Sunday, July 22, 2007

Think for Yourself

Socrates said, "To find yourself, think for yourself." The wisdom of the statement seems obvious enough, but it can also be quite threatening.

I have always had trouble accepting that something is 100% true on its face. For instance, most churches would have us believe that God is a humanoid super-being, like us (though more like those of us who are male) with the addition of unlimited magical powers. Already, one must ask, "really?"

Most churches would have us believe, then, that this God ordained the establishment of our institutional church, and that God prefers the Church to other religious organizations. Again, we might ask, "for real?"

Then, many churches would have us believe that this God created a place called Hell and rejects all people who don't believe what God's institutional church says about "Him," damning them to an eternity in this Hell of God's making. Of course, this God also seems to rig elections, play favorites with political parties, and even wants us to kill each other off in a series of bloody wars.

If we ever ask, "does any of this make sense?" We are usually given a scriptural "proof-text" to accept as if it were a reprimand from God saying, "Believe this and shut up." Of course, we then might ask who wrote the scripture, and when, and why, and to whom, and in what language, and how old is the oldest and most reliable copy, and who translated it and what his or her linguistic credentials were, and all of that before we started exploring the many interpretations that could be explored.

Before long, the "believe this, do what I say, or burn in hell" approach to religion just doesn't seem very compelling anymore. Not only does it not make sense, but the threat is kind of hallow too...I mean, what's the alternative to winding up in Hell? Winding up in Heaven with the God who created the whole crazy system to begin with? Yikes!

What if religion wasn't about mind control (and by extension, behavior control)? What if religion empowered us to ask questions and to think freely and explore boldly? What if religion gave us a compassionate community in which to ask our questions and think our thoughts and search for meaning, all the while providing the comfort and joy of companionship and ritual celebration? What if religion was meant to help us find ourselves rather than lose ourselves in abusive dogma?

I'm still not giving up on religion, but I do hope to be part of reforming it. Let's take Heaven and Hell off the table and explore the possibility that if there is another life, the best prepartion for it is to make the most of this one. Let's at least give ourselves the freedom to ask the obvious questions. We may not come up with the same answers, but the religion I am hoping becomes popular wouldn't insist that cookie cutter answers were necessary.

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