First, a disclaimer: Just because I write about some old, cultist religion like Gnosticism, does not mean I’m planning on following it as a religion. My interest in other religions, dead or otherwise, is simply a personal interest in finding god in all religions, and so far I have not come up with a religion that does not have god somewhere in it. So for the record, unless the beginning of my train of thought does not start with something like, “I believe…” then whatever I’m talking about in terms of religion is simply speculation and “What if…” thinking. Questions? Okay, to the main event.
A good friend from college sent me a question, inspired by my prior religion posts. He asked, “Is there a distinguishing mark(s) between true and false religion, if any, from your perspective?” So, here you go!
Blunt answer: None.
Extended Answer: To begin, I’m using the definition of religion as a group of people who share the same core beliefs, and likely in turn faith, in their creator. Keep in mind, it does not need to be a society-approved, institutionalized religion. I could stop here and say that, according to the definition, so long as a group of people bring themselves together through a common belief in a creator, it is technically a true religion, and that the only way for a religion to be false is if the group calls itself a religion but does not center their beliefs around a creator. But that isn’t the answer my friend is looking for, so I’m going to give a legitimate answer.
Now, let’s go back for a moment to how I see god; a being of neutrality and omnipotence, which created all aspects of our lives and created all in love. Love is the balance of mind and spirit, establishing a feeling far beyond what humans consider ‘love.’ God’s love incorporates trust at its core, trust in us to live our lives as we like on this earth. its love does not incorporate jealousy, which would bring it out of its nature in neutrality and cause a hostility within it. In the same way it does not love us as we comprehend love, choosing one of us over another of us. This also includes its love for all its creations, and so we are no better or worse than any other animal on this planet, any plant, any star in the sky, any other creature in any other plane of existence god may have created in its time. We as humans simply have given ourselves the extra task of trying to comprehend god in this life, instead of having the patience to come to understand it in a time when it shows itself fully to us. Whether that is a ‘good thing’ or not, I will not get into.
If we look at our lives in the way I described the loving parent and the college child in A long, long post on what I base my life on, we see a god which does not opening interfere with our lives, but simply lets us use the knowledge it has given us to make our own way through life. It is not in harshness or cruelty that god does this, but in trust that we are its creation and can manage. It is the same with all creatures. Again, we simply have a harder time of it because we are given a different level of knowledge. Because of this, and because of our distorted (although not bad or wrong) idea of love, we search for reasoning behind god leaving us to our own devices in this world. Instead of living our lives and enjoying our gifts to the fullest, we distract ourselves with trying to be with god in the life, when that is not the point of this life. This distraction is religion.
Before I continue, I know I need another disclaimer. First off, this is all my opinion. I could be wrong. Everything I’m saying could be bullshit. But it’s what I believe, and I’m sticking to it. Second, I am not saying that religion is bad. I’m not saying that we are bad people, or stupid people, for establishing and relying on church in our lives. It may come off that I think people are weak because they follow a church. Although I cannot really honestly say that that’s not what I’m getting at, I don’t want people to take that as a negative. Religion brings people to a partial understanding of god. There’s nothing wrong with that. I believe that god put us here so that we could enjoy its other gifts to us without worrying about god, that this life is a time to experience, and it has nothing to do with this minute amount of time we have. If we seriously want god to interfere, I don’t think it will ignore us, but for the most part it will leave us be. The constant ‘calls’ if you will, from religious people are not ignored, but left until god is sure we have exhausted our own possibilities without it first. This is why there are so many in Christian faith who find ‘God’ at their lowest point in life.
Okay, I’m going to reel myself back a little. That was getting into a tangent. My point is, religion is created to find god in our lives today, in a way that is palatable for the group of people interested in finding god at the time the religion is created. We look around at all the aspects of our world and try to piece together what god is. We use visuals to create an image of god we do not know, to feel more comfortable about god in regards to our senses. We give god a name, so it seems more solid. We give it a gender so that it can hold a strong and acceptable place in our society. We sometimes make many gods, because some cannot comprehend that one entity could create or govern all the cosmos, or because there are so many commanding entities in the world, how could we choose just one to represent god itself? We give god emotions, so we can anticipate how god will react to us and how we live; so we can feel comfort in knowing we are doing the ‘right thing’ in its eyes and our enemies are not; so we can justify our own actions; and so we can position god within our society as a leader figure. We call god above us, but make it one of us at the same time.
Let me restate that there is nothing wrong with all this. It is human nature to want to be close to its creator, is a blessing and curse upon us all. Some people embrace the blessing and some despise the curse. But when we look at the core of religion, this is all it is; a call out to know god. God, as the loving being it is, knows that we will come to know it in later life, after our experiences here are over. Because of this, god allows us to interpret it in our own way, and that is where the many religions, institutionalized or not, come from. We interpret the little aspects of god that we hold closest in our lives and inflate them into something that many people can relate to. Some people live their whole lives for religion, and sometimes they dedicate their lives to the wrong aspects of those religions. You can suggest examples of your own, if you like. I will give none, as I do not want to seem like I am targeting any one religion over another.
In all this, we see that, as social beings, we need structure, and society-approved values, to feel accepted and secure. Religion gives people that. It gives them a miniature society in which to believe without fear, because they are in numbers. It takes courage and strength to believe in the whole religion, especially when there is turmoil within, or aspects you do not completely agree with. But to me, all religions, true or false, are real religions, and have a piece of god in them somewhere. Since it is our nature to want to know it, we find that piece of god no matter how long it takes. Sometimes we do not realize that is the piece we were looking for, and sometimes we never realize it. But we do find it, and carry it with us for the rest of our days. And that piece may be different for you than it is for another person. Remember, god created everything, and so god is in everything, and so in every piece of every religion. It just depends on which piece best fits you and your life.
I don’t really have anything else to say about this except that people will likely have to say, “But Rana! Some religions are evil! They make you do evil things! How can those religions have god?!” Well, because god does not mean ‘good.’ God means neutral. If god were good, than evil must have existed as a separate thing from god, and so god would not have been the beginning and omnipotent. And if nothing existed before god, than there is no such thing as the absence of god, and so again, no evil. Good and evil are pure perspective, and both creations of god which it leaves us here to experience, along with everything else. This isn’t a ticket to go do evil things, as I’ve said before. Along with this, there’s the typical answer we hear all the time; didn’t the Catholic Church commit the Crusades? There are many religions which existed to give sacrifice, human and otherwise, for their gods. Even Judaism had the tradition of killing livestock and doves for god in their time. Are these not considered bad things to do? But the religions themselves are not considered evil. It is all perspective. There are people who think what I’m writing right now is blasphemous and evil, but I don’t think so. And there are those who would agree with me. Just because one person says something is evil doesn’t mean everyone on the planet is going to agree. Even Hitler thought he was in the right during World War II, and he convinced others to believe the same. Any religion can be good or evil depending on the perspective of the person. So no, there is no such thing as a good religion or an evil religion. It is simply the religion that the person feels most comfortable in. The aspect of good and evil have nothing to do with it.