I love answering questions for my readers. Not because it makes me feel smart, but because it encourages me to examine these questions for myself, and I always learn or discover something new. None of us is ever finished learning.
The questions in this post came from the general public via social media, and there were some wonderful questions asked. All of them took some prayer and meditation to be able to propose some good answers. I hope you will appreciate the perspectives offered herein.
- Murder in the name of religion, why?
- So many religions, which one is right?
- What did Yeshua mean when he told Nicodemus that he had to be “born again.”
Why do people murder in the name of religion, and does it make religion inherently wrong?
The exact question asked is, “if religion is so important why do so many people commit murder in the name of religions?”
First, I won’t dispute at all that murder is committed in the name of religion. It’s been true since the beginning of history, and likely even long into pre-history. Whether you’re talking about a lone sociopath killing people for misguided religious reasons, or the sociopath who has convinced the masses to follow them. We’ll focus on the latter.
Whether we’re talking about atrocities committed by Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, extreme cults, or other factions, there’s no denying that murder on a massive scale has been committed in the name of various religions. Even many sacred texts, such as the Bible, talk about genocides committed in the name of God or gods. Even the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, part of the longer epic poem, “The Mahabharata,” is about a war between cousins over a royal seat, and the avatar of Vishnu, Krishna, telling the main character, Arjuna, about his duty to war and kill as he describes the different Yogas; i.e., paths to enlightenment. Hindu, Christian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Incan, Mayan, Aztec, and cultures around the world all used religion in one way or another to justify war, murder, and sometimes even total genocide of an “enemy” people.
The key to understanding how and why religion seems to beget so many atrocities is looking at atrocities which were done in the name of other goals. One such example would be the Soviet Union, who murdered millions of priests and other Christians, as well as anyone else they thought was an enemy of their state. They were decidedly non-religious, anti-religious to an extreme. Now, it’s been argued that their absolute obedience to the state and the twisted version of Marxism used constitutes a religion in and of itself. Some people argue that the near deifying of Lenin and Stalin constituted a church and religion. However, there’s the crux of the issue; it wasn’t religious, but it used the same tactics of manipulation which sociopaths use to manipulate people through religion; thus, it appears religious when it isn’t.
Wherever you fall on the modern political spectrum, you can certainly see how easily people are manipulated into accepting atrocities. Globally, both in modern times and throughout history, we see how states and factions within those states manipulate the masses into doing awful things in the name of their country.
We might be tempted to take John Lennon’s ideas seriously when he sings about no religion, no countries, and a life of peace. We might think he’s on to something. However, if we do, we naively ignore the underlying factor; there will always be sociopaths, and people who will be manipulated by them. Government which truly serves the people is valuable, and religion which helps a person explore their inner light and be a better person, these are valuable and shouldn’t be tossed out just because people can be manipulated.
Politics and religion (almost the same thing at times, and sometimes exactly the same thing) are often used to manipulate people because they are philosophies and beliefs which reach our deepest thoughts, our core being, and motivate us based on principles. A clever awful person can easily twist those beliefs to their own desire and manipulate others through them. It doesn’t make the beliefs themselves bad. Sometimes, the person is just truly mentally disturbed and actually believes that what they are doing is right, but often they know that their story is bull and justify it as necessary.
If we got rid of religion and governments, all states and authorities, we would not get rid of sociopaths. We would still have people who manipulate others into doing awful things, and who do awful things themselves. We would still have people so desperate for guidance and leadership that they’ll follow any madman.
Our only hope is education, nutrition, and healthcare in general. I’m not proposing any particular political solution, nor social solution, rather I’m only saying that these factors are the core to making less gullible people in the world. Nutrition feeds the brain, good health is important to all functioning, and an educated and informed populace is less easy to manipulate. The three of these factors go together symbiotically, and cannot be separated.
There are so many religions, how do I know which one is right?
The specific question asked was; “WHY are there over 317 major ‘religions’? Which is correct? I kind of like Thor and Shiva, the Destroyer of Worlds. Works for me.”
The answer to the first part of this question is pretty simple: there are multiple religions because people developed in diverse areas, and because people sometimes have their own thoughts which disagree with established religions and form new ones.
Religion is human attempts to understand things way beyond them, and each person is going to come up with somewhat different answers. Even within the same religion, and indeed even in the same church building, you’ll find devout followers who strongly disagree with one another on some interpretation or another; even if they agree on what they consider to be the major points of their faith. It is actually through disagreement where discussion and learning begin.
