Most Western religions are mired in the same state of hypocrisy,11 cynicism,12 and a near total lack of commanding moral authority.13
Most of these great Western religions are now mired in a battle between
factions within themselves that exhibit "irreconcilable differences" of
opinion. On the one hand, you have "fundamentalist" pressure groups,
which are reacting to the hypocrisy and cynicism by attempting to force
a return to the original value system, no matter how irrelevant that
value system is to present day living. On the other hand, you have
"progressive" forces that are attempting to keep each such religion
relevant to "modern" society. The vast majority of religious adherents
remain hopelessly caught in the middle.
The plain fact is that the pressure from fundamentalist groups only makes the problem worse because the non-fundamentalist majority becomes even more disrespectful of the basic beliefs propounded by the fundamentalist minority, and this leads only to even greater hypocrisy, cynicism, and an even greater lack of commanding moral authority. Any fundamentalist movement is reactionary in nature, and is generally associated with the death of the belief system as a whole,14 because the more power which is gained by the fundamentalist faction minority, the more alienated is the "liberal" and "progressive" majority, and the less tolerance there is in the society as a whole for original thoughts to evolve into the new principles needed to guide the faithful through a "modern" society. In fact, one of the great weaknesses of each of the existing great religions is the fact that each depends upon "holy writings" that are anywhere from 1300 years15 to as much as 4000 years old.16
As recently as 600 years ago, there was virtually no technology in common usage which would not have been comfortably accepted by the technical elite of the time of Jesus Christ, 2000 years ago.17 The invention of the printing press about 600 years ago caused a virtual explosion of knowledge because it then became so easy to copy and distribute the great writings of all of the known wise men.18
The essential problem for the existing great Western religions is that they simply bear no relevance to the real issues that confront a modern society that has accepted technology into its bosom.19 The people are not fools, and thus the more obvious this irrelevance becomes, the less religious the people become.20 We now find ourselves on the great brink of atheism, which ordinary people should ultimately reject because atheism by itself simply cannot provide any comfort to the "souls" of the people, and those souls truly do cry out for comfort.
Eastern religions also suffer from hypocrisy, cynicism, and a near total lack of commanding moral authority. However, with Eastern religions, the reasons are not so obvious as they are for Western religions. The easiest answer (which is by no means the most correct answer) is that all of the civilizations with which all great Eastern religions were associated have been "dead" for so long that these great Eastern religions themselves are also essentially "dead." Another reason is that Eastern and Western thinking are so different from one another that Western culture cannot easily penetrate into nations where there is a pervasive Eastern culture; nor can reverse penetration easily occur. Many disaffected Westerners seek wisdom from Eastern culture and get lost because of the lack of basic reference points to begin understanding what Eastern culture is all about. So too, Easterners send their children to Western schools and colleges, but the lack of communication in both directions keeps these intellectual exchanges almost sterile from a philosophical point of view.
Nonetheless, as Western culture has forced its way into Eastern nation-states, there has been a rekindling of 19th century nationalism. So too, 20th century socialism and authoritarianism has been adopted in China and other smaller Eastern nations, and it has been forced down the throats of an indifferent population. Japan is a nation that is undergoing a quiet revolution, as the 17th century customs of the "over 50" crowd make way for the ever-evolving 20th century customs of the "under 30" crowd. The generation in the middle (30 to 50) is truly lost, not knowing which way to turn. It is inevitable that the Japan of 2040 would be unrecognizable as Japan to a citizen of that nation of 1940. Eventually, all "Eastern" nations will become "Western." Eastern religions have a way of more-easily incorporating new thoughts and dogmas which become popular, so the common values East shares with West will only increase.
Accordingly, there is now the need for a new "great religion" to rise up out of the ashes and lead people in the direction of improving civilization, and not in the direction of rejecting the heritage of history. The Agnostic Church is specifically formed to fill this need for a religious institution; a need which most people inherently perceive as an element necessary to their existence. This approach should easily marginalize pure atheism, because very few people have the intellectual strength to stand up and truly deny the existence of God without accepting some sort of compelling alternative. Throughout history, the percentage of pure atheists has never risen above about 15%. The sole reason for the growth of atheism in the recent past is the fact that no existing religion provides an alternative which modern individuals will inherently feel is a compelling answer to the religious needs of those same individuals.
