Even though one may have doubts about the validity of religion, one must have unanswered questions about the nature of life and the history of mankind. Of course one may choose to ignore those questions and accept that there is no answer.
However, when I attend church with an open mind and a mindful intention to engage in an inner dialog , I invariably begin to process some issues that are normally dormant, possibly subconscious. My approach is not to join or be converted, but to be enriched.
Today’s service opened with this quote from Psalms “When I consider your heavens,the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor . You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet, all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky,and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”
I hope I’m not alone in wondering what my purpose is in the universe. It would certainly be a great relief to believe I have one, but also a great challenge. Doesn’t one wonder if on my death, will I have made a difference? And in that same thought, what am I to make of all my failings?
One can look exclusively to our human culture to find purpose. In that respect we get education, hold a job, raise a family. Outside of that, any further contributions are optional. If that is satisfactory, then fine. But it seems most people yearn for a transcendent experience or more powerful acknowledgement of their worth. Maybe it’s a genetic glitch or original sin. Or maybe as Plato claimed there is a higher calling, something that draws us toward infinity.
I assert that all religions point in the same direction as Plato, who said we are drawn to a higher reality, and if one is to explore these deeper meanings, each religion can offer insights. And I believe that the quest is ultimately a uniquely personal one. I also suspect that without some philosophical system, one will be lost in the material world, destined to seek unrequited relief in self-destructive or other-destructive ways. I observe that religions offer a template for a wholesome life and provide a community to support people to that end.
Take Jesus, for example, he is described as without sin, the perfect role model for the good mensch. There are many great men to be emulated, but how can any of them make a significant contribution to the human condition? To have an ongoing impact, seems to require organization, doctrine, narratives, myths. Deconstructing Christianity reveals many themes and principles borrowed from previous religions, which proves to me the universal nature of these themes.
I happen to believe religion hasn’t been very successful in reforming the evils of mankind. but I also fear what it would be like without it. At least religion, true religion, stands in the breach between chaos and hope. I’ll not elaborate on “true religion” other than to say it fits the needs of a historical time to advance the welfare of it’s people. There have been heroes throughout history who risked and gave their lives to save others or fight evil. Were they acting from their religion or some even higher calling? Has the goodness of man created religion, or vice versa? Religion has also failed to address the challenge of our time – global warming. It has often been co-opted by tribalism and violence. Our biggest challenges are global and would require a global religion.
OK, so what about Nietsche? I’m not qualified to discuss but will anyway. God is dead. Religion seduces men to a herd mentality. Salvation is achieved by embracing one’s sins and suffering , not expunging them. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Strength rather than weakness is to be sought. The Ubermensch struggles against mediocrity. These thoughts join in the mix of ultimate questions and answers. So what if god is dead? Is there a substitute, like money, sports, nature, sun? Nietsche – “What water is there for us to clean ourselves” All the substitutes have been tried before. Nietsche’s vision may work for an individual but not for a society.
God is alive in those who believe in him, and in the writings, stories, rituals but most of all in the behavior of his believers. Symbolically Easter says we can be reborn, that good behavior can impact forever, that Spring is nature’s miracle and we are part of nature. As a personal choice, religion is a commitment toward good.
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