Is Religion Necessary in the 21st Century?
Copyright © July 2, 2018 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Although this article will very briefly take a quick look at several different major world religions, this article will not recommend a specific religion.
Instead this article will consider the question of whether or not some religious practices may now be outdated, and whether society might be better off today if more people simply did what they believed was right without having to follow a lot of religious rules that may have very limited benefit to society as a whole.
Before we attempt to answer this question it might be helpful if we could segment people into one of three different groups depending on how they currently feel about religion:
Regardless of which of the above three groups you may agree with, it may be helpful if you could temporarily put on your hat of impartiality and for just a few minutes allow yourself to objectively consider the question of whether or not religion is still necessary in the 21st century.
- No Religion is Necessary: Today many people believe that organized religion is no longer necessary and that a modern enlightened person can now refuse to believe in God, or a person may individually define God as he or she chooses and that is perfectly acceptable to God (if God does exist).
- All Religions are Acceptable to God: Some people believe that God is pleased with all organized religions and any person can follow any religion he or she wants. The reason is because they believe that God intentionally created all the different religions because He knew different religious concepts would appeal to different people and this would allow people to pick a religion with concepts that appealed to them.
- Only One Religion is Acceptable to God: A lot of people believe that whatever religion they are currently following is the one and only true religion of God and they absolutely refuse to impartially examine the basic concepts of their religion for one or more of the following reasons:
- They have been told they will be automatically cast into hell if they ask any questions about anything they have been told that they must believe.
- They have been told that other members of their religion will kill them if they do not remain faithful to their religion, and they know this is true because they have heard of people being executed for this specific reason.
- They personally do not feel comfortable about the fundamental beliefs of their religion and they are afraid to carefully and impartially examine those beliefs because they know those beliefs probably cannot be supported or adequately defended.
- They have simply accepted whatever religion their parents and their ancestors have followed, and they justify their choice by stating that it would be impossible for all of their ancestors to have practiced a religion that wasn't a really good religion.
- They are really busy, or they are lazy, and they do not want to spend any more time on religion than is absolutely necessary and they intend to tell God when they see Him that they were just believing what they were told to believe.
Basic Religious Concepts
Before we take a close look at whether or not religion is still necessary in the 21st century we should first begin by summarizing some basic information about religion in general.
Most peaceful religions encourage their members to do all, or most, of the following:
Since the above concepts are common to most religions they cannot be used to distinguish between the various religions, nor can they help us to determine if religion is still necessary in the 21st century because a "good" person could voluntarily do most of the above without following any religion.
- Attend religious gatherings on a regular basis.
- Work for a living and pay for all their own basic needs.
- Provide for the support of their own spouse, their own children, and their own elderly.
- Be generous and help those who are less fortunate.
- Do not lie, cheat, steal, or murder.
- Obey all the laws of their government that are not in direct opposition to the basic principles of their religion. For example, if the government passes a law that forbids people to meet together to practice their religion then this would be an example of a specific law that the members of a religion could not obey and still be true to their religious beliefs.
- Pay their taxes to the government without complaining.
Therefore in order to determine if some of the major world religions may have some benefits other than simply encouraging good behavior, we need to examine some of the basic "spiritual" concepts that are common to many religions. The way each specific religion explains the following "spiritual" concepts is what defines that religion and makes it unique.
- Supreme Spirit: None, one, or as many as you like.
- Lesser Spiritual Beings: None, or one type only, or good spirits (angels) and bad spirits (demons).
- Spiritual Realm for Spiritual Beings: If there are spiritual beings, then the spiritual realm is the place where they live and it exists beyond our normal five human senses (taste, touch, see, smell, and hear).
- Physical Realm: The place where humans live (earth) and it extends as far as the eye can see in all directions (sky, stars, universe).
- Death: The complete termination of existence. Or the separation of the human essence from the human body and the human essence continues to exist.
- Human Spirit (or Essence): Either it exists or it does not exist.
- Evaluation of Our Life Works: When we die the sum total of all our life activities is evaluated and a decision is made on what happens to our human essence, if we have one, based on how we have lived and what we have done.
- Reincarnation: At death our human essence is recycled, either into a new human body (an embryo inside a woman's womb), or into some other living thing (bird, animal, insect).
- Spiritual Realm for Human Spirits: One place for everyone, or a good place (heaven) and a bad place (hell).