So, it stands to reason, if people are geographically isolated, they’re going to come up with very different ideas about what is the Divine, and the nature of the soul. What’s more amazing is the things the world religions have in common, despite being developed isolated from one another in many cases. Perhaps that will be the subject of a future blog post; the commonalities between world religions, both past and present.
All the above addresses the “why” of the question, but the “which one” is a trickier thing to answer. So, I’ll turn to some philosophers from the past whom I respect; the Apostle Paul, and Rumi.
First, the Apostle Paul, a Philistine who converted to Christianity. Some even believe he studied pre-Zohar Jewish mysticism in some form or another. Definitely a religious philosopher, but while he believed Christianity was the right path, he didn’t think God abandons those who choose another path unless they do so knowing Christianity was the right path for them.
We get this message in the letter he wrote to the church in Rome, where it says:
14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. Romans 2: 14-16 NRSV
Now, to understand Paul, we have to understand what a Philistine is. They were staunch followers of the Law of Moses in the Torah, and were scholars and teachers of the Law of Moses. So, to Paul, the Law is everything. Of course, he later says Gentiles are under a new law, but he still thinks in terms of law. To boil it down, he’s essentially saying that good people who don’t know Christianity will still be saved, whatever his definition of a “good person” is (it’s elaborated on just a bit in this chapter, and much in later chapters and epistles.)
An even better take on it, I believe, is from the Sufi philosopher, “Rumi.” He tells a tale of an elephant being examined by blind men, or being in a dark room with many men. There are many versions of the story out there, but I’ll share one version from the internet.
“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “elephant is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.” (source)
The story is a perfect illustration of religions. The Divine is so far beyond our perception that each of us can interact with different aspects in different ways, and all be correct. Now, that doesn’t mean every religion is correct, but it does say there may be many ways to understand the same thing, especially something as big as the Creator of the Universe and all life!
I have long thought that asking the question, “which is the right religion,” is the wrong question to be asking. I think the more pertinent question is, “which is the right way to live.” Most religions have something to say about how one lives, and most encourage one to live in peace and harmony with one another. If your religion encourages selfishness and greed, it’s not a holy path and will only lead to your destruction. If your religion teaches compassion, love, community, and forgiveness, it is a healthy path which will nourish your soul.
Yeshua came to unite all religions. I know, that’s a controversial statement from many directions, but it is the absolute truth. Yeshua didn’t want a new religion, per se, though he did intend for his Apostles to spread his Gospel. His Gospel was about a new way of living, one which wasn’t all that new but has been taught to cultures around the world and all have forgotten. People get tripped up by legalism and judgement, and forget that the core message the Divine always teaches is to love one another and care for one another.
His intention wasn’t to replace these religions, but to fulfill them and bring them to a new light. He followed the dying/rising pattern of the Sun and grain gods for a reason; they prefigured him so that people from around the world might recognize him when he came.
When the first Christians from the west reached India, they discovered a tribe of Christians already living there. They claimed to have been taught by the Apostle Thomas. While the Thomas Christians of India today are quite different and more in line with other Eastern Christian churches, there are a few hard to find stories about the first encounter having them be quite different. Unfortunately, most of the information about their first contact has been lost or hidden.
Now, I don’t fault the modern Western or Eastern churches for the homogenization of Christianity. I think it’s a travesty which misunderstood the message of Christ, and was motivated largely by political greed. However, the modern church isn’t to blame for the sins of the past.
Because of political and cultural divisions, each religion is often led to believe it’s the only right way for everyone in the world. Not every religion teaches this way, but most do. It’s not entirely harmful, as a person sometimes needs to be assured they’re on the “right path” and most people can’t seem to accept that there are many “right paths.” However, as mentioned in the previous answer, it is too often abused by madmen and megalomaniacs to excuse war and genocide.
I believe that Yeshua (Jesus) should be a part of everyone’s path, because his message was universal; however, it is not for me to tell anyone else how to walk their path. If you read my first book, “An Angelic Journey Within,” I postulate that even atheists have their own spiritual walk, even if they don’t recognize it as such. They may not believe in anything spiritual or an organized Divine conscience of any kind, but they have their own journey through science and understanding the deeper things in a more scientific manner. Of course, religious believers can wonder at God or their gods through science as well. However, for the atheist it’s purely math and science, and that view gives them a unique perspective.
