Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Measuring Faith

Is there a way to determine which religion is true, or is it simply a matter of personal conditioning and bias?

Religions are social, political and economic systems designed to control and align people in service to something greater than themselves. What that something greater is, and what it wants from its adherents differs from religion to religion. But the role of religion itself is pretty much the same in every culture.

While religion is the preserver of some of the wisest human insights into the nature of life and how to live it, and while I would not wish to see the end of religion, I am not pro-religion per-se. I think we can and must distinguish among religions, honoring those that promote the welfare of person and planet, and challenging and even resisting those that do not.

I think we can measure the quality of a religion by measuring the amount of violence it condones. When examining violence we must not restrict ourselves to physical violence only (both violence done to believers as well as that done to nonbelievers). We must also look at social repression and exploitation, and violence done to free inquiry and the ability of the human being to think for him or herself. And do not limit yourself to this world. Some religions are powerless to implement their ideals in this world, and thus project them into an afterlife. Measure the violence inflicted on disembodied souls as well as embodied ones, for what a religion condones in the next life it will condone in this life if and when it has the power to do so.

People are hard-wired for faith. We want, perhaps need, to believe in and belong to something greater than ourselves. A faith that excuses violence and condones injustice, exploitation, and cruelty can be just as compelling to someone as a faith that commands compassion, justice, kindness, and forgiveness, and yet these two faiths are in no way morally equivalent. The second is, to my mind, a higher faith, a more evolved faith, a truer faith.

Because the will to believe is greater than the content of the belief, it is important for us to challenge that content. We need to clearly articulate the universal ethical principles taught by the great sages of all faiths, and then measure religions against these. In this way we offer people a way to think about religion that does not get bogged down in theological fantasy and political correctness.

It doesn’t matter that religions disagree on theological grounds, what matters is the kind of world they seek to create for believers and nonbelievers. Challenging belief honors religion without falling victim to it.

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