Summary of a few Major Religions
In order to answer the question of whether or not religion is still necessary in the 21st century, we now need to take a brief look at a few of the major religions of the world. This may help us to determine if one or more of these religions could be beneficial to our mutual existence here on this earth.
This article will discuss religions in alphabetical order. What each religion believes about the topics mentioned above will help us see how that religion is unique. The following summaries are extremely brief and each summary only highlights some of the more important aspects of each religion. It is impossible to adequately describe any religion in one or two paragraphs. Therefore the following summaries should not be used to evaluate any religion because each summary is very brief and it may unintentionally omit some of the important concepts of a specific religion. If you are interested in learning more about any of the following religions then you will need to consult the religious writings of the faith you are interested in.
An alternative to religion. An agnostic is an individual who believes that there is no scientific proof that can establish that God does exist or that God does not exist. An agnostic will not take a position on either side of this debate because agnostics believe it is a waste of time to try to prove or disprove something that cannot be proven or disproven.
An alternative to religion. An atheist is an individual who believes there is no god. In other words, an atheist does not believe in any form of supernatural supreme being or beings. Except for that one issue, there is nothing else that can be said to define the beliefs of an atheist because each individual atheist reserves the right to form his or her own beliefs about anything and everything. In other words, an atheist believes that he or she has the right to decide if something is true or false, or right or wrong, and his or her individual beliefs do not have to agree with the beliefs of any other atheist anywhere in the entire world.
A belief in one God. Founded in the 1800s by Baha'u'llah based on some of the teachings of Islam. Baha'is believe that God has sent nine prophets into the world at various stages of human history to reveal to us what we needed to know at that time in our development and that the teachings of those nine prophets are different because mankind needed different advice at different times. Baha'is believe in racial and gender equality, the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, world peace, and a future one-world government that will be controlled by Baha'is. They believe every person has an immortal soul that is set free at death so it can travel at will throughout the spiritual realm.
A belief in no gods. However, Buddhism acknowledges the existence of enlightened beings called Buddhas. Founded in India by Siddhartha Gautama who achieved enlightenment in approximately 535 B.C. when he assumed the title of Buddha. Buddha's teachings were written down long after his death. The primary books of Buddhism are the Tripitaka, and the Mahayana Sutras, Tantra, and Zen texts. Buddhism is based on the following four noble truths: (1) all beings suffer, (2) the desire for possessions and power leads to suffering, (3) desire can be overcome or controlled, and (4) the path that leads away from desire is the Eightfold Path or the Middle Way. The two major divisions of Buddhism are: (1) Theravada, or the Way of the Elders, and (2) Mahayana, or the Greater Vehicle. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, or a cycle of births and deaths, until you can completely separate yourself from your evil desires and your love of yourself, and then you will achieve Nirvana. If you live a good life then you build up good karma and your next life will be better than this one. If you live a bad life then you create bad karma and your next life will be worse than this one. Buddhism is the primary religion in several Asian countries.
A belief in one God. Founded by Jesus who performed many miracles in Judea and Galilee, such as healing hundreds of people by simply speaking to them or touching them, and feeding thousands of people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. He brought three dead people back to life by simply speaking to them. Jesus commanded His followers to live in peace, to forgive others, to be generous to the poor, to pay their taxes, to obey the government, and to sincerely pray for their government leaders. Jesus commanded His followers to not seek revenge and to not hurt other people but to pray and to turn every matter over to God because vengeance belongs to God and not to the individual believer. ("Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." - Matthew 5:39) Jesus said He was the Son of God and for this He was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem sometime around the year 30 A.D. On the morning of the third day after his death He rose from the dead and He appeared to more than 500 different people. The Bible is the sacred book of Christianity and it consists of the Jewish Old Testament books that were all written prior to 415 B.C., plus the New Testament books that were all written by the followers of Jesus sometime before 95 A.D. The two primary rules that Jesus taught were: (1) love God above all others, and (2) love everyone else the same way you love yourself. This is the foundation of the Golden Rule that states, "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." Christians believe in heaven and hell and that everyone will live forever in one of these two places. The only way to enter heaven is to believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God and to accept His death on the cross as the full and final payment for all your sins. Christians do not believe in reincarnation. Instead they believe that each person only has one life and that each of us will be judged at the end of that one life (Hebrews 9:27). The three major divisions of Christianity are: (1) Catholic, (2) Orthodox, and (3) Protestant, and although they share the above beliefs these three different groups have uniquely different beliefs about other religious doctrines.
