Freedom of Belief: Narratives of Mental Enslavement
The ancient Greek philosophers that lived before Socrates (d. 399 BCE) tried to devise cosmologies that offered a more naturalistic explanation of how the world worked, as they found the religious and mystical explanations lacking. They sought a unifying principle which they believed to consist of a singular substance from whence all things were made. Thales believed that water was the principle. Others believed it was fire or air. To the modern mind, such theories, in light of what we believe we now today, are laughable and quaint, but these speculations actually formed the beginning of the scientific process. We are intrigued at how the element of spinning stories to explain the visible world is essentially all philosophy and religion has ever done. Buddha found “enlightenment” under the bodhi tree. Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Jesus as the Son of God, died and came back to life. The earth is flat. I think, therefore I am. Human beings are inherently good. Man is born with Free Will. There are supernatural powers that control reality and human destiny. And so on. But it is important to realize that these narratives, while they are quite handy in providing cover for our fears, when it comes to religious beliefs, they can never escape what they are: constructions of human consciousness in response to fear of the unknown.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many expressions of supernatural belief? How about that first person who convinced another that they saw a “god” or some spiritual event actually happened? What has to happen to someone for them to believe in something that they don’t understand? Let me give you an example of what I mean.
A colleague of mine was explaining to me why he was a Christian. The story he shared centered on this point; that there was a person he knew that had some sort of medical problem and he prayed about and was miraculously healed. “What else could it be,” he asked me. The unspoken answer that obviously formed in his mind was that it had to be “God.”
“Can’t you see,” I replied, “that all you did was create a story to explain something you don’t understand?”
“You must be a free-thinker.” (I’ve been called this many times in my life). He continued,” I respect your beliefs, why don’t you respect mine?”
In other words, he is asking me to believe that what he believes in is actually true. But I wasn’t claiming that he made the story up. “Your mind just created an answer. You can’t prove God healed your friend.” 
“You can’t prove God didn’t,” he replied.
“Then explain why God healed your friend and not the thousands who died today?” Because, wait for it… it was God’s will. See how wonderfully the different narratives dovetail into each other to form a perfect circle of logic of theology? Unless this person can find it within himself to break out of this mental fun house of crucified gods and miracles, he will be trapped within this for the rest of his life.
I bet some are asking, “But what’s the harm in believing in religion and its stories? Isn’t it a basic human right to freely express one’s religious belief?”
Take a look at the wars that are occurring now in this world. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict (which is part of the larger Arab – Israeli conflict) which has its roots in the desperate religious competition between Muslims and Jews. In Nigeria there are murders galore being committed by religious fanatics representing Christianity and Islam. The Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony has been running religious war in the central Africa for over 20 years, killing, torturing, raping all in the name of Kony’s twisted Christian theology. In Yemen a civil war is being fought between Islamic Sunni and Shi’a sects and both sides are not above recruiting child soldiers to fight each other.
I could go on and on. These religious atrocities are occurring in modern times, never mind the voluminous catalog of vaguely ignorant fears the Unexplained conjured up in centuries past. Needless to say, humanity has not benefited from the religious narratives in any way.
Sai Baba is quoted to have said, “ The mind carries the divine principle (the light of love) and conveys it to all who contacts it.” From what I’ve seen in this world, the mind is a repository of unimaginable cruelty where the “light of love” only exists as a denial of the horrors that befall most people on this planet on a daily basis, almost of it committed by competing economic, political and religious systems. Sai Baba may have actually believed his slogan of the light and love principle of the mind, but the fact remains that all he could do was provide a nice-sounding story for his followers.
Isn’t religion the most subtle form of brainwashing? Isn’t spirituality the most subtle form of Mind Enslavement?
Now, what does this have to do with the notion that people have the “right” to choose and express their religious beliefs?
 Reminds me of the story of Diagoras of Melos, the notorious Greek atheist who allegedly threw a wooden statue of Hercules into a fire and commanded it to either miraculously save itself or perform his 13th Labor and boil his pot of turnips. For this, a price was laid upon his head by the city fathers of Athens, causing Diagoras to skip town. But the story I want to tell comes from the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero: Diagoras was being lectured by a friend who tried to convince him of the existence of the gods by showing him the many votive pictures lovingly rendered by those who were saved from storms at sea by “dint of vows to the gods.” Diagoras replied, “Where are the pictures of those who had been shipwrecked and drowned at sea?”