Spirituality and Belief Systems: Litmus Tests
There are many religions in the world. While there are lots of people who simply embrace the religion of their parents, some people easily can provide theological, historical, or philosophical rationales for subscription to a particular set of beliefs.
It is important in modern society that we respect each other’s beliefs regardless of our views. But do we respect others beliefs via refusal to engage in reasonable comparisons of spiritual merit or via refusal to discriminate against those who do not share our beliefs? If we do not engage in reasonable comparisons of merit, how are we to know we have adopted beliefs that are robust to reality? With full cognizance of the possibility that any one person’s reality is subjective, discussions of spiritual merit put to test the extent to which belief systems, typically embodied in different religions are subjective, as opposed to cognizant of some objective reality. In a world now filled with religious extremism, it is important we realize:
It is not engagement in intellectual discussion of merits of different religions that constitutes religious intolerance. Religious intolerance is evident in intentional discrimination against a person merely because they subscribe to a particular religion.
Suppose we compare religions on basis of historical evidence. Christianity and Judaism win easily within the historical context because the Christian God, who also is supposed to be the God of Judaism, is well documented within context of actual historical events.
History outside of the Bible proves David, Solomon etc. famous kings of the Jews and Jesus are historical facts.
In the historicity of characters such as David, Solomon etc., we find historical evidence of the God of the Jews. That is, since David was picked by God and David was not the founder of Judaism, in the actuality of history of David, there is historical evidence of the God of Judaism. In the sacking of the Kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, an event predicted by the God of the Jews long before it occurred, again we see participation of Deity in course of history. We see then the God of the Jews acting both as benefactor and disciplinarian towards His people within course of socio-political history.
While Mohammed the founder of Islam is a historical fact, the Deity proclaimed by Mohammed never actually participated in history other than through his prophets or leaders of Islam. Given it is those who received revelations of the Muslim deity (Mohammed etc.) that revealed the Deity to everyone else, and given the Deity only participated in history via provision of Mohammed’s visions, there is no historical evidence of the Muslim Deity outside of formation and maintenance of Islam.
If we consider Buddhism, we find a philosophy not documented until about 500 years after its founder’s demise. Hinduism is rich in imagery and penance but lacks richness of participation of its Deity within course of daily life or history. In aggregate, only within context of Judaism and Christianity do we have rich documentation of a Deity who participated not only in religious ceremonies but participated more within context of the political and social life of His people.
If we compare theology, Christianity and Judaism again beat every other religion hands down. An examination of Judaic civil law reveals laws, which applied in principle today would create the most equitable capitalist economies anywhere in the world.
The Judaic code reveals understanding of importance of remedies, as opposed to punishment for management of interactions within society.
Islam’s focus on punishment as opposed to remedies induces civil laws that are not as robust as Judaic civil law for maintenance of an equitable capitalist society.
Consider the following illustration. If a man steals under Judaic law, he makes restitution. If a man steals under Islamic law, he loses a hand. The man who steals under Judaic law does not suffer impairment for generation of income in future, meaning his incentive to steal decreases or is no higher than before he was caught. Having lost a hand, the man who steals under Islamic law is put in a situation where he may have to continue to steal to make a living. If he loses his dignity and becomes a beggar, he no longer can contribute to development of an equitable capitalist society. Clearly, the Judaic civil code provides better support for a man who falls on hard times and makes a bad decision.
The Christian code of conduct — faith in God, and love of God evident in love for others — is so rich, it has spurred uncountable numbers of books. In principle, the Christian code is compatible with, but surpasses the Judaic code.
The point is, whatever metric we adopt — historical evidence, theology, richness of philosophy, support for both capitalism and equity, ease of self actualization (applied as stipulated, it was impossible to hold down an industrious man to be poor within context of the Judaic civil code), robustness of civil law, or tolerance for other religions, Judaism and Christianity, which is an offshoot of Judaism that has transcended Judaism, win hands down.
But is this sufficient evidence for adopting Christianity or Judaism as religions of choice? Actually not. The evidence outlined is necessary evidence for a reasoned approach (in presence of capacity to choose) to adoption of a religion or set of beliefs. It is, however, not sufficient evidence.
The additional (character) evidence needed: the power of a changed life (for the better) and principles that provide one consistent prism for decision making and daily life.
In respect of the character evidence, Christianity beats Judaism and every other religion hands down because,
an important objective of Christianity is access to power to do good, and power to resist evil.
Christians meet in church services to encourage one another not to appease God. The relationship with God is personal and is enjoyed primarily at home and at work as opposed to within context of some religious service. In most other religions, it is difficult or impossible to worship the deity without participation in religious services. In respect of worship of God, with focus on a verse that uses the word ‘worship’ and with no sexist pun intended, the Bible states (1 Timothy 2:9):
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,…with good deeds appropriate to women who profess to worship God.
Christians worship God in their actions (good deeds) not via congregation in a place of worship. Christianity then is designed for the spiritual non-religious person. Practiced rightly, Christianity never can be characterized as opium for the religious.
Does Christianity change lives? Absolutely. There is lots of evidence of changed lives among people that give themselves totally to Jesus Christ.
Does Christianity provide one consistent prism for decision making and daily life? Absolutely. At work or play, the Christian exhibits faith in God and believes in loving everyone around him or her. My book In Jesus Name expands on what it means for a Christian to have faith in God and practice the love of God.
Is demonstration of Christianity perfect? Sadly Not. Church organizations increasingly have turned Christianity into a place for the religious as opposed to a way of life. Is this contradictory? Absolutely Not. Not everyone involved in a Christian Church is there because they truly believe. Some people participate only because it is good for business or making a living.
Just because a principle is misapplied or abused, however, does not destroy validity of a principle. Not too long ago, on a flight between Germany and France, a pilot utilized a plane’s capacity to descend to the ground and dislodge passengers to crash a plane into the ground. Shall we say then we should stop believing in a plane’s capacity to descend to the ground safely? Obviously not.
Christianity was propounded by Jesus as a way of life not a code for the religious. Jesus Himself says in John 4:21, 24 (words in brackets mine),
Jesus declared, Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem (interpretation: there will come a time when location in a temple or holy site will become irrelevant to worship of God). God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
If Christians practice love, they will seek to meet together to love and encourage one another. This is the motive for church services, not a demand from God for worship or appeasement.
If you are looking for spirituality as opposed to religion, check out the evidence on Christianity. There is more reason to believe than to disbelieve.
If you would like to find out more about relevance and authenticity of Christianity for spirituality, as opposed to a code for the religious check out a freely available excerpt from my book In Jesus Name titled, A Reason for Faith.
Disclosure: At the time of penning this piece, I am not a member of any local church body because I find most local churches around me to be more about money, and control of people for money than about Jesus Christ. When I find a local church only about Jesus Christ, I will participate fully within context of the local church organization. In the meantime, I continue to worship God by doing my best to do what is right or good and resisting what is evil in the power that Jesus provides.