious to how tainted their holy water has become from the headwater of the Himalayas to the poisonous outfall into the Bay of Bengal.
Five major facts from a native Indian about the Holy Ganges River:
- Approximately 1 billion liters of raw, untreated sewage are dumped in the river on a daily basis. The amount has more than doubled in the last 20 years and experts predict another 100% increase in the following 20 years. – See more at: http://www.all-about-india.com/Ganges-River-Pollution.html #sthash.f8rueAaD.dpuf
- The rapid explosion of India’s population in the last 25 years coupled with lax regulations on industry has put a huge strain on the river. – See more at: http://www.all-about-india.com/Ganges-River-Pollution.html #sthash.f8rueAaD.dpuf
- Thousands of bodies are cremated on the banks of the river yearly with many being released into the river with hopes that their souls may have a direct path to heaven. – See more at: http://www.all-about-india.com/Ganges-River-Pollution.html #sthash.f8rueAaD.dpuf
- Hundreds of unwanted or ‘illegitimate’ babies, cattle and other animal carcasses are also dumped in the Ganges again with religious significance – See more at: http://www.all-about-india.com/Ganges-River-Pollution.html #sthash.f8rueAaD.dpuf
- The levels of coliform bacteria are over 2800 times the level considered safe by the W.H.O (world health organization). – See more at: http://www.all-about-india.com/Ganges-River-Pollution.html #sthash.f8rueAaD.dpuf
The religious, social, economic, and ecological impact of the Ganges River is so significant that should nothing be done to resolve its crisis, the devastation would reach most of the developed world on several major levels. Whether the river can be considered as holy and pure is an entirely different debate. Environmentally the river has become a major crisis. But the point of this post is not to address the obvious pollution of the river — the Indian people and their government must act — instead, the Ganges River will be my metaphor.
Before you read further, take a minute to ask and try to answer this question: What has been the cause of the great river’s condition? How many causes can you list?
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Like the Holy Ganges River – the Neolithic epigraphs (c. 9,800 BCE), shrines and figurines, then the practices, shrines, figurines, and epigraphs of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt (3,300 – 1,300 BCE), the earliest compositions of the Brahmanas (Hinduism) around 800 BCE, the recordings of Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism between 551 – 300 BCE, the Hebrew/Judaic (150 BCE) and Roman/Christian fragmented scriptures, or bible passages (c. 300 CE), and finally the Arabian/Muslim Quran (c. 640 CE) – have all traveled through time, collected various modifiers, additives, or contaminates, all resulting in significant derivatives from the original purest water. Click here for a more extensive timeline.
One would think that a youthful candidate-believer might think twice before drinking the, let’s say, multifarious water, right?
Studies done from 2007 through 2011 in 40 countries around the world, including the United States show that the rational choice to adhere to a religion is heavily self-centered, not theological, not necessarily empirical, or not even miraculous, but instead based on the question, what will the decision cost ME?
One could then argue that the decision to adhere to a religion or religious lifestyle does involve adequate cognitive skills of
survival servitude to peace and passivity, a noble cause; however, it lacks in higher rational thought and objective empirical simulation to achieve truth – that is cumulative truth for greater good as well as for a greater number.
Just because everyone seems to have a pet rock or smoke cigarettes doesn’t mean it is best for 7.46 billion plus humans. It is probably the result of clever glamorous sales and marketing, or because the ramifications of swallowing the
hook, line, and sinker river water have yet to play out.
tragedy irony of it all is that the holy river and the tributaries that feed her have been around for thousands of years collecting billions of ingredients. Worse yet, millions of consumers of the holy water have known of its additives, modifiers, and contaminants for well over two centuries and still choose to bathe in it, drink from it, and distribute it. Let’s take a brief look at the various faith-stages downstream and their purity. However, for the sake of time, space, and effort I will not delve into the more peaceful tolerant religions (e.g. Buddhism) and their holy texts, but instead concentrate on the three major Abrahamic religions historically rout with violence and intolerance.
I have purposely put the following three Abrahamic religions in chronological order, top to bottom, oldest to newest because they all originate from ancient oral Judaism and earlier Neolithic practices. And like the Varanasi portion of the Ganges River, which originates from the Kanpur region, which originates before it in the Nepal Himalayas, so too Christianity, and more so Islam, are distant derivatives of oral Judaism.
