Religion Or Truth?

As a young person, the “outer trappings” of religion turned me off.  Rites and ceremonies are largely symbolic and traditional.  If you don’t understand the meaning of the symbolism or if you don’t relate to the traditions, then the rituals are meaningless.  While others are attracted to the mysteriousness of ritualistic symbolism or to the ancient age of traditions, I am not.  What draws me is the idea of understanding God and spiritual truth.  Religion is complex, addressing cultural cohesion, societal responsibility, morality and other virtues, while at the same time providing various answers to life’s deepest questions:  “Where did I come from?”; “What is the purpose of life?”; “What happens when I die?”.  But to my way of thinking, Truth is simple.  Truth is absolute.  Truth addresses everyone’s heart-felt needs, personally and directly.  Knowing the “Truth” answers those questions.

Finding a religion that supports truth is good.  But the religion is secondary.  James 1:27 reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  Regardless of one’s take on this standard, it certainly doesn’t describe most religions today, and the implication is that there are many religions that are not pure or faultless.  In fact, because of human nature, I don’t think any religion is pure or faultless.  Yet it is possible to know the pure and faultless truth.

We know from history that religions have been around for a long time.  Evidence from prehistoric times indicates the existence of religion is as old as the human race itself.  But at present there appears to be a disconnect in how we relate to religion, as compared to the past.  There is a general tendency to feel that religions are not needed when society approaches problem-solving from a scientific world-view, as opposed to a superstitious premise.  Factors that play into this tendency are 1) the sense of self-reliance produced by the benefits of modern technology, which enables easy access to information and resources, 2) the transference of identification with closely knit families or localized communities (geographical, national etc.) to more diffuse, even global associations based on shared areas of interest, and 3) the influences of relativism and consumerism on one’s world view (example given later).  While these factors are largely intellectual, there are also political influences on attitudes toward religions.  In developing his political philosophy of Communism, Marx viewed religion as a capitalist tool for controlling workers.  As an atheist, he offered the State as something the people could believe in, replacing an “imaginary” God with a real, human institution that was looking out for them.

How a person views religion is fundamentally a product of his concept of ultimate authority.  The traditional paradigm for the adherents of any religion is that one’s beliefs and values have the greatest authority over one’s life.  Under Communism, the authority of religion threatens the ultimate authority of the State.  So, in order to promulgate a “statist” or secular paradigm, Communism conditionally allows the practice of religion, as long as adherents “keep it to themselves”.  They preach that religion belongs in places of worship, not in public.  That way religions no longer raise the issue of authority.  They merely become culturally or ethnically defined activities, subject to government regulation in the same manner as business or commerce.

The issue of authority for religious beliefs stems from the reliability of the source of such beliefs.  Every religion has its source.  Rather than examining the reliability of these sources, there is a tendency today to join a religion as a consumer would buy a car.  In the market place of ideas, religions are packaged to appeal to people for various reasons, and are presented to the public as options or choices.  The relative “truth” of any particular religion is politely ignored.  I have even heard it said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe.”  This, of course, follows the premise that religions give us answers for things that cannot be otherwise understood.  And since “spiritual”, “supernatural” or “magical” things can’t be explained to the satisfaction of all, just take your pick — as long as you don’t insist on the authority of such beliefs.

I, on the other hand, look to the reliability of my source for the authority of my beliefs.  The Bible is that source.  I invite everyone to examine its reliability.  The Bible we have today (in all its various languages and translations) represents thousands of years of devoted, scholarly preservation of Scriptural texts.  Taken together, the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, or the Old Testament) and the New Testament are better attested to than all other classic literature.  To critics who say the accuracy of Scripture has been eroded over time because of copyist errors, I love to point out that the entire book of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the same exact book of Isaiah we have today (a product of thousands of years of being copied).  And to critics who claim the Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean, I suggest they weigh that charge against good scholarship.  Critics make this claim for two reasons:  1)  They see divergent theologies all claiming Biblical authority; and 2)  They have not studied the Bible themselves.  (They’ve already made up their minds.)  Because I have studied the Bible and continue to do so, I am only concerned with addressing the first reason.

