For years I’ve struggled with the western perspective that we are being judged or given a test by a divine being. A test where passing means heaven and failing means eternal damnation. A test for which we are (all) wholly unprepared.
Indeed, those who adhere to their religions will say that we are taught through the scripture. But, I hope these adherents understand that all of us who have not received the calling through divine inspiration are left wanting. Which scripture is “The Scripture”? Whose interpretation of “The Scripture” is correct (if, indeed, any scripture is correct)?
Imagine a math class taught by half a dozen teachers. Each has a degree in mathematics, though from a different university. And all of them give you different answers to “what is 2 + 2”?
2+2 = 6
2+2 = 25
2+2 = 99,323,233.324224225
2+2 = 33,333
2+2 = 432
2+2 = 948,499
All of these are wrong. But, that doesn’t stop some from proclaiming an answer of such ridiculous precious that only the most delusional among us would accept it.
While the correctness of a math problem is objectively provable, the desire or intent of a divine being is not (I’ll not dive into the question as to whether there is or is not a divine being.)
So, in the absence of absolute certainty in the desire of what God wants, I find it implausible that She would allow our ignorance to be so great as to render our chances of going to heaven or hell simply a matter of which religion we chose to follow, or even worse, to which we were exposed. In other words, She would not allow our entry to heaven to be a crapshoot.
The feeling that today’s western religions don’t have the answer is just one stop on a lifelong journey to understand why we are here. I wouldn’t aggrandize it to say finding the “meaning of life,” but to try to understand the great disparities in the lives I see. Why am I so privileged, and so many suffer so greatly (I don’t have a clue.)
The answer of “it’s all part of a grand plan” that is commingled with “God is a merciful and compassionate God” just rings hollow. An omnipotent being capable of absolute power and compassion simply wouldn’t allow such a random distribution of benefits.
Not that I don’t think this disparity is part of something bigger, but I don’t think it serves the purpose of a deity. I simply do not understand.
Jumping into the deep end
Sometimes, however frightening it may seem, the best way to learn is by doing, or in our case, living. If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we can see when our words or actions hurt or truly help others. We can learn if we are open to it.
But to learn, we must admit we don’t know everything and become comfortable with our ignorance. Ignorance is not a permanent state of being if you are aware and willing to learn.
Sometimes I feel like we swim in water too deep to touch the bottom. We can learn. We must learn. But as we do, it is scary.
It makes more sense that we are here in the process of learning to swim, not to swim or drown.
The Fallacy of “In the Name of”
What is fascinating is the institutional control over what it means to be a good ______(fill in your blank.) Across patriotism, fanaticism, religion, you name it, there is an organization of people telling you what it means to be a good _________, while insisting that it is a higher being whose ‘word’ they are sharing.
In the world of western religion, we find the interpreter’s role to be acutely controlling. After all, failure to accept their word as the “Word” will result in internal damnation.
Blindly following the dictates of some mortal authority in the name of a deity ensures that we remain in perpetual ignorance. So long as our actions align with their direction, all consequences can be justified, all responsibility removed.
Over millennia, we see unspeaking pain imposed on others being justified in the name of “saving soles” or the “greater good.” It is amazing how ferociously, in the name of the “Prince of Peace,” people have inflicted unimaginable violence and pain.
Today, “developed” nations continue to inflict pain in the name of a higher power. We justify discrimination, sexism, and racism, all of which impose pain on others. We justify it through a faulty interpretation of a faulty text people wrote over a thousand years ago.
Following institutions that wield authority “in the name of” is the surest way to shortcut rational considerations and to justify cruelty.
Where does this leave us?
Is your next word, or action, going to hurt someone now?
Forget everything else. Just answer the question.
Is shunning someone because they are gay going to help them or hurt them?
Is alienating a teenager, struggling with all the normal teenage angst compounded by gender identity questions going to hurt them?
Is your vision of the afterlife so certain that you can justify inflicting pain on someone who does not share your visions or who really needs help?
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I certainly don’t know what the afterlife holds. But, I do know that, here, now, we have the power to help someone or hurt them.
We should choose help.