I’ve written quite a lengthy discourse on this subject because it is somewhat complex and no doubt controversial. I understand that this may very well draw some criticism and righteous indignation from some readers, particularly those who consider themselves to be “holy” people. I welcome it.
To give you a little background information on my experience, I grew up in the Baptist church; it was my mother’ choice. Although he never formally joined the Catholic Church, my father favored it, so I attended services there also at irregular intervals. Midnight mass at Christmas was one of my favorite memories. If you go to a mass in a Catholic Church, you really feel like you’ve been to church. Not so much in other denominations. I’ve been a member of the Methodist church for the last 40 years, because it is my wife’s preferred denomination. I have also had some exposure to what is called the Holiness Denomination. You could say I have a pretty well rounded experience in the protestant faith.
The college I attended required everyone to take at least two courses in religion regardless of what your major was. I opted for Christian Ethics and World Religion classes. I was most interested in the World Religion course even though it was “team” taught in a huge auditorium that held several hundred students. It could have been called World Comparative Religion, but with the class size and the amount of subject matter to be covered, there actually wasn’t enough time to do any in-depth study of the different religions.
Over the last forty years or so, I have looked at the various world religions, other than my own, and have noted some interesting similarities across the board. There are approximately 92 major world religions that are typically subdivided into 270 related religions. Some people count atheism and agnosticism as religions, but I don’t. As far as I am concerned those people are just simply justifying their belief that they themselves are alpha and omega in the natural order of the universe and to them there is no greater being.
An Agnostic justifies his or her lack of faith based on the idea that it is not possible to know if god exists, or that the answer may, in principle be discovered some day, but is not known now. An atheist simply thinks that God does not exist or that there cannot be any form of an omnipotent creator. So since neither of them have any real religious belief system, I don’t count them as religions. I’ll just leave that to those who do.
Is there really a God? I am quite convinced that indeed there is. Not because some priest, pastor or preacher standing in a raised pulpit, in flowing robes, thunders out what God expects of me threatening hell fire and damnation if I don’t do what he says. No, I am not that easily moved.
I know God is real because at least four times God has intervened in my life in ways that can only be attributed to a supreme being. Some people might say these interventions were ‘miracles.’ I wouldn’t say that because I know nothing is impossible for God. In earlier years, I felt the need to convince other people that these ‘miracles’ happened. No one believed me. Even so-called men of the cloth poo pooed the idea of what I knew to be true. They said there had to be another, more reasonable explanation. I found peace in a small voice that came to me saying that I should not be troubled, what had happened was a message for me, not them.
Religion gives societies a platform upon which they can create rules of conduct and at least a semblance of a structure to acknowledge the existence of God. Go to almost any protestant church and you will hear the words “worship” and “praise” repeated over and over again in reference to God. The words, “honor” and “serve” almost never come up. I suppose the churches were built so that believers could come together to “worship” and “praise” God, not to honor and serve him. That has always kind of irked me. Why should God, an omnipotent being, create tiny little creatures in his vast universe to worship and praise him? That would be like humans creating germs sized creatures to worship and praise us. To what end? To feed our egos? Does God have an ego that needs to be catered to? I just can’t wrap my brain around that one. I can’t believe God is that inferior minded.
If you exam the 92 major world religions, you’ll find that they almost all (note I did not say all) subscribe to the theory that there is an afterlife. Whether that afterlife is a good, rewarding experience, or a bad, punishing experience will be the result of how well one observed and adhered to the principles as dictated by that particular religion in this life. Simply stated, follow the rules and you will be rewarded, fail to do so and you will be punished in the afterlife. That is pretty much universal across the religious spectrum.
Wait…that sounds like they want to assert control of society doesn’t it? Essentially it means follow their rules or else. That’s pretty much a demand from one want-to-be or another throughout history. We’ll discuss that further another time.
Another common feature of the religions of the world is that they have written instructions, i.e. bibles, Korans, etc., that provide guidance as to how their followers are to conduct themselves, as well as examples of the history of the religion. The more primitive religions rely on word of mouth passed down from one generation to the next. This ends the lesson for the day children. Perhaps more on this subject later.