So, which path is right? I would love for more people to follow some form of Christianity, but I know that’s not how God reaches everyone. I don’t believe that God abandoned any culture, and each one understood the Divine through the lens of their culture, language, and environment. So, if you can find in your heart some appreciation of the universal message of Yeshua, I think you’ll be better off. Whichever way you find the Divine, I think it is an individual walk. If your religion teaches compassion, love, community, and forgiveness, it is a healthy path which will nourish your soul.
What does it mean to be born again?
In this case, there was no direct question asked. The person simply seemed to want to make a point, but within it is a question. These questions came from a thread on my Facebook author page which simply asked for spiritual questions. The person posted, “Jesus said to Nicodemus : ‘ ye must be born again’. The same thing must happen to you , unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of heaven .” Even though there wasn’t a direct question, it is an interesting passage to explore.
The passage in question doesn’t appear in the synoptic gospels, Mathew, Mark, and Luke, but only appears in the Gospel of John, in chapter 3.
The passage is:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3: 1-8 NASB
The passage is controversial, mainly because Yeshua never fully explains what it means to be “born again.” Nicodemus certainly didn’t understand, and when he says so (in the following verses) Yeshua just chastises him for not understanding Earthly things, much less Heavenly things.
To the modern Evangelical movement, the phrase “born again,” has become somewhat of a rallying cry. They believe that once you say a prayer accepting Jesus in your heart, you’re immediately “born again,” and become a new person in Christ. While I don’t entirely agree with their application of it, they’re not too far off from what I believe the passage means.
First, let’s for a moment set aside the reincarnation interpretation of this passage. It is remotely possible that Yeshua was referring to some hidden reincarnation doctrine, and many students of both Kabbalah and Cabbala have something of a belief in reincarnation. There’s even evidence that the Jews at the time of Yeshua believed in reincarnation. However, his Apostles would later teach that it is given for a man to die once. (Hebrews 9:27, see note ) So, while it’s possible the Apostles misunderstood him, they were human, or that they didn’t want to openly teach reincarnation to the masses, it is more likely that Yeshua wasn’t referencing reincarnation in this passage. If he believed in it, and there is evidence elsewhere he did, he probably wasn’t trying to teach Nicodemus about it.
Instead, Yeshua is talking about personal transformation which happens when you walk with God. Many religions have spoken of such a transformation, and it is akin to the path of becoming Bodhisattva in Buddhism. One who walks closely with God becomes a new person.
The Spirit which Yeshua referenced is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms a person to the best version of themselves. Of course, one doesn’t become perfect overnight, and indeed not within this lifetime, but one does become more compassionate, and can gain a deeper understanding of God, creation, spirit, humanity, nature, life, and death. One begins to live differently because one sees the world differently; with new eyes.
The Pentecostals take an even more extreme view, and also have the doctrine of “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I only mention it, because it can easily be confused with what Yeshua was saying about being reborn. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a different concept, which involves manifesting the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy and speaking or praying in tongues. You might be surprised to know that I do pray in tongues, and have for a long time; it’s not something I choose when it happens, but when prayer is intense the Holy Spirit will sometimes take over and I don’t know what words I’m saying. God understands. Being “born of the spirit” will usually lead to the manifestation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in some manner or another, and which gifts you get depend on which gifts God believes you can best put to use in His service.
At the same time, I don’t want anyone to think that just because they haven’t recognized any of these supernatural “gifts” that the Holy Spirit isn’t active in their lives. Not everyone receives the gifts which they or others would recognize as “supernatural.” The Holy Spirit works in each individual in the way that they need, and which will best suit their soul. If you gain even a little more compassion, charity, love, joy, or hope, then you have already received of the fruits of the Spirit, and that’s enough to keep you going and growing even more.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 NASB
Note on the passage in Hebrews:
The Book of Hebrews is somewhat controversial. No one knows for sure who wrote it. It was historically attributed to the Apostle Paul, but most scholars do not believe he wrote it. It is different in style and use of language than his other epistles. So, being of an unknown author, it is difficult to understand everything the author means; it helps to know something about the author and the situations from which they were writing. It is overall filled with many of my favorite verses, and I think it is a valuable text. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t take this passage as categorically denying reincarnation, but rather is meaning to talk about the time of judgment and the limits of this mortal life. It’s possible the author did also mean to deny reincarnation, but that also doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in it. The Book of Hebrews doesn’t give us much to go on to say one way or the other.