- Published on Sunday, 03 June 2012 06:50
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1350
Christians define their beliefs by referring to the bible; Muslims use the Qur'an; Catholics have defined their religion tighter than the bible - they have an official catechism. But no matter how much this is done and no matter what individual believers think, virtually everyone has their own "custom" religion. There are some parts of the official list of dogmas ("truths") that they think are "not quite right" and "I don't believe that bit". For most Catholic women, they don't accept the teaching on contraception - or at least they don't do what they are told. Maybe it's a repeated sin that they confess frequently? Every Christian preacher emphasizes different things and most Christians will say there are some things they don't believe - some don't even believe that Jesus was God. Muslims have a range of beliefs; the most obvious variation is that some want to kill infidels; most don't. But what does this mean? Is this evidence that religions are wrong?
First, it's not possible for every religion to simultaneously be correct. If you measure a religion by the accuracy of its dogmas and if all dogmas are equally important, then only one religion could be correct - and further, only one person's interpretation of it can be correct. But those are big "IFs"! The biggest justification for this variety is to say that only a few key dogmas are important and most people in a religion will follow those (e.g. Christians mostly believe Jesus is God and that the Resurrection proves it; most Christians believe that the Bible is a Holy Book inspired by God). But a consequence is that most of the Catholic Catechism can be thrown out and you can interpret most of the bible how you like. (I ask - if you do this, why believe any of it?)
But despite what they say, to most people, religions are not really a collection of dogmas - they are not a whole lot of beliefs mandated by a central Church or even by a Holy Book. They are communities with sets of behaviours and some very simple beliefs. This gives believers warm feelings that are reassuring and comforting. Personally I hate being duped; I want to know the truth even if it's uncomfortable. Seems I'm in a minority.
So what are the comforting behaviours and beliefs?
- Personal prayer
- Public prayer and bowing your head when doing so - some like Tim Tebow (above right) overdo this!
- Occasional attendance at a Church service
- Rituals at Church such as Communion and singing
- Community activities centred around a Church
- An afterlife
- Ultimate justice by God after death
- Jesus loves me
- God expects us to sin but forgives us
- All I need to do to get these benefits is to believe and show some semblance of good behaviour.
The commonality amongst religious people is simple and straightforward - not hard to understand. But defining what exactly to believe is not a major requirement for participation. You just need to "believe" - to "have faith". So customizing your beliefs does not upset the formula.
Some people have even given up on seriously believing the dogmas of their religion - they now say they are cultural Jews or Catholics or Christians. They nominally cling to their religion as if it were a culture that defines their worldview. But they are kidding themselves - Religions by definition are sets of beliefs. You are being hypocritical if you go to Church (or synagogue) and don't believe anything said there.