The most profound question of them all

Belief is a very small word for such an enormous subject. It goes to the very core of how we perceive our place in the universe and how we view ourselves. Are we the product of a series of ancient random chemical reactions in the primordial soup of ancient Earth, or are there more intelligent forces involved in the process? Did we evolve or were we made? Was the initial spark of life struck by a divine intelligence at the dawn of time? 

All of this has been at the heart of the world’s religions for thousands of years. So much pain and suffering has been caused by those who insist that their beliefs are right, and those of others are wrong. All of that insistence is unsubstantiated by any real scientific fact or proof. Nobody has provided definitive, conclusive and scientific verification of an afterlife, yet there are many who claim to know the truth of things in that respect, despite the lack of proof.

When examined all the major religions of today’s world seem to have their beginnings in an origin myth and provide a blueprint for organizing a functioning civilized society, governed by rules and regulations. The famous Ten Commandments of the Old Testament in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible are a prime example of that contention. The rules are designed to provide order, structure and hierarchy and all too often, they also ensure the continued dominance of one social class over another. 

All religions tend to be corrupted from their original intent over time, and they are interpreted and used by those who wish to twist them and have them say what they want them to say. Religions that began by professing the virtues of love and peace can sadly end up espousing hatred and war.

One prime Biblical example of that particular holy book being used to the detriment of the bulk of the people, is in the idea that ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’. This was used in times past by the rich and powerful to maintain their positions of privilege, by assuring the peasants that though their lives were full of servitude, poverty, suffering and drudgery, they would live in certain paradise in the next word. 

However very conveniently, there was also an injunction against the committing of suicide, which would send a person’s soul straight to hell. Once the people have been convinced of paradise to come, as one of the exploiter class, you certainly don’t want them all heading prematurely for the doorway to paradise, before you have have worn them out by hard graft and poverty stricken servitude.

Historically, the rich who were supposed to be excluded from heavenly paradise, simply donated money and land to the church and in so doing were given a golden ticket to the pearly gates. After all, as Gods representative on Earth, the Pope was able to bargain on behalf of the almighty and absolve all Earthly sins. A ‘get out of jail free’ card for the exploiters and abusers who could live a dissolute life of cruelty and debauchery, yet still get to strap on a pair of wings and sit on a cloud playing a harp. Is it any wonder that Karl Marx referred to religion as the ‘opiate of the masses’? Religion has always been one of the great levers of control for the elite and in earlier centuries, was one route to power and influence taken by the 'spare' male of-spring of the aristocracy .

In the modern world, the forces of absolution on a grand scale are the TV Evangelists in the USA with their fake smiles, their fake tans and their degenerate lust for material wealth. In the Islamic world they have their counterparts in the power-crazed, swivel-eyed fanatics, spitting venom and hate, whilst calling for the murder of innocents in the name of some warped notion of religious Jihad.

On the cusp of a new age

In the Christian nations of the Western world, religion continues to decline as its historical mechanisms of indoctrination and control are no longer accepted by the general populace. It is in stark contrast to the forces of Islam that seem to be drawing believers into an ever more fundamentalist, medieval and extreme form of the religion. As the West becomes more secular, the East seemingly becomes more religious. Tensions become stretched to breaking point with acts of terrorism, hate and war the inevitable result. Whilst a significant portion of the Islamic East turns in upon itself and endures its insurrections, uprisings and revolutions, where is the West turning?

Stripped of a belief in the veracity of Christian doctrine and losing belief in their religion as a result, the people of the West have had to look elsewhere for new gods. They have unfortunately found them in mass consumerism, materialism, the dark forces of global capitalism and the vacuous cult of celebrity. Far too many people are kept passive, bovine and docile by the moronic reality programmes, game shows and soap operas available on television. It is a moronic, dumbed down fast food world, the Imperial Roman bread and circuses of the modern epoch.

People today are as much in thrall to the insidious doctrines of big business and global capitalism, as they ever where to the doctrines of established religion. This new ‘church’ also keeps them in a kind of indentured servitude, they are akin to hamsters on a treadmill. They are encouraged to take vast amounts of personal debt in order to seek instant gratification through consumption and material goods, and to boastfully show that wealth off to others in a peacock-like display of perceived superiority. Jesus overturned the tables of the blasphemous money lenders at the temple in Jerusalem; now the people forsake the Christian message and worship the money lenders.

The ruins of Western Christianity in the 21st century

It is a bleak recognition of just how far society has moved away from established religion. In throwing out the hocus-pocus, the people have also thrown out the morality and common humanity that sets us apart from the beasts of the field. With a loss of spirituality, all that is left is greed, avarice and the ugly, selfish and corrosive pursuit of money to the detriment of a socially cohesive and caring society.

