I know that this will appear to be both overly simplistic and judgemental. So be it. I still believe that you can describe the state of the world today on the basis of three basic types of people. Here they are:
- Those who worship a God of Love
- Those who worship a God of Hate
- Those who worship God’s Creation(s).
Worship a God of Love: This first group recognizes (and works to submit to) a God that presents an opportunity to reconcile man’s imperfection through a process of the giving and receiving of love. In effect: redemption offered in the (free will) exchange of one’s own personal grudges, hatred, and selfishness in order to humbly serve a God who, first and foremost, wants nothing but good for his family. We are to understand that the rejection of this offer will, sadly, result in death and damnation, but it is a uncoerced and freely chosen path.
Worship a God of Hate: On casual examination, this second group will often appear to be quite similar to the first. There are some significant differences, however; notably the true nature of the “God” in question. This “God” is, in fact, a cheap substitute for and the sworn enemy of the first God, offering only one threat: “submit to me or die”. This “God” justifies (and rewards) the hatred and grudges that humans often foster in their hearts and takes special care to teach that perfect obedience (often to appointed human authorities) alone will earn the believer a place in paradise.
Worship God’s Creation(s): This last group will, often as not, reject the existence of God altogether, but if recognizing the “divine”, will usually see it in themselves first, along, possibly, with the trees in their yard. This group often rejects traditional notions of good and evil, preferring to assume that any form of “judgement” is the source of all conflict and unhappiness. Redemption, if it is even required, can only be attained by the detachment from such notions and through a philosophy that embraces all roads to the divine within one’s self.
Religion Per Se: You’ll note, I’m sure, that I neglected to attach to any of these three groups the various doctrinal labels with which we are all familiar. That’s because, you’ll find adherents to each of these three groups in each and every one of the world’s “great religions”. Of course, I believe that, generally speaking, you’ll find more of the first group among the numerous Christian sects, more of the second among Muslims, and more of the third among the various “Eastern” and pagan religions.
But, even so, within your ostensibly Christian church, you’re likely to find all three. And, I doubt, very seriously, that you’ll have to look very deeply to recognize each and every one. I also believe that any who are earnestly seeking to join the first group won’t last very long in a religion that promotes the alternative paths. As C.S. Lewis noted, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.“
There are a great many reasons that I’ve chosen the Bible as my primary authority on the nature of our reality (and my place in it). These reasons are, I believe, both sound and true, if not always comfortable. But, having recognized that: a) a miraculous creation must have a miraculous creator (i.e. There is a God and I am not Him) and b) love is the greatest good; I must, therefore, choose to join the first group.
The thing that matters here, really, is that what is obviously expected from me is the denial of my own pride, my own selfish desires, and my own will. Love, after all, is necessarily sacrificial. No sacrifice, no love. Sorry.
Oh, to be sure, each of the other groups do engage in sacrificial acts. The jihadist bomber will give his life for his cause. The eco-activist will risk jail time to make a political point. The Buddhist might eschew worldly achievements. In most every case, and of their own free will, they will submit themselves to a presumed higher authority and, by extension, a presumed good.
But, only through close and honest self-examination will they know whether or not they are truly serving the cause of love. Will they give their life so that another might live, or only that their enemy will die? Will they risk imprisonment to speak the truth or merely to advance a political cause? Do they give out of compassion or to only assuage their sense of guilt? Do they live and work in the hope that others will be saved or merely to justify their own salvation?
In the distant past, it would seem that the distinctions between these various persepctives were a bit more cut and dried. It’s doubtful that many Scientologists or Hari-Krishna’s lined the sidewalks of Babylon. Yet, we are to understand that the essence of their beliefs were, none the less, well represented there. The essential choices we face haven’t really changed all that much. Do you choose to serve a God of Love or some substitute?