Monday, December 18, 2006

Rational Religion

The existence of God is neither proved nor disproved by a scientific understanding of spirituality. It remains the case that God is a matter of faith, not reason. It remains the case that rationality is a tool for measuring belief. It is not, in itself, the truth.

If, however, it is accepted that both spirituality and rationality are given to man to use, there should be a place for rationality within religious thinking. A rational approach to religion should lead to an understanding of a common spirituality regardless of religious difference. This approach tends to lead to a rejection of revealed and timeless truths. It also tends to lead to reassessment of religious founders and their relationship with the divine.

It may seem strange to expect religious people to take a rational view of their faith and remain religious, but many have. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the USA, re-wrote the New Testament to remove all miracles and give an account of Jesus as a great moral teacher rather than the son of God. Jefferson, like many of his contemporaries was a Deist who believed in a creator of the universe, but believed morals were human in nature. Jefferson’s view of God was central to the separation of church and state in the US constitution. This is not something which only occurs within the Christian tradition. There have been similar views within the Muslim world and there are offshoots of Islam that are similar in nature to Deism.

There have also been mystical traditions in most religions which see the divine as present in everything. For the mystic, the Universe is God. This has similarities to the views of Buddhism, Taoism and Pantheism. These mystical traditions exist in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the main world religions which traditionally believe in the concept of a personal God. The mystic sees the search for spirituality as existing across religions, and sees different religious traditions as alternative paths to spirituality rather than hard and fast truths. God becomes the Godhead, a metaphor for the ultimate oneness of everything.

There is anecdotal evidence that many people who remain members of specific traditions also make continual judgments about what parts of their doctrine to follow and what to abandon. The Catholic Church remains opposed to contraception and yet birth rates amongst western Catholics have dropped dramatically. Many members of various religions also have a much more tolerant view of homosexuality than their religions do.

Religion continues to give many people something that they find worthwhile and enriching despite their disagreement with much doctrine. Just as interesting a question as why religious membership declines in a free society is why people remain members of religions with which they have profound disagreements. One possible answer is that people have a sense of deep spirituality and recognize intuitively the role of ritual. The small, seemingly petty, rules are not a problem to them. When they eat only approved food or wear specific clothing or take part in religious ritual, they connect with their spirituality. It is the rules of hate and intolerance that they quietly abandon.

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