Saturday, January 05, 2019

I've been pondering for several years about what makes one religion better than others, or one sect within a religion better than others. Of course, the lazy fundamantalist answer is "because they're wrong and we're right!" But seriously, what is the criteria?

Is it truth? To make a claim that our religion or sect has "the truth" is to position ourselves as being able to discern the truth where most others fail. That seems the height of hubris. Plus, the fundamentalist wing of every religion claims that they alone have the truth. ISIS adherents claim that they do. White Nationalist Christians claim that they do. Whack-a-doodle religion cults claim that they do. Etc., etc.

Is it meaning or purpose? Is that what makes a religion or sect better than others--that it imparts meaning to life? The problem with that is that, once again, followers of ISIS and White Nationalist Christianity and whacky cults derive a great deal of meaning and purpose from their religion. And many people with no religious beliefs whatsoever lead meaningful, purposeful lives.

Is it doctrine? In other words, how faithfully a sect adheres to "correct doctrine"? Of course, every religion and sect has a different opinion on what exactly "correct doctrine" is. If you look at the faith statement of Westboro Baptist Church, the doctrine they espouse is very traditional boilerplate Christian stuff (Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.). Yet most Christians shun Westboro Baptist Church for the egregious way they live out their doctrine.

And I think this gets us closer to the best answer I've been able to come up with for what makes one religion (or sect) better than others. It is morality--by which I mean how we live out the "Golden Rule" of treating others the way we would want to be treated (and avoid treating others the way we would not want to be treated). In other words, how does a religion (or religious sect) foster a lifestyle of intentionally seeking to avoid or minimize harm to others. How does it promote and orientation and actions of compassion, mercy, grace, inclusion, fairness, philanthropy, care, empathy, etc. Perhaps that's why the "Golden Rule" has been ubiquitous throughout history across religions and cultures. This is the core rubric of what makes a religion of value: Do the teachings and practices of a religion cause its adherents to be more moral in their intentions and actions, in the "Golden Rule" sense?

William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, wrote that, "True religion does not draw men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it." This "true religion" that Penn wrote about has no name. It is universal and perrenial and primordial. It can be found, in varying degrees, within or without any other religion or sect. I suppose the degree to which there is (or isn't) evidence of it is the degree to which any given religion/sect is better or worse than others.


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