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In "praise" of religion

OK. All this is going to sound very backhanded. But what do you expect? If I truly believe in Christianity, it follows that I must think all other religions are somewhat flawed. But then I think all religions are flawed. But, I can say, hand on heart, that I don't condemn any of the major religions and see no reason why followers of any religion cannot go to heaven as much as Christians can. I don't think the criteria is religion. The criteria is simply the ability to live a life guided by love. And we see lots of that. Lots of people struggle with their lives and yet have space for love and charity. Not just in terms of giving money to charity but the true charity at home, in the workplace and even to strangers. To be human is to live like that, despite the struggles and difficulties it entails. These people inspire others, their children, friends, relatives, to live better lives. They provide support when it's most needed.

Many people go to temples, churches, and other places to pray. For a little bit of hope (and help) with their lives. It's wonderful. There's nothing to be ashamed of. It's rather magical in its own way. Throwing coins into a fountain, burning incense, writing letters and burning them, all these rituals are part of our lives. We may not want to believe in them but they still give us a little bit of hope and strength to carry on. If we judge religion not by the religion itself but by the people who practice it, then there is really nothing to criticize about those who believe in various religions. If anything, it's the behavior of Christians, particularly the evangelical ones, that I find most distasteful. [The phenomenon of Muslim terrorism is not pertinent to this discussion. Terrorism is no more Islamic than the various US wars in recent years are Christian. You might as well judge Christianity by the cults that use the Bible to justify themselves.]

And yet, I am a Christian. And I go to church and enjoy its rituals. I do so because I see the truth in its teaching. And following its rituals help bring me closer to God. If you read the Bible closely and test it against what is preached, then I think you can remove the chaff from the grain and gather that which is good and useful to you.

The big test is experience. Many people have their religion from birth. But they will wander away from its practices if they are of no help. Those who turned to religion, like I did, do so for the help it gives. Whether or not the doctrine makes sense. The practices I've described will ring hollow to you if they don't bring you closer to God. They will. The question is whether or not you believe the encounter is with God or with your inner self. Many who are converted talk about a spiritual awakening. I won't go into that for two reasons. You won't believe it until you experience it. And, anyway, that awakening is just like opening a door. You still have to live the rest of your life and it hasn't changed. Your life is still as hard as it's ever been. Maybe harder, even. The important part is the daily practice, the prayer bit. It is for that that you need religion, a group of people who will pray with you. A place to pray collectively and to engage in the comfort of ritual.

So, such as it is, religion is a human need. Easy as it may seem to get to know God and to walk with Him, we still struggle and feel the distance between us and Him. It's good to belong to a religion, to go to church (or temple, mosque, whatever) and pray. And to spend time with fellow believers. Just don't get so deep into it you forget the rest of the human race.

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