1) Ego (in this context) is an exaggerated personality trait that puts oneself before and over everyone else. More often than not, this could result to the destruction of the property, identity, image, reputation or even life of another in order to satisfy one’s desires. The history of mankind has shown that each time humans want to display their ego, hate, fear or the ‘demon’ in them, they normally hide under the cover of a supposedly higher/superior moral authority to justify their bestial desires. Sadly, no other ideology had provided this cover in history more than religion.
2) In order to kill Socrates, the Greeks (his people) employed the cover of religion/morality. They accused him of corrupting the youths. The truth was that they were intimidated by his uncommon wisdom and growing popularity and consequently the fear of losing their political/societal influence. The Jews did not act differently. In order to kill Jesus, the scribes and the high priests used religion to fight for their diminishing societal influence.
3) During the time of the early Church, the Roman authorities also hiding under the cloak of religion feasted their bestial desires on the early believers. Many of them were brought in the amphitheatre and thrown into the fighting rings with hungry lions. Many were used to lighten up the streets at night by being burnt at the stake. Not a few were decapitated. All were done to the amusement of the onlookers whose ego and bestial desires were constantly satiated.
4) In the 4th century, the tide changed when Christianity became a legal religion with the coming of Emperor Constantine on board. Caught up by the same ego issue, Christians began to feed their own ego just as their persecutors did. They began to molest their members who held different interpretations to articles of their faith. Not even inventors and scientists were spared. Several wars were procured in the name of defending the faith. The fact was that the ecclesiastical power-brokers who had become very influential feared that discrediting an article of faith would reduce their power and influence among the people. It had perhaps little to do with protecting the faith, but more to do with ego and power.
5) By the 13th century, the hunt for witches was officially instituted. Many who were accused of witchcraft were executed. This was justified with Biblical quotations like: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18. Most of those accused of witchcraft were people who exhibited extraordinary talents. The youngest of the victims was the four year old Dorothy Good whose testimony in 1692 was used to hang her mum as witch.
6) When a priest called John Hus (1370–1415) drew the attention of the Church to these ego-triggered abuses, he was silenced forever at the Council of Constance, Germany. Some 100 years later, John Hus “resurrected” in the person of Martin Luther. Luther listed 95 things he thought needed urgent reforms in the Church. But ego did not allow the Church authorities to give him the required audience; neither did same ego allow Luther to make some concessions. The result was that the Church had to split. Wars were cherished more than prayers. The sword replaced the cross. What a simple dialogue could have solved led to schism, bloodletting, arson and hatred on both sides.
7) Using the killing and rejection of Jesus as an excuse, the anti-Semitism (hatred for the Jews) was given a Christian colouration. By the 20th century the hatred for the Jews had grown out of proportion. Adolf Hitler decided to press the lethal button that led to the most horrible genocide in human history, the Holocaust. According to Hitler, he was “fighting for the work of the Lord”.
8) Based on the unfounded theory of Ham, the hatred of blacks, their history, culture and religion was given a theological or biblical backing. Ham was cursed with servitude by his father in Genesis 9: 20-27 for seeing his nakedness. This hypothesis claims that Ham was the ancestor of the black people and as such the blacks should in perpetuity live with the curse as slaves to the rest of humanity. Leaning on this incredible hypothesis, a whole continent was turned into a slave market for over five centuries! No one saw anything wrong with it!
Here again, a supposedly higher authority was used to justify the desires of the ego, selfishness and hate.
9) The same ego and selfishness led to forceful conversion which was more evident as from the 11th centuries when the mission of the church rested in the hands of the kings of Portugal and Spain. Within this period, those kings solely appointed bishops and organized missions. As cities were being conquered, crosses and church bells were being raised. All in the name of fulfilling the gospel mandate: “Go ye and make disciples of all nations”. The kings were only trying to expand their territories, power and influence. Nothing but ego in display!
10) Before the launching of the 19th century missionary enterprise in Africa, one of the missionary giants, Francis Libermann, a French-Jew, had the premonition that the missionaries could carry the prejudice of Afrophobia to Africa, told them to “be Black with the black people”. Neglecting his admonitions, the missionaries rather initiated attacks on African culture and heritage. Ego was in display.
11) Overwhelmed by the actions triggered by ego in the name of God, Pope John Paul II in 2000 had to make an apology on behalf of the Church. He said: “Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions… We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church.” (Homily of the Holy Father, “Day of Pardon” Sunday, March 12, 2000).
12) The barbaric acts that were seen in most of our ancient world cultures, some of which linger till date, like the human sacrifices, killings of twins and tabooed children, caste system, classism, racism, religious discrimination and so on were/are all offshoots of unguarded ego.
13) This reflection is not in any way meant to be an attack on religion (especially Christianity). It is aimed to serve as guide for all of us, both believers and atheists, so that we will be able to detect when the ego in us is at play. Eckhart Tolle once said: “The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly no longer the ego but just an old, conditioned mind pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.”