Judaism – The Hebrew Scriptures
The earliest written stories or narrations of the oral traditions of the Jewish people span about 13 centuries. Today’s Hebrew bible probably reached its current form in the 2nd century CE. What is less well-known today is that in ancient Palestine, or the “Promised Land” to the Jews by the Hebrew God, writing was restricted to the rich nobility, governors, and high priests. It was also much too expensive for the illiterate masses which saw writing as magical and a gift from the gods; a long-held social tradition of governing. Manuscripts were the guarded knowledge of political and religious elites who were believed by the less educated commoners to be divine. William Schniedewind, the Kershaw Chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies and Professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages at UCLA, speaks about the formation of the early Hebrew Scriptures this way:
“Most biblical literature was written long before [586 – 539 BCE, the Babylonian exile]. However, the priests who took over the leadership of the Jewish community during this period preserved and edited biblical literature. Biblical literature became a tool that legitimated and furthered the priests’ political and religious authority.”
Notice he states “…preserved and edited” the manuscripts. Whether for political, economic, or religious status, oral stories put into biblical literature was
contaminated edited by human priests-kings and their scribes. Therefore, it should be asked are the following passages from the Hebrew Bible a reflection of God, or a reflection of human writers/editors and their perceptions of their life and their world?
“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.” (Num. 25:16-17)
“Go back and forth killing your brother and friend and neighbor” (Exod. 32:27)
“Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children” (Ezek. 9:6)
“I will wipe humankind…from the face of the Earth.” (Gen. 6:7)
“Kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man” (Num. 31:17)
“Put to death men and women, children and infants” (1 Sam. 15:2-3)
And these six passages are just a small sampling of the Hebrew God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. There are many more. One could compare this God to Satan or Hitler rather than a Father-figure with eternal love. But if the Jewish God is based on sacred ancient traditions and scriptures, and these passages were purposely kept and passed-on by the educated religious élite over 13 centuries as “sacred”, then can this trait of the Hebrew God ever be overlooked? It begs the question, is it any wonder why Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Iraq have been at war, or at least political enemies, for 2,000 years? They follow a violent, jealous, dividing, warring God! Why?
Under this light, my metaphor – the holy Ganges River – has its early tributaries contaminated and we are not even past the first third of the river-timeline.
Christianity – The Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse
Even though the Christian New Testament is the
contaminated offspring of the above Hebrew Scriptures, traditions, monotheism, and laws, their decrees of adherence cannot be misunderstood. For instance:
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”” (John 14:6)
In case there might be the slightest doubt of the implications of this verse (one of several), according to the early Judaic-Christian élite gospel writers, who many followers today believe are the inspired direct (God-breathed) words of the one and only almighty God, anyone other than a publicly proclaimed, spirit-filled Christian, has no entitlement, no ear to or heart from the one and only God in Heaven. In other words, this Christian God embitters and ignores everyone on Earth who isn’t “Christian.” Where does this theology originate I wonder?
Because the Christian-faith is downstream of Hebrew theology and Scripture over several centuries and cultural influences, here are a few problematic scriptural tenets:
Who, if any, have ever seen God?
“No one has seen God at any time…” (John 1:18)
“But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:11)
“So Jacob called the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”” (Gen. 32:30)
Does this God love or hate sinners?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” (Psalm 5:4-5)
How does one acquire eternal salvation?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace…” (Rom. 11:6)
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24)
Is a sinful creature created by a sinful Creator?
“(for you shall worship no other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),” (Exo. 34:14)
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,” (Gal. 5:19-20)
If it isn’t apparent that the Christian New Testament has far too many baffling ancient oral and written tenets passed down to it from several writers from several centuries, then click here for a more complete (1,588 to be exact) list of contradictions.
It should come as no surprise that the Christian gospels, acts, and epistles – the Varanasi portion of the holy Ganges River if you will – cannot possibly be the pure perfect water of life and salvation as the original Neolithic, Indus, Mesopotamian, or Egyptian headwaters. Or is “purest water” even possible? Those four earliest civilizations didn’t have alphabets! Communication was done by voice, song, body/hand motions, and epigraphs; a much more emotional form of communication primarily for governing, protection, and survival.
