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What Religion Should Be About

96 Krori

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What Religion Should Be About

I have thought about religion for a long time. Even though I was brought up in no religious tradition, with my parents fully committed to having me make up my own mind, I had no choice but to confront religion rather early. The outside world really doesn't care about your parent's good intentions and the outside world, at least in the southern US, is very religious. As such, I was quickly informed in a variety of ways that I was either an idiot or evil because of my lack of any particular conviction towards a supreme being (or *the* supreme being, depending on which side of the table you were on). The result was my well know distaste for religion, religious people, and Christianity in particular. I have since changed my views quite a lot, primarily in the last few years. This is not to say I disagree with my former self, but rather find those early views overly broad and under-informed. The meat, the center, though, is unchanged: extreme and exclusivist religious views are intolerant, often ill informed, divisive, and lead to the suffering of many. These views have these effects today, have had these effects in the past, and I see no reason why these views will not lead to more problems in the future.For a long time, most of my life in fact, I considered religion of any stripe to be a sort of mental and social plague. A plague that would move from parent to child, with swift and terrible efficiency, generation after generation. But it’s not. Or at least, it doesn't have to be. Religion is a big thing, encompassing a myriad of potential views, an assortment of rituals, and a tremendous collection of art, icons, and viewpoints. The usual focus of all of these things is life, or how to live it; either because a god or gods said so, because it is a good idea, or even because of traditional accretion. There is nothing wrong with this innately. The problem is always found in the extreme and the xenophobic.Where does this extremism and xenophobia come from then? I think it comes from a lot of places. For one, the many people involved in the development of any religious tradition are not perfect, no matter what the scripture may say to the contrary. They all had viewpoints, enemies, friends, and a host culture which shaped their thinking, even if that host culture was eventually rejected. Furthermore, anyone who proclaims that only through their knowledge, their revelation, and of course obedience to only them and their teachings, kicks the door open to extreme interpretations, fear of other ideas, and conflict with all the others claiming supreme and exclusive access to the truth.Which brings up the question of truth. It isn't clear if anyone knows what this truth thing really is, or even, if they DO know, whether or not they would be inclined to tell us. Given the strife that often follows such claims to knowledge, I think they most likely stay quiet, stay hidden, and have a jolly time laughing at all the rest of us poor humans.It is in the face of this enforced ignorance that religions come about. The problem isn't that they don't have access to the truth; the problem is that they pretend they do when they actually don't. This becomes most evident with such battlegrounds as Evolution. Answers to such two-year-old questions such as, "where do we come from?", or "where did the world come from?", do not have a place in religion. Answers to these questions may be interesting, informative, or shocking, but they have little to do with how you should live you life, why you should live it that way, or anything else of spiritual merit. All these answers do is provide an excuse for disagreement, division, and eventual hate.Even if religions did have direct answers for us, I am not sure if they would do us any good. Like a person reading a book in a language they don't know, the answers could be right in front of us yet still hidden. The only way we can understand is if we put in the work-to learn the language, understand the problem, and finally receive the answer. Moreover, it is likely that once we learn the language and understand the problem, we will no longer need the answer. We will be in a position to figure it out for ourselves. Perhaps religions should concern themselves less with answers and more with helping us to ask the right questions. And like any good guide, the answers should still be there, provided as a way of checking our work, figuring out where we went wrong, and getting us going the right direction again.But there is a trap here. Answering the wrong questions can often be as misleading as giving the wrong answers. Answering bad questions gives the impression that the question is important, that the line of inquiry is worth pursuing, and strokes the ego of the questioner. The pursuers of truth, who should be natural allies, find themselves bickering over irrelevant trifles. Given the fiery rhetoric of many television preachers, I have no doubt this has long since happened.And there we are, back to the xenophobia and the hate, fear, and extreme views. Thus, for a religion to lead the world towards "the Good", to lead it away from suffering, it must first avoid these traps. It must force us to ask the right questions, refuse to answer bad ones, and offer satisfying answers every step of the way. It must allow no major misinterpretations, no hateful rhetoric, nor fear of contrary views. It must avoid the human pitfalls of false prophets and demagogues, the corrupting influences of wealth, power, and those who would exploit religion for political gain, and most difficult: the fears and rationalizations of its own adherents. For they are the ones who feel the hate and the fear. They are the ones who are manipulated by the powerful who would turn religion to their own purposes. They are the ones who read the scripture, try and apply it to the world, and carry their views to the next generation. And they are us.So what can we turn to in order to save us from ourselves? How do we rid ourselves of the poisons of fear and hate? By taking their antidotes: compassion and wisdom. This answer comes from religion, as religion finds its best expression in the perfection and embodiment of these two concepts. Across religions, across cultures, across time, these ideas occur again and again, leading the way.A good religion will therefore only answer the following types of questions: "how can I better understand the world around me?", "how can I be more compassionate?", "how may I ease the suffering of myself and others?", and, "how can I lead a life that does not lead to pain and sorrow, and what can I do about it when I sometimes fail?"Similarly, a good religion will not put itself in a position to be misinterpreted. It will not reward those seeking an easy hold over the populace. It will go out of its way to clearly state that anything and everything that leads towards extremism, fear, hate, and the subsequent suffering to be out of bounds, against its purpose, and against "the Good", no matter what the rationalization of the day may be.

Source: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/3...f_religion.html

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