General Observations:- In human society, religion is arguably the most powerful and pervasive force in human life. Some have suggested that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than of any other institution. Yet, in the end, organized religion is nothing more than a system of beliefs built around a particular idea of how things are. Unfortunately, when the religious ideas turn into dogmas and doctrines, they become largely unchallengeable, and cause problems that are almost impossible to solve.
- Many believers, particularly from the conservative wing of the world's religions, accept that complete knowledge of religious and spiritual matters has been revealed to humanity in ancient times through a holy book(s). However, most secularists and religious liberals suggest that we fool ourselves if we imagine that our present ideas about religious and spiritual matters cover more than a tiny fraction of the truth still to be discovered. We are not even at the threshold of our understanding of the ultimate mysteries. We are part of a reality which confronts us with questions on these matters, and we were given an intelligence which cannot rest until we obtain some answers to these questions. However imperfect and provisional these answer may be, we must not stop looking for them.
- Most people are not aware that the majority of the conflicting truth-claims of the different religious traditions, as well as their main doctrinal differences, concern answers to questions that are not relevant, questions that are not answerable, questions that have no answers, or questions that lead to circular arguments. On the other hand, topics that are really important are seldom discussed. This may be because the matter under discussion is difficult to deal with, or that we are simply reluctant to jeopardize outworn or vested interests. Together with providing wrong answers to right questions this practice leads to rigidity of thought.
- If there is only one truth, why should the messages given by the different religions be so confusingly different? Why should there be so many revelations that do not agree with each other, and which all bear the hallmarks of the time and place of their conception? Are the present religions just a phase of a continuous evolution toward one universal religion?
Swami Vivekananda commented as follows:
"Had it been the will of an all-wise and all-merciful Creator that only one of the great religions should exist and the rest should die, it would have become a fact long, long ago. If there were a fact that only one of these religions was true and all the rest were false, by this time it would have covered the whole world." 1
This statement, which evidently sees the plurality of religions as natural, has a serious flaw. It does not consider the time factor. i.e. can six thousand years be considered a long, long time for God, when there are billions of years of history yet to come?
- The spiritual basis for religious tolerance is the recognition of the common source of all the world’s great faiths.
- Among the basic human rights, the right to follow one’s conscience in matters of religion and belief is undoubtedly one of the most cherished.
- Our picture of the ultimate reality is influenced by an unavoidable selection effect – that of our existence. Our human mind always sees everything from a limited and hence incomplete perspective: It is most difficult to discuss any religious issue without taking sides. In this respect, consider the damage done in religious schools, where children in their earliest years are encouraged to view life through the prism of a particular religious doctrine and cultural prejudices, thus acquiring a biased view for life.
- We are better informed that our parents and grandparents were. We must use this extra knowledge. If we want to resolve some of the difficulties religions face, our deliberations will have to be brought down from the level of theological abstractions to the level of specific problems that are urgent and typical. Some help may come from philosophy, but the expectations do not seem to be particularly bright – by its very nature, philosophy is rather inconclusive.
- Religions rarely publicize their opponents’ true views, perhaps because they might be found persuasive. It is considered far better to put a spin on things oneself, to show how absurd the opposition’s ideas are, how problematic, how dangerous. Do we really know what the early Christian heretics, such as Marcion, taught when most of what we know about him is derived from attacks on his ideas by orthodox writers' ?
- There is a widely accepted practice, primarily in academia, to base answers to religious problems upon arbitrary definitions, debatable terminology, contentious assumptions violating the basic tenets of elementary physics, and untestable notions. So far, few object to this approach.
- Although universal religion is still just an utopia, a determined attempt should be made at the reconciliation of different systems of belief, which would leave room for intelligent disagreement.
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