Who Has the Truth?

During the course of their lives, many intelligent people drift away from the religion in which they were raised. Why would they do that when they obviously care about spiritual matters? Are faith and critical thinking mutually exclusive? Do we have to check our brains at the door in order to be a good, faithful follower? We certainly shouldn’t, yet many religious groups continue to stress the need for a blind faith in their teachings. They actively discourage any significant form of independent thought and discussion. This conflict between religious teachings and what our brains tell us leads many to abandon their faith in order to avoid the hypocrisy of following questionable doctrine.

Typically, religious organizations paint themselves into an inescapable corner. They repeatedly claim that their sacred books and teachings reflect God’s plan. They insist that they are the only ones who have correctly interpreted God’s word. If anyone holds a different position, they are wrong by definition. The religious organization can’t change their position without admitting that either they were wrong or God was wrong. Neither alternative is palatable so they frantically repel any notion that might undermine their position. Other religions take a similar point of view resulting in a total break down in the ability to communicate with each other.

Any rational outsider quickly sees the problem. The religious foundation that is being vehemently defended is unsupported by consistent, logical thought. They stubbornly cling to traditions when scientific knowledge clearly indicates the need for a new paradigm. Unlike the contentions of religious conservatives, people aren’t leaving organized religion because it is embracing the secular ideas of modern thought. Rather, people are leaving because, by continuing to defend beliefs that are contrary to evidence and reason, institutional religion is becoming a tragic anomaly. What greater disservice could they pay to God?

But fundamentalists steadfastly insist on their rightness. They see the world as locked in a battle between God and secular humanism. They see secular society as being intent on wiping out religion. They see themselves as being the only ones who are faithful to the true religious life. They see Godly justification in forcing everyone into their idea of the one true faith. Ironically, every major religious system has such fundamentalists, and their views are irreconcilable with each other. If we were to follow their line of thinking to its logical conclusion, we would experience escalating violence between fervent religious believers until only one group remains. Whoever survived would then declare that the one true faith was now in control. That approach would validate the cave man mentality that might makes right.

Most of us claim to believe in a supremely powerful force, God, who created the universe and set in motion a master plan for humanity. How can any of us be so arrogant as to assume that we know the mind of God? How can any human have more than a partial, dim view of God and God’s plan? Even if our sacred texts are inspired by God, who among us could fully understand something of that magnitude? Such claims are either indicative of monumental conceit and ego inflation or the result of dragging God down into the mud of mundane human capabilities. Neither is viable.

The love for God and all of God’s children are the two universal features of every major spiritual system. When we argue about our rightness, we leave those two basic spiritual commandments on a scrap heap, and make the question about us and our beliefs. We violate what we claim as our most precious beliefs. We dismiss any view of God that is different from ours. We brand as sinners or infidels any person who doesn’t meet our standards.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once mused about the church so often being a tail light reflecting where we’d been rather than a head light that illuminates where we should be going. Historically, organized religion has not led change. It certainly won’t be the force that leads us back to our true spiritual roots. That will only be accomplished when individuals like you and I breathe life into the love for God and all God’s children. As more of us take daily stands for those principles, we will incite change. Perhaps one day the church’s tail lights will catch up with God’s head lights.

I wish that I had the truth about God and the divine plan. I keep thinking that it would make life much easier if I achieved that level of certainty. But the more that I learn, the more questions I have. Maybe that’s the way God intended it to be. Maybe we all have some portion of the truth. Maybe if we listen to each other and all of the evidence that is available, we will acquire a greater knowledge of the truth. Maybe the recognition that we only have a dim view will increase our humility in the sight of God. Maybe that recognition will give us a greater sense of interdependence with others and lead us to a deeper love and concern for others. Maybe together we can approach closer to God.

Some religious leaders and institutions will continue to focus on self-preservation because of the wealth, power and control that the status quo provides. But that doesn’t excuse my attempts to exercise power over others.

Some will continue to use religion for personal gain by controlling others and getting them to accept poor conditions here so they will be rewarded in the after life. But that doesn’t authorize me to do likewise.

Some will continue to be dogmatic and find ways to isolate groups of people with differing views from God. But that doesn’t exempt me from loving everyone including those who are judgmental towards me.

Some will continue to be rife with hypocrisy and still wrap themselves in a cloak of holiness to cover their transgressions. But that doesn’t excuse hypocrisy in my life.

I am not the vessel of complete truth, but I do know that I must keep trying to love God and love all God’s children. And, while I am doing that, I must try to maintain a seeking mind that is open to truth and wisdom.