I read a review of a book on Goodreads last week, in which the person commented that people believe religion because it’s easier to rely on what others tell you to do – a prescribed set of rules that allow you to not have to think for yourself. Here’s part of what they wrote:
There is a certain appeal to having no choices. Sometimes religion is comforting because obedience to a provided list of rules removes personal responsibility. Strict adherence to a religion removes personal doubt. When you believe so fully in a church, you are no longer forced to question your own actions– after all, if you carefully follow the directions of your spiritual leaders, you will gain your own paradise, regardless of what your personal conscious says about right or wrong.
It seems clear from this that the commenter has never actually been part of a religion, because she misconstrues what it means quite completely.
Having no choices? Obedience to rules removes personal responsibility? No questioning of your actions? Ignoring your conscience?
These are all opposites of the reality. As any religious observer knows, adherence to a religion is demanding. Keeping to ‘a set of rules’ is hard – let alone keeping actual commandments from God, which take you away from mainstream society and require you to live differently. Not following the crowd is much harder than doing what everyone else is – acting against all the messages secular society gives you, and the people ridiculing or not understanding what you do and why.
Obedience is a choice. Obedience to God – to eternal laws – is a repeated choice that has to be made against one’s own natural mind, by listening instead to one’s spiritual senses. Staying on a path of discipleship is an exercise in constant correction, self-awareness, and deliberate faith.
Your conscience is your biggest concern in these conditions. I’d say we listen to our consciences way more than those who don’t believe in God and eternal law or life. We know that what we do has eternal consequences.
She also asks these questions:
– Is faith the opposite of reason? Is education the cure for religion?
– Is religion a distraction from the humdrum of our everyday lives?
True faith is logical. (I thought I’d written about this before on Peaceable Treasures, but I checked and it turns out I haven’t! I’ll have to write about it in the future.) But logic or reason isn’t the only way of figuring out what’s true. Sometimes, it’s antagonistic towards truth. This is because when you talk about logic/reason, you’re relying on what the human mind considers sensible. That goes a long way, and is very helpful – more so in certain situations. But truth is much, much larger than what the human mind can conceive. We make mistakes and realise it later. We think we’re acting logically, and later learn that we were influenced more than we knew by our emotions – and our experiences and convictions. We’re flawed creatures. We do our best, but any person’s best is only what they’re capable of at any time. So our logic or reason is also flawed.
In fact, the only thing we can fully rely on is the light received from God, through the Holy Spirit and our consciences. Faith is relying on something far more sure than human reason alone. Education being the ‘cure’ for faith is both sad and funny. Education, too, is dreamed up by men. (When I say, ‘men’, I mean humankind, here). It’s very useful, but only as far as it’s understood to not be complete or absolute. We can teach each other what we, and others, have learnt; but our potential to do so only extends as far as our imperfect knowledge of reality. You cannot teach me about God if you know nothing of Him. Similarly, you cannot teach me that He doesn’t exist if you know nothing of Him. You only know what is not Him.
Religion is not a distraction from everyday life. It encompasses it. It gives a reason, a background, a meaning, for it. It infuses it with purpose and hope. Everyday life is not the end (purpose or meaning) of our existence. It’s a function of our current state. To focus on it and accept that it’s all you get is to ignore the vast ‘ocean of truth’ around us.
I think that not believing in God, not adhering to a religion, is easier – in the sense of not having to make a choice that’s actually very hard and potentially scary. I think people do it because they are scared. As Scott Peck so insightfully explained, people avoid God, and the truth that He is leading us towards Himself, because it scares them out of their minds. Who are they to attempt such a goal, such a demanding journey? What terrible things would it require of them? How relentless that pursuit would be!
On the other hand, to not believe the testimony of all that is around you – nature here on Earth, the goodness of people to each other, the stars and the mysteries – gradually revealed by scientific enquiry, or more quickly by direct revelation from God to man – of the universe, the fortuitious ‘coincidences’ of regular life – must be harder than to accept that God is, and that we are part of His plan. Not only part, but the purpose of it: our growth into our full potential, along with all life. It must take deliberate effort to turn one’s eyes and heart away from all that evidence. So in this sense, yes – it is easier to believe in God. Because He really is, and to accept that means not having to deny it to yourself all the time.
But the path of belief is not easy. It’s a courageous choice. The hike up Mount Horeb (for Moses and later others) wasn’t easy, nor was defying a pharaoh to free a nation, or to keep to the commandments of a God who demands the hearts of men, instead of giving in to natural desires. Adhering faithfully to any religion is difficult. Living the Gospel of Christ – true religion – is also an invitation to more. A grander, more beautiful, more meaningful and expansive existence. As the Lord said to Nicodemus, that greater view can’t be seen without the desire to see it – without the help of the Holy Spirit, who testifies of truth to our souls. Once you have seen it, of course, you need to take the logical next step of living according to this grander vision, aligning yourself with God (through baptism, the cleansing and ratifying power of the Holy Spirit, and further covenants). And, as Paul taught, spiritual things are spiritually discerned – they can’t be understood with the Natural Mind.
Religion is not an escape. It is a hope-filled, purposeful, difficult, ennobling path towards all that man can be, through the omniscience and omnipotence of God, who sees, governs and encompasses the infinite grandeur of life, light, and truth.