So, in the same way as the most recent of the great religions, Islam, specifically acknowledges its debt to the prior great religions known to Mohammed,21 the Agnostic Church must acknowledge its debt to the great religions of the last twenty centuries, whether Eastern or Western types. There are many common values which have been acknowledged and/or implemented in most, if not all, of the known civilizations up through our own Western Civilization. Thus, it should come as no surprise that scholars of religious thought do tend to find certain fundamental concepts that appear in most of these great religions, no matter what their origins or belief systems are. For proper interpretation, however, each should be placed into the context of its times so as to not read erroneous conclusions into these very important thoughts.
Also, since a "live" religion is made up of people who are citizens of the surrounding civilization, we should not be surprised to find that all of the known great religions are experiencing similar stresses caused by the current state of Western Civilization. Thus it is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all undergoing similar fundamentalist/progressive confrontations which are each caused by the current state of affairs in the surrounding civilization. It is not only that these three religions share a common heritage, as descendants of Abraham, but also that each has been to some degree integrated into Western Civilization. So it is that, even though the Arab civilization "died" some centuries ago, there is a rebirth of Arab culture taking place as part of the fundamentalist Islamic pressures to reject Western Civilization. So too a Jewish fundamentalist pressure group seeks to restore the nearly-non-existent Jewish culture by imposing religious limitations on otherwise "modern" Jews in Israel. To the extent not already accomplished, Eastern religions will follow in due course.
It is now time to individually discuss the "great religions" of mankind.
1 . Judaism22
If the Jews can be perceived as having a civilization of their own,23 in the period between their liberation from Egypt24 and their conquest by Rome,25 that civilization was finally extinguished by the Roman conquest just as surely as Rome itself was extinguished about 450 CE. Accordingly, the Jewish religion is long dead,26 and the vast majority of its practitioners are "going through the motions" more out of force of habit than out of any real conviction of spirit. For Jews, the fundamentalist pressure comes from the Orthodox sect. The principal contribution of Jews to Western Civilization is the Old Testament of the Christian bible, the first five books of which the Jews call the torah. The principal moral standards expressed in this work are the ten commandments,27 which are: 1) You shall have no other gods before the one true God;28 2) You shall not make any idols or likeness of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the sea, and you shall not worship or serve any of these;29 3) You shall not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) You shall not murder;30 7) You shall not commit adultery;31 8) You shall not steal; 9) You shall not bear false witness; 10) You shall not covet your neighbors possessions, wife, servant(s), etc. The other principle moral commandment is the so-called Golden Rule, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself,"32 which concept is also frequently stated as "do as you would be done by," or other similar phrases.33 Throughout the New Testament, variations on the First Commandment and the Golden Rule were frequently cited as the most important moral principles.34
As the principal branch of Christianity, Catholicism is the primary religion that defines and shapes Western Civilization. Strangely enough, the fundamentalist pressure in the Catholic Church comes from the Vatican itself. It is the church hierarchy, and particularly the higher levels of the hierarchy, which are fundamentalist, while many of the actual church members are substantially "progressive." Nonetheless, the Catholic Church does not willingly tolerate dissent, and any significant dissent will surely generate the issuance of a Papal edict of some form or another. There are a number of nationalistic sects of Catholicism which still adhere to the fundamentals of what we now call Roman Catholicism, and these are generally named as "Orthodox" sects, such as Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc. Those branches tended to follow the Byzantine branch of the church, headquartered in what is now Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople), Turkey, not so much out of a sense of rebellion against the Roman Papacy, but more out of a sense of loyalty having more to do with political affiliation rather than any other force.35
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."36 The Protestant churches arose as essentially a fundamentalist reaction to corruption in the Catholic Church around the sixteenth century, CE.37 Protestant denominations have been around for so long now that they have generated their own fundamentalist movement(s), in the form of Charismatic Christianity and the Jesus movement of the last couple of decades. Many of those movements are now seen as corrupt,38 and so it would seem that it is only a matter of time before new movements spring to life to again "revive" the faith. If there is any life left in Christianity as a whole, it is in the Protestant denominations because there seems to still be tolerance for new thought and attempted relevance to the needs of society. This is closely related to the basic Protestant belief, which is that each person has an individual relationship with God, which belief is founded upon only the faith of the individual in the Word of God (as expressed by some version of the Christian Bible), and it is solely that relationship to God, as founded upon that faith in the Word of God, which is relevant to the eventual salvation of the soul of each individual. Because of this focus on individuality, there tends to be numerous Protestant sects, as it only takes a few Protestant worshipers to get together and found a new sect based upon some (essentially irrelevant) difference of opinion with the sect to which they had previously belonged.
