This is the second in a series. Part one is located at: My Journey
In that post I recounted my experience beginning a search for truth. What I didn't mention before, was that my reading included the writings of all the major western philosophers, with a big emphasis on Greek philosophy. During my conversations with the Jesuit Monsignor, this was often where our discussions centered. Although most Christian churches, including the Catholics will tell you that their doctrines are centered in the Bible, my questioning and searching have caused me to feel otherwise. It seems that in the first few centuries after Christ, many different factions sprang up, each with its own interpretation of how the Hebrew writings were to be viewed and what emphasis to place upon the different tracts that were circulating amongst those factions.
But before I go into that, I want to quickly review the questions that started percolating in my head, and that I ended up asking every priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, minister, devotee and the like when I would discover a religion or philosophy that I did not know. The purpose to asking these questions was described in my previous post.
1) Is there a God? That includes information as to the nature of God. My assumption was that there probably was not one, but should one exist, it seemed like God would want us to know that. I also assume that He would want us to understand His nature. A God that cannot be fathomed is not a God I can form a relationship with, nor that I can ever hope to please. It also seemed that the confusion I saw in the world was not something that a God would want. What about the problems of evil in the world? Who was the creator of that evil?
2) Does God have requirements for individuals? It seems clear to me that He would. If not, belief or non-belief would have no meaning. It is also important for me to be able to understand and meet those requirements. Are there rituals, ordinances and commandments I must follow? If there are, are there penalties for not following? Are there rewards for adhering to the requirements? How have those requirements been communicated?
3) What about those who never heard of him? It was very clear to me that if any one religion taught the true God, the vast majority of people would never have a chance to hear enough about Him and His requirements for us to make even a faint attempt at pleasing Him in their mortal lives. If a religion teaches that all people are created upon birth (or conception), then the number of souls eligible for whatever reward must be vanishingly small. That means that nearly everyone was destined to reap the penalties for not pleasing. This one question was usually the one to which most religions could never give me a satisfactory answer. To be honest, this was the one that became the most important to me as I spoke with people from different religions.
4) What's my relationship with God? If He loves me, why? If He's angry with me, why? Am I just an insignificant mouse running a laboratory maze for His amusement? Am I really His son that He loves as my dad loved me (albeit in a purer and perfect way)? Can I communicate with Him? Will He communicate with me? Why were there prophets in the Old Testament and the New Testament? Are there prophets now? On this one, the Catholics and the various Orthodox churches seem to say there are, in that they each have a head bishop (the Pope in the Roman church, the Archbishops of the various Orthodox churches) whom they recognize as the one to speak for God.
5) What happens after the resurrection? I found out later that I had to ask if the church even believed in a resurrection. But assuming one, just what happens? Is it an eternity of just sitting around praising, or will we be doing anything useful? As a person, I have an innate desire to contribute meaningfully, to be bettering myself. I would view an eternity of being nothing more than I was to be damnation, no matter what I had become.
6) What about my current relationships? Do the relationships I form in this life end up being meaningless? Is there a way for them to continue after this life?
Back to my answers. As I said, I found that many of the doctrines I have discovered in Christian churches are nowhere to be found in the Bible, at least not without some pretty serious mental contortions. For this post, I will ignore my concerns about how the Bible was determined and all of the different ideas of what constitutes the Bible in the several Christian churches. Suffice it to say, whenever I hear someone say that they just follow the Bible, I know that they no little about what that term actually means and how vague it really is. I may post on that later. From this point on, when I say "Bible", I will be referring to the library of books and writings brought together and accepted by Protestant churches (no criticism implied to Catholics, Coptics, Syrian, Orthodox and Aramaic Christians, all of whom have their own set of books in their Bibles). The biggest point I want to make is that just as writing down teachings may or may not be sacred, depending upon the standing of the author, so too does collecting a bunch of writings and deciding that this constitutes the library of the faithful. Both activities seem to be the exclusive territory of a prophet, one who is called to speak for God to the people.
To me, that means that anyone who teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was the last of the prophets and that no more were needed after His coming, is per force denying the Bible as the word of God. So, until the Bible was assembled (in about 325 AD) there was a need for prophets to put together that Bible. If there was a need for prophets until 325, why is there no need now? I find nothing in Holy Writ to justify a teaching that there is no longer a need. Anyone who teaches that is merely rationalizing a basis for their church, despite all scriptural evidence to the contrary. This view isn't just my own, I have read similar sentiments in the writings of many of the founders of the Protestant churches. They are usually using these thoughts to demonstrate why they can no longer follow the Pope, saying that the prophetic power left the papacy at some time in the middle ages. Putting that all together, for me, the typical Protestant position of sola scriptura (only scriptures) as authority is untenable, even without arguing about the many different interpretations of those scriptures. Add that to the fact that no Protestant preacher (pastor, etc) could answer my questions to my satisfaction, I came to the conclusion that I could not believe any of them. The pastors I spoke with were Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Assembly of God, Episcopalian, Seventh-Day Adventist, and a self-proclaimed "Jesus freak" (the 60s were a different time). None could give me good answers, particularly when it came to my first 3 questions.
So I decided, at about 18, that Christianity did not have the answers I needed. I still felt that I didn't know enough to have a free pass to quit living on purpose, so I started to look at non-Christian religions. I looked into Judaism, Nicheren Shoshu, Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam. In the end, all of these failed to give me a satisfactory answer as to why I would want to commit my life to following those teachings, as I outlined in my previous post. Nonetheless, I was still running into new religions and philosophies all the time, so I had not yet totally given up.
There was one night when I was feeling particularly lonely and morose, that I actually did attempt suicide. I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say, at the time I realized that my attempt should have been successful, but now I see that the hand of God prevented my success and I escaped with no harm whatsoever. About 3 days later, I met 2 men, one was a co-worker who belonged to the Watch Tower Society, and the other I met at the Student Union at the college I was attending. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had never heard of either of these religions, but I made the assumption that I would just as handily deal with their doctrines as I had all the other Christian religions. As a result, I didn't really put any effort into looking at either of these religions until I mentioned meeting them to my girlfriend, the daughter of the Baptist preacher with whom I had discussed religion. When I mentioned these religions, she said, "They aren't even Christian." That perked up my ears, and I knew I had to find out more about these two religions.
As it turns out, the Watch Tower Society essentially failed my concerns with what happens after resurrection, so I quit studying them pretty quickly (after about 3 weeks). But I found a completely different story with the Mormons...
7 years ago