God's Chosen Religion
Is there only one true religion and God's purpose for this one religion is to define the rules for how He accepts souls into eternal bliss or condemns them to eternal suffering? Do we seek this one true religion so we can learn its rules to live by, to satisfy God's plan for us? Alternately, is the purpose of any religion to be a guide for us to find a deeper meaning to our lives?
There are several significant dangers for this belief in one chosen religion.
It can be impossible for anyone to find that one true religion. Each religion that is considered, no matter how new or how old, is a reflection of the culture of its people and of the environment from which the religion arose. Each religion is influenced by the myths and common values of its originating culture. Therefore the claims for a particular religion to be the chosen one are based on that person's perspective of one religion compared to others and this perspective could be very different than that of those that started practicing the particular religion.
For example, during the Reformation the initial debates about the Catholic Church not being faithful to the teachings in the Bible became more militant. The practice of "cuius regio, eius religio" (commonly translated from Latin to: Whose the region is, his religion it is) became common across much of Europe. The rulers for different regions would contemplate the main religious forces and then attempt to enforce the purity of the following for their selection, resulting in the displacement of those with the "wrong" religion, sometimes even their persecution and death. Even though all the major Christian leaders at the time emphasized their connection to the same book, the Bible, these differences in perspective lead to the conflicts. Though much is in common, the opponent is wrong unless there are no differences.
The Spanish Inquisition was the eventual result of Queen Isabel's consolidation of power in the late 15th Century. First her campaign sought the conversion or expulsion of all Jews (over 70000 Jews left rather than abandoning their faith) and later all those that followed Islam. The Inquisition sought to eliminate all rival civilizations from Spain (actually from Iberia since Portugal followed a similar program). This emphasis on Christianity by the monarchs affected how the Spanish and Portuguese expeditions affected the American civilizations conquered in the next century, where the crusade that had begun in Iberia continued in the New World.
Some political pundits now make the case that the 21st Century is marked by a war between civilizations, between the Christians in the West and the Moslems in the Middle East. With the Jews, these three major religions of the world all include Abraham of the Old Testament as a critical person in the history of their religion. They share a common set of people and events in their mythologies and yet the religions have evolved along different paths, influenced by different subsequent events survived by the religion's adherents.
If the supernatural God is trying to lead the human race along a desired path then His chosen path is very unclear and obviously not well understood by billions of people.
Another big danger in this search for God's chosen religion is the accompanying change in perspective from dealing with other people and other cultures to relying on some guidance from an unseen source.
Man is a social creature and there is a natural connection between each person and his/her social environment. A person's happiness and any measure of success or failure depends on this interaction with others.
By looking for guidance from an unseen supernatural being, the person could lose that connection with his/her social environment. Ancient scriptures, written in another time within a different cultural context, might offer clues regarding an appropriate set of rules for proper conduct. Unfortunately, some of those clues might not be relevant due to that change in context.
Even worse, the Western religions concentrate on the promise of an afterlife. Rather than behaving appropriately for the social environment, the meaning of this life is diminished because it almost becomes like a one-night stand relative to an eternal afterlife. The rules for conduct are interpreted in the context of finding what might be relevant to God's judgment for eternal bliss or eternal damnation. All of the social interactions are less important than God's perspective. A sinner that has committed a social wrong might be more likely to seek forgiveness by God, rather than by the person that was wronged. Good social behaviors (like sharing) will be pursued only if the believer interprets the possible act as being significant to God's judgment of one's entire lifetime.
The Western religions, by emphasizing the role of a supernatural being, tend to alienate the person from his/her social context. I have heard on Christian family radio commentaries about how Christians have to follow God's plan first while trying to behave well in man's world. Since we are social creatures and who we are is a reflection of our social and physical environment, we should seek support from those around us. An emphasis on prayer implies solutions should be sought by begging for an intervention from an unseen hand of God rather than by working with the important people around us, like family, friends and our community. Sometimes the solution is found within us, by taking charge of our lives armed with our self awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, rather than waiting for a heavenly sign to decide on our course of action. How long must a person wait for an answer to be found in some kind of portentous event that followed the prayer before moving forward?
The third danger that can follow this pursuit of God's chosen religion is the hubris that can accompany the conclusion of that pursuit. With the supernatural God backing your behavior then the nonbelievers must be wrong in any conflict. Military might can also be used to prevent the nonbelievers from affecting one's community or country. As we have heard at different times over the years, "either you are with us or you are against us" becomes a rallying cry. This black and white, all or nothing attitude is not appropriate for the social creatures that we are.
Diversity is one of the strengths of any community, culture or country. Within any social group, the presence of different skill sets or perspectives will provide an opportunity for success that could be missing otherwise. A football team of all fast running backs or a baseball team of all right-handed home run hitters could be defeated easily by a team with opposing characteristics. A company of all engineers would not succeed without salesmen or accountants. Similarly, a community that enforces strict conformity will offer a less fulfilling life style and eventually will fail due to the social stagnation. Opposing perspectives can provide better solutions to social or economic problems. Different cultural or racial backgrounds will provide a richer social experience to everyone in the community.
Religions offer each person insight into their place in the universe. There is no single religion that is somehow officially endorsed by a supernatural God. Within each religion, it is important that the resulting perspective does not lose the social context that is inherent in every human being. In other pages on this site, the Bible is shown to contain myths about ancient events that have come to be interpreted as acts of God. If and when humanity reevaluates itself in light of this misperception of its ancient religious writings then the new perspective must rely on our social nature. The current religions and their leaders that try to offer God's chosen path are part of the current worldwide turmoil. This search is divisive and does nothing to improve the overall social health of humanity.
created - Sept 2005
last change - 09/25/2005
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