Monday, August 6

So Many Books (so little time!)

Which way do we go?
So says the silly character in the old cartoons. We look around us today, and we don’t need to be very silly to ask the same thing. As “people run to and fro, and knowledge increases,” we become aware of many religions from across the Globe. Something in each of us seems to drive us to want divine knowledge, and that something finds its expression in thousands of different stories and practices. Some would become deities through different practices, some would bribe theirs through ritual murder, while yet others consider an eternal reward their “right” by inheritance.

Some say all ways are valid, but are they? One describes the afterlife as being absorbed into a giant spiritual cloud, another’s reward is an eternal supply of wine and young virgins (or the chance to be one of the many virgins of a great “saint” for a devout woman’s reward!) These don’t seem like quite the same picture. And is the Deity a great cloud of unknowing, a distant and vengeful overlord, or one of thousands of territorial gods? With so many options, how long do we have to find the real deal? Can we bet on getting reincarnated for another try if we guess wrong? If we could, wouldn’t it make sense that we remembered what we did “last time” if we are supposed to learn from each trip through?

If only to be playing it safe, it seems like the safer bet to recognise that we have one life, and no promise of a “spare,” and no guarantees on how long this one is going to last. So how do we find the right “door?” Let's consider these suggestions.

First, let’s assume that God wants to be known. The closest evidence for that is that you are reading this page. If God did not want to be known, then there would be no room in our imagination to want to, but until very recent time almost all enduring art and architecture has been religious, and the one question that seems to haunt us even in this “advanced” age is God. So if God is the question, how do we find the answer?

Let's start with the books: There is one tradition that has ancient writings, but anyone who gets the notion can basically write a whole new collection, and it can have the same weight as the old ones; and the old ones have no reference point from which we can verify what is authentic, or dependable. Another one relies on the oral teachings of its various masters, which can be verified only by a lifetime of obedience. Both of these “families” of religion also teach reincarnation, so there’s no hurry there. If we do “get it wrong” this time, we’ve got millions of years to thumb through the thousands of other options!

Speaking of thousands of options, there are also the various native traditions, but for the greater part they are more concerned with local deities and familiars to appease, in hopes of living a long forty years, than communing with the Transcendent.

Another tradition gives us one shot, with little positive hope. If you follow all the teachings, and always eat right and even become a renowned scholar in that religion, you still have no access to Paradise if their deity doesn’t choose to admit you. Some say the one exception is that if you kill somebody their deity doesn’t like, then you’re in. Unless, that is, either that teacher had his own ax to grind, or the older principle of “Thou shalt not murder” is still in effect! Personally, if I give up my life to gain a reward, the idea of that reward actually being there ranks pretty high on my chart.

So what does that leave? Of the thousands, there’s really only one book left, and it is actually the one most promising. The Bible gives us a history of God breaking into human history, time after time, to do good- to make Himself known to people. While we’re unable, really, to figure out our own surroundings, He comes in to reveal His own nature to us; and send His own Word as a Man among us to call us to Himself. If that sounds strange, maybe it’s from trying to condense a book the size of the Holy Bible into three lines, but the bottom line is that if God is the question, nothing less than God can be the answer. No religion can fit the bill: The living God becoming a Man to open the way for flawed and sinful folks like us to become His own, intimately beloved, sons and daughters crosses us over from religion to a whole new life!

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