Don: All religions are right. All religions are wrong. Some religions are right and some religions are wrong. How can we tell? Who is to judge?
Throughout history, worship, ritual, seeking of the divine—religion, if you will—has been ever present. The history of religion in general is of new religions emerging from older religions. Buddhism emerged out of Hinduism. Christianity from Judaism. But some of the native religions seem to arise out of a respect or even an adoration for Nature and its profound mysteries.
A new religion emerges from an older one usually because someone sees a need for reform, for cleaning up error, in the old one. It is not explained, though, how the new religion impacts the generations that lived and died under the old religion. Did Jesus, for example, die for those who lived before AD33? What about all those who did not pray five times a day as prescribed in the Quran?
What does religion want? What is it trying to so? What should it be trying to produce? Should it aim to produce a better life in the here and now? Greater knowledge of God? Greater knowledge of ourselves, our origin, and our destination? The path to eternal life? All of the above? None of the above? What is the goal, the end-product of religion?
In the garden of Eden, the religion of God was fairly simple. God evidently sought to be in direct communication with Mankind. The prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was precisely a restriction on religious discrimination. It seems that God’s plan was to be in charge of religion. Man’s duty was to stay in touch with God. One might argue that eating the fruit was Man’s way of asserting his own control over religion, to discriminate between right and wrong, between truth and error, and to have divine insight into the mysteries of life. “Man,” God said, “has become like Us, knowing good and evil.” But knowing good and evil is not the same as knowing how to discriminate good from evil.
Since the Fall, God could have been much more explicit about religion. Why didn’t He write down all the rules precisely and unambiguously, so we could easily live by them? Why not correct this error in divine, dramatic ways—mountaintop declarations, highway billboards, and Internet popups telling us precisely and unambiguously what we are to do? Is it not irresponsible of God to leave us floundering? Does a responsible parent neglect to put his or her child on the right path?
Many people claim to know what God thinks, which writings are and are not His holy writings, what is and is not His Word. They claim to speak for Him, telling us what He wants us to do, to know, and how to behave. But when we ask God directly, ourselves, He is silent. Could His silence be on purpose? Might He not want us to know too much? Might He prefer thousands of religions over a single one? He would have good reason for supposing that a sinful, fallen people who knew the Truth of God might weaponize it and use it destructively, since we already weaponize what we think to be the truth and use it to destroy those who conceive of a different truth.
The Tower of Babel is a metaphor for religion:
Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)
This was an attempt to build a tower to reach into heaven; in other words, to reach God. Religion as we perceive it is all about our desire to penetrate the habitation of God. If Mankind were unified, there would seem to be no limit to his achievements, nothing to stop him achieving any goal. Religion is conceived and constructed by us. We employ technology in its construction.
But religion as God perceives it is not about Man seeking God; it is about God seeking Man. God came down to the city to find out what was going on with the tower-building. He did not sow destruction, as He did with the Flood. Instead, He sowed confusion. He undermined Mankind’s ability to build its own highway to heaven and weaponize the Truth by destroying its unity. By dispersing Mankind not just geographically but also linguistically and culturally, He dispersed the Truth.
We seek to understand the fragments of truth we retained. But what God wants is for us to know Him and for Him to know us.
‘“… in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15:8-10)
He also said:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
If any of my conjectures are true, then what is the value and the role of religion in life? Does it have a place, and if so what place? Historically it has been ever-present, with accompanying worship and ritual. What is its value if it we cannot (or can we?) delve religion’s ultimate Truth?
Donald: All religions are right, all religions are wrong, or some religions are right. There is a fourth option: Only one religion is right.
Religions are often identified on the basis of the behavior of their members. Those behaviors may change over the generations, but the identification remains unless the behavioral change is such that the religion fractures and splinters into groups, in an evolutionary process.
Adventists have 27 core beliefs. Do they include the 15 beliefs said to be fundamental to all the major religions?
David: To me, the fundamental question is: Is religion necessary and/or inevitable? If so, why? If not, then their rightness or wrongness is moot.