11 Hypocrisy is the state of paying lip service to a belief not actually believed for the apparent purpose of receiving some benefit for appearing to believe. The most typical benefit received is simply the appearance of belonging to the group and therefore apparently harmoniously existing as a functioning member of the associated society.
12 The most common source of cynicism is the failure of the belief system to support the individual in the acts and omissions necessary to daily existence. An individual almost always acts in accordance with the expectation of receiving the best realistic benefit achievable from a given situation. When the choice made by the individual is at odds with the choice commanded by the belief system, and no "consequence" or "punishment" for the individual results, then the individual comes to disrespect the belief system and to cynically believe that the individual may ignore the belief system whenever necessary to the greater good of the individual. A few individuals in this state are "outlaws." When a significantly large percentage of individuals reach this state, and particularly when that percentage is a majority, the belief system is effectively dead because the majority now believe that it is no longer relevant to their daily lives.
13 The phrase "commanding moral authority" is intended to mean the power to declare that X is morally right, Y is morally wrong, thou shalt do X, thou shalt not do Y, and as a result of said declaration, the vast majority of the population shall both believe and practice as commanded by the church.
14 At least a death in the sense of being capable of changing to meet changing conditions. Change is necessary to life, and an inability to change is an association of death.
15 The most recent "holy writings" which form the basis for a modern day "great religion" is the Koran, as revealed to the Prophet Mohammed [c. 570-632 CE] in about 610-630 CE, although the first written collection dates from around 650 CE. This statement of course ignores the teachings of various sects, such as the Mormons, who believe in more recent revelations as the foundation of their particular sects.
16 The oldest books of the Jewish bible, and the most ancient Hindu scriptures, each appear to be from approximately 3000 to 4000 years ago, plus or minus a half a millennia or so.
17 For example, there are records of the discovery of the scientific principles necessary to build a steam engine by the scientists at the library in Alexandria, Egypt, from about 2000 years ago. However, the steam engine did not really begin to be used extensively until about 300 years ago.
18 We are, today, on the brink of a similar explosion, with computer networks allowing virtually instant access to any knowledge stored anywhere on Earth, eliminating the need to print and distribute books which then need to be stored in libraries for access by individuals seeking the knowledge contained therein. The difficulty now is to be able to sort through huge quantities of lesser value knowledge for the key knowledge that will advance the particular study that is being undertaken by the individual scholar. In other words, how does a serious scholar sort through all of this garbage to locate the one key thought that is needed? Index type works (similar to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations) will become more and more key to scholarship.
19 One typical reaction is to deny the technology. For example, Iran is presently  considering a law to deny satellite television dishes to the citizens of Iran because those dishes can be used to import sacrilegious television programs into Iran.
20 I must note, for the sake of completeness, that this same phenomenon is common to each of the known civilizations during its "end game" period. It is only the pressure that our own Western Civilization feels from the forces of technology that tend to exacerbate this common trend of all known civilizations.
21 The Koran contains numerous references to the various Jewish prophets, including Jesus Christ, in various passages. The Islamic interpretation of each prophet is that each was sent as a messenger from God to warn the holy people of that time and place against the evils which will befall them if they do not return to the one true path to God. Thus, the principal purpose of Mohammed was to warn the Arab people to follow the path to God, just as most Christians assert a similar purpose for Jesus Christ.
22 Often, reference is made to "Judeo-Christian" values or ethics as forming the basis for Western Civilization. This is truly an insult to Islam, which derives from the same basic religious concepts (as expressed by the Old Testament), and which had a great deal more to do with the development of Western Civilization than did Judaism. Many people forget the conquest of large portions of Spain by Islamic forces, which led to an intermingling of values between Islamic, Jewish, and Christian belief systems, all of which strongly influenced Western Civilization because Spain was an early leader in the formation of Western Civilization.
