Religion is a cautious subject. My intention in writing this article is personal catharsis, and to spark conversation; it is not to impugn any belief system, or to be offensive. I fully support everyone’s right to their own beliefs. I have close friends and family members who are Christian, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhist, etc. Diversity is one of the things that makes life wonderfully interesting.
I did not go to church as a child, and I still do not. I am, however, well-read on several organized belief systems; and, I have never shied from situations that expose me to religion. When I was eighteen, I rented a basement room from a somewhat moonstruck woman in her forties; and, unbeknownst to me when making our rental agreement, is that I would be required to attend Sunday church services with her for as long as I lived in her house. In my mid-twenties, I was in a relationship with a woman who was quasi Jehovah’s Witness; and, when our relationship started to become rocky, I agreed to sit down weekly with her and an elder from her church for lively discussion. I could go on.
Today, at thirty-seven, I can say that it is unlikely I will ever adopt an organized religious belief system. This does not mean, however, that I am atheistic, or even agnostic. I would in fact describe myself as spiritual and open-minded; I simply cannot neatly package all of my beliefs into a box, and then label it. For that matter I cannot even describe all of my leanings as “beliefs”; if anything they are more “evolving intuitions.”
Over the twenty-plus years that I have actively examined religion, expostulated with theologians, read, etc., a list of unanswerable questions has written itself for me. For every religion—both eastern and western—that I have studied, these questions have arisen; from the idea of religion as a whole, these questions arise. Following, in no specific order, are just a few of these questions, largely pertaining to western religions.
- Many people interpret the bible literally, not as allegory, hymnody, etc. Of these individuals, most say that we are descendants of the 930 year-old Adam, and of Eve. These same individuals also state that incest is wrong. How can these two opposing positions reconcile?
- I have Mormon friends and relatives. All of them are adamant to me that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate Gods. Yet, The Book of Mormon Alma 11:28-31 reads: “Now Zeezrom said: ‘Is there more than one God?’ and [Amulek] answered ‘No.’ And Zeezrom said unto him again, ‘How knowest thou these things?’ And he said ‘An Angel hath made them known unto me.’” How can one simultaneously believe in both their Gods, and their scripture when they seem to be at odds? My Mormon friends and family have told me that it is a matter of interpretation. To me, however, the “interpretation” answer seems ambiguous.
- It would seem that there is a pervasive notion that adherents of a given religion feel that only their belief system is “correct,” that all other religions are based on misguided constructs. There have been extreme instances of this type of thinking which have resulted in genocide, war, etc., and there have been lesser occurrences—the whole notion that Catholics believe that they are the only ones who will go to heaven (a largely misinterpreted idea that somehow became colloquial), etc. The oldest religions still in practice today—Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, etc.—date back only a few thousand years. Science tells us, however, that humans have roamed the earth for well over a hundred-thousand years; thus, the tenures of modern religions represent only a blip on the human timeline. Do we honestly believe that our pre-historic ancestors lived in sin, that they did not go to heaven or the like, that only in the last few thousand years have we—some of us—gotten things right, etc?
- Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all intelligent creatures are endowed with free will. Why is it than, that if a person exercises their free will, and disavows their self from the Jehovah’s Witness religion, that they are sometimes excommunicated—even if they are family? I have seen this happen first hand to people I care about, and I have never really been given an answer that I can grasp.
- Why do many people refuse to consider that the idea of ‘choice of religion’ could largely be environmentally based? How often to kids living in a Protestant household in Arkansas grow up to be Buddhist, etc.?
At the end of the day, not only is religion a vastly interpretive subject, it is also one in which faith is a huge component. So, as is elsewhere in life, there will likely always be questions that cannot be answered; things will not always make sense. Still, talking about said questions and things are provocative and healthy; it is what we as humans do.