Thursday, November 25, 2010
Why I’m Definitely Going to Heaven or Maybe Not: A Debate with Myself on Religion
The other day at the airport I made a small donation to some lady sitting on the sidewalk holding out a coffee can. As I walked away she exclaimed “God loves you.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say this but it got me thinking on the flight home. If God really loves me why did He make me 5’9” instead of 6’2”? And if He really loves me why did He make me just athletic enough to fall completely in love with sports but not nearly athletic enough to excel in them? And why did He make me intelligent enough to question every aspect of my being and His very existence but not intelligent enough to figure any of it out? And why did He put so much damn beauty in the world but not grant me the time nor the resources to enjoy more than a just a fraction of it? If God really loves me then why do I have so many questions and so few answers?
I do not consider myself a religious person. I do believe in a higher power. I don’t believe we are here by some cosmic accident. At the same time I’m not so sure that the higher power (God) intended us to use organized religion as a means to structure our lives. You hear the term “faith” used often in a religious context. To me the notion of “faith” is just a convenient way to pass off questions we don’t have answers to. I can’t see God so how do I know He/She really exists? I didn’t witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ so how do I know it actually occurred? I never met any of the apostles personally so how can I trust that their stories are true? Just because organized religion has existed for over 2000 years how do we know it’s what we’re supposed to be doing? I know, I know – I don’t have any “faith” – literally or figuratively. So I figured it would be a good idea to have a debate with myself on this issue.
Argument against organized religion:
Some sociologists believe that religion is a man made convention created to provide human beings with the necessary belief that our lives have purpose. Others say it was created as a defense mechanism to ease our fears about death and the afterlife. Some even go so far as to suggest that religion is a lie told to placate the masses. Karl Marx once stated: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx, Freud, and Feuerbach have provided some of the more famous social commentary on religion. While they didn’t agree on all points they concurred in the belief that organized religion is nothing more than a tool used to keep the public in line and on target with the greater goals of the aristocracy. Regardless of the source the point is the same. Religion has no basis in reality and is instead the creation of faith out of myth for the purpose of population control.
Furthermore the dangers of blind religious faith at the expense of logic and reason have been well documented throughout history: the Crusades, the European Conquest of North America, the Inquisition, the 17th Century “Wars of Religion,” and the numerous attacks on scientific advancement (Galileo’s persecution along with countless other barriers to scientific inquiry during the Enlightenment) are just a few examples. More recently look no further than the violent fundamentalist actions of Muslim extremists and the rampant intolerance and human rights violations which stem from Islamic Sharia Law, for proof that organized religion has no place in modern society. The cause of every major war throughout history can also be traced back to a religious conflict or conflicts. God may have had a plan for us but it certainly didn’t entail killing each other in the name of organized religion.
Conclusion: For all these reasons and many more organized religion is bad for humanity. As James Madison once stated: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.”
Argument in favor of organized religion:
Numerous religious organizations throughout the world make positive contributions to society on a daily basis. Throughout most of recorded history for example, the main protector of much of the rich cultural heritage of the West has been the Christian Church. The Church can also be credited with preserving the artwork of Michelangelo, bringing together the writings of The Bible (arguably the greatest single literary achievement ever), and the storage and preservation of almost two thousand years of history. The Church financed the exploration and discovery of the New World, supported the abolition of slavery, and has consistently stood up for human rights throughout the world. Not only does religious belief have a legitimate place in life, but organized religious belief has a legitimate place in organized society.
Beyond organized religion’s positive contributions throughout history, religious advocates argue that religion is paramount to any just and moral society. George Washington once stated: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” What he meant is that human beings are born sinners and without organized religion to help keep us on the righteous path we could easily revert to a life devoid of purpose and value. It makes perfect sense if you really think about it. If we were not accountable to some higher power (God) why would we not choose to live a life full of simple pleasures and self-indulgence without regard to our fellow man? In this regard religion is a necessity to maintain morality.
Faith is also an important source of strength and inspiration in the lives of most believers. "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble."- Pslams 46:1 That being the case even if religion is a lie, if it makes people feel better about themselves and what lies ahead, how can it possibly be considered a bad thing? Furthermore without religion how are we supposed to process the concept of death? It’s far too depressing to think that when we die we simply flicker out like a candle then spend the rest of eternity rotting in the ground. I have absolutely no idea if death is truly the end of our journey or simply the beginning of a new, better one. But I personally choose to believe in the latter, otherwise what’s the point of life at all? So apparently I do have faith in something.
Conclusion: For all these reasons and many more organized religion is good for humanity. As Thomas Merton once stated: “By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.”
And the winner is?
Anyone who has found peace in what they do or don’t believe in so long as what they do or don’t believe affords tolerance and understanding to all those with differing beliefs. As Frederick the Great once stated: “All religions must be tolerated... for... every man must get to heaven his own way.”
The Dalai Lama might have put it best when he said: “Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.” So on this Thanksgiving Day, 2010, love thyself and love thy neighbor. Love is the only way.
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