Big Churches, Big Poverty, Big Problems
...and even bigger questions.

I teach various humanity classes one of which is the history of the development of the major religions today. One of the issues that concerns me is the drifting of many of the religions away from their founders' teachings to something less theologically sound.

When I mention how some religions have modified their founders' positions, my students understand the other religions. They can see the discrepancy. They are quite objective about questioning some religion many of which they had never heard of before the class. The problem occurs when someone questions his or her particular faith. The vast majority of students come from a Christian background or a handful from Islam.

Some will view questioning the changes as an attack against their faith even though it is a survey course in a secular institution. For example, when dealing with Christianity, we discuss the historical development of the faith in the Holy Lands, the spread of it into the Roman Empire, the Crusades, science vs. religion with people like Galileo or Darwin, and the mixing of religion and political control.

It is difficult for me to grasp that any Christian can believe that Christ would support threatening to burn someone at the stake for suggesting that the earth is not the center of the universe. Would Christ have gone along with the Salem Witch Trials? I cannot imagine Christ saying, "Amen," to Pope Urban II blessing the First Crusade or any of the crusades.

Apparently, many Christians view women is second-class behind men. Name a branch of Christianity that is headed by a woman, and only a handful of Protestant churches ordain women clergy. Does Christ share that viewpoint?

What can be said about Christianity is equally true of Islam. They have their version of the Crusades, which are called jihads. The same issues surface with sexism. Name a female imam. Worship is segregated based upon sex. There are places in the world today where female genital mutilation (FGM) occurs. Clothing apparel is another issue. The vast majority of women wear some head cover from hijabs to burkas. Was Muhammad or Allah for any of these ideas?

Karl Marx wrote, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." His contention was that dictators use religions as a means to lull people into acceptance of their tyrannical power over the masses. This is also done in lesser degrees even in more democratic governments around the world.

I just returned from Myanmar (Burma) a couple of weeks ago. It was a trip of my lifetime. I have been in dozens of countries and all the continents. I studied at the U. of Edinburgh and later taught a class overseas in Tibet and China. However, this trip was the very best in a half century of travel. Myanmar impressed me. Buddhism and much of their religious and political work is admirable. This is especially true of the 88 Generation Student Group, which has worked replace the military dictatorship that governs Myanmar. The vast majority of the people are dirt-poor...but the nicest people in the world. I was impressed.

While in Yangon (Rangoon), I went to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the most important point of interest in all of Myanmar. Some authorities estimate that up to 60-tons of gold adorns that bright and shiny pagoda. While we in the West write off Marx politically, explain to me that he was wrong when he wrote about religions being the "opium of the people."

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon is a very beautiful pagoda or what we in the West call a church. However, there are thousands of these types of pagodas all over the country, which also contain gold. This religious gold rush occurred in a country where its people live in poverty.

Shwedagon Pagoda revivals the Vatican for wealth. Shwedagon Pagoda revivals the Crystal Cathedral. What have any of these religious organizations done to alleviate poverty that is even close to what they have spent on buildings or other religious treasures? I cannot, for a nanosecond, accept that Christ, Allah, or Buddha would consent to building buildings while the poor go hungry.

Burma flag

Burmese independence flag

Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.

Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.