Search for the one true religion
Okay, I know that religion is always a bit of a controversial subject. Some people are into religion, others are not. Some don't care one way or the other and others are deeply passionate (one way or the other).
This article is being written with the idea of being an open letter to anybody who is thinking about religion, whether they be a member of an active religion, actively avoiding religion or simply mildly curious.
Firstly, let's make a few assumptions. We'll assume that you fall into one of two categories:
- You are a religious person and want to contemplate if you are in the right religion.
- You are not religious but are curious about finding out if there is a right religion.
The astute reader will notice that with these two assumptions, we lay down a groundwork that excludes people who are devoutly against religion or not interested in a religion. The simple reason for this is that this makes it simpler to maintain focus on the subject if I don't need to go off on tangents to cover off-topic subjects.
This is in no way meant to be an affront to those people excluded, but would raise a few interesting points to consider. If a person is not interested in religion, then why would they read an essay about religion? Someone who is fervently against religion would likewise be considered an unlikely target for this essay. Having said that, anybody who wishes to engage in an intellectual debate over religion or the removal of religion is free to drop me an email. No doubt many of my ideas or conclusions are wrong - if you know better, feel free to let me know. I don't claim to be a scholar nor think that my ideas are better than another's. I'm just an average Joe.
So, on to the essay itself. We have established that we are considering a group of people that are looking for religion. More specifically, we are looking for "the one true religion". This of course necessitates more assumptions.
- We will assume that there is a "one true religion" to look for. After all, one does not go looking for something unless they think it is there to be found.
- We will assume that there is a god of some type, style sort or description. All (most) religions revolve around some sort of "higher power" (even if it is just Elvis) therefore, we are looking for a religion that believes in a deity of some type.
So now that we have an idea of what we are looking for, let us consider some points that our target religion ought to have. Some of these things I consider obvious, others might not think that way.
The religion must claim Authority
Let us say that you are driving down the street. Let us say that you come across a taxi parked across the road. You stop and the taxi driver tells you that they are going to search your vehicle for illegal substances.
How would you react? Most people would probably laugh and drive off, if they stopped in the first place. They wouldn't let some random stranger start rummaging through their car. And if they were carrying anything illegal, they would pretty much just ignore anything the taxi driver said.
Now, think of the same situation, except that this time instead of a taxi it is a police car and it is a police officer asking to search your vehicle. Do you comply this time? Most people would say 'yes' - and why is that? Because the police officer has the authority of the state to stop you and search your vehicle.
So if Religion X says "we will do A, B and C" then you would need to consider under what authority the religion (or its representative) is speaking under. For example, if a Catholic priest stood up and said "we will now allow dogs and cats to be ordained as ministers" then most people would ignore him, or think that it was some type of joke.
Why? Because (most) people know that a catholic priest does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the entire Catholic church. Only the Pope does. Now, if the Pope said "we will now allow dogs and cats to be ordained as ministers" then that would cause some consternation.
The Religion must claim to be the one true religion
If we are following a sport (such as Gridiron) and there are X number of teams, one would expect that at the end of the season there will be one team which will be determined to be the #1 team (at least for that season). If the officials turn around and say "you know what, so many teams did their best that we'll make them all winners this year" then that would make Gridiron a very boring sport to watch.
Likewise, this religion that we seek should clearly and unambiguously claim "we are #1". What is the point of following a religion that says "maybe we are right, but we might not be". Half the point of following a religion is to look after your interests after you die. If the religion you choose does not cater for those interests, then why bother following it?
The Religion must be inflexible
For those who have siblings, you already know how annoying it can be when you are not allowed to do something but they are. Or when parents give the appearance of having two sets of rules - one for you and one for the other.
If a religion is "true", then that truth would not change over time. If the religion says "we have a moon", then that statement should be true the day the religion is founded, still be true today and continue to be true for the foreseeable future.
If the religion says "we have a moon" when it is full, says "there is no moon" when its a new moon and "we kinda have part of a moon" when it is waxing and waning - then that religion is not true. It changes its precepts according to some random influencing factor (most likely the whims of the people, or changing times and technology).
(Note for those that do not know: the moon is always there, it is the amount of light hitting it and which way it is reflected as to whether we see a full moon, no moon or something in between.)
So then, the point I am making is that there are some things that are either fundamental or so intrinsic that they should not change over time. By way of example, most people would be familiar with the Ten Commandments. If we take one (say, "Do not kill") and it changed at different times, then the religion that teaches it is probably not a "true" religion.
If it is "do not kill" for a while, then a few generations later it is "do not kill this group" (implying that it is okay to kill people of other groups) and then some more generations later it becomes "do not kill unprovoked" then obviously that religion is flawed. If it is flawed, then it is not true.
The reason that I say this is because if a religion is true, and if that religion follows a deity, then it stands to reason that this deity would not be fickle and change his/her/its mind every few years. Part of what defines a god as God is that they are impartial, have a set of rules and stick to them. Having said that...
The Religion must be flexible
This might seem incongruous when compared with the previous section, but hear me out.
A thousand years ago, humanity did not have refrigeration, telecommunications, mass production or cars. In a thousand years time we will probably be living on other planets, uploading movies directly to our brains and who knows what else.
So religion must be able to adapt to changing times and technology. Because God is all knowing and all seeing, then God must be able to see future technology coming from a long way off. If the Gold of the Old Testament had told Abraham "do not watch high-def porn on thy blu-ray player" then one would assume that Abraham would have had absolutely no clue as to what God was saying. (Also, Abraham would have had no difficulty following that commandment since there was no Blu-ray player to watch porn on, no matter what definition is was in.)
