Growing up, we have a intuitive sense of wanting to belong or fit in. The emptiness in our hearts says that something is missing in our life. That dormant desire for acceptance gets cultivated into full blown beliefs, usually inherited and taught to us. We believe in things like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Jesus, all at the same time. Being as impressionable as kids are, we believe all the teachings and myths as part of our nascent efforts to belong. Ironically, Santa punishes bad kids and Jesus punishes bad people; they both reward good behavior. After totally accepting them all as absolute truth, we are told that that the Tooth Fairy and Santa are actually fairy tales and myths, yet the other should be regarded as real. As a not-so-impressionable adult, we spend years seeking the truth of that final myth, which offers us no more concrete evidence than the other two.
The point I wish to make is this: many of us hold on to to beliefs not grounded in absolute truth, as long as it work for us. We blindly accept what promises to ease our burdens or solve our problems. As long as it provides relief and a sense of certainty, no ultimate reality is necessary to reinforce the habitual belief. It is only after people don't find the relief they are after, that they seek the greener pastures of another "truth" that works for them. The current hoopla around marriage equality is an opportunity to examine our own truth. Many who lament that marriage is being redefined, have themselves created their own definition, one they wish everyone else to accept. Using the term "marriage" as opposed to "loving committed relationship" seem to be what drives opponents of equality bonkers.
It is with this habit of manufacturing "truth" that we created a God to bring comfort to chaos, and bring purpose to life and death. In order to offer instructions for the masses, we developed religion to placate the God we created to explain what we could not understand or control. Then, we wrote the Bible to sanction the religion that placated the God that we created. Next, religious leaders would be sanctioned, to interpret the Bible for those of us annoyed by its complexities and contradictions.
Those of us who have invested our lives seeking to understand what the Bible meant to its original audiences, and what it should mean to us today, have used academics to challenge religious leaders -- who interpret the Bible that explains the religion that placates the God that we created.
I am the first to admit that although I've read quite a bit of the Bible, I'm just as clueless as before I read the first word. All the contradictions and two-sided talk disheartens me greatly as I've strived to make sense of the confusion. From the perspective of the Bible, the existence of the divine is not a question. But the Bible can't help but pose the questions: If God is all-powerful and benevolent, why is there evil in the world? If God is just, why do the wicked seemingly prosper and the innocent get persecuted? Where is God in the presence of suffering by innocent children? What is the difference between accepting the beliefs of others and our own free will? The very fact that the Bible raises these questions invites those who read and accept it to do the same. Not for the benefit of others, but for their own.
Throughout history, the Bible has been used as a weapon to falsely embolden our own beliefs and force them upon others. Consider the impact that other people's arbitrary interpretations have on your life today: The Old Testament in the Christian Bible is based on the Tanakh, which is the Hebrew Bible. It has been altered throughout to support the teachings of Christianity instead of Judaism. Adding further confusion, there are countless versions of the Christian Bible, each one with different translations and interpretations. Passages are often materially different from one another.
The bottom line is that no matter what our beliefs are, they are often based largely on interpretations handed to us by others. Sometimes those beliefs resonate with our own internal truth, and sometimes they don't. Regrettably, we often hold beliefs that we ourselves don't believe at the core.
Before Copernicus, schools and universities taught that the universe revolved around the earth. Copernicus rebutted that theory and clearly showed it to be false. For more than 200 years, the church placed his writings in the index of prohibited books because it countered the prevailing thought that the earth was the center of the universe. Prevailing opinions can be explicably wrong, no matter how accepted they are by society. The rewriting of textbooks would have been insulting to respected educators (today, preachers) who spent their lives teaching erroneous "truths." Even worse, people would have to rethink long held doctrines and beliefs.
One of the most self-defeating habits is the tendency to compare ourselves to others: comparing physical appearance, material possessions, personal life, romantic relationships, career and many other attributes. This habit of blindly accepting passed down, dogmatic beliefs will always stand between us and our authentic selves, distracting us from being fully present and engaged in life in the most meaningful way.
We must seek those quiet spaces in our life that are safe for vulnerable explorations of meaning. These spaces are not found inside physical institutions or places where demagoguery slays reflective, rational and factually grounded discourse. In short, we must take the risk of thinking for yourself.
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