Having reviewed the major religions of the world, we have (I hope) seen the similarities at their cores. Most common is a belief, or faith, in a higher being, “God” or “Gods”. These God concepts may differ in manifestation, but one commonality is love, God’s benevolent love of mankind, and the teaching that we should love each other, and love ourselves.
So why do differences in religion generate so much hatred?
Most people are raised in a religion, and taught its ways through childhood. Whether they agree with the religion or not, they accept these teaching as “fact” (with the exception of Atheism, which I’ll get to later). Anyone challenging those facts, directly or indirectly, is challenging their childhood. You’ve probably known people who have abandoned their faith, but still defend it. So it’s not difficult to understand how people who don’t understand the nonviolent nature of their faith will kill to defend it.
Every religion I have studied tells its followers to share their religion. If you live life as a Buddhist, you share your values with others. No religion that I have studied advocates in their sacred teachings to force others to convert to that religion. This is where organized religions slip away from their roots. Catholics have had forced conversions, Muslims have chosen to kill non believers, Jehovah’s Witnesses have bored many people nearly to death, but the actual scriptures of these religions teach respect for other beliefs.
It is the human element, the ego, that chooses to interpret ancient texts to justify actions rather than be a guide to actions. It is the charismatic element, religious leaders, who guide the uninformed away from the path laid out by the foundations of a religion. If a belief system is based on faith, how does forcing someone to accept it allow for free will? No God says “believe in me or die”, but many say “believe in me or I will not be there for you when you die”. Only the weak minded will believe by force, and it is the weak minded who attempt to convert by force.
One of my favorite moments in the television program “Seinfeld” is when one character, an Atheist, is in a relationship with a Christian. When she challenges the Christian with “Why aren’t you angry with me?” he nonchalantly replies “What do I care? You’re the one going to hell”.
Atheists, by and large, seek justification for their refusal to believe in God. They routinely (not always, I have known more enlightened Atheists) will practice their belief by insulting the faith of Theists as lacking in intelligence. “Faith” has a meaning. It does not mean “proven”, it means “believed”. My wife is an Atheist, and her motto is “I’ll do my thing, you do yours”, I try to take a similar approach with her. What do I care, she’s the one going to hell.
Most Atheists will insist that Atheism is not a religion. It most certainly is. It is faith that God does not exist. A negative (God does not exist) cannot be proven, so it is faith. Atheists tend to be rebelling against a particular religion (quite obvious when you see them react to being identified as a religion), most often because they are rebelling against authority, they didn’t like being told how to behave, Nonetheless, they accepted the teachings of that religion, and confused “religion” with “God”, so in rejecting that religion they believe they have rejected all God, and with it all religions. An Agnostic, on the other hand, has examined his spirituality, and finding no “proof” of a God chooses to question its existence. They neither proclaim that God exists, nor deny its existence. Atheists are as susceptible as Theists to not understanding their religion.
Monotheistic religions tend to refer to God as “He”, and the majority of religions have a human explanation of what God is. What other explanation could humans have? With Christianity, people will describe God as a man in a long robe with a flowing white beard. I suppose, having lived for eternity one’s beard might grow quite long, but did it go white when he was sixty, or sixty million? My description of God comes from Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. That’s it. God created us in the image of its soul, not of its body. The being that created the universe most likely does not have a corporeal form, much less two legs, two arms and genitalia. Being capable of creating the universe would put God apart from time, it would not age or breath oxygen. God’s being is beyond our ability to comprehend, in fact some religions teach that actually seeing God would cause death. Religion is about knowing God, but we are confined by what we can imagine. God said to Moses “I am”, no further description can be put into words. But words are all we have.
Knowing all this, people still try to define God. People attempt to poke holes in different beliefs because the adjectives used thousands of years ago don’t fit our level of understanding. Religion is our interpretation of descriptions given by people who had just developed a written language. The stories had been passed through the generations verbally prior to that after humans developed the ability to speak. And we expect an in depth description of the process of creation, the being that accomplished it, and a complete history of the world? There are no dinosaurs in the Bible because they are not relevant to the subject.
Holy texts contain the elements germane to the faith. The Qur’an describes the life of Mohammed, and very clearly states that it is not a pattern to be replicated. The Old Testament speaks to the people of the Iron Age, the New Testament proclaims itself as NEW, in several passages Jesus says “that was then, this is now” (in Aramaic).
Each of us has a personal relationship with God. I believe that is far more important than the religion we belong to, and it is only important to the individual, and the God in which they believe. Beyond that, we can share our beliefs, but we can never expect anyone to feel the way that we do.
I think that wraps up this series, next Sunday will be a spiritual topic not directly related to this set. And I’ll probably write an article on the “religion of politics” at some point, but that will be a secular piece.