Friday, May 01, 2009

Can We All be Wrong about Religion?

Most of my family and friends differ markedly from me on their religious views. Most of them are Christians; some go to evangelical churches. I, on the other hand, am not a Christian and I hold religion in complete and utter contempt. I believe religion through the ages has been the bane of society and has held back scientific and social progress. I believe religion remains a danger to society, especially fundamentalist religions.

What I am is agnostic. The word literally means, “without knowledge.” When it comes to God, I know nothing. But, unlike most of the other people in my life, I can also say with complete surety that nobody else knows anything about God, either, though most of them are quite comfortable telling me all about what God is, wants, or would like for me to do.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked, “What if you’re wrong?” Well, I don’t know that either. But what they are suggesting is that if my views about God and religion do not match theirs, then I am doomed to exist for all eternity in abject torment.

Their thinking is this: If they are wrong about the existence of a Christian God, then when they die, they’ve lost nothing. They would have spent their lives living for God and that would have made them better people. And maybe they are correct, although I would say some of them are more annoying people because of their faith.

As a corollary, if I am wrong, then I will exist in eternal torment. So I might as well be like them and believe. After all, there’s nothing to lose by believing.

But perhaps there is. If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the Christian God exists, then I have to ask which one? The God of the bible seems to have multiple personalities, depending on which book of the bible you read. And what about Christianity itself? There are dozens, maybe hundreds of Christian denominations. What if each believer has picked the wrong one?

Pentecostals generally believe that only Pentecostals will be going to heaven. They stress that women must wear their hair long, wear only dresses below the knees, wear no jewelry, and refrain from watching TV. Mormons believe that only they hold the key to the Promised Land. Catholics believe in baptism by sprinkling, while Pentecostals believe in baptism by emersion. If you do it wrong, you go to hell, although some denominations believe either way will work.

Some churches believe in the trilogy as three separate entities; others believe that Jesus is the entity that matters and the other two are just manifestations of him. Some churches believe in the strict literally interpretation of the bible; others believe the bible is for spiritual guidance only and most, if not all, the stories told within are allegorical.

If the God of the bible does exist, it’s a pity he couldn’t make his existence a bit clearer for those, like me, who like looking at the big picture and not just a single brush stroke.

So my question back to those who ask me what if I’m wrong is to ask them what if they have picked the wrong denomination, or even the wrong religion. What if the Muslims have it right? Then are all Christians and Jews going to hell? What if the Jews are correct and Jesus was not the Messiah? What if the Pentecostals are correct? Does that mean the Baptists are going to hell? Or what if the Presbyterians are the ones who got it right? What does that bode for the Methodists?

Some will say that it doesn’t matter which denomination you belong to, as long as you believe in Jesus as the Son of God. But that is only their belief. What if they are wrong and it really does matter which religion or denomination you choose. They are only assuming that ecumenicalism is what God prefers.

The point is, if there is a Christian God, he has done a miserable job of making it clear what he wants of us. It is only clear to the believers, who know for certain that their faith is the truth. All Christians might agree generally that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. But they differ markedly on how to worship and how to behave while on Earth. If these differences matter to God, then most believers are in big trouble. But nobody really knows which ones.

So, in my opinion, my lack of faith doesn’t put me in any more danger than those who believe strongly in a single brand of Christianity. If God exists, and if he cares what we believe, then pretty much everyone is doomed, because I can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere, has gotten it exactly right.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Religion is a social construct that was originally created (and is still used) to describe things that we didn't (or don't) understand. That's fine, there's nothing saying that we have the ability to fully comprehend everything and we still want to feel good about ourselves. The problem is that foundation is also an excellent mechanism for crowd control, which most religious organizations actively wield.