Many people who are firmly committed to their religion are also firmly committed to the idea that those who belong to other faiths will be sent to Hell after they die. The concept of Hell exists as an absolute reality, as does the concept of Heaven, for these people. The stronger their faith, the more firm is their conviction that those outside the faith will not be their companions in Heaven.
My mother is an evangelical Christian who believes that only Christians will see Heaven. At least she refrains from the evangelical side of her religion. She does, however, read books with titles such as, “Twelve ex-Muslims who Came to Jesus Christ.”
I perused this particular book, and was disgusted by the terrible and downright cruel treatment, couched in the practice of Islam, in which these new Christians had been raised. Of course they became Christians!
Their stories do not prove the hypothesis of Christianity’s core teaching, and all religion is, indeed, hypothesis. Religion will remain hypothesis, as it always has been, because no one can or will prove the verity or even the superiority of one religion over another.
Frequently, I have pondered the phenomenon I just now mentioned in my first paragraph. Why do passionately committed religionists condemn non-members to their version of Hell? Why do they not know that all religious concepts are unprovable and therefore equal in terms of possibility?
Why do they not realize that one’s religious affiliation evolves from one’ s life circumstances and not from a mature examination of evidence? Even converts are converts due to life circumstances, and perhaps psychological characteristics, but certainly not due to the facts of a particular religion being more “true” than another.
Most people wouldn’t agree with me, but I am as convinced of that as I am of any religion. Most people would label me an agnostic or an apostate, but I no longer label myself religiously. Because of my current life circumstances, I now view all religion as a means to comprehend the human condition in a way that satisfies universal angst regarding what becomes of us after death. Religion also guides us in how to navigate the gauntlets of common life tasks, and basic relationships. All religion is valid. Each religion is true to the ones who practices it, and why would anyone want to interfere with that truth? Why would anyone care whether another person believes in a certain religion to the exclusion of all others?
Religion is an aspect of human character, human history, human psyche more than an aspect of scientific reality like the causation of infectious disease or the principles of genetic inheritance. Maybe this fact has something to do with the tendency of most people to be intolerant of or prejudiced against other peoples’ religions.
I propose a related explanation, and this is something very few people will agree with, but I propose it anyway, quickly adding that I, too, am subject to the winds of my life’s circumstances, and my own psychological orientation. I propose that people who are strongest in their faith are least convinced of what that faith teaches. They cannot admit their suspicions, nor can they tolerate any possibility of question, of indecision, or of hesitation in front of conviction. Such admission would cause tremendous internal stress, and a guttural fear of going to Hell, so they mask it with forceful belief and strict adherence to whatever religion they follow. They reinforce their belief with evangelical attitudes and habits towards those less well cemented to their particular version of the Truth.
This is my theory, and I cannot prove it, but I offer evidence in support of it from my experiences in Christian churches. Islam also offers evidence, but I haven’t seen much of it– yet.
Without exception, Christian churches focus not only on the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the absolute truth of his ordeal on the cross, but also that his death atones for the sins of all humankind. No Sunday service does not pound these ideas into the heads and hearts of attendees. Repeatedly, Sunday after Sunday, church goers are subject to exhortations urging them to greater faith. Why? If their truth is true, why must they continually smack members over the head with it? If adherents actually adhere, why must the content of these Sunday services look so much like con artists urging listeners to buy fragrant creams for curing cancer?
I still practice Islam, on occasion and incompletely. If asked about my religion, my response will change according to who asks. Sometimes I say Islam, and sometimes I say Unitarian Universalist. To be honest, I must say I belong to both, but no one wants to hear that, so I don’t say it out loud. I also still like much of the Christian teaching with which I was raised, but I can’t call myself a Christian. Lately, I’ve been looking at Buddhism, and I do like its teachings, but I can’t call myself a Buddhist, either.
If I had been raised in a Buddhist country, or if I had lived in one rather than in Saudi Arabia for twelve years, I would surely be a Buddhist by now. I know that, and I’m not disturbed.
The point is that I am now comfortable with nagging ambiguity, accepting of contradiction, and embracing of possibilities. Most people are not, and I’ve often wished that I could be like them.
I spent years trying to be a “good Muslim” like so many of my friends who seemed happier than me. Before that, I tried to be an agnostic like so many of my former friends whose cynicism attracted me in my youth. Even before that, I believed in the Trinity, which I had been taught, as if no other truth could possibly exist, as if I were a sinner just by considering the possibility.
Now I feel comfortable, though thoroughly private in the ideas I’ve espoused here.
I expect that whoever reads this, if anyone, will disagree and maybe even chastise me. That’s OK. I will consider all responses, if any. I don’t write for responses, anyway, I write for my own expression, and also, I must admit, to attract a reader who might sort of agree with me, because, I, too, am subject to all human needs both psychological and spiritual as well as physical. I’d like to meet kindred souls, but to all I say, “Peace be upon you.”