by John Stahl
I have been interested in philosophy and religion all of my life, since my father and grandfather were Methodist ministers, and my father was also a professor of philosophy. However, by the age of six I just could not fathom the mysteries of religion. I could not comprehend the infinite. My first question was formulated as, “Where does the sky end?” I realized that the question could have no answer, yet to “go on forever” did not satisfy me either. “Where did the world come from? . . . But then who made God?”
I could not answer these questions, but I could not accept my father’s answers, either. From that time I began to make a study of philosophies and religions from all sources, both traditional and “occult” (Hermetic alchemy, the Kabbalah, the I Ching, etc.). Well, after a lifetime of study, I have finally worked out answers to these questions, listing as my principle sources of inspiration Hermes Trismegistus, Lao Tzu, and Pythagoras.
But today’s topic of interest is Faith. In a previous article (Is Religion Good or Bad?), I have detailed some of the reasons why, in general, I am against formal professions of religious belief, as I consider them to be more productive of harm than of good. It would seem to me that anyone with a serious grounding in a spiritual way of life or a religious belief ought to be led inexorably to higher ground, and his life would gradually approach that center of clarity, love, and joy that I have described in previous articles. However, it appears that, for most people, the profession of a religious belief is simply the basis of separating everyone in the world into Believers and Infidels, as an excuse to go to war against the Infidels. If this were not so appalling to me in its pernicious consequences, I would find it very funny, since going to war over differences of religious belief is about the surest indication to me that the adherents of such belief haven’t the foggiest notion of the true significance or meaning of their religious teaching.
Since I consider that most spiritual teachings share a very large core of similar fundamental ideas, I find it far more appropriate to emphasize the common ground in any spiritual teachings rather than to focus on any perceived differences. Thus, the adherence to any specific sect should be understood from the point of view of cultural affinity, rather than religious doctrine.
A great many (but not all) spiritual and/or religious beliefs are based upon Faith. That is, the candidate is asked to accept and believe some revealed religious doctrine on Faith alone. I consider this a very dangerous attitude, and one of the principle reasons why religious beliefs are so often found to be at odds with each other. Logically, a belief based on Faith is untenable — why should anyone accept any particular doctrine on Faith rather than any other alternate doctrine? There is nothing more useless than competing partisans of religious belief each touting their own Revelation as Gospel, while dismissing everything else as folly and error. In fact, acceptance and belief in religious doctrine on Faith alone is widely perceived as the highest and most commendable expression of that particular religious belief.
Sometimes it seems to be suggested that all a candidate needs to do is simply “believe” and he will be “saved” and enjoy eternal life. Such a deal! All you have to do is simply “believe” the suggested package of doctrine, accept a baptism (or other similar initiation, something like joining a fraternity), and suddenly you, too, will be with the Saints when they go marching in — you will become of the company of the Elect, and ready to enjoy eternal life, while everyone else will be sent to eternal damnation.
I cringe whenever I see one of those giant billboards saying “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. (John 11:26)” As if that were the whole message of the Christian Gospel! All you have to do is “believe” in Jesus, and you will live forever! And here I thought the message of Jesus was that we should love one another.
Little children should have faith in their parents to tell them the truth as they see it. But adults should take responsibility for their own beliefs, derived from reason. When God told Abraham to slaughter his only son as a burnt offering, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. But Abraham failed the test! He should have said, “Lord, when Thou tellest me to slaughter mine only son as a burnt offering to the Lord, then I know that the words cometh not from my God, but are words that cometh from the Devil who pretendeth to speak as my God, for my God would never ask me to slaughter mine only son as a burnt offering.”
To which God would reply, “Well done, Abraham, my good and faithful servant. When I asked thee to slaughter thine only son as a burnt offering, it was only a test. Thou hast passed this test, and art found worthy to be the father of a nation.”
The Evanescent Press