On Religion

Let's talk briefly about 'religion'.  Enclosed is a letter I send to a friend which you may find enlightening.

First, there is a ‘higher power’.  We can either believe that our world and ourselves came about by chance or came about by design.  While I could put forth various arguments, I will simply follow the statistical approach.  Statistically speaking, the chances of someone creating the solar system, the Milky Way, gravity, the E=MC2 relationship and such – the chances of a higher intelligence creating these items – is significantly higher than the chances these items came about without design.

If we then believe in the higher power, the big question arises:  “Who is He/She?” or even “Who are They?”.

So, second, we need to determine who is real and who is not.  In selecting a religion, I look for one which demonstrates the following:

  • Commitment to caring for the poor
  • Commitment to caring for the widows and orphans
  • Concern for those without food or shelter
  • Concern for those in prison
  • A clear message regarding how one should relate to the higher power which
    • The unschooled can understand
    • Provides the learned with fruitful study throughout a lifetime
My criteria listed above may not be perfect.  However, I believe they accurately represent a higher power who is both powerful and compassionate.

Regarding the major religious alternatives, my thoughts are as follows:

Buddhism:  No.  Our third child was born under Buddhism.  She was simply considered “unlucky” and worthy of little.  Once she was adopted, she was now “lucky” and worthy of much.  This view reflected the Buddhist focus on fate.  It was a societal view based on religion.  Further, the caste system was prevalent.  Each Buddhist Temple has markings indicating the level of the social class allowed to enter.  No, having experienced a society built around Buddhism, I cannot agree with this one.

Islam:  Way too many negatives here.  Beyond the current issues, there is no history of providing for the poor.  There are few hospitals.  The prisons are a mess.  This one fails the compassion test.  While Allah may be all powerful, he is not compassionate.

Hinduism:  Again we run into the caste system.  A caste system represents the antithesis of my criteria:  The higher born are intellectually released from concern for the lower born.  After all, it was ‘fate’ that those below were born into squalor and suffering.

While we could review many more, we both know where I’m going with this analysis – to Christianity.  The Christian religion has a an excellent track record in the following  areas:

  • Providing for the poor (World Vision, Compassion, Christian Children’s Fund)
  • Providing for the widows and orphans.  (Same as above, local churches)
  • Concern for those in prison (Prison Fellowship, Kairos, etc.)
To me the biggest issue is not the legitimacy of the Christian religion.  Indeed, the approach truly is unique.  All other religions focus on improving one’s self to be ‘good enough’ for the Higher Power.  Christianity states that one is powerless to do anything good on one’s own (a view shared by Alcoholics Anonymous) and that one can only be healed when one realizes his or her own need.  Further, the reward is the same for an individual who embraces Jesus on his death bed as the individual who has committed his life to following Jesus.

Aside:  The previous statement brings up a fairness issue which is outside the scope of this article.  After all, some have spent their lives in sacrifice while others acknowledge Jesus at the very end, yet both receive the same reward.  That being said, one who has truly committed his life to following Jesus would be so thrilled with the late confession that he rejoices for that person.  Fairness is a non-issue for the true follower of Jesus.  Indeed, I rather like the design!

But where I was going:  The biggest issue is not the legitimacy of the Christian message.  I’ve read through the Bible 11 or 12 times.  The message holds together extremely well.  No, the biggest issue is the lousy things done by Christians.  If Christianity is so good, why do Christians do the things you and I have both seen?  The answer:  I don’t know.  What I do know is that we all will have to account for ourselves.  Unless there is no Higher Power – a statistically improbable position – we will each have some explaining to do.

You and I have seen much evil committed by those who name Jesus as their guide.  To me the biggest issue is spiritual pride – especially when coupled with incompetence.  Nothing burns me like a combination of spiritual arrogance and personal incompetence.  That being said, we both need to put this aside, focus on what is true, and leave the rest up to God.

I would strongly support the view that Jesus was the true GodMan.  It simply fits with the requirements:  An all powerful God, evidence of great intelligence exemplified by the world (not to mention galaxies) around, and a people knowing in their hearts that Someone/Something had to put us here.  Further, this view fits with the need to understand Who this Being is and how we can relate to Him.  The idea that we can make ourselves ‘good enough’ is just too weak.  After all, how much would then be ‘enough’?

One of the comments about the early followers of Jesus was that they “went about doing good”.  At no time were they doing good in order to earn anything.  Rather, the transformation had already taken place.  They were simply acting according to the Spirit now present within them.  It may be a paradox.  We can never be ‘good enough’ but after understanding the good done by our Higher Power, we go about ‘doing good’ as a natural result.

That being said, the early followers had issues also.  Their failings are detailed in the writings from back then and I won’t go through them.  Suffice it to say that they also were an imperfect people.

Now, where does this take us?  I would suggest:

  • God / a Higher Intelligence is real
  • The evidence of creation supports a Higher Intelligence
  • The Higher Intelligence has provided a way to know Him
  • The Way affords all people entry into His presence.
How is entry accomplished?  It is simple.

  • We state with our mouth that Jesus is Lord
  • We believe in our hearts that God the Father raised Him from the dead.
Yes, it is simple.  Yet it is a beautiful, clear way which affords the path to all people.  At the same time, the apparent simplicity is based upon some not-so-simple principals for those who seek to understand them.  Example:  In order to state that Jesus is Lord, one must give up other ‘lords’ such as materialism, self-sufficiency, fear, etc.  To believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead implies a belief in a powerful, yet compassionate God.

I have not addressed the issue of whether ‘religion’ is even any good in the first place.  This issue is rooted in the concern regarding the things done in the name of religion.  While I understand the concern, one need only ask those who lived under atheism for their opinion.  While man’s actions in the name of religion are imperfect, the politically-decreed absence of a Higher Power breeds a Stalin, Hitler or Amin.

While Christianity is lived out by a flawed people (sometimes more flawed than non-Christians), the methodology stands on firm ground.  If you are interested in learning more, I would suggest reading the letter to the Romans written by Paul of Tarsus.  Paul was a brilliant thinker and a man of true compassion.  The letter can be found toward the back of the Bible.  I would recommend a modern translation if you have one.

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