Karl Marx said that "religion is the opiate of the masses" and that's true enough. Yet there is something fundamental inside of us that needs that great mommy and daddy in the sky, something to connect with this world, with our relatives and with our society. Religion is indeed an opiate but the addiction is a naturally occurring phenomenon. This faith, any faith can then be easily exploited to control the population until religious leaders either control society or stand on the same tier as the leaders that do.
This has given us world religions so mean-spirited and vile that if they called themselves anything but a religion right thinking populations would denounce them immediately. Some of these religious practices and beliefs are so absurd as to be laughable. Some believe that after you die God will take your soul and make you a God on a new planet. Of course you have to be white and male and have lived your life in a way as to keep your sacred underwear clean.
Some believe it is sinful to celebrate a child's birthday or to not wear your hair a certain way. One of the key components of many religions is racism. It is found among tribal cultures around the globe, the belief that you and yours alone are God's favorites. Some believe that God created the whole universe in all its majesty and everything in it just for them. That the rest of humanity are just interlopers and hangers on, riff raff obscuring their view of the promised land. Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?
Cults, then like now, were always springing up with some miracle man performing feats of magic for the crowd. The leadership viewed this in the same way we view people waiting for a UFO to take them away when the next comet arrives. Miracles are fine, preaching is good, but when you start telling the great unwashed mobs that they too can be God's chosen people, then you've really stepped over the line. If that is so, that you too can become one of God's chosen people, then maybe those already chosen aren't so special anymore.
When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well he was breaking rules all over the place. Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews and were considered unclean. Anyone who is not of your faith or belief is considered unclean on some emotional level. Reminds me of a joke I heard once about a little boy standing in front of a grocery store with a box of kittens. On the box it said "Free to a good home! Methodist kittens."
The little boy answered, "'Cause they ain't got their eyes open!"
Sweet, lovable bigotry! When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well it was considered improper for a man to speak to a woman alone. That woman was not only considered unclean, she might belong to another man, like a chair or a goat might belong to another man. Finally, this was a woman two thousand years before Joan Jett; she did give a damn about her bad reputation. Imagine how tongues would wag if the leader of your religion was seen on the wrong side of the tracks talking to women with bad reputations on the street corner.
I like the radical Jesus, the revolutionary Jesus. Was he the Son of God? How do I know? I do know that while the dogma says he rose again, the revolutionary Jesus still lies buried in a tomb. His teaching didn't then and doesn't now fit the religious power structure mold. When Jesus overthrew the tables of the merchants and moneychangers in the temple, he was saying that mercantilism and money don't mix with God. He would raise hell in a televangelist studio today. Remember now that this was mister prince of peace. Suddenly Marvin Milquetoast was going all postal, tearing up goods and disrupting the services of honest, innocent merchants.
When he was asked if citizens should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus first called them hypocrites and then asked them, "Whose picture is on that money? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's." Remember that the next time someone starts talking about the separation between church and state. The wall of separation wasn't built by the founding fathers but by the revolutionary Jesus.
When criticized for eating during fasting time he told the Zealots it is not what goes in your mouth that defiles you but what comes out of your mouth. There are a lot of ways to interpret that statement but it sounds to me like the prince of peace just told that guy to mind his own business. That your relationship to God is between you and God. If you're hungry, eat; if you're thirsty, drink. If you've got work to do then do it. Want to give your kid a birthday party? Then go right ahead. Want to shave off your side burns? Good for you!
Your relationship to God is not dependant on your rituals but on your actions. If you believe that your faith or religion makes you better than somebody else then you've got it all wrong. Jesus was asked by a rich man how he could follow him and was told to give all his money away and then sell all his possessions as well. Jesus was a Communist revolutionary that believed in redistribution of wealth. He was a celebrity and could have stayed in the homes of people with wealth but instead he stayed with the lowly and despised. Today he would be found at an Aids clinic or at a crack house or maybe sleeping on a couch in a run-down tenement in South Philly, or Los Angeles or Detroit.
His intention was not to establish a theocracy, for as he said, his kingdom was not of this world. His intention was to change this world in preparation for the next, and for that he was viewed as a dangerous man. He de-coupled faith and religion from race and nationalism and dogma, teaching that there are no God's chosen people, only people who choose God.
He taught that the most sinful and the most dangerous people in society were the rich. That if you're looking for hypocrites you need look no further than your nearest church, temple or mosque. Your connection with God has nothing to do with temples or cathedrals or bowing and scraping. He left behind only one commandment, to love one another. Sounds simple enough, but it sure does get lost sometimes.