Islam – The Quran and Hadith
I go on record admitting that as a Westerner, born in the United States and having traveled to most of the world EXCEPT Asia and those portions of northern and eastern Africa that are Muslim, I have a very limited understanding and knowledge of primary Islam. Therefore, it is quite difficult to get a concise consensual explanation of Islam from various sources in the West. Yet, this quandary falls in line with the point of this post: with so vast and so old a plethora of tributaries feeding the Ganges River, and Islam being at or near the river’s outfall of Abrahamic religions and tenets, it should not be surprising. Islam too is not a monolithic religion and no one Muslim behaves as another. Yes, the river has become quite convoluted now.
Nevertheless, I want to be as fair and objective as possible. And who better to explain Islam than thousands of Muslims in a Gallup International poll inside 35 predominantly Muslim countries, and released by Unity Productions Foundation:
Another popular explanation of primary Islam is the plaque or card-flyer composed by Enver Musad in 1995 called The Truth About Islam. You may find it here. Unfortunately, like all the major world religions, not every Muslim adheres to one summary or interpretations of the Quran…again, supporting this post.
For the sake of time, space, and effort I will again condense the stigmas of Islam down to my three major issues:
#1 – Islam’s earliest traditions and tenets come from
contaminated problematic roots, as I’ve already explained.
#2 – The status and role of women (Sharia) in many Muslim countries.
It was only as recent as May 2005 (effective in 2007) that Kuwait allowed their women the right to vote and contest elections; and Kuwait is considered one of the more Westernized Islāmic nations. Most Muslim nations still do not give women political or social equality; a practice which has apparently continued since about 640 CE after the Quran was written. Why has it taken Muslim men some 1,400 years to interpret the Quran and resolve this? Then again, it has taken the Christian world almost as long to rectify it as well. Ah, the woes of an entirely contaminated holy river.
Corporal punishment of “rebellious” women has been a widely accepted practice based upon chapter 4, verse 34 of the Quran for centuries. However, only over the last several decades has it come under intense scrutiny. A simple Googling of the verse (e.g. WikiIslam’s translation) demonstrates the confusion among Muslim scholars. Whether it is now changing or not doesn’t compare to the 1,400 years of cultural Sharia, i.e. the upstream waters.
#3 – How same-sex equality is viewed by Islam and the Quran.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) list countries that enforce corporal punishment or imprisonment upon same-sex relationships and activities; the majority are Muslim countries.
As I’ve inferred in a couple of my posts and directly challenged scientifically the errancy of anti-same-sex, pro inequality groups and laws in my post Sexual & Gender Ambiguity: My Once Gross Ignorance, I take serious issue with any group or nation that allows the violation of personal civil-rights to choose their sexual activity or partner regardless of gender. There simply isn’t the scientific facts to support such bigotry, hate, or even passive intolerance. Typically, the language of fervent religiosity, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim, is evidently “above” mundane mortal science; as if Scripture and theology are impregnable and infallible. Science is sub-standard and unable to emit truths about this life, this planet, and its brilliant inhabitants.
At least the holy Scriptures of the three major Abrahamic religions all agree on the dubious “abomination.” Specifically in the Quran, Sura 4:20-21, 7:80-84, 11:78-81, 26:162-168, 27:55-57, and 29:28-31 all generally infer separation from God and society. The Muslim Hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad but not broadly endorsed as authentic by all Muslim scholars) is more pronounced on its abomination and punishment according to Sharia. At the very least, Islamic culture and society is intolerant of same-sex behaviors and relationships. This position is entirely because it is the offspring of Christianity and Judaism, the upstream. These three issues are just a sampling of other problematic edicts I find with Islam and monotheistic faiths.
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You might be asking why any of this is relevant. It is relevant because most of the domestic and world political and social problems, including atrocities, are caused by
ignorance ill-founded prejudices, elitism, segregation, and egocentric trans-generational teaching of those three ill-conceptions. Religious elitism, often discreetly projected behind political or military agendas, has fueled most of humanity’s darkest most horrid events and eras.
