Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

02 June, 2016

WHAT KIND OF RELIGION WOULD YOU CREATE, IF YOU COULD?

In a tongue-in-cheek jab at the widespread reverence for religion, the left-leaning aggregated blog site Huffington Post not long ago announced a “create your own religion” competition for its subscribers. The humorous publicity stunt asked readers to submit a description of their own invented religion, which would be posted to the site to compete for followers. The religion with the most followers was to have won.  I do not recall ever seeing a followup to the competition proposal...The challenge may have been far too complex and presumptive for followers of the thought-provoking and often controversial site.

Needless to say, however, this was a fantastic and lighthearted way to find out what the public might say, but it also forces us to wonder what people believe in their heart of hearts. While the aim of the Huff Post competition was obviously comedic, if you could create your own religion, what kind of religion would it be?
The Cosmic Christ 

The competition gave examples of some of the most instantly recognizable images and symbols of the world’s major religions and faith traditions, asking readers how their religion would stack up with the others. Some of these religions were ancient and revered, and others, relatively novel and controversial, encouraging readers to be inventive and consider the possibilities. “You’ve got the long hair, the nice bushy beard, and lots of beliefs, but you don’t have the 2.2 billion adherents worldwide” the description read, alluding to the religion founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ; “[o]r perhaps you’re chubby and like to sit cross-legged, but no one is making statues of you”, it also read, evoking images of the Buddha of eastern thought. Even Scientology was hinted at: “maybe you’re a mediocre sci-fi writer that wants people speaking your pseudoscience [sic]”. Essentially, what the competition called on readers to do was to create a distinctive religious brand and market it as the most attractive product in order to win the most adherents.

This was all very amusing, but quite honestly I actually gave this subject some naive consideration at one time (before the Huffington Post article)...I quickly came to the rational conclusion that there would be many mind-boggling things to take into consideration in creating a new religion. One was the type of god or deity to be worshipped, or would I keep the old one?  Would my ideal religion be monotheistic, polytheistic, atheistic, or pantheistic? 

My religion could possibly have a single male god, or perhaps a goddess. It might have a god as well as a goddess, or a trinity, triad, or similar combined form in which a single deity takes on multiple aspects. Perhaps we could have no god, a gender-neutral deity, or an entire pantheon of gods. Holidays and rituals are also important, since they set aside a place and time to practise your religion. Would sermons, worship services, and ceremonies be held inside a special building, at home, or in nature? What type of holidays could we have, what would they commemorate, and what kind of rites and sacraments would they involve? 

Perhaps most important of all is the set of beliefs, doctrines, and creeds that would provide a foundation to theology espousing a moral framework, or blueprint, for living life. Naturally, you would need to provide a statement of beliefs and policies regarding things like marriage, sex and love, salvation and atonement for sins, crime and justice, war, and the role of other religions.  Of course, these were just off-the-top personal considerations and they were only the tip of the iceberg, but nonetheless an eye-opening starting point for me. 

Not too surprisingly, I eventually discovered that I was continually being influenced by the Presbyterian denomination in which I was born and raised. After all, more often than not, an honest person will be able to name at least something about his or her religion that could be improved, and other aspects of it that are appealing and have served the test of time.  Bottom line?  I had to concede that there was much more to religion than just going to church on Sunday, and it was far beyond my simple mind to consider changing any of it, let alone create something new to attract followers. 

In subsequent years, I immersed myself in church doctrine and was dedicated to delivering messages of inspiration and truth to those who would listen. Sadly, I perceived myself as being ineffectual as a lay minister...Perhaps it was because I was not ordained in word and sacrament sufficient (in my mind) to be accepted by the handful of faithful sitting in the pews.  Then again, I may have lacked the fortitude to cope with church politics, of which there is an abundance. I came dangerously close to developing a complex and have since given up trying to rationalize it all. Today, I simply walk alone with what is left of my religious convictions.  I find it easier this way -- marching to the beat of my own drummer!

...And what about New Age thinking?

Meanwhile, I struggle to accept The New Age era which is based on concepts that sound almost irresistible. Like Eve, some hear the spiels of modern gurus like Tolle and Willamson and begin to think the faith of their fathers is too rigid, too narrow – that God would never impose an "irrational" boundary between us and "full knowledge of the spiritual realm."

Sometimes the lie creeps in subtly as Christians begin to research natural or holistic medicine – alternatives which can be very God-honoring but for years were shunned by Christians, thus becoming New Age territory by default. Or a doctor may recommend yoga or meditation to reduce stress. No matter how uplifting and innocent some New Age practises appear, Christians need discernment in these areas, just as at the seashore they need to know where the undertow begins.

The more we understand the distinctions between New Age religion and Christianity, the less vulnerable we are ourselves and the better able to address the confusion of people who may be – as I once was – earnestly seeking the truth.

What exactly is the New Age? Impossible to narrow down, the New Age is actually a vast smorgasbord of beliefs and practises. Each New Ager fills his tray with whatever assortment fits his appetite. All is liberally seasoned with self-centeredness. It's really a Have-It-Your-Way religion – thus its modern appeal.

Although there are many branches of New Age thought – ranging from meditation to fire walking – they stem from an ancient stock. The roots of the New Age tree spread around the globe to India. One might think that the desperate, degraded human condition of a land dominated by Hinduism would speak louder than words about the truth of the religion. But New Agers seem blind to the contradiction.

New Agers do not believe in evil. Therefore, they do not accept man's problem as separation by sin from God. Instead, they believe that each of us has forgotten his or her own divinity. Therefore, the New Age solution is to seek "higher consciousness" through meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, diet, crystals, channeling. spirit guides, and more. Each of these diverse practises has the same purpose: to awaken the god in man.

While these practises may seem too far out to pose much of a threat to those abiding in the truth, Christians need to be on guard. In the past 20 years, New Age influence has been steadily creeping into our culture in schools, corporations, and doctors’ offices. Since Star Wars, movies have become dominated by New Age spirituality. Reincarnation, karma, the cosmic consciousness – all these once obscure ideas have become commonplace.

A true understanding of New Age practises makes one thing clear: Eastern practises cannot be blended into Christianity to produce something better. New Agers are Universalists, believing that all paths lead to God. They fault Christians for being intolerant and narrow-minded. But God's word anticipates this: "Enter the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13, NIV)

The good news is that, in a way, the New Ager's broad acceptance holds the key to getting back on the straight and narrow. Most New Agers hold Jesus in high regard, believing Him to be a great spiritual teacher, or guru. Many study the words He spoke, although they put a different spin on them.

How can we reach those under such subtle deception? The answer is Jesus Himself. Since Jesus is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," He Himself can be the common ground on which the New Ager and the Christian can meet, though one stands in darkness and one in light.

And remember, God loves New Age seekers too!


It's the likes of me that I sometimes of wonder about!

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