Does this mean you won't be coming to our Passover seder next month? 8)
lol...your wife thought it hilarious that, according to the quiz, I'd rather be a satanist than a jew.
Catherine,Roughly 7 or 8 years ago, I went through something similar to what you have been talking about recently on your blog. At the time I was an agnostic, and wanted to find the TRUTH. I went in search of it with as few prejudices as I could and tried to study and learn at least the basic tenets of the major world faiths from their proponents. Ultimately I ended up Catholic (but that’s another story), but I am hoping that at least some of what I discovered might be helpful to you. At this point it’s impossible for me to be totally unbiased, because I’ve come to conclusions about the other religious philosophies, but I at least wanted to share the very basic framework that I see as the difference between many of them.As a starter, I’d suggest that if you are looking for a very basic understanding of a particular belief system, check out the articles on them in Wikipedia. While the articles aren’t always perfect, they are damn good.Eastern Religious philosophies:After a long study on these, I ran up against two major difficulties with the major Eastern philosophies. The first was that some of them are really not religions in the true sense of the word. The two that jump to mind that fall into this category are Buddhism, and Confucianism. Both are more or less moral systems that don’t have a strong need for, or sense of the divine. That’s not a criticism as such, just a statement of fact. If one is looking for a moral system, they are worth considering (they have much to recommend them, but also much that I personally would find troubling). But if one has a belief in the divine, this presents a problem.The second issue that I found that applies to Buddhism as well, but is more pronounced in Hinduism is the final end or state that they believe humanity is striving for. In Buddhism the term is Nirvana, and in Hinduism, it is called Moksha. The general concept is that this highest state is the final release from the cycle of reincarnation once enlightenment has been attained. The issue comes in that the end is attained by the annihilation, or the dissolution of the sense of self, the will. The word Nirvana actually means extinction. This means that the belief is that our ultimate destiny is really that of non-existence of the self. Ultimately, I couldn’t see how that is much different from non-belief. The end result is the same. Non-existence, oblivion. There are a number of other religious or philosophical movements that also hail from the far east…JainismTaoismZoroastrianism…to name but a few, that to one degree or another ‘suffer’ (from my current perspective any way) from the same issues.Revelatory Religions:There are another group of religions that we can group together. They hail from different parts of the globe, but all have a most basic and fundamental theme in common. These religions are all foundationally based purely upon the supposed revelation of a single individual (usually a man). There are probably countless numbers of these that exist, but the most common and well known are religions like Islam, and Mormonism (which has actually been called the Islam of the West).This puts everything to be believed in the trust that this one individual in question had a true revelation from God and not a self-delusional episode, or worse yet, commit a willing deception. Did Joseph Smith really find golden tablets that only he could read? Did these angels really appear to him? Did Mohammed really go into divinely inspired trances and converse with God and the angels? At bottom, it’s all about that one individual, and whether we can have any thought as to whether their particular revelation was legitimate. This puts far too much trust for my taste into the purely mystical experience of a single person.Judeao/ChristianFinally, the two that I ended up looking at and seeing as unique were Judaism and Christianity. While they also have elements of revelation in them, what is unique about them is that they are religions based in historical events. Christianity for example isn’t based in the revelation of Jesus. It’s based in the actions of Jesus and subsequently the actions of his followers. One need not accept the resurrection as legit (many skeptics don’t), but there is a claim there that at least we can look at, make sense of, weigh the evidence for, etc. We can look at things like the fact that his followers so adamantly believed that he was who he said he was, and that he did and said certain things (including rising from the dead) that nearly all of them went to their death rather than deny it. That’s an extraordinary fact. Yes, the claims are extraordinary as well in some cases, but at least there is something there to ‘handle’, to think about, to investigate. Did this man really exist? Did he really rise from the dead, etc. These are factual claim that are either true or false.The bottom line is that in both cases they are religions based in the history of God’s supposed intervention into human affairs as he tries to reveal himself to humanity (all of humanity, not just one man), and draw us to him. If there is a personal God, a real ‘divine’ that is more than the watchmaker of deism, it would make sense that this is how He would interact with humanity. He’d have to give us all ‘something(s)’ that is to some extent accessible to all of us (i.e. that’s where it seems the revelatory religions like Islam, and Mormonism fail as the revelations are not accessible to any but the individual in