I’m wondering what those who cling to a religion or a religious belief would do or even think if they suddenly discovered that a core part of their belief turned out to be untrue. Using a non-religious situation as an example, if a woman fell in love with a man because she thought he was very rich, then found out that he wasn’t really rich, would she still love him? Or if a man fell in love with a woman because he saw her as beautiful and sexy, and then found out that it was all plastic surgery, makeup, and a great wardrobe, would he still love her?
People obviously have the right to improve themselves in any way they feel they need improvement. Who are we to judge what our neighbor thinks needs improvement in his own life? And if someone wants to give the illusion of having more of something in his or her life than he might actually have, if even for the possible purpose of making himself more initially desirable to another, I have to agree with what someone once told me when it comes to winning the heart of another: first you have to get their attention.
Now, when it comes to religion, consider that if one is trying to win over converts to a particular religion or religious way of living, one also has to first get their attention. If one has been living wild and free and not giving a fig for anything but one’s own pleasure — or even living piously and in denial because that is what one’s religion required — what would lure that person away from one set of beliefs over to another? Might it be more “security” for gaining a place in heaven? Having God (by any other name) on one’s side as opposed to the enemy’s side? The assurance of some amazing or wonderful rewards awaiting you upon death? Or might it be a way to alleviate the overwhelming fear of eternal punishment?
In the early days of Christianity, compromises were made with pagans to get their attention. Those compromises didn’t seem to hurt the core beliefs, and they won converts. But over the years, as core beliefs became more crystallized and differences between one believer and another became more obvious, the gulf widened and the word “believer”
came to mean different things to different people.
Let’s face it — if we’re brave enough to face it or wise enough to acknowledge it — people do not just show up on this earth ready-made and good to go, with their belief system all laid out for them. They need some kind of nurturing and support from someone or many someones from birth forward to learn and grow and thrive, even though we know that some never quite thrive. As we also know, what some learn won’t even contribute to their own betterment, let alone the betterment of the human race. Babies and very young children cannot know that what they are being taught, or what they are learning, is not for their own good. Sad to say, they are sometimes taken advantage of and “used” for someone’s ulterior motives. We might expect adults to know better, but so-called brain-washing and strong influences exerted by those in a superior position of some kind, can even lead adults astray or into strange worlds of thought and behavior.
Anyone, from parents to teachers to religious leaders, who is in charge of others — from babies to children to adults — has a great and grave responsibility to teach what is true to the best of their knowledge and ability, to not cause them any harm, and to help them go forward on their own as thinking individuals. To teach falsehoods, to cause or perpetuate or allow unnecessary and outrageous harm to one’s students or to those with whom one’s students will interact, and to
keep individuals as slaves to a particular dogma for one’s own purposes, is to commit the horrible acts of defiling minds, deforming bodies, and even destroying entire human beings — keeping them from becoming what they could be or were meant to be, or changing them into some kind of “molded monsters” to act in accord with the dictates of their “masters” for some ultimate and, dare I say, ungodly goal.
So I’m wondering… if a person “believed” a certain set of “truths” and subscribed to a certain religion because of believing that set of “truths,” would that person still adhere to that religion if one of those core beliefs turned out to not be true? For example, if Jesus did not die on the cross “for our sins,” but died only because the natural course of events led to that, considering what was in the hearts of his executioners of that day, would those believers in the “atonement’”not love Jesus just as much? Would they turn their backs on Jesus because he “only” lived for us, and taught us how to live, and did not do something that his disciples claimed he did and that so many just automatically believe he did? And what if Allah really was a loving god, not a warring god, and never intended for those who believe in him to kill all those who didn’t believe exactly as they somehow came to believe they HAD to believe? What if…? and we can all go on and on with questions in that vein.
If we do not question certain beliefs — handed to us from our parents, our teachers, and our religious leaders — how can we ever claim to be thinkers and believers of the highest truths? Are not our parents and teachers and religious leaders also human and fallible, just as we are? Might they not be teaching only what was handed down to them?
Isn’t it possible that somewhere along the line they — or all those before them — got it wrong?
Truth is way more than tradition and does not have to conform to any standard but truth itself. Truth does not belong to any one person or any one group or organization or religion or nation. Truth, as is evident, does not suffer from close examination. Those who would suggest that only they have the truth, or that the truth is some kind of secret only revealed to a certain few, or that those seeking the truth must be part of a certain group to be sure of getting it, are
all hoping to keep seekers from looking behind the curtain that they themselves have hung.
Religion should not be one of those subjects that is on the “forbidden” list of things to discuss in public or even among friends.
And when I say “religion,” I am referring to religious truth as we experience it or want to explore it in order to answer our most pressing lifelong or even recent thought-provoking questions about God and “what’s it all about?” Perhaps someday more people will feel free to explore their handed-down religious beliefs and finally allow themselves to step away from the painful, hurtful, or hateful beliefs they have been following that only contribute to someone’s control
over others and their display of power. Surely God did not create us (however you want to word it) to torture each other and hate each other, or even to torture and hate our own selves.
Hopefully readers, especially those who like to ponder, will ask themselves this very simple question: Which would I prefer? To go on believing exactly as I do now, or to know the truth?
We’ve heard that confidence eliminates fear. If anyone is afraid of knowing the truth, it can only mean that one is concerned they might not really know the truth. So ask yourself, “What if…?” And if it turns out that you’ve been following something that doesn’t ring true, remember the words of Shakespeare, through his character Polonium, in Hamlet: “This above all — to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.