How to Choose a Religion V: the Search for Truth

The following story is absolutely true.

God and Terror in the Mountains

A friend of mine once worked for private detective agency. She took the job on a temporary basis, just to make a little extra money on the side. She didn’t sign up for any of the dangerous work; mostly she would just watch houses to see when people left, check legal records, that kind of thing.

One time, however, the situation turned ugly. In a remote area in the Rocky Mountains, she was watching a driveway from a safe distance when she realized that her quarry and his friends were stalking her with rifles. These were desperate men, drug smugglers; and they were skilled veterans of the Vietnam War. Realizing that the way back to her car was blocked, she headed the other direction, up the mountain, into the forest as night was falling.

childishpaganismThey chased her all night. Sometimes they were only a few yards away, and only the darkness saved her; other times, she stumbled blindly through the forest without knowing where they were, where she was, whether she had escaped, or whether she was walking right into their arms.

Now, my friend is a devout Mormon. On this night she never prayed; her mind was too filled with the necessities of survival, the need to keep her footing and move without sound. But God knew what she would have prayed for, and He answered her.

For example, at one point she was completely surrounded by her pursuers. They had located her by sound in the pitch black, and they’d arranged themselves in a circle around her. Step by step they were closing in. There was still room for her to dash out of the circle, but if she did that the noise of her escape would give her away. What she needed was rain: the noise of the showers would mask her flight.

Just then, it began to rain. She slipped away.

Later, she looked up the records of the weather for that evening. The sky had been cloudless for 50 miles in every direction, but one thin arm of a rainstorm far to the north had curled its way southward, drenched the mountain, and dissipated.

Another time, she was about to step off a cliff in the dark. A glowing cross suddenly appeared on the nearby mountaintop. She stopped to look at it, and realized what she had been about to do.

These were not the only times that night when God decided to give my friend a hand. It’s hard to say exactly how many times it happened — some things (like finding a tethered, saddled horse unattended and ready for her to write away on) might have been just luck. In any case, through some combination of good fortune and divine intervention, my friend made it to a safe house shortly after dawn. She had escaped, with her life intact and her faith redoubled. She has not pursued a career as a private investigator, despite the fact that having the Deity on her side would be an obvious advantage in such a pursuit.

Is it True?

Now, we, seekers after truth, what are we to make of this story?

Well, either my friend was lying, or mistaken, or telling the truth.

I will tell you immediately that she was not lying. She is the kind of person who never lies about anything. It would be as impossible for her to lie as it would be for her to suddenly start speaking Inuit.

She could be mistaken, of course. She certainly was under a lot of stress, and a small minority of people under stress hallucinate. On the other hand, people who hallucinate while being chased over a mountain by armed gunmen at night don’t usually live to tell the tale. She survived: which, to my mind at least, makes it unlikely that she was suffering from hallucinations. May we all be blessed with such hallucinations!

But that means she’s telling the truth. For those of us who aren’t Mormon, this presents a problem. If her experiences are true, then Mormonism is a true religion. If Mormonism is a true religion, then surely that means that all the others are false!

Other True Religions

Well, you’ll notice that I haven’t changed the name of this web site to “mormonjournal.net”. Here are some reasons why:

I know someone who speaks in tongues. While she is Christian, and Mormons have been known to speak in tongues, she is not Mormon herself.

I know people who have travelled astrally and met any number of non-Christian otherworldly spirits. While some of these people are, in a sense, Christian — the claim, in fact, to have met Jesus and other “ascended masters” in the astral realm — they are certainly not Mormon.

My mother, a practitioner of Zen, has traveled astrally many times and had dozens of precognitive dreams. Interestingly, she has never once met any spirit guides.

I have participated in Druid rituals in which the trees waved their branches and scattered their leaves even though there was no wind; and my children reported afterward that the trees were singing to them. Other druids have reported the same experiences.

I have, in meditation, spoken with half a dozen quite un-Christian beings (pagan gods and others) who have given me excellent advice on spiritual and practical matters.

My daughter has seen fairies. These fairies do not look like the ones in storybooks — they are odd-looking, naked, hairless, with strange wings. Recently we were telling a friend about this, and she said her daughter reported seeing exactly the same thing.

An older friend of mine has heard fairies singing in the woods around her home, and recently saw an Earth Spirit herself for the first time a few months ago.

I know a man who sees fairies on a daily basis. He gives workshops on how to do it yourself.

And this sampling, of course, is just from me and some of my friends. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people on this Earth have at least one experience during their lives that could be called “religious” — whether it’s recieving a message from one of the beloved dead, undergoing a rapturous religious conversion, seeing creatures that really ought not to exist, bleeding from the hands and feet, attaining — if only for a moment — true enlightenment, having a near-death experience, receiving healing from the hands of a shaman, etc.