question). Yes, trust is needed. Yes, faith is ultimately needed. Yes, there are aspects of revelation that come into play, but there is at bottom, a basis upon people, places and events that either did, or did not occur, not on the purely mystical experiences of an individual.The claim that Judaism and Christianity make is quite amazing, but also utterly unique among human religious movements. It is a claim that the First Cause of all existence is directly inserting himself into the events of history in order to overcome the breach between He and we that was caused by our desire to make ourselves gods. No other religions make even a remotely similar claim. No other religion is even a religion in the same sense.G.K. Chesterton wrote a wonderful book called the The Everlasting Man where he discusses a lot of this in some detail. This book was instrumental in C.S. Lewis’ own conversion from atheism, and is well worth a read. I think you might enjoy it, or at least find it somewhat edifying.Now, there’s still so much more to say (Why Christianity and not Judaism? ‘Which’ denomination of Christianity?, etc.), but that’s probably plenty to digest on comparative religions for one post. God's Existence:I’ll only touch on one further subject that I think might be helpful in all this. The issue of the existence of God Himself. I am going to borrow a comment I wrote over at another while trying to illuminate this issue a bit for a friend. It draws heavily on the work of Frank Sheed (Theology and Sanity), who himself draws heavily on one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ 5 proofs of God’s existence. If we consider the universe, we find that everything in it bears the mark that it does exist, but that it might very well not have existed. You and I exist, but might not have had not our parents met and mated. That same mark is on everything. A particular rock shape exists because it was shaped by a river that took a certain path because some ice melted and ran this way instead of that. If not for the first thing, the rock shape wouldn’t be as it is. And so it is with all things we encounter. They exist, but would not if some other thing had not been what it was or done what it did.None of these things then is the explanation or the source of its own existence. In other words, everything’s existence is contingent upon something else. Each thing exists, and can ‘pass on’ it’s existence, but it did not originate it’s own existence. All things are essentially ‘receivers’ of existence.Now it is inconceivable that Universe could exclusively consist of contingent beings, or only of beings that are receivers and not originators. To argue otherwise is to hold to a flat contradiction of the terms and is thus an impossibility. If nothing exists except things that receive their existence, than how does anything exist at all? In that sort of system, one being may have got existence from another and that from still another, but how did existence get into the system at all?For those who claim that there are an infinite number of receivers of existence, they still have not accounted for existence having come about.We are driven to see then that the beings/things in our experience, all of which are contingent, COULD NOT exists unless there is also a being/thing which differs from them by the fact of possessing existence in its own right. It does not have to receive existence, it simply has existence. It is not contingent, it simply is. That is the being we call God.Let’s push this further and consider some of the consequences of what this means. We have now arrived at a being, whom we call God, who is not, as all other beings are, a receiver of existence: and this satisfactorily accounts for their existence-they have received it from this Him.Now of course you should and will ask, what accounts for God’s existence? Not, who made God? Because to make anything is to confer existence on it, and that would simply put is back at square one as the being would then be simply another receiver contingent on something else. But it is right to ask what accounts for His existence. Now if God exists not because of any other being, for God is the source of all being, the reason for his existence (since it is not in anything else), must be Himself. This means there is something about what God is which requires that He must be. What a being is, we call its nature, and we can then restate this as saying that there is in God’s nature something that commands existence. In other words, God’s nature is such that He must exist.Consider how vast then the difference between God and all contingent beings. They may or may not exist. God must exist. He cannot not exist. Their nature is to be ABLE o exist. God’s nature is to exist. They can have existence. God IS existence.I’ll stop there as that’s the fundamentals of Aquinas’ thought on the topic, but much more can be said. I hope I haven’t become overbearing, or worn out my welcome, but you seem to be seeking understanding, and you seem to be open to hearing other's thoughts, so,well....there are some of my own.I also need to stop because my fingers are tired. ;-)You are in my daily prayers.God Bless
Jeepers Creepers SteveG, what a comment!! Even looking at it makes *me* tired LOL.A new principle of life, Cathy -- when in doubt, just take an online quiz!
Yeah, what Steve said. He has some good points. I am not smart enough to write it all out. Or maybe my head just hurts? I too am on a great quest... Yes, even we Christians doubt and question. ;) I always pray that I will find the truth, what He wants me to find.
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