I am not an overly spiritual or religious person and, in fact, enjoy openly questioning religion in general. I find it interesting and entertaining to discuss religion with individuals from different religious backgrounds. To me, religion ultimately comes down to faith. Sure, there are some archaeological findings that may support religious claims, but, generally, the historical facts do not answer the questions that I have about religion.
I was raised in a family that was not very religious. My mother went to a Lutheran school as a child; my father never attended church. By the time I was born, my mother had given up attending church of any kind. Therefore, I only attended church when invited by others – a very infrequent occurrence. My longest period of continuous weekly church attendance was during my three months in boot camp. I went to each Sunday service, but not to hear the sermon. I went as an escape from the tortures of the drill instructors.
Due to this upbringing, I do not have a very strong knowledge of religion and have many questions that have not been sufficiently answered. I have talked to many people about religious topics, but it is difficult to get unbiased views relating to the subject. Religion is ingrained in our culture. Whether we are religious people or not, the effects of religion surround us all. In my opinion, most of our society’s laws, standards, morals, ethics and norms are directly derived from religious standards. When I ask questions about religion, I would like to get a better answer than ‘Because the Bible says so.’ In the following sections I will present a few of my questions, along with my personal thoughts on the subjects.
There are many religions in the world. Which one of them is right? Are they all correct? What if we get to Heaven on day, and God is sitting up there waiting for us. As we walk in to see him, he is sitting on his throne laughing at us. We ask why he laughs, and he tells us that we had it wrong the whole time. We were following the wrong religion, and now we have to suffer the consequences. Of course, this situation could only occur if we agree that there is one God, and he is in Heaven. The question of God’s existence is itself a challenging subject because, to my knowledge, no one has actually seen him. The same can be said of Heaven. We are relying solely on faith of their existence.
The very idea that God, Heaven and Hell exist poses another interesting question. Would it not be interesting if religion was a made-up ploy to encourage people to act in an established manner? What if somewhere back in time the idea of Heaven and Hell were created in an attempt to scare people. It seems to me that having a strong, eternal consequence for your actions hanging over your head every day would be good encouragement to act how you were told to act.
Along those lines, who is to say that the Bible is not a work of fiction created for entertainment purposes only. Today, we write countless books on any topic imaginable just because we can. Is this only a current phenomenon? Could it be possible that this was done during the time the Bible was compiled? I have been told that the Bible could not be a work of fiction because many different people contributed books to the Bible. How could it be fiction if so many people experienced the same things at different times, in different manners and in different places. For the sake of argument, I ask this: What if the story was so popular as an ‘urban legend’ that everyone already knew of it and it was finally just written down for enjoyment?
Enough about the existence of God and the foundation of religion. Let us suppose that God is real, without question. My next thought is this: If God is the Father and Jesus is the Son, why do Catholics pray to Mary? Also along these lines, why do they pray to saints? I understand that Mary was the mother of Jesus. According to legend, she was the virgin mother of Jesus. I can see the importance of her role in the life of Jesus, but why pray to her? The idea of sainthood is difficult to comprehend as well. For example, Pope John Paul II passes away a few years ago and people are looking to make him a saint. To accomplish this, two miracles performed by the Pope after his death must be confirmed. How will anyone be able to prove, beyond doubt and without relying on faith, that a dead person performed two miracles because he is actually a saint?
Another thought: In biblical times, angels or God appeared to people and told them the words that were eventually written down in the Bible. Today, this is accepted as reality – as actual occurrences of prophets. In the early 1800’s, Joseph Smith said that an angel appeared and asked him to write and account of Jesus in the Americas. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is viewed by some as being a cult. One argument against Mormonism is that there is no way an angel could have appeared in front of Joseph Smith and asked him to write his story. Why is it acceptable for angels to show themselves 2000 years ago, but not 200 years ago?
Another interesting topic to think about is the subject of the ethnicity of Jesus himself. As a white male in America, I picture Jesus with Caucasian features. I have also seen Jesus depicted as a black man, and a man who appears Hispanic. I imagine that these artistic renditions are created to help specific groups of individuals relate to Jesus, and possibly to religion as a whole, more effectively. But if Jesus was born, raised and murdered in the Middle East, why does he have Caucasian features? Shouldn’t he be depicted as a Middle Eastern man?
Finally, I’ll end the questioning section with one last idea. One of the most well-known verses in the Bible is John 3:16. My Bible (yes, I have one) says this:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This famous quote is said to show God’s love for us through the great sacrifice that he made by giving Jesus up to save us for our sins. If God was sacrificing so much, why did he allow Jesus to be resurrected to return to Heaven? Two thousand years ago God sacrificed his son, and a few weeks later they were together again. So for the past couple of thousand years, we have been without Jesus here on Earth while he is together with God. Where exactly is the huge sacrifice again?
Moving away from criticizing and questioning, I believe that religion has a solid place in society’s future. How can it not, since it is so ingrained in our lives? I cannot envision a time in the future when there will be no organized religion. As the population of the world continues to increase, more children will be forced to attend services with their parents. Even when these children become old enough to make decisions of their own, they will have already been indoctrinated in the thoughts of some form of religion. Due to this one fact alone, I do not see religion ever fading away.
As for me, I plan on continuing to question religion respectfully. I see no reason to put down others because of their beliefs. After all, they may not have had a choice in whether or not they were taught their particular religion. I feel that if you live a good life according to our society’s moral standards, you will be rewarded in the end. Maybe the reward is Heaven, by maybe it is not – I do not know. Maybe you will just die with the thought of Heaven on your mind, resulting in a peaceful death.