But modern communication, personal ambition and the natural desire for freedom is making this cultural stranglehold increasingly difficult to maintain.
It was already difficult enough in Europe during the middle ages to keep the 'commoners' in line, even with the threat of hell and eternal damnation, but despite a few relatively short lived tyrannical set backs, the growing cultural and commercial exchange brought about religious tolerance much earlier than in other parts of the world. In these parts 'stepping out of the social-religious line' is still considered a serious threat to the system.
When a reputedly moderate republic such as Egypt tends towards outlawing freedom of expression via Internet, even there it would seem there is a growing problem of religious and cultural identity.
If one accepts that all the main religions stem from one unique source with almost identical history, legend and root path, then one should be able to interpret them more freely so that they all adapt naturally to cultural, scientific and technological evolution. But in totalitarian regimes religion is interpreted incompletely, therefore falsely and rigidly. Fear is the key factor to retain power and order whist ignorance is not discouraged, much in the same way that was once practiced by fundamental, religious institutions in medieval Europe.
When cultural exchange and access to information (other than what is officially prescribed or indoctrinated) is considered a threat to a regime, it has no future.
It must take an extreme amount of ignorance to believe that if one blew oneself up, with as many innocent victims as possible, one would be rewarded with eternal Paradise and a line of authentic virgins. (Women suicide bombers would have to settle for Paradise without the extras, still wearing their full hijab, of course).
Like all human beings, even prophets were not infallible, and Mohammed himself was no exception (certainly if one believes he was a scissionist- a divider of the people, and a war monger) yet to Muslims he seems to be considered almost, if not truly, a God. Or certainly his messenger, and in the Muslim prophet hierarchy the most important, despite his relatively late arrival on the religious scene. His influence is phenomenal and it's probable that his dispute with the Hebrew chieftains who naturally preferred to remain faithful to their own, far more ancient religion, initiated the interminable Arabian/Jewish conflict.
But to return to the idea of eternal Paradise. Considering it in any other way other than spiritual, such a conception seems totally sterile and ridiculous. How can beauty not be mortal, ephemeral? To some extent it can be preserved, if not immortalised, through art- and for every such master-piece created, its creator may die a little in the process- but the essence of beauty is in its own living evolution, the beauty of life itself.
In this case, Paradise is valid only as a personal, spiritual conception, but in reality it is our world itself and what we make it.
Perhaps if this was fully appreciated we would be inclined to take more care of such a wonderful, precious heritage with the devotion and engagement it deserves. Like life itself it is only a loan, to respect, protect, and bequeath to the future.
Susanna Tamaro, in her 'Versa Casa' refers to Frère Roger's words regarding colour. 'That man who is reconciled with himself, knows that truth is not a colour but light'.
Obviously this could also allude to a political colour- blue, red, the derivative pink, or even less understandable orange, barring the primarily yellow which has other connotations. But everyone knows that all the colours of the rainbow (red, blue, yellow and their merged nuances) are necessary to make white light. If truth is therefore composed of what exists, it would follow that there must be a reason for everything.
Text and image © Mirino (PW) June, 2008