- The Catholic church believes that salvation is achieved through Jesus death on the cross plus the good works that are done by individual believers. They accept the Apocrypha as scripture and they use the highly questionable passages in the Apocrypha to support the concepts of purgatory (a temporary place of punishment of indefinite duration where souls can be purified until they are good enough to enter heaven), and making a gift to the Catholic church in the name of a dead person in order to help that dead person's soul more quickly pass through purgatory, and praying for the souls of dead people, and praying to dead saints including Mary the mother of Jesus. The Catholic Church believes that their ordained clergy are the only people who can interpret scripture, and their current ordained Pope can interpret scripture any way he sees fit even if it totally disagrees with the interpretations of Popes who came before him. (Note: For many decades the Catholic church has covered up the sexual misconduct of many of their ordained clergy, and the Catholic church refuses to admit that their ordained ministers have done anything wrong even after that person has been convicted in a court of law of sexually molesting a huge number of young children.)
- The Orthodox church firmly believes in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). They believe in heaven and hell. They believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus will return one day in the future. They believe in salvation through faith and not of works. They believe that each church is independent and that the local churches should not be controlled by one large central church. They use icons extensively, such as visual representations of Christ and specific saints, but they do not worship these images. They believe it is okay to pray to dead saints and to Mary and to ask them to intercede with God on their behalf. They firmly believe in the Holy Bible but they respect the teachings of their early church forefathers as being equivalent to the Bible. These three issues, (1) icons, (2) praying to dead saints and Mary, and (3) the use of tradition in addition to the Bible, are what distinguish Orthodox churches from Protestant churches.
- The Protestant church believes that salvation is based solely on the grace of God and that God unconditionally and completely forgives anyone and everyone who believes that Jesus is the only Son of God and who accept Jesus' death on the cross as the full payment for all their sins: past, present, and future. Protestants believe that a saved person will want to do good works but that those good works do not save the person. Protestants believe in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and they believe Jesus will return one day in the future. They believe in heaven and hell. They believe each local church should be independent and not controlled by a central church. They believe in the Bible and they do not supplement the Bible with other teachings that they consider to be equal to the Bible. They believe that each individual Christian should pray directly to God in the name of Jesus and they do not believe that it is appropriate to pray to dead saints or to Mary. Protestants believe that each individual believer should own a good translation of the Christian Holy Bible and that each individual believer should read the Bible and pray that God will help them to correctly understand the truths revealed in the Bible. A Protestant church is one that bases its religious beliefs entirely on what the Holy Bible says and not on anything else. The Protestant church consists of several different denominations.
Founded in China by K'ung Fu Tzu (or Confucius) who was born about 551 B.C. in Lu in China. His writings centered on individual morality and ethics, plus the correct way to use political power. The most important landmarks of a person's life are birth, reaching adulthood, marriage, and death. The primary teachings of Confucius are: etiquette, love of family, righteousness, honesty, benevolence, and loyalty to the government. Confucianism has no teachings that refer to any type of god. Individuals who practice Confucianism have the freedom to believe in no god, or they may follow any religion of their choice in addition to following the teachings of Confucius.
A Hindu has the option to believe: (a) in no gods, or (b) in one god, or (c) in multiple gods. If a Hindu believes in many gods then they usually believe that all gods and goddesses are simply different forms of one single supreme being. Hinduism has no founder and it is possible that it is the oldest known religion that is still currently practiced today. The most ancient books of Hinduism are the four Vedas. Hindus believe in the reincarnation of all living things and that life is governed by the laws of karma which is the sum total of all of a person's deeds from birth until death and that your reincarnation depends on the sum of your moral behavior while you are alive. Good deeds will result in your reincarnation at a higher level in society. Bad deeds will result in your reincarnation at a lower level in society or even as an animal. Hindus believe in the unity of all living things and that the purpose of life is to become aware of the fact that we are all a part of God and if a person is successful in this belief then he or she will not be reincarnated but will leave this plane of existence and be reunited with God. Hindus believe in an extremely rigid caste system that determines the social position of a person from birth until death. A person must remain in the social caste in which he or she was born. If a person tries to leave his or her social caste, such as marrying someone in another caste, then the other members of that caste have the moral duty to execute that person in order to retain the honor of their social caste. Only members of the highest caste, called the Brahmins, may hold positions of authority in the temple and perform Hindu religious rituals. Hinduism is practiced by approximately 80% of the people in India. Mahatma Gandhi (1869 to 1948 - see picture) was born in India and he grew up worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu but he also practiced Jainism. Gandhi advocated prayer, fasting, meditation, and non-violence. Gandhi was opposed to the rigid caste system of India and Gandhi was shot to death by a Hindu extremist who disagreed with him.