Given all this, it is hardly surprising that many people are rejecting this corrupt and bankrupt ideology and its selfish gods, and seeking genuine spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. They are not returning to the established churches, especially those mired in the scandals of paedophile priests or those who are bending over backwards to accommodate political correctness or religions that are anti-democratic and tyrannical, or indeed those who simply seek to cynically extract money from parishioners.

The recent scandals in the established churches are a betrayal of those hardworking and genuinely decent parishioners who believe in a better world, and work so hard to help their local parish church at a time when attendances are falling. As Christianity dies in the West, it leaves a dangerous non secular vacuum that risks being filled by a fundamental and extreme medieval religion imported from abroad.

Lessons from the past

Today, many people in the West are seeking self-discovery by delving into the older beliefs of our ancestors. They were far more in tune with the seasons and the cycles of nature than we are today. These people are seeking a better way, one of fraternal love, respect and peaceful co-existence, one that does not set a priestly class between them and the object of their devotions, and one that does not profess a spiteful doctrine of fundamentalist orthodoxy.

It would appear that we are on the cusp of another turning of the wheel in terms of belief and spirituality, at least in the West, and a progression that regains the concept of humanity, a basic respect for life and a moral compass. In essence people are seeking a world that cares and that values humanity over greed and profit.

What are these new beliefs that are emerging as the wheel turns? In truth there really isn’t anything new under the sun, it has all been done before, but as circumstances change and irresponsible social experiments end in failure, people tend to seek their future in their past. Both here in the West and in the East change is occurring, but all too often in polar opposite directions in terms of freedom of speech, thought and religious expression.

Over the past century there has been an upsurge in nature religions in the West, these are our most ancient belief systems and they go back to our hunter-gatherer past. The Paleolithic cave paintings such as those at Lascaux in France, which are estimated to be over 17,000 years old, depict hunting scenes and would have had spiritual significance for the artists painting them. They suggest a respect for nature and for the animals they shared their world with. Animals that were so important to their own survival.

During the first half of the 20th century and into our current millennium, the rise of globalisation, consumerism and the consequent exploitation of the world’s resources have divorced us further from our natural environment. People have become detuned from nature and they no longer feel its rhythms, except when it bites back and natural disasters remind us of its power. Over-population has only added to this estrangement and in the rush for ever greater profit and economic dominance, our verdant and beautiful world is becoming increasingly polluted and damaged. It is being stripped of its richly diverse fauna, via extinctions brought about by the actions of greedy multi-national corporations and extreme population pressure.

The reconnection with nature has a cathartic effect on people, enabling them to slow down and synchronize once again with the rhythms of the natural world. They can feel the elements once again and marvel at the wonders around them, the forests, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and the moon and sky. More and more people are looking at the old beliefs for positive inspiration in their lives, and finding new paths through such beliefs as the Northern Traditions, Asatru, Druidry, Shamanism and Wicca among others.

Each of these belief systems provide a pathway to the ultimate truth, the great unknown that awaits us all as the wheel of life turns full circle and reaches its end. They seek what all religions ultimately seek, the meaning of life itself and the purpose of our place in the universe. We are all made from the stuff of stars and we have a divine right of existence, just like anything else in the cosmos, but why are we here and for what reason? Those are the questions we may desperately ask but may never receive an answer.

The new gods of free market capitalism and globalization fail

What we do know for certain, after the catastrophic global economic events of 2008, is that the poisonous and bankrupt doctrines of globalisation and free market capitalism are certainly not an answer. I fear it may be some time though, before those doctrines are rejected and abandoned by people who have become enmeshed in their widely cast net, and who continue to desperately seek fulfillment and salvation in the siren call of their false promises.

Final thoughts

As for me, what do I believe in? I believe in Family, in Clan and in the strength of a Name. I believe in the power of the ancestors, who have battled and struggled down the ages from the dawn of time and who have made us what we are today. Each of us contains those ancient genes within us, and the inherited folk memories of our people in the deep subconscious recesses of our minds. Ultimately we are all connected and related, and we are all born of one great unknown source that sparked the ‘Big Bang’. It was a truly profound event that gave birth to the universe and ultimately, to mankind itself.

I think perhaps it is an apt conclusion to give the last words on this piece to a very wise counsellor of an early Anglian King of pagan Northumbria.

As the king sat in his Great Hall, along with his retainers during the depths of a northern mid-winter, with a comforting fire blazing in the hearth and the wind howling and snow falling outside, he pondered the wisdom of converting to Christianity. 

He had heard the reassurances of salvation and everlasting life in a heavenly paradise and he found the idea attractive. If he converted then as loyal Thains, so would his powerful retainers and the ordinary folk in turn. At that very moment as he was deep in thought, a small bird flew quickly through the hall, in at one end and out the other.

The counsellor turned to his King and intoned, “A sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters at one door and quickly flies out the other. It flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again. So this life of man appears but for a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not at all”.

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©Copyright - James of Glencarr