November 7, 2009

Dogmatic Certitude

How many of you readers have found yourselves among a group of people who 'belong' to some religion or another, and just observed and listened to their chatter? If the people are true believers-- of whatever they call their faith-- they will exhibit certain traits that are held in common by all such cults, whether big or small. That uniformity in behavior, and often structure, can be puzzling to the objective and unfamiliar observer.

Probably the most striking characteristic that true believers manifest is that they are completely comfortable with the certainty that their religion has all the answers.
It doesn't matter what question of existence that you place before them; they unhesitatingly respond with the 'correct and only correct answer.' They alone, of all schools of thought, have the answer; all other responses are, therefore, incorrect or lacking in some way. After one has been thru this kind of situation a few times with different religious groups-- including some that appear completely different-- one can find it almost hilarious. At least it demonstrates some deeper truth about human nature and the perversity of human belief.

To give an example of what I'm talking about, let me state that I was raised as a Roman Catholic, getting the full treatment of catechism classes, the sacraments, priestly sermons, Latin masses, and so on. In those days, the RC Church had all the answers; they were found in the Church literature, or were handed down to the laity from the big guy, the Pope, via his hierarchy of clergy. Somehow (God be praised) I escaped the clutches of this General Motors of the religious world. However, I was still a prisoner of the notion of 'church,' and ended up in the camp of the Seventh Day Adventist organization. Now, here's a group that sets itself as a kind of religious insurgency against the RC Church, and has all the scriptures to back them up. Well, guess what? After almost ten years as a member of this group, I found that they are really much closer in general morphology to their designated adversary than they'd ever want to admit! Yes, it's true. Take away the ceremonial paraphernalia of the Catholics, and there are remarkable similarities in the attitudes of the clergy and of the parishioners... 'er, members.

By the grace of God, again I broke free of the benign shackles of Adventism. This time, tho, I was older and wiser; and twice-burned, I was not about to make the same mistake again. It finally dawned on me that a relationship with the Supreme Creator has nothing to do with huddling around with people who have developed a common dogma concerning the supposed nature of this unknowable Being. Far from it; these organizations inevitably become convenient vessels of the great enemy of souls, Satan, in his relentless and venomous campaign to destroy humanity. That, alas, is a consequence of fallen human nature. So I finally took responsibility for my own religious outlook, my own beliefs, and my own relationship with God. And, curiously, I found the answers and guidelines necessary in the same scriptures as do those big, organized things called churches.

But the phenomenon of 'religious isomorphism' is not restricted to Christianity. No, not at all. Over the years of open-minded pursuit of faith, I have fellowshipped with groups of various religious persuasions, including Moslems, Bahai's, and Hindus. Sure enough; each group is totally convinced that their system has all the answers. Some of them are fairly pushy in explaining their elaborate beliefs on all aspects of human existence-- from the creation of the universe, to the nature and fate of mankind, and everything in between... they all have all the answers. Of course, there's one small problem that the outsider like myself immediately realizes-- these groups often differ vastly in the details of the answers that they supply, yet they are all convinced that they alone are correct!

Well, 'duh!' They just can't all be correct. You can point this unsettling fact out to the adherents of any one of the myriad of sects... and it will have no effect on their thinking. No, they remain resolute in their certitude. God is clearly a Catholic for the Catholics, a Muslim for the Muslims, a million manifestations for the Hindus, Jehovah for the Witnesses, and so it goes. Once someone makes that commitment to a creed, he or she is highly reluctant to exercise any kind of free thinking-- what would their religious peers think? What about all the time and sacrifices they made to obtain this ‘final truth?’ They cannot even seem to exercise any imagination! They have to inhabit a fully determined world, where their group has all the answers, and no further thinking is necessary. Can thinking be so painful? Is life without all the answers so unbearable?

It stuck me that religions must attract the kind of personality that cannot cope with shades of gray, with uncertainty, with any doubts about the nature of existence and the universe. By the way; I hope the perceptive and unbiased reader can notice clearly that in this regard, even atheists who vigorously defend evolution and attack God, are themselves behaving exactly like the religious zealots I have described above! They are just as certain that they have all the answers-- at least the answers they need-- as the annoying religionists. I say to all these insecure personalities, 'What's so hard about admitting that there are many things about the cosmos that we just don't understand, and perhaps will never understand?' So what? We don't have to have 'all the answers' in order to live fulfilling lives, to make scientific progress. Why does every intentional group have to insist that they are 'right' and everyone else 'wrong?'

Well, I'm quite sure that each one of the religious sects can supply me with definitive answers to my rhetorical questions... But curse them all; I don't want their pre-packaged, black-and-white, rote responses! Probably each group has a little truth; but none has a patent on truth. And none is willing to admit it. Sadly, the whole world suffers because of their refusal to admit incomplete truth, and because of such restrictive views of reality. With their monocular outlook on world events, each group is doomed to miss things that other groups could teach them. The whole race is the poorer for this problem of the dogged certitude of human belief.

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