The world’s many religions are, when you come right down, utter nonsense. For instance, I’ve made some attempt to understand Kabbalah, but I’ve always failed. Take this saying: “The Breath becomes a stone; the stone, a plant; the plant, an animal; the animal, a man; the man, a spirit; and the spirit, a god.” To me this is mystical religion with Groucho Marx as the high priest and Yogi Berra as the prophet. (And I guess this means the duck that descends with the $100 bill when “You Bet Your Life” contestants say the magic word must be the Divine Spirit.)
Not that Christianity is any better. When I was in seminary training to be Presbyterian minister one element of my education was learning some basic Hebrew and Greek so that I could read the Bible in the original languages—or at least to get me started down that path. I’ve long since forgotten my Hebrew and Greek, accept for the occasional “Shalom,” and “Did you know your daughter’s name means ‘wisdom’ in Greek?”
But I could at one time laboriously translate a passage from New Testament Greek into English. Once my fellow seminarians and I were working on a passage in the Gospel of John and as the words slowly, slowly came out, it hit us: Jesus was tripping! How else could one explain the strange things he was saying?
I know this sounds terribly disrespectful, but we really didn’t mean it that way. It’s just, if you really read the holy texts of the great and not so great religions, they are quite strange. Not as stories or as sets of ethical guidelines and rules; in that regard they each have an internal cohesiveness born of a time and place, with the exception of the Book of Mormon and Dianetics. But as an explanation for the life on this tiny planet, not to mention the universe, they all seem rather parochial.
Which is not to say I have anything better to offer. Nor am I claiming that the science and technology satisfies our need for meaning and hope. (Although I must say the pictures sent back from the Hubble telescope are as prophetic, profound, and beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen.) When push comes to shove and I am faced with one of the terrors of life I turn to what I was taught to believe: God loves me. And after the dread passes, I move on to something a little more measured and developed: God loves us. And once I am up and running again, I try to believe the inherent promise of those beliefs, the ethical underpinning of how to live with other people that I was taught by my elders: love will prevail.
All of which flies in the face of the lack of evidence, as Christopher Hitchens might put it. But what’s a human being to do? We work with what we have: very little time, feeble intelligence, our lack of perspective, rampant egos, and hormone driven bodies.
We need religion, or something like it. But religion has many drawbacks, not the least of which is the need of each faith to protect its turf. As a result, religion is used to divide and diminish the other.
We can’t afford those divisions anymore. It is time for the human race to, as my daughter might put it, “man up,” and recognize that we are indeed one. Literally. One species with one planet to live on. One family. And that means the tribal religions we were all born with have to evolve to a higher state. No more killing in the name of God or truth. No more hoarding or stealing, either.
The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi is supposed to have said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The message is clear—don’t make an idol of the Buddha and Buddhism—practice his teachings. The same has to go for us all.
As a wise teacher once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”