How many true religions are there?…

Are All the Other 5.5 Billion People Wrong?

Most people (anyone who is not firmly agnostic) adopt a single worldview (a religion, a set of scientific theories, etc.) and assume that everyone else is wrong.

Set aside whether that’s egotistic; it’s flat-out unlikely. Suppose you subscribe to Roman Catholicism — a pretty popular religion; it has slightly over 1 billion members. This means that the rest of the world — we’re talking an additional 1 billion non-Roman-Catholic Christians and 4.5 billion non-Christians — are mistaken or lying when they report having religious (or scientific!) experiences that are inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. What are the chances of that?

The same argumentation can be used for any other comprehensive belief system, of course, including atheism.

To recap: everyone has religious experiences, and these experiences are frequently contradictory. It’s unlikely that everyone is lying or mistaken. So most of them are probably telling the truth.

But How Can That Be?

INTERVIEWER: Is Eris true?
MALACLYPSE THE YOUNGER: Everything is true.
INTERVIEWER: Even false things?
MALACLYPSE THE YOUNGER: Even false things are true.
INTERVIEWER: How can that be?
MALACLYPSE THE YOUNGER: I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.
Principia Discordia

The Parable of the Computer Newbie

Once there was a man who wanted to learn how computers worked. He went to his friend, who was good with computers, and begged for his help; and his friend told him many things. One thing he said was, “Make sure that you write a semicolon after every command you give to a computer.”

So the man did; and he learned to communicate with computers very well. Indeed, he could make computers do almost whatever he wanted. But then, one day, he saw another man writing a computer program. But this man never used semicolons at all. How could this be?

He asked his friend, and his friend said, “You numbskull. There is more than one computer language, you know.”

By now, you can see where this is going. Again, this post is getting too long; so in the next one, I’ll explain in depth: Languages of Spirit.

Links to other Posts in this series: How to Choose a Religion I: Intro

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post, as it connects with a theme that’s come up in my life more than once. With monotheism, I think the problem is most monotheists have forgotten that their god was originally a tribal god, just like all the other gods. So if we are talking about a tribal nature of gods, then it’s not only possible for followers of a monotheistic faith to have a ‘true’ experience with their deity, it’s also possible for this to occur without it having to mean that the gods are all one and the same, or that other experiences with other deities are ‘untrue’. It would also explain how this particular Heathen has had a vision involving Jesus and one of his angels. It would also seem to point in the direction that it’s possible to respect the gods and beliefs of others without actually following them.

  2. When you say “this particular Heathen”, are you referring to yourself? …I imagine that might have been unsettling! Have you written or blogged about that experience somewhere?

    Another pagan I know, Slade at Shift Your Spirits (http://www.1stpersonpress.com/shift-your-spirits/), describes a remarkable experience in which he (a Wiccan) was praying to the Goddess for health, and got the Virgin Mary instead. (He was cured, by the way.) He still is not a Christian, per se, but his belief system had to be revamped.

    One issue with viewing the gods and goddesses of all religions as tribal gods is that some of these tribal gods *claim* to be the *only* god. In this view, Yahweh isn’t the only god, and he knows it, but he claims otherwise. (Although of course the wording of commandments such as “no other gods before me” implies that other gods exist.) So if you accept that all gods exist, and they’re tribal gods, then you’re led to the position that some of these tribal gods are lying. It rather cuts into your respect for your neighbor’s religion if you believe that your neighbor’s god is a liar.

    Just to be clear, I’m not endorsing that view! 🙂

  3. Yep, I was referring to myself – and the vision was quite unsettling because it was far, far from what I would have expected. I have never committed the vision to text, only discussed some of its contents with people whom I felt had some knowledge of such things. And I think I can understand your acquaintance’s having to revamp his perspectives, as mine were also revamped (at least to the extent that I believed in Jesus’ existence); and like your acquaintance, I felt no compulsion or motivation to alter my belief in my gods at all.

    Your logic regarding the reliability of loner-gods only holds if one accepts the premise that it is in fact these gods who claim to be the ‘only’ ones…if these claims are made by politically-motivated human followers, then these gods aren’t necessarily lying. Even so, at least a couple of the Heathen gods lie (our gods never make the claim to perfection…nor do any of their followers try to make such claims for them, lol). Still, at least with the god of the Garden, I’m pretty sure that his claim to being the ‘one true’ god is the result of zealous humans.

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  2. […] disempowering. (”Trust Your Feelings” is a great intro post to explain why; also “The Search for Truth“.) Does that mean I’ve “outgrown” atheism? No. I’ve outgrown those […]

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