A belief in one God. Founded by Muhammad who was born at Mecca (or Makkah) in Saudi Arabia in 570 A.D. The Islam religion was founded in 622 A.D. and it is based on some of the concepts of Judaism and Christianity. Islam accepts Moses as a prophet of God, and they accept Jesus as a prophet of God who worked miracles. But they do not believe that Jesus died on a cross, or that He was resurrected, and they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. They believe that the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible are both corrupted texts and that Jews and Christians willfully altered those texts to support their religious beliefs. Islam has corrected those false teachings by direct revelation from God. Islam has two sacred books: (1) the Koran (Qur'an) which contains the words of Allah the One True God, and (2) the Hadith, which is a collection of the sayings of Muhammad. Islam has five pillars or basic duties of its believers as follows: (1) believe in one God and that Muhammad was his messenger and acknowledge their faith by reciting the shahadah at least once, (2) pray five times per day while facing the Kaabah in Mecca, (3) pay a 2.5% charity tax and also be charitable to the needy, (4) fast from sunrise until sunset during the month of Ramadan but pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the sick do not have to fast, and (5) visit or make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Muhammad at Mecca at least one time during your life if it is economically and physically possible. Also a person should avoid alcohol, drugs, and gambling. They believe that God will reward them in heaven if they murder non-believers. The two major divisions of Islam are: (1) Sunnis which account for about 90% of all Muslims, and (2) Shiites. The Islamic religion is basically a religion for males in this life and in the next life. Females have very few rights in this life or the next life. A woman's purpose is to do what she is told to do by a man. Homosexuality is forbidden but a man may satisfy his sexual desires with any woman in any way he wishes. A Muslim male may sexually grope any women he desires in public, including complete strangers. If any women (Muslim or non-Muslim) is raped against her will then she will be punished by being executed but nothing will be done to her male rapist. And everyone must accept the death of the woman without complaining, including her parents if she was a virgin, her husband if she was married, and her children if she was a mother. Islam is the primary religion of the Middle East, parts of Asia, and parts of Africa.
Founded in East India by Vardhamana when he achieved enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation that ended with his fasting himself to death in 420 B.C. Jainism believes in reincarnation that depends on a person's deeds while alive. The followers of Jainism will only eat something if it does not kill the animal or plant from which it was taken. They believe in non-violence because any act of violence against any living creature will adversely impact their next reincarnation.