Donald: Religion, in some form or other, seems to have arisen wherever Man has come to exist, so it would seem either necessary or inevitable or both.
Jay: There seems to be divine intent behind our religious division, disunity, and confusion.
David: The line in the Babel story, that if Mankind were united “…nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them,” is the key line. Perhaps the problem God sees is that it would be a human unity, not a divine unity. It would not include Him. Religion promotes unity, yet succeeds in unifying only relatively small numbers of humanity. If we are to seek unity with God rather than with ourselves, we can do this individually, in the closet, as Jesus said. Thus, to me, religion’s role is secular, not sacred.
Jay: Since the Fall, humans have been incapable of the kind of total and lasting unity that would reflect the divine unity that is the will of God. Unless, that is, it could be achieved through the fundamental principles common to all religions. If religions could focus on teaching those principles and showing how to live a life based on them. That, to me, is what Adventism seeks to do. We may do it in ways different from other religions, promoting different habits and behaviors and so on. If all religions did this, then perhaps we would achieve unity in diversity. But if any one claims that itw way, its doctrine, is the only right way, it breaks down.
David: Suppose a global ecumenical conference led all the major religions to agree on the 15 (+/-) common principles and to abandon their different “ways”—their itty-bitty doctrines about the Sabbath, about eating only kosher/halal/vegetarian foods, about blood transfusions, and so on. Would that make God happy? In fact (if the scholars are not mistaken) the major religions already agree to the common principles. But they seem unable to abandon their detailed doctrines, and the devil is in the detail. My point is that even if they agreed on common principles AND abandoned their detailed doctrines, God would not be happy. It would be the Tower of Babel all over again.
Donald: We look for unity only in the context of our beliefs.
Robin: The disciples were united at Pentecost. What were they united in?
David: In Luke 10, Jesus said we are to love God and love our neighbor. In Matthew, Jesus seems to me equate the two when He said “The second is like it.” I.e., loving your neighbor is like loving God. It seems to me they are one and the same. You cannot love God without loving your neighbor, and you cannot love your neighbor without (whether you admit it or not) loving God. Thus, there is only one fundamental principle, not the 15 or 27 or whatever number our need for granularity pulls out of the hat.
Chris: Perhaps what we should be striving for is acceptance, not unity. We don’t have to be unified to accept someone. Jesus never asked everyone to be the same. He accepted them for who and what they were, not because they were like Him, or met certain criteria. I suspect God knows that since the Fall we cannot be unified, and He does not expect us to be unified. He did not intend for us to be fractured, but we are, so He changed His plan and aimed for acceptance.
Robin: I think unity comes through sharing the heart and mind of Christ. We all have different personalities, gifts, and talents, so we are never going to be in unison. He did not ask for unity, except the unity that would come through following Him. Unity is not about having minds in perfect alignment. That’s the province of robots.
Dr. Singh: Jesus said to convert other religions because they are not good. But He died for everyone. Jesus said he came to divide us, but we would be united as his followers.
Mac: There is a saying that religious people are afraid of going to hell but spiritual people have been there. Doctrines complicate things. Alcoholics Anonymous has 12 steps, with the goal of reaching a higher power. Adventists have 27. But in the end, love is all.
Donald: If unity were the goal, toleration and acceptance would be key steps along the way, yet we seem incapable even of those.
Robin: I know someone who, having read the Bible, decided that no church had interpreted it correctly. It was as if he alone were the only holder of the perfect truth. Such people are frightening. They foment contention, which is hardly conducive to a spirit of love. The Bible can be used to justify any mindset.
Mac: Like politics.
Anonymous: In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for the unity of the disciples. It was a unity based on love, not upon doctrine or religion or churches or titles. He also said that the world would know you as His if you love one another. His body is the church, the one true church. Doctrines don’t hurt, as long as we love one another. We must not just accept, not merely tolerate; we must love one another.
Mr. Singh: Salvation is not through the church, it is through Jesus. Unity is in following Him.