As we’ve been discussing in this series, we are ambassadors—“guests” and foreigners in a foreign place. A relatively new aspect of this “foreignness” is the way people today distance themselves from religion. Some are bitter about the apparent history and conduct of religion, wanting nothing to do with God, gods, or the things that are associated with religion and spirituality. Others recognize that the spiritual nature of our life is real and essential, but also want to distance themselves from what they know of religion and its history. What are we to think of all this?
First, non-religious history is just as horrific as religious. Compare the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Salem witch trials with the cruelty of atheistic regimes in Russia, China, and Cuba. How do we make sense of that?
Second, the word “religion” has been mistakenly confined to organized systems of belief. But the definition of religion properly means “what governs.” Everyone does things “religiously” and thus exhibits what controls them, and thus reveals their religion and their god. In contrast to what a person may claim as their religion (talk is cheap), observing how a person’s life is ordered reveals his/her religion.
Third, everyone has the same goal in life: the most happiness as often as possible for as long as possible. Differences in religion have to do with perceived benefits or advantages in the pursuit of happiness. All religions except one are ethical/moral systems that require certain things and offer positive consequences for obedience. People tend to choose a religion or remain in the religion in which they were raised based on their expectations of the advantage(s) that religion (and its god, if there is one) will provide. In this way, all religions are basically the same. Some religions offer more latitude and thus more advantages in material ways, allowing or even approving of activity that is focused on this material life and material happiness (including psychology). Other religions promise greater happiness by escaping the material world and the body; these also tend to be popular by approving of a person’s selfish material interests (notice the vast materialism of religions like Christianity and Buddhism that urge us away from material and selfish concerns).
As I said before, there is one exception to the religion of this world. Stay tuned; we’ll consider that in a future post. Before we get there, we need to fully recognize the religion of the world as we experience it today and reflect on it through history. Religion in a primarily material, selfish world will be the subject of the next few weeks.