This religion began as the "Bible Study Movement" in the late 1870s and it was led by Charles Taze Russell. When Russell died Joseph Franklin Rutherford assumed control of the group and he changed its name to "Jehovah's Witnesses" and he instituted some major doctrinal changes. They teach that the traditional Christian Church has intentionally changed the original Christian Bible and intentionally corrupted its true message. Therefore Jehovah's Witnesses have written their own translation of the Bible that they call the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" and they believe that God can only be called by the name Jehovah. Over the years they have revised their original translation of their Bible many times and they have published several new editions of that book. Each new edition disagrees with their previous editions on several important concepts. However, they state that each new edition more clearly explains what they want their followers to believe at that particular time in history. They believe that their leaders are the only ones who have the authority to interpret scripture, and those leaders are the only ones who can receive new revelations from God, and their interpretations should not be questioned. They believe that their members should have a basic education but that they should avoid anything beyond that, and especially a college education, because that will only corrupt the purity of their beliefs. Believers should avoid or minimize contact with non-believers, except to witness to them, because contact with non-believers will corrupt the purity of their faith. They believe that when Jesus was born that He was all human and He had no divine nature. They believe that only Jesus' spirit was resurrected and His body was left behind. Over the years the leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses have made many predictions about some major future events and none of those events have ever happened. For example, in 1966 they predicted that Jesus Christ would return in the year 1975 and that Jesus would begin His 1,000 year reign on the earth at that time. Based on this prediction their membership increased from about 59,000 people in 1966 to more than 2,000,000 people in 1975. However, when Jesus didn't return in 1975 they stated that they never said that Jesus would definitely return in 1975 and instead what they meant to say was that 1975 was just one of the years that Jesus had told them that He might return. They do not believe that humans have an immortal soul and they do not believe in hell as a place of eternal punishment. Instead they believe that hell is just the grave that non-believers are buried in and that non-believers will simply cease to exist when they die. However, exactly 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses will go to heaven and the rest of them will spend eternity on a new earth that God will create. Jehovah's Witnesses say that they are practicing first-century Christianity. However, they are very careful to explain that their religious doctrine is gradually being revealed to them by God and that their religious doctrine and beliefs will gradually evolve and change as time passes. (Note: Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God must only be called by His one true name of Jehovah. However, in Genesis 1:1 God is referred to as "Elohim" and in Genesis 17:1 God is called "El Shadday" in the original Hebrew scriptures. In Genesis 2:4, and in other places in the original Hebrew scriptures, God's name is written as YHWH, without any vowels. The word YHWH was translated into English as "Jehovah" in the year 1278 A.D. and that English translation is still used today by some groups. However, Hebrew scholars today agree that the English word "Yahweh" is the best possible English translation of the Hebrew word "YHWH" and that the translation of "YHWH" as "Jehovah" is "grammatically impossible" because there is no equivalent of the letter "J" in the Hebrew alphabet.)
Judaism (Hebrews or Jews)
A belief in one God. Founded about 2,090 B.C. by Abraham through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (who was later named Israel). The name Jew is derived from the great-grandson of Abraham who was called Judah. The first prophet of Judaism was Moses (about 1,500 B.C.) and he is credited with writing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (the Torah or the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses). The Talmud includes the writings of all the other major and minor Jewish prophets after Moses up to approximately 415 B.C. Judaism believes in the laws of God plus the writings of their prophets but they emphasize that a person's actions are more important than a person's beliefs. There are three major divisions within Judaism: (1) Orthodox which is the most strict, (2) Conservative which is less strict, and (3) Reform which is the least traditional. Judaism's largest populations are in Israel and the United States of America. Anyone born to a Jewish mother is a Jew. Jews believe they are God's chosen people and that their Messiah will arrive one day in the future and unite them all together once again. Judaism has had a significant impact on Christianity (30 A.D.), and Islam (622 A.D.), and Bahaism (1800 A.D.).
Mormonism (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or LDS)
There are many, many different stories about how Joseph Smith received his original inspiration. At the current time the most popular of these stories is that in 1823 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him some golden plates. In 1830 Joseph Smith finished translating the writings on those golden plates and he published his translation as "The Book of Mormon" and he called his church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). What is intentionally not mentioned is that Joseph Smith was involved in the occult at the same time he was receiving his inspiration from the golden plates. Another issue that is rarely mentioned is that the original 1830 Book of Mormon contained more than 2,000 textual errors and approximately 250 of those errors significantly impacted the meaning of the text. Smith made a lot of very specific predictions about the future and none of his "inspired" predictions ever happened. In 1844 Brigham Young became the leader of the Mormons. Mormons believe the Bible is not a perfect book and that it contains lots of errors. They believe the Book of Mormon is better than the Bible and that the Book of Mormon should be believed whenever it contradicts the Bible. In addition, they believe that the more recently inspired writings of their religious leaders are also the Words of God and they take precedence over the Bible and the Book of Mormon when the new writings contradict what the Bible or the Book of Mormon says. For example, in 1831 Joseph Smith originally established the church doctrine that men could marry more than one wife (polygamy) and this church doctrine was practiced by approximately 25% of all Mormons until 1890 when the new church president stated that Mormons should no longer marry more than one wife and that from that time forward polygamy was officially prohibited by the church. However, today (more than 120 years later) it is estimated that about 1% of Mormons continue to practice polygamy by legally marrying their first wife, and then taking additional wives without legally marrying them (although the marriage is blessed by a church leader). These other wives and their children then qualify for significant welfare benefits because they are legally single mothers and this significant source of other income is used by the "husband" as he sees fit. Mormons do not believe in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ because they believe that Jesus' death on the cross was not enough to save mankind from their sins. Instead they believe in salvation by faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands. Mormons believe that the god of this earth is just one of many gods, and that there are different gods in charge of other planets in the universe, and that all faithful Mormons will become a god in charge of their own planet when they die. Finally, the beliefs of Latter-Day Saints are in a continual state of revision, and many of their "sacred" writings totally contradict one another. However, Mormonism is a very wealthy and influential organization and they very carefully filter and limit the information they market to the rest of the world, and to their potential future converts. Because they select and share only a very limited number of their more socially acceptable beliefs with prospective converts they are able to create the illusion that Mormonism is a legitimate significantly improved Christian religion.
