Saturday, January 15, 2011

What If Your Religion Is Wrong?

I choose to believe in a higher power, mainly because that's the smart move.

If I'm right, I tip my hat and strut on through those Pearly Gates into an afterlife filled with non-stop fun with my favorite people for all of eternity. At least that's my heaven, your results may vary.

If I'm wrong, there's no one to apologize to. It's just a sigh, an “Oops!” and a move on to the next thing (or no thing, if that's the case).

My god has an odd sense of humor. Or maybe one just so advanced that mere mortals are at a loss to explain it, other than to say that he “works in strange ways.” Among his best jokes are hammerhead sharks, college football's non-playoff BCS system and sex. (He never really thought we'd figure out that last one on our own … or if we did that we'd actually do it.)

But I think his very best joke is the invention of religion.

Now, I should be clear on this point … no matter what religion you believe in (or don't believe in) there is a chance that you are absolutely right.

However, given the odds, it might be a slimmer chance than you think. That's just the sort of thing that gives my god the giggles. You see, my god made the universe so grand and so overwhelming that it is impossible for humans to comprehend or even imagine. You know how dogs can't understand algebra? It's something like that.

The more we try to figure it out, the more fun it is for him. Each path we create to salvation and each bizarre practice or prohibition we establish to please him … pleases him.

And we just keep amusing him with our fervent shots in the dark:

There are 19 major world religions. These 19 can be subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups. Within these groups, there are 34,000 separate ones just within the Christian heading.

Here's a quick rundown of our Top Dozen Guesses:

Christianity: 2.1 billion
Islam: 1.5 billion
Secular/Non-Religious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
Hindu: 900 million
Chinese Traditional: 394 million
Buddhist: 376 million
Primal/Indigenous: 300 million
African Traditional: 100 million
Sikhism: 23 million
Juche: 19 million
Spiritualism: 15 million
Judaism: 14 million

It stands to reason that every true believer in a religion believes that religion is the one true religion. But simple math (not even algebra) tells us that the vast majority of the people on Earth who consider themselves members of a particular religion are just plain wrong.

That's hard to accept, and so sometimes people want to stress how strong their faith is by stating what they think is stronger than faith. They say they know.

This leads to statements like: “I know I'm being saved because I've accepted Jesus,” or “I know I will be with Allah by becoming one of his martyrs,” or “I know Zeus will smile down on me because I killed my third-favorite goat for him.”

What they don't realize is that knowing is the opposite of faith. Faith is believing what you do not know.

The strongest, most well-meaning faith that humans are capable of mustering doesn't change the basic truth: No one knows.

All this doesn't mean that people should run out and switch religions. (I have found that my influence on the world is substantially less than that, anyway.) But maybe just a little tolerance is in order. People whose beliefs are different from yours may be just as good and kind and faithful (and right) as you are.

As for me, I think I'll continue to put my faith in a god that knows how to have a good time.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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