I don’t know how most people think they choose a religion. Maybe they think they choose to believe what is true. Maybe they think they are lucky enough to have been taught the truth.
But if you’re looking to be more spiritual, and thinking about going back to church or to find God for the first time, I have some thoughts on the topic.
I sometimes make a distinction between Religion and Spirituality, because you can be spiritual without going to church and you can go to church without being very spiritual. But for purposes of this piece I will make no such distinction and define religion as any belief in life after death. Isn’t that the bottom line? Because even if God created us, if we cease to exist when this life is over, then why care?
It might be nice to live forever, right? Or is it? A belief in an afterlife can cause stress as much as comfort. You might worry about being judged, certainly, and about whether you will measure up. Or you might hate life, there are certainly people who want it to end. What if it can’t? Or you might feel great knowing that there is a world of spirits to help and love you, and that you will someday have relief from any physical, and maybe even emotional, pain. Ultimate wisdom may be yours, after you die, and even a doggie treat.
I believe in reincarnation. Some think I’m crazy, and they could be right (not just because of reincarnation). I justify this belief with evidence, not proof, but also by reasoning that even if I’m wrong, as long as my belief system provides an incentive to do the right thing, as defined by objective measures, then there’s no down side. And that’s what I want to talk about. That’s your safety net, your hedge.
I knew a guy once, he was born Jewish, but he didn’t believe in it. Yet he said that when his mother died, he would follow all the Jewish customs, not because she would have wanted it, and that it’s a good way to honor her and her beliefs, but just in case she was right. He wanted to cover all his bases. But what if the Christians are right? What if Muslims are right? You can’t cover all of your bases, when they contradict each other. The best angle to cover is to act in such a way that any reasonable God or mortal would say you were a righteous dude.
If your belief encourages you to do that then you become someone everyone can be proud of, including God, if he exists, and assuming that he is good – which is an assumption, after all. Might as well assume that God is good though, because if he isn’t then we’re all fucked.
Here is an example of a particular religious interpretation that doesn’t do that. My wife once overheard some people talking at the Gym about inviting the children of non believers (in this case it was Christianity) to a movie, without telling their parents that it would be at church, to work on converting the children without their parent’s knowledge.
Of course that sounds unethical, right off the bat, but let’s be honest. If you really believed, as is common in many Christian denominations, that whoever didn’t accept Jesus would burn in hell for all eternity, then wouldn’t you have to do something? You would also have to believe that these children, and their parents, would thank you in the end. How could you not try to save them, by any means necessary?
But if you don’t believe that, and I don’t, or if it turns out to be wrong in the end, then this is clearly unethical, and you would have to conclude also that the particular belief encourages people to do something that is wrong.
Here’s another example. Let’s say that you believe that a deathbed confession can save a person no matter what they’ve done. That they would go to heaven if they just repented or accepted God’s love. I know a lot of people who are for the death penalty, despite professing to follow a religion that commands, “thou shall not kill.” The way that’s phrased, does not seem to allow for exceptions, though, I would hope to be able to kill in certain circumstances, self defense, for example, or a justifiable war. But I am against the death penalty. I am against it because I think it is barbaric to kill, when you don’t have to, and that it turns us into that which we profess to reject. It’s worth considering also that mistakes have been made, the wrong people killed, and that it has always been applied disproportionately based on race, in this country. These aren’t religious reasons, they are more objective reasons. But I’m also against it because I don’t believe in death. I believe that we come back. I believe we live again, to face whatever challenges we didn’t overcome the last time. And that would make it counterproductive to free someone to begin again, until after they had “repented,” or said another way, “learned” something, so that they could change. My religious belief, if you will, is in line with more objective, more universal, values.
The Catholic Church is against the the death penalty as well. It’s their official position. It’s part of God’s commandments after all. But a lot of the Christians that I know (most are protestants – but they have the same commandments) are for the death penalty. I think it’s because despite what God said, the system they believe in doesn’t seem right. I think it’s because they want certain criminals to burn in hell. If they are given time to repent, their religion says, they will enjoy the same reward as anyone else. AFTER WHAT THEY DID!?!?!
If you believe a person deserves to be punished, you will support policy that will make sure that happens. Killing them before they repent provides recourse, maybe even revenge, and the system they believe in leads them to that position, even it they have to go against their God to make sure it happens.
I like reincarnation because I think it encourages people to act in ways that we should act whether we believe in reincarnation or not. It does not work against good values, but encourages them. For example, if I believe I’m coming back, I might want to make the world a better place for the future. I may have the courage to risk my life for what is right. And I will favor rehabilitation over revenge.
Anyway does it seem fair that based on a blip of time on earth, each of us, born into a variety of circumstances and influences, should be rewarded or punished for the rest of eternity? Doesn’t it make more sense that we should continue to grow, and live long enough to break bad habits?
People might even be less inclined to commit suicide, if they believed it wasn’t possible.
I’m not saying you should believe in reincarnation. Any religion can be interpreted in different ways, and reincarnation isn’t even inconsistent with other religions, though it may not be part of their mainstream dogma. The Jewish Kaballah references it, and some people believe that the early Gnostic Christians believed in reincarnation. All I’m saying is ask yourself what you want to believe. And when you choose a belief, think first about how it will make you act. Do your beliefs encourage you to be the person many religion supposedly ask you to be, non judgmental, peaceful, stuff like that. Or does it encourage the opposite?
Ask yourself what people who don’t believe the same thing (and are therefore objective) will think of you and what kind of example you’ll set.