First of all, the Bible was not written by mystics and is nothing like the cryptic writings of the likes of Nostradamus or Edgar Cayce.  The books of the Bible take various forms.  Some are historic, instructional, legal, some poetic, some in the form of stories, prayers, preaching and prophesy.  The best exegesis (critical analysis of Scripture) results from scholarly expertise in the fields of language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin), literary conventions, ancient culture, ancient history and archeology.  At those levels of examination, there is less disagreement as to what the Scripture actually says than to what implications it holds for believers.  An illustration of this is the existence of so many different Christian denominations, who, in spite of minor differences, agree on the basics.  A more critical problem is the widely divergent beliefs of what some apologists have called “Christian Cults”.

Examples are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Science and Unity.  These are characterized as being outside the mainstream orthodoxy for three main reasons.  The first is that, contrary to what the Bible teaches, they introduce some other authoritative source in addition to the Bible — usually the “revelations” of the founder.  This undercuts and contradicts the authority of the Bible.  The second reason is that they violate sound interpretive practice (hermeneutics) by taking verses out of context, mistranslating word meanings, or changing the definitions of common Biblical terminology to manipulate their own unique theology.  The third reason is they claim the full message of the Bible is hidden and their exalted office or special knowledge enables them to reveal those hidden secrets to the chosen few.

In every case, it is not a matter of the Bible meaning different things to different people.  It’s a matter of not really paying attention to what the Bible says, but confusing that issue with extraneous, non-scholarly information from people who “go beyond what is written”.  Applying that to the issue of authority, It is clear that members of cults have imbued their organizations and their leaders with authority that is not in the Bible.  Jesus said, “All [ALL] authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18).  Every cult undermines that truth.

When a person decides to take a religion as their own, they are exercising their own authority.  They are saying, “I authorize this religion to have authority over my life.”  Of course, if its just a politically correct activity, as mentioned above, they’re only saying, “I authorize myself to spend time in this activity.”  But to those who are willing to accept spiritual authority over their lives, I urge them to carefully, exhaustively examine the claims of their authoritative source.  There is a substantial difference between Muslims (Islam means submission.) and Bible believers (“What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom!” – Galatians 5:1, JNT).  While some seek the right religion, I seek the truth.

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About retiredday

I am Michael D. Day, a regular, everyday guy -- retired. I stand for God-given freedom, which means I think for myself. I believe in being civil, because the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies. But I also believe in saying it how I see it, and explaining just why I see it that way, sort of like 2 Timothy 4:2.
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2 Responses to Religion Or Truth?

  1. Kathy says:

    Dear seeker of truth. I appreciate much of what you said with regard to seeking the truth – not just being a member of a religious organization – and using the Bible as the authority for this truth.

    I would like to remark on the label of “cult” to Christian Science and some of the comments related to that label. Although Mary Baker Eddy, the author of the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, wrote this book as a companion book to be studied with the Bible, she herself says (pg. 126), “The Bible has been my only authority. I have had no other guide in the ‘straight and narrow way’ of Truth.” She also calls the Bible “the supreme statute-book”.

    Eddy was a devout Bible student her whole life and everything she wrote was based on what she found in Scripture. She too was searching for the truth and found it in the Bible and in Christ Jesus’ words and works.
    Christian Science offers a spiritual meaning to many of the Bible verses, which is different than some mainstream churches, but does that make it less Christian or less right? Eddy and thousands of those after her have been able to use Bible truths to heal case after case of physical, mental, financial, and relationship problems, just as the Master – Christ Jesus – did.

    As quoted by many religions and/or religious people, Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But this verse has a preface in the verse before, in which he says, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” Eddy was endeavoring to be a disciple, or student, of the Master, and through healing works felt that she had discovered the Science or “law” – God’s law or truth – underlying Jesus’ teachings. This doesn’t give her authority but directly attributes authority to the Bible.

    The mention of freedom was at the end of the article. Are we not all looking for freedom from pain, sorrow, terror, sickness, and sinful behavior? I have found Christian Science to be the truth that I have been seeking and I endeavor to use the Bible and this textbook as a guide in my daily life.

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    • retiredday says:

      Well, I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my article, “Religion Or Truth?” However, you got it all wrong. I’m no “seeker of truth”. I found the truth a long, long time ago, in the Person of Jesus Christ (“I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6).

      As to your remark that Mary Baker Eddy claimed the Bible as her only authority, she also said, “…the manifest mistakes in the ancient versions; the thirty thousand different readings in the Old Testament, and the three hundred thousand in the New — these facts show how a mortal and material sense stole into the divine record, darkening, to some extent, the inspired pages with its own hue” (from page 33 of Science and Life). She interpreted the Bible in her own ethereal way, and it was her interpretation that she claimed as authoritative, not the actual words of the text. And her so-called “facts” of thirty thousand OT differences and three hundred thousand NT differences are simply made up out of thin air. They have no substance.

