Last Update: 01 Apr 00
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REPLY #92 TO
(R) Hello, I wish to comment on your religion essay.
(MB) Please jump in with both feet!
(R) Fact is I had a hard time accepting Christianity. There was one time when I was very confused about my faith. I knew I was supposed to believe in God, I tried to pray to God, but I did not understand God. I am a very argumentative, hard-headed and stubborn!
(MB) Nothing wrong with that! If one never asks questions, one can rarely hope to find answers. Better to actively seek those answers than to rely on what others tell you that you are "supposed to do".
(R) I would ask my mother (very Christian lady) questions.
(MB) Has she put in any real study in regards to her beliefs? The sad fact is that an increase in Christian belief tends to correllate strongly with an increase in one's ignorance about those beliefs. That's why "faith" is so strongly pushed. It's a way to maintain the beliefs in the absence of knowledge about them.
(R) I researched hundreds of religions, and variations of them. From Mythology to Buddhism. There are so many different beliefs, and every one claims to be the "words of God".
(MB) Actually, it is the minority of religions which make such claims. Most religions either have no holy book, have texts which are not claimed to be divinely inspired, or acknowledge the existence of one or more deities without being bound to their every word. The "words of God" claim tends more to be a feature of monotheistic systems.
(R) My concern about religion grew recently when I gave birth to my son. I had no idea how to teach him of God, or what religion he should be.
(MB) My advice would be to encourage the study of all systems of religion and philosophy and allow him to find his own answers.
(R) So, I asked my mother one question that would answer all of my questions (so I thought). I asked; "How do you know that the Bible is right, How do you know that Christianity is the religion you should follow?" My mother answered that you must have faith.
(MB) That answer, needless to say, invokes the paradoxical admonition that one must believe before he can believe. If one has knowledge, there is little need to rely on or appeal to faith.
(R) This of course was not a good enough answer to me, so began the debate! I mentioned that the Bible had been changed in the translations to suit man's interests at the time. One good example of this (Not to bore you with the details) is when the Roman-Catholic Church in a massive attempt to rid the world of paganism created the date for Christmas as Dec 25. It was chosen to coincide with the pagan solstice celebration, as a way of "converting" the Pagans to the Christian way of life. The Bible does not state a specific date, however it does imply that Christ was born in warmer months. Many of the holidays we celebrate (Easter too) all stem from the Pagans. There is also evidence of other manipulations of the Bible. (too much to get into).
(MB) This is an excellent subject and is not the slightest bit boring! Essentially, Christmas was invented in order to cater to those who didn't want to give up the popular celebrations that coincided with the Winter Solstice. The Romans wanted to consolidate their Empire under a single religion, so it made sense to put all the "good parts" under one roof, so to speak. According to the Bible, shepherds were "tending their flocks by night" when Jesus was born. However, this does not happen during the winter. It happens during lambing season in the late spring.
The date of Easter is established in the Bible. I don't think that it's merely a coincidence that this Christian celebration occurs in conjunction with the Jewish Passover. Another way to demonstrate that the date of Christmas was not established until several centuries after the fact is the observation that the date of Christmas is always the same while the date of Easter changes every year. This is because Christmas was established under the Roman solar calendar system while Easter is dated in accordance with the Jewish lunar calendar.
(R) Mother said plain and simple that it doesn't matter how you worship God, as long as you have faith.
(MB) If so, that would mean there is no reason for Christians to worry about being sinners. So long as they "have faith", it would seem they could do anything they pleased. Also, one has to wonder why anybody would worship God if they didn't already have faith in his existence. Finally, I wonder if your mother is familiar with the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism which says that it doesn't matter which god you pray to because it is Vishnu who answers.
(R) This got me thinking. Why are all of these religions, some that have been in existence long before Christianity, and ARE still being practiced today, so different.
(MB) I think it's a strong indication of the lack of supporting facts behind them.
(R) Assuming that they are all God's word they all must be true. I took a different viewpoint when reviewing them.
(MB) This would be both an invalid assumption and an invalid conclusion. I've already pointed out that "God's word" does not apply to most religions. Finally, no religion based on "God's word" can be held as being "true" unless it can be proven that those words actually came from that religion's God and have not been altered or misinterpreted by believers over the centuries.