Assuming the a priori condition of a God, one God does indeed exist, an additional question that bears equal importance is this: If you proclaim intimate knowledge of and experience with a one and only God in Heaven, then specifically and unanimously(?) how has this knowledge and experience come to you?
To my knowledge there are only two methods of revelation and experience from an unseen spirit-God: (1) miraculous or paranormal experience(s), or (2) through their faith’s biblical scriptures and other followers. Based on these two methods, it begs the following question: Which is most reliable and most believable?
In my personal experience, when followers/believers are questioned about their biblical foundations of faith, they eventually – sometimes quickly or slowly based upon their apologetic savvy – resort to the “miraculous or paranormal” experience, which is not only harder to acutely examine by unaffiliated outsiders, but just as difficult for the believer/follower to explain! Why is this? It is exhausting because the vast majority of miraculous/paranormal experiences are extremely unique to that one person’s life, personality, and immediate environs, and in almost all cases those experiences are different from other followers/believers.
This does not mean those experiences are untrue or any less valuable to the world and life of others – especially if they turn the person into a more loving giving human being for a greater number of people – and this is fine. It becomes highly individualized, which should be an attached liability clause upon its veracity. Hence, it should be kept strictly an individual “faith.” But pushing (forcing?) it beyond that does make it impossible to standardize, prove, or unite “one true religious faith” – the one
lie belief that has bred immeasurable death and suffering throughout all of mankind’s history! The thousands upon thousands of various sects and denominations of the world’s faiths bear witness that there is not and never has been one true faith.
With regard to a scriptural foundation, I have adequately shown the futility in portraying a unanimous, in-perfect-harmony life with all other “identical believers”. I have also written two historically-centered posts (view the History category for those posts, especially Constantine: Christianity’s True Catalyst/Christ, The Suffering Messiah That Wasn’t Jesus, and Correcting the Gospels of Jesus) illuminating the less-known cultural and political factors influencing early Christianity during and after the sacking of Jerusalem in 69-70 CE by the Roman legions and Empire.
All world religions have their time-specific, contributing cultural, political, and economic influences upon their infancy and roots. Interestingly, they often have less to do with miraculous, 1-in-a-million “divine events” or teachings, and more to do with mere survival or progressive status. Think about that.
This returns us to my metaphor…
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” He could not have been more accurate, both in the literal sense of a river and in the story of man and man’s perception of the world told through his many varied religious faiths and just as many deconstructions and reconstructions of spiritual truth. Like a river, the religious water has never been the same, never as “pure” as the headwater. There are as many contaminants as there are purifiers and certainly no river is better or untouched than another.
Besides, water is only one small eco-system in an infinite table of macro-systems in an even larger more infinite cosmos of systems. As I continue to traverse this Ganges River, I repeatedly ask why the big puppet shows about a mythical deity no one group of puppeteers can define with harmony or consensus. Though Heraclitus taught his principle over 2,500 years ago, it rings truer today among naïve, unexamined fundamental religiosity.
Addendum — After chatting with a blog-friend about this post, I realized the importance, no the paramount risk, we as Americans, as well as the human race, will one day face if we (Americans particularly) do NOT throw out our imperialistic, colonialist mentality (revolutionary heritage?) regarding foreign policy and perceptions. As the excellent video Inside Islam reports, as true as our domestic problems will become EVERYONE’S problems nationally, it is just as true globally with all races, all religions, all nationalities — because due to our insatiable imposing colonial-imperial self-interested heritage, ala the 1948 creation of Israel in Palestine as one example, we must NOW deal with the fires, the monsters America helped create around the world…not treating “them” Arab foreigners as ourselves or without full respect, without the highest tolerance and dignity offered.
On that note, and as I hoped I have conveyed, our personal, national, or “religious” differences are a result of our own pollution, contamination, and apathy, ignorance, violence… whether passive or direct. Let’s disarm ourselves by simply starting ‘at the Himalayas’. Or better yet, start with the Universe/Multiverse and cosmos, the onset, the dawn, the time and space before time and space, which much later feeds the Himalayas, which feeds the “Ganges”.
“Hello. I am a human-being from planet Earth. How can we collaborate and serve each other?”
Peace for you and all.
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