23 The argument can be made either way. The anti-civilization theorists would hold that there is simply no historical record of the Jews holding sway over any significant territory for any significant length of time. This view is supported by the fact that the city of Jerusalem, which is the city most associated with Jewish culture, was founded by the Egyptians in about the fourteenth century BCE, and was not captured by the Jews until about 1000 BCE, when King David conquered the city. Jewish rule ended just a few decades later, in 922 BCE, when the Egyptians sacked the city. Jerusalem was sacked again in 850 BCE (Philistines and Arabians) and 786 BCE (Joash of Israel). In 701 BCE, the Assyrians ruled Jerusalem, to be followed by the Babylonians in 612 BCE and the Persians in 537 BCE. In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the region. Thus, it is difficult indeed to find a Jewish millennia in order to meet the requirement of Spengler to define a distinct Jewish civilization.
24 The best historical view of the Exodus from Egypt is that it began about 1300 BCE, when Ramses II was the Pharaoh of Egypt. However, many choose to disbelieve this as a fact, citing many historical inconsistencies and a lack of confirming evidence. The entire history of the Jews before King David's conquest of Jerusalem (about 1000 BCE) is a matter of considerable dispute.
25 The initial conquest by Rome occurred about 63 BCE, although the Romans had to periodically re-conquer portions of territory which were re-conquered by various other contending forces, including the Jews themselves. The Jews had significant uprisings against Roman rule in 66-73 CE, and again in 132-135 CE. However, measured from 1300 BCE (the alleged time of the Exodus) through 63 BCE (the Roman conquest) there is about twelve centuries of time during which some sort of Jewish ruler ruled over some portion of what is now perceived to be the Jewish homeland, even if that Jewish ruler had to be perceived as a "local" king, subject to rule from (and taxes or tribute to) a distant empire.
26 It was around the time of Jesus Christ that the Jews decided that prophetic writings would no longer be accepted as belonging in what we now call the Old Testament of the Christian bible.
27 Exodus 20, verses 2 through 17.
28 Christians attempt to avoid being held to answer for violating this one by invoking the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is that the concept of "God" includes God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, all of which are worshipped at the same time.
29 Again, the Christian religions, particularly the Orthodox and Roman Catholic sects, clearly violate this commandment, unless you define the concept of praying to the icon of a saint as something other than worship.
30 Some versions of the Christian bible translate this commandment as "thou shalt not kill," which was clearly not the intention of the Jewish God, who promptly went on to prescribe death as the proper punishment for various crimes, and who eventually sent His people off to kill the Philistines.
31 Again, the translations are somewhat lacking because the proper thought simply cannot be conveyed in a single word in English. For example, in certain circumstances under Jewish law, it is the duty of a man to lie with his brother's wife and get her pregnant. While that would be defined as adultery in English, it was clearly not adultery in Hebrew.
32 Leviticus 19, verse 18. See also, Matthew 19:19, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, and Romans 13:9. The same or similar thoughts are expressed in other verses as well.
33 For example, Matthew 7, verse 12, which in the American Revised Standard Version is translated as: "Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." The concept is widely held, even among other cultures. For example, Confucius is cited as the source for "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." (The Confucian Analects, Book 15, verse 23.) Aristotle felt similarly, holding that "We should behave to our friends as we should wish our friends to behave to us." (From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book V, Section 21.)
34 See, for example, Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:27.
35 The initial division of the Roman Empire occurred when the Eastern empire, headquartered in what is now Constantinople, Turkey, broke away from the Western empire, headquartered in what is now Rome, Italy. The Western churches tended to retain loyalty to Rome, while the Eastern churches tended to divide along national boundaries.
36 John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, dated April 5, 1887. Lord Acton is the most frequently quoted version of this same thought, but he is hardly its originator. For example, "Power, like a desolating pestilence, ¶ Pollutes whate're it touches; and obedience, ¶ Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, ¶ Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame, ¶ A mechanized automation." (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab , III.) "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins." (William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Case of Wilkes, Speech, January 9, 1770.)
37 Many Protestant denominations cite to the act of Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 when he nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg, Germany as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Only the advent of the printing press made such a minor event into such a well-known "scandal." Luther was essentially reacting to the widespread selling of "indulgences" by the Catholic Church for the purpose of financing various projects or people in the church hierarchy.
38 Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart leap to mind.
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