(R) Studying each of the religions, and considering what we know as fact the answer is obvious. Most religions have developed over hundreds of generations and translations. Many were passed down as stories, due to persecution, and fear for the lives of those who believed.
(MB) Actually, there is a more mundane reason for why most were passed down as stories. It is simply that most of the stories were developed prior to the invention of written languages for those societies (to include the Hebrews). Therefore, the oral tradition was the only way to pass them on.
(R) If you consider the fact that many of the beliefs came from the symbolism told in the stories, and if you consider the number of times that any religion has been translated (like the game telephone you played as a child, the message starts out right, but at the end of the chain it is all wrong) you will see that you must take the very basic concepts of a religion to understand it.
(MB) Quite correct. However, if the supporting stories have suffered the inevitable ravages of time and mistranslation, can we be sure that the basic concepts have not also suffered similar degradation?
(R) Every religion has their own version of Jesus.
(MB) I think this would come as a big surprise to most Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others.
(R) Just as the God is called by several different names so is the son. For brevity I will give only one example. Pagans' celebrate the rebirth of the light half of the year. for Yule and Christmas are not so very different, underneath it all; both celebrate the arrival of the sun/son; or, if you like, the light of the world.
(MB) This "sun/son" argument is often heard, but its promoters seem to forget that the coincidental homonymic connection only works in English, while the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
(R) All religions promote the same moral values,...
(MB) Again, this will come as a big surprise to the aforementioned groups unless one defines "moral values" as only including the big things like murder. There are as many different moralities as there are groups which define them.
(R) ...(the only exception to this is Satanism, and Satanists are actually Christians that choose to do evil.
(MB) Untrue. First, "Satan" originated in Zoroastrianism and derives from the name "Shaitan". This is one of the names by which the evil power (Angra Mainyu) of the supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, is known. The good power of Ahura Mazda was known as Spenta Mainyu. Judaism did not incorporate the idea of Satan until after the Babylonian Exile and their exposure to Zoroastrianism. It would seem to have been a natural incorporation since the Hebrew word "Satan" actually means "adversary".
Satanists also come in more than one variation. The members of the Church of Satan (the ones which use the Satanic Bible) are neither Christian nor evil nor immoral/amoral.
(R) Christianity is the ONLY religion that believes in Satan by name) and all have an after life of one type or another. (I could explain how they all coincide with each other, but this is long enough already). And all religions have an evil element, i.e. the devil.
(MB) As shown above, Christianity is not unique in its belief in Satan. In fact, their beliefs are derivative. It is also not true that all religions have an afterlife. Classic Judaism would be the most well-known example (as evidenced in Ecclesiastes) although later sects would change this. Needless to say, the idea of an afterlife is popular since it gives a religion's believers the motivation to be obedient to its dictates.
(R) What does this tell you? It tells me that there is a higher power, who I choose to call God, and he is with me no matter what religion I follow, or if I follow none at all!
(MB) I will not go so far as to deny the existence of any higher power. This is why I am an agnostic rather than an atheist. Therefore, I have no major problems with your conclusion. My quibble is with those who seek to advance their own preferred specific "God" as being that higher power. Accepting "a higher power" can be defended as spirituality. Promoting a specific version of such a higher power is to make a statement of fact which will require supporting evidence and which is subject to critical analysis. Spirituality can be very healthy while dogmatic religion is little more than intellectually stultifying.
(R) Anyone who claims that I am going to hell for not believing in their religion, is wrong.
(MB) Absolutely! Until such time as they can provide supporting evidence for their claims, there is little reason to be concerned with them.
(R) And, anyone who doesn't believe at all, is missing out on so much.
(MB) Here, I would disagree. In fact, non-believers have more freedom to explore all that life has to offer since they are not under the constraints of any artificial dogmatic system. If one doesn't believe that an afterlife exists, that means that he will relish his mortal life all the more strongly. He is free to enrich himself, his family, and his friends. Since most religions infer predestination, if they were true, there would be little reason to make the effort to achieve anything since the accomplishments would be preordained.
(R) The love in my heart, and the blessings I have received, prove to me that I am right! Never have I felt so content even when the worst is happening, because I know that God is there for me, and by any name he will protect and help me.
(MB) The important thing is that you are happy in your life. So much the better if your beliefs are attained through thoughtful study and honest consideration. Somebody who lives a sham or acts only as others demand can never attain real fulfillment. We all must find our ultimate answers within ourselves.
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