However, God did say "do not covet thy neighbours wife", which when looked at as a guideline, one can safely interpret that as "do not watch high-def porn on thy blu-ray player". Because an instruction like that should not be taken literally. If the instruction is literally saying "do not covet thy neighbours wife" then that would mean that it is okay to covet the wife of someone who is not your neighbour or that doing more than just "coveting" is okay. After all, it does not specifically state "do not have a screaming sex orgy with your neighbour and his wife on top of the washing machine while wearing panda outfits".
Just because it does not specifically state it, does not mean it is not covered.
But it can be quite easy for situations that are not covered to come up. The Bible does not cover too much about transgender people, aliens, Nascar, teleportation or microchips. What do we do when situations come up that are not covered, or are only partially covered by previously laid down tenants? This is where a true religion would be flexible. Situations such as "do no work on the Sabbath" should be able to adapt for situations like major metropolitan hospitals, police, fire-fighters and other essential services.
How would this come about?
The Religion must be capable of receiving new instruction
Let us make another assumption. Let us assume that we have a child. We raise them to a certain point, provide them with all the information we think they will need and then send them out into the wide, wild, world. Two days later, said child comes across a situation that they do not know how to handle. What would that child do? Most likely, they would phone home.
What does the parent do? Ignore the phone? Pick up and say "I have given you instruction, you do not need more"? Or, as is most likely, they would talk to the child about this new situation and offer them new advice to the best of their abilities - right?
It seems contradictory for a religion to say "you should pray to God" and then also say"God gives no new instructions". The two seem mutually exclusive. If you are praying, it is because you want protection / feedback / comfort. Why bother if you don't expect some sort of reply?
So then; logically, this "one true religion" that we seek should have some sort of medium available for God to provide information to the faithful. Be that through reading scripture, going to the local clergy, listening to the prophet(s) or just one-on-one revelation - there needs to be some sort of channel of communication.
And it seems to me that this channel should be a two-way stream of information. You should be able to talk to God and say what you need / want, God should be able to talk to you to tell you what you will get. Be it directly or through intermediaries, it seems vital to me. If you cannot talk to God and God cannot talk to you and there is no new information forthcoming then for all intents and purposes God is dead.
The religion should be able to handle non-standard situations
Let us consider one aspect of one religion. Original Sin is a concept of the Catholic faith I always had a problem with (sorry to keep picking on the Catholics, but it is one of the few religions I know a fair bit about and is also widely known. I don't have anything against Catholicism or Catholics).
The short version is that everyone is born with "Original Sin" (Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit), and everyone is condemned to Hell because of it, unless they are baptised (plus a few other things). So what happens to all the people who die without baptism? What happens to all the people born after Adam and Eve but before Christ walked the Earth? What happens to people who live in countries where Catholics have not been? That is an awful lot of people to condemn to eternal damnation just because someone in a frock didn't throw some water on them.
What about other situations. What if a religion says "you must eat this bit of bread every Sabbath"? That's all fine and good, but what about a person who is allergic to yeast? Or is in hospital under a "no solid foods" diet? Or is living where bread is not available? Do people who are unable to reach a church on the Sabbath automatically lose their "get into heaven" card?
There are endless situations where a religion can make a stipulation and find that some of the faithful are unable to comply - no matter how willing they are. If the religion has workarounds for these people then that is good. God = good = wants people in heaven = won't arbitrarily throw people into hell for minor details. Right?
The Religion should hold each person accountable for their own lives
When you go to court, the accused is the only one in the defendants' chair. Their family, neighbours, friends, ancestors and so on are not tried along with them (assuming they committed their own crime). If someone punches you, you don't punch their cat, or their friend from back in high school.
Likewise, it seems logical to me that a "proper" Deity would hold each person accountable for their own actions. And since said Deity would be all seeing and all knowing, they would be aware of ALL the circumstances surrounding the life of the individual.
If the individual killed someone, but it was an intruder in their home, but the individual also lured the intruder in with the intent to kill them - then the Deity should both know what was in the heart of the individual and what they were thinking at the time. Odds are that after we die, if there is some sort of afterlife and if there is some sort of judgement proclaimed on us then it is quite likely that we would not have a high-priced lawyer to argue on our behalf. I'm pretty sure that you can't trick God into letting you into heavon due to some technicality.
So, where does that leave us?
If we accept that what I said is logical, then when we go on our quest for this "one true religion" then we should be able to objectively look at a given religion and say "this religion does not match up to my expectations" or "this religion seems to have it right".
Some people simply follow the religion of their parents out of habit. Others feel that they have no need for a religion. Many people claim to be part of a given religion but do not follow the tenants of said religion (how many people put "Jedi" as their religion but do not engage in Jedi-like conduct throughout the year?).
I'm not saying that this is wrong or that these people need to change. I'm just putting some thoughts out there that someone might find worth mulling over for a while. Maybe this essay will help someone make their life a little better. Maybe someone will consider their current religion in a different light and say "yes, this is the right religion for me".
I do not claim to be the source of all knowledge, I'm just putting this out there as my opinion. If you are still reading this, I hope that you consider the time you spent reading this essay to have been worth the effort. Even if it was just for a good laugh. Because we need more non-porn content on the internet.
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