Every now and then I get off on an ego trip and think that I should try to tackle some really weighty topic here, like religion. I started down that rat hole recently. One theme that I had in mind was to write about the various books or spiritual writings that underpin the religions of the world. The Bible was the one that I am most familiar with and I knew the names of a few others from some of the religions that I at least know exist.
So, off I went on the Internet, making various Google inquiries to try to see what might be out there to read for some research. What a dumb idea! Within 5 minutes it became apparent that the topic and the approach that I was taking are both overwhelming. Just looking at the so-called “major” religions of the world yielded more than 55; most of them having various books or writings which provide the foundation for the beliefs and practices of the believers in those religions.
The list if spiritual writings would have numbered in the hundreds and the list spanned everything from complete books to some ancient stone tablets and even included some fairly modern essays. That brought to mind the thought that a new religion might be based upon beliefs found on the writings in modern communications media, such as blog posts. I suppose that would be possible; although, I think a religion based upon Tweets would be too light weight to survive the test of time.
This definition of religions from the BBC web site that I found to be most interesting, mainly because it is generic and inclusive enough that it can be applied to all 55 of the world’s major religions:
Religion can be explained as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
It was interesting that in almost every case the original religions have undergone numerous splits into factions, each with a different take on the practice of the religion or different interpretation of the same supporting materials and beliefs. It does not take one long to see the hand of man in all of the world’s religions or to recognize the influence of the human ego in the editing and presentation of the various religious scripts and books that exist. Since most claim to be divinely guided, it must have kept God busy, or at least amused for some time, as each new translation or interpretation required His “divine guidance”.
Of similar interest is the art that accompanies the writings for many religions. Again the ego of man is center stage with depictions of the major figures within the religion looking amazingly like modern men of whatever region the artworks for that religion is based within. The exceptions seem to be the far eastern religions where many of the “Gods” of the religions are certainly depicted as looking anything but human. Maybe that’s where the “superhuman agency” aspect is applied.
A fairly consistent, but somewhat troubling, theme that runs through most of these religions is that the adherents truly believe that their God is the only true God and that they are the only ones who “get it.” They are “the chosen ones”, so to speak. That serves to provide the underlying justification for much of the “them vs. us” mentality that is presently associated in the modern world with religions, at least in some places. Very few of the religions of the world actually recognize the other religions and most look with pity or disdain on those who do not believe as they do. The docks of human history are apparently filled with those who missed the boat on the one and only true religion when it sailed.
Of course there is always the possibility that all of the world’s religions are “true” and that the names that various religions have associated with the “superhuman agency” that they believe in all point to the same enigmatic entity. Since man has appointed himself the author, editor, keeper and interpreter of his own religious texts and books, he has essentially documented his religions in ways that made sense to him in whatever place and time he began to believe. The creators and keepers of the written materials stifle all argument within the community of believers, as I said earlier, by claiming that the words that were written and the edits that were later made were all “divinely guided.” How convenient for them.
The further down this rat hole that I went the more it became clear that this is a topic that defies logic or clear explanation, and is a topic that is not to be tackled within the confines of a blog post. That was OK, because it brought me back to the beginning and the realization that religion is something that really cannot be explained, but must just be believed. We make personal choices in our lives about which religion to affiliate with and what and how much to believe, as well as which of the rituals to observe. That also serves to differentiate religions from faith, since faith has no requirements for dogma or ritual observances. Each can exist without the other
The practice of our faith, through religion fills a very real need in our lives and the ability to set aside logic and just believe allows us to accept that which we cannot explain. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it – “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” The fact that moral codes have been created around those beliefs also provides a needed part of a civilized social structure. We need religion in our lives because without it there is a vexing void in our understanding of the world and what is happening around us. Religions help us define the boundaries in life, beyond which you do not need to understand, just believe.
So, I’m not going to spend any more time trying to explain religion, I’m just going to go back to believing. However, maybe I’ll spend a little time praying for all of the unfortunate people who missed the boat on in my religion. Maybe they just don’t get it.