June 8, 2008
When should we grant or relinquish trust in the various religious statements, leaders and organizations?
Religious statements can address the here-and-now or the forever-after. Part of our answer to the question of which religious beliefs to accept depends on whether our primary concerns are the here-and-now, the forever-after, or both.
If self-betterment in the here-and-now is our primary reason for believing a religious statement, then many religious statements will suffice because many share the same core values: love for others, detachment from material possessions, right speech, honesty, compassion, kindness, etc. On these the majority of religious statements generally agree. Many seem to disagree in their histories, creation stories, and their beliefs about the afterlife. The terms nirvana or salvation refer to the forever-after scope of religion, and if the concept of eternal life and the ‘where am I going…?’ question plagues you, take a very close look at all of the religious statements because this is the area in which many seem to irreconcilably conflict.
Given the weight of their claims, our criteria for evaluating religions should be somewhat exhaustive. Also keep in mind that logical approaches to religion are not the only means of evaluation. Many, arguably most people take their religion on faith or by the conviction of their hearts, and the intuitive approach is equally
valid worthwhile. However, if as a person of faith you’ve accepted your religion by heart, you most certainly should apply the following logical tests. There’s a lot of religious statements out there, and a lot of them are bogus. Regardless, everybody should formulate his or her own set of well-thought-out criteria to assess the value of religion. Below are some general guidelines that might serve as helpful starting points.
Perhaps most importantly, does the religion answer who we are, how we got here, where we came from or where we’re going? Does it promote tolerance, cooperation and love between the peoples of the earth, and does it encourage fair relations amongst humans regardless of their beliefs? Is it available to all regardless or race, nationality or creed? Does it offer a practical means to improving life on a daily level, or is it composed of futile, pie-in-the-sky philosophy? Does it present the truth regarding history, medicine, science or psychology? Does it contain any discernible errors of fact or logic? Can it be traced to the personal agenda of another human being? Is it based on fact? Does it bear the test of experience, yielding observable benefits to those who practice its tenets and the remainder of creation as well? Finally, can we believe in our hearts that its precepts are true?
Just as all religious statements should be analyzed and contrasted against known facts, all religious organizations are equally deserving of scrutiny, especially the ones where everything appears to be just fine. Although in general it is respectable to give somebody the benefit of the doubt, man’s irreparable tendencies towards corruption and deception also demand that we be wise and scrutinize. The point of what I am saying here is that crooks, charlatans and plain misguided people lurk behind the scenes of every institution, and no human institution is safe from those who would benefit themselves at the expense of the group.
Encouraged by entrepreneurial ambitions and federal tax breaks provided to religious institutions, the American business standards of marketing, capitalism, brand specificity and advertising have sadly corroded our approach towards truth and religion. The arena of religion is quite a fertile playground for charlatans because they can leverage people with the afterlife and use guilt either directly or indirectly to induce submissive behavior or subordination to the institution. Perhaps Christ forewarned people with foresight of the many who would come preaching love outwardly, yet inwardly be ferocious wolves? The lion perishes for lack of prey.
Deceivers can only prey on those who know no better, and when analyzing anything, it is important to get the entire picture and to understand causality. In any phenomena there are a series of causes and effects. In making an initial judgment on any religious idea, we should deal specifically with the idea to avoid the influence of stereotypes and prejudgment in our logic. We also ought to look closely at the institutions surrounding a certain religious statement, and apply their claims and actions to our list of personal criteria. Seekers of truth deserve to know all the pertinent facts surrounding various religious statements and their institutions, especially those who first subscribe to them without knowing all the facts.
Cults are good to look out for, and the inverse of each previously mentioned principle can also serve as a criterion for false religion. Does the particular church, person or institution claim exclusivity or group membership as the only way? Do they have a track record of being correct or incorrect regarding prophecies? Do any of their leaders or figureheads engage in questionable behavior? Are their sacred scriptures reliable or can they be shown errant? Furthermore, even when a supposedly religious individual or leader is exposed, that should reflect on them personally and not the idea they may verbally proclaim. Mark Gator Rogowski was a vocal born-again Christian and professional skateboarder who killed a woman and hid the body in a surfboard bag. Is Christianity or skateboarding at fault? Of course not; the man is, and it is bad logic to form our judgments of an idea on account of its alleged representatives.
To revisit our original question, at what point should we grant or relinquish trust in the various religious statements, leaders and organizations?
Our dealings with ordinary people serve as a powerful methodological template. If an acquaintance tells you something that later turns out to be untrue, two possibilities are present: Either they sincerely believed it was true at the time they said it, and were honestly wrong; or they were fully aware that it was not true when they said it, and were blatantly dishonest. How much weight do we give to those certain friends of ours that always seem to be lying or passing questionable information? Once a person has been wronged or lied to a few times, they rightly begin to raise an eyebrow of suspicion at the person passing the questionable information.
With these and other criteria in mind, anyone can take a close look at the various religions and explore their historicity, their contributions to society, and their similarities as well as their differences.