If you read the summary of this series available at Shift Your Spirits, you saw the list of ways you should not choose your religion:
DON’T choose your religion based on details like food.
A ritual is participatory drama. If the drama speaks to you, resonates with you, it’s a good ritual. If it provides yummy calories, that’s completely incidental.
DON’T choose your religion based on convenience.
Life isn’t supposed to be “convenient”, and a convenient religion is one that doesn’t challenge you enough.
DON’T choose your religion based soley on your community.
If you’re becoming a Christian (or Satanist, or Buddhist) to make your parents happy, you’re just doing it for them, not for you.
DON’T choose your religion based on spite.
If you are becoming a Satanist (or Christian, or Buddhist) to make your parents angry, you’re still doing it for them, not for you.
DON’T choose your religion based on fear.
“If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell!”
“If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, you won’t get any presents!”
Grow up, people.
DON’T choose your religion based on guilt.
You can’t reach the kingdom of heaven if you’re standing there kicking yourself.
Don’t choose your religion based on the search for “truth.”
It’s a noble purpose, but it’s a red herring.
In this post I’m going to look at a couple of these in a little more depth.
Don’t get me wrong — community is one of the great reasons to join a religion, as I pointed out before. Community is an integral part of any religion. But choosing a religion in order to join that religion’s community is not a good idea.
It’s very common for a husband or wife to switch religions in order to please their spouse. This is a terrible idea — unless the person who is switching isn’t particularly attached to their original religion. In this case, the person isn’t really switching religions so much as switching labels. There’s nothing wrong with that, except insofar as you are saying you are religious when you’re really not. If you were really religious, you would be unable to switch just to please someone else.
People descended from European colonizers frequently find themselves attracted to indigenous religions. (I’m one of those myself.) One must be careful not to confuse the desire to adopt a belief with the desire to be adopted by a community of believers. Descendents of colonists may find themselves respulsed by the actions of their ancestors (with good reason), and feel shame themselves (perhaps with reason), and hope (consciously or not) that by joining a community of indigenous people, they can assauge their guilt. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
I am amazed at how powerful the fear of hell is. I have had full-grown, thoughtful adults tell me in all seriousness that their belief in Christianity is completely logical, with this reasoning:
1. If Christianity is wrong, and you believe anyway, then when you die, at worst you feel a little embarrassed. If you don’t believe, then nothing bad happens in any case.
2. If Christianity is right, and you don’t believe it, then you go to hell. But if you do believe it, you go to heaven.
This reasoning betrays a complete misunderstanding not only of religion, but of Christianity itself. Christianity, in its best form, is about love and selflessness; if you are a true Christian, I venture to say, you would love God and Jesus even if your reward were eternal punishment. The love itself is its own heaven on Earth, or wherever else you happen to be. Choice of religion is not like picking a stock or an investment; it isn’t a decision you make just with your head.
There are other fears that can drive one to a religion — fear of being rejected by a community or a loved one (see above), fear of the alternatives (what if all the others are worse?), and simply the fear of being wrong (this can be what drives people to atheism or, worse, agnosticism).
Any decision based on fear is one that will eventually have very unpleasant consequences. Make your choice from a position of strength and courage.
The Search for Truth.
Arguments about Christianity (and, to a lesser extent, other religions) often revolve around whether the religion is true or not. Is it true that Jesus was the son of God? Is it true that his was a virgin birth? Is it true that the universe came into being about 6000 years ago? Is it true that Jesus conspired with Judas to orchestrate his own death (as it states in the newly-unearthed Gospel of Judas)? Is it true that you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe these things? Is it true that all earthly life is essentially bound up with suffering? Is it true that you are sent straight to heaven if you die fighting infidels? Is it true that the first man was formed by a rabbit playing with a blood clot?
The answer to these questions is, of course, yes. But this post is already too long, so I’ll have to explain myself in the next post.
Links to other Posts in this series: How to Choose a Religion I: Intro