My husband is taking a comparative religion course as part of a degree he is pursuing, a bit of a career change for him. I am helping him with the class; by helping, I mean reading the material, and offering insight and advice on papers, discussions, and tests. I am an ordained minister, perform weddings here and there, counseled on occasion, and am an informal, and avid student of religious studies. And why not? Aren’t we all, in some way, trying to understand who we are, how we got here, and where we are going?
Over the years, I have asked many people why they believe the way they do. I received a variety of answers, as one can imagine. The most common was “because that is how I was raised.” That answer troubles me. Why? It is important to decide for ourselves what we believe about God, or if we want to believe in God, at all. What good is a belief system if we do not embrace it? Are we hedging our bets we will get to heaven, or be forgiven if we warm a church pew every Sunday of our adult lives?
Others may not agree with what I choose to believe about God, an afterlife, hell, demons, or the validity of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, but I never asked anyone to agree with me. The beliefs I hold are mine, and mine alone. Likewise, I do not criticize or analyze another’s views about God, an afterlife, etc. Who is right? We could all be wrong, for that matter.
The one pervasive tie that binds us all together, in terms of the pursuit of religion or spirituality, is that humans are hard-wired to believe in God or at least a creative force outside of ourselves. The earliest and most primitive societies believed in a creative spiritual force outside of themselves, observed rituals, and believed in an innate ability to determine right from wrong.
As we look back, we consider these societies, well, primitive in their beliefs, compared to today. Why? Because we have more knowledge, more technology, and a worldview radically different from theirs. We understand more about the created world. The definition we assign to primitive is based on the amount of knowledge currently held; religious beliefs are not held to the same standard, however.
Christianity believes God punishes mankind for their sins. Sin is defined as immoral acts against God’s law. Define an immoral act. The definition used down through the centuries is based on the interpretation of ancient scriptures and writings related to pagan practices and rituals, but is the definition relevant today? In many churches, tattoos are considered sinful. How many people have tattoos? Is getting a tattoo an indication we participated in pagan rituals? In ancient times, people with seizure disorders were considered demon-possessed, but we know differently today.
Fundamental beliefs in God and an innate sense of right and wrong can remain fixed. Beyond that, as we learn and grow, we need to be open to change…..