Archive for December, 2007

Can we be open-minded in organized religion?

If we honestly seek the truth, we must be open to any conclusion. This is true of any field, and religion is no exception. Some might argue that if everyone agrees on something then it is probably true. This would mean that blind faith is acceptable. Whether this argument is valid or not, it does not apply to religion for the simple reason that people are nowhere close to a consensus. Therefore, questioning is essential.

Belonging to an organized religion can make questioning difficult because we are afraid to deviate from the mindset of those around us. Although we may be able to question finer points of doctrine, the environment likely makes it difficult to challenge any fundamental assumptions that would effectively preclude us from remaining in the religion. For example, it is hard to question the very existence of God, or the existence of a soul, from within the context of organized religion.

Nevertheless, it is important to question such things. People generally shrink from such uncertainty. They are afraid to challenge their secure world view, a view which is supported by the other members of their religion. The stakes are especially high because religion offers hope, it offers a way out, and therefore to challenge it is to admit the frightening possibility that our path to redemption is not valid. Such a fear-based mindset will get us nowhere. Religion is a search for truth, not a search for security or for pleasure. In any case, believing something simply because we were told it will not bring security: We will always be afraid that our belief is wrong. We must only believe something if we have questioned it and found it to be true.

Uncertainty is present whether we like it or not. Our only choice is whether to ignore it. We may think that blind faith brings security, but the opposite is true. The most secure path is through critical thinking – challenging our assumptions and questioning everything. If we do this, we either confirm our beliefs, or we come up with new and better beliefs. In either case, we will have confidence in them and will know that we have thought about them, rather than simply believing what we were told or what we believed yesterday. In the context of an organized religion, this open-mindedness may not be possible. If we are expected to maintain a certain set of core beliefs, then we dampen the spirit of inquiry. Therefore, although we may find the discussion and company of an organized religion useful, we should never be strongly identified with it. Open-mindedness is the real path to the truth.

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Why does forgiveness matter?

What motivates forgiveness? Often we view it as some kind of concession. We think we are being generous by granting it. However, in truth, we are the prime beneficiaries of forgiveness. When we forgive, we let go. When we forgive, we stop clinging to the pain. Continuing to be angry only makes things worse for us. Why would we devote so much energy to it? Bitterness does not make us feel better. Thus forgiveness is in our own best interests.

Sometimes, when we forgive, we tell someone. This is important. It gives the recipient hope, telling him or her to move on, to leave mistakes behind. However, we can only tell someone about our forgiveness if they are sorry in the first place. Sometimes, they do not think they need forgiving. They may even think that we are the ones needing forgiving. Even if we can’t tell someone of our forgiveness, it is still of vital importance. We forgive to release ourselves. We forgive because holding anger inside ourselves only poisons our minds, and eventually poisons our lives. It may be harder to forgive when the person is not aware of, nor apologizes for, the pain they have caused. However, it is no less valuable to do so.

Forgiveness is not always instantaneous. We do not forgive someone once and be done with it. The hurt may surface again and again. Each time this happens, we resist the urge to lash out, and remind ourself of our forgiveness. This allows us to let go of the pain, which is largely carried on by anger and resentment. Although forgiveness cannot remove a wound, it can and will heal it. That is why it matters.

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