      That is why Christian Science is not the truth, not the way to God, but a deception of both mind and spirit. It begins with the lie that they consider the Bible authoritative, but then goes on to change the meanings of the actual words of Scripture to whatever they want it to mean. That is a very common practice of cults. But the authentic “truth” is that words have specific meanings. They don’t just mean what you want them to mean. Faithful scholars have worked hard for thousands of years to preserve the reliability of the Bible. And with faithful scholarship anyone can clearly understand the Scriptures.

      As far as the reliability of Mary Baker Eddy goes she was demonstrably a plagiarist (copying verbatim from “The Metaphysical Religion of Hegel” by Francis Lieber) and she was a hypocrite (using drugs, including morphine). But whether or not she was honest or reliable isn’t the main issue. The point is I don’t need her or anyone else telling me what the Bible means. I have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I have God’s Holy Spirit giving me understanding of the Bible. If you take a moment and read 1 Corinthians 2:7-16, you will see that “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” God’s secret wisdom isn’t secret anymore if you are a child of God. Believers know the Truth and He has set us free.

      If you want that for yourself, just pray for Jesus to forgive your sin and acknowledge that he is the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One), the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). For whoever receives him, whoever believes in his name, he gives them the right to become children of God (John 1:12). This salvation from sin is realism because by our sin we earn death as our judgement. It has nothing to do with metaphysics.

      Christian Science looks for “out-of body” experiences when they really should keep their feet on the ground. The error you make is similar to the heresy of gnosticism which views the physical body as inherently evil while viewing the spiritual good as something separated from and above the physical plane. I realize that is an over-simplification, but one example is that Christian Science denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, despite what the Bible says.

      This is not to say that I “take everything in the Bible to be literal”. I understand the use of symbolism in Scripture and I understand that often there are multi-layered meanings found in the Biblical text. However, for the most part, those layers are not mysterious, but may be understood quite clearly through scholarly and Spirit-led study. But Christian Science manufactures ethereal, over-“spiritualized” explanations, where taking the plain meaning of the text will do. There is no “hidden” meaning to the Bible. Generally, God reveals Himself to us in clear language and concepts that we can understand.

      If you, for a moment, can stop changing the meanings of words, you may see what I am saying. I pray for you in the name of Jesus that your eyes, ears and mind will be open to his light, and that the spirit of deception coming against you be cast out of your mind and spirit. You referred to my talking about freedom at the end of my article. Your comment was, “Are we not all looking for freedom from pain, sorrow, terror, sickness, and sinful behavior?” No. I am not. This question reflects that you have no idea of what I mean by freedom, nor that I already have found it.

      I do not seek freedom from physical or emotional ailments. The troubles of the world are just symptoms of our fallen condition, which we must endure until we go to be with God in heaven. In the meantime, God has given us the gift of self-control (Galatians 5:23). Freedom means the ability to choose how we respond to difficulty. Freedom from sin is not letting sin tell you what to do. If Jesus makes you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). And it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). Of course that freedom is to be obedient to God. We are free to be servants of God. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but before I was a slave to righteousness, I was a slave to sin. Being a slave to righteousness is real freedom.

      Pain, sorrow, terror and sickness are all just symptoms of life on earth. Freedom isn’t about escaping them. The physical Jesus came to the physical earth to connect with real people. And as long as we exist on planet earth, we will experience problems. Jesus didn’t come to solve those problems; he came to save us from eternal destruction and separation from God. Our worldly woes will no longer exist in heaven. But trying to avoid them now by pretending they don’t exist is foolish and a waste of time. We are like aliens or strangers in the world (1 Peter 1:1 & 2:11) but as children of God we are citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:19).

      I am reminded of my sister-in-law who was a Christian Scientist. A year after my brother (an unbeliever) died of cancer, she too died of cancer. She did all the “right” things her religion prescribed; the readings, prayers and visits from Christian Science “nurses”. And the whole time she insisted she was getting well. She left two teenage sons without a mother, after having lost their father the year before. She was selfish, ignorant and deceived. For all its faults, medical science was able to prolong my brother’s life for five years. And it is likely she would have lived longer had she also sought medical help. She may have lived long enough to see her sons into adulthood. But no. It was more important for her to think she could change reality by her own thinking. That is the height of arrogance and there is nothing spiritual about it.

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