Satanism, Sorcerers, Warlocks, Witches, Wizards, and Devil Worship
A belief in supernatural beings (or spirits) and in magic. Some spirits are good and some spirits are evil. Some magic is good and it is referred to as white magic. Some magic is evil and it is referred to as black magic. The individuals who practice magic may be either good or evil. Objects can be enchanted and after the object has been enchanted it can either protect or harm a person. Potions can be brewed that can either benefit someone who drinks it, or the potion can cause harm to someone who drinks it. The individuals who practice magic may also know how to cast a variety of magic spells that may theoretically allow them to do remarkable things. Theoretically they also have the ability to bless or curse people. Sometimes a magic spell will require the sacrifice of an animal or a human being in order for it to be effective. Human sacrifice is outlawed in most civilized countries so the magicians who demand a human sacrifice must do it in secret or they will be punished. It is interesting to note that if a magician is caught offering a human sacrifice then he or she has no magic that can save him or her from being executed for his or her crime. It is also interesting to note that a magician cannot simply improve his or her own standard of living but he or she must rely on payment from others in order to prosper. It is not possible to accurately summarize the beliefs of this religion because it does not reveal its secrets to outsiders. However, it is logical to assume that a person who pursues this religion believes in hell and that he or she is going to hell regardless of what he or she does in this life. It is also logical to assume that these people believe that Satan is the supreme ruler of hell and that he can move freely about the underworld and do anything he wishes. If this is true then these people worship Satan in this life in the hope of pleasing him now so that maybe their eternity in hell will not be as bad as it would have been. The only logical problem with this perspective would be if Satan is not the supreme ruler of hell. If Satan himself is one of the beings that God will cast into hell then he will have no freedom of movement because he will be chained to one spot just like everyone else who God casts into hell. Unfortunately this is all conjecture because there are no published writings about what these people believe.
Scientology (Christian Science)
In 1952 author L. Ron Hubbard proposed a system of religious beliefs, concepts, and practices and within one year he launched his new church called the Church of Scientology. The word Scientology means "the science of knowledge." In some European countries they are classified as an "anti-constitution sect" or as a "dangerous cult." Scientology does not require its members to believe in any type of god because they believe that god and the universe are exactly the same thing. Therefore they encourage their members to grow in self-awareness until they discover their true relationship to the supreme being and when that happens then they will become one with god. They believe in reincarnation. They believe that sickness, pain, and death are just illusions that can be eliminated by thinking using the procedures that they teach. If a person can master this type of thinking then that person can also become god because this is the way that Jesus achieved divinity after He grew into an adult and learned how to control his thinking using the concepts of Scientology. If anyone criticizes the Church of Scientology then they are classified as "fair game" and the church will aggressively punish and harass them using any and all means possible. This policy of "fair game" is defended by the church as being one of its core religious practices. Although this group advertises itself as "Christian Science" it rejects the Christian Bible and every concept the Christian Bible teaches.
A Japanese religion that was founded around 500 B.C. and that recognizes several deities. Two of these deities called Izanagi and Izanami gave birth to the Japanese islands, and their other offspring became the deities of the various Japanese clans. The sun goddess, Amaterasu, was the ancestor of the royal family. This religion desires peace and it believes that all human life is sacred and they desire to have a true or sincere heart. The four principles or Affirmations of Shinto are: (1) the family is the primary means by which traditions are preserved, (2) they must bathe, wash their hands, and rinse their mouths frequently, (3) nature is sacred and therefore it is proper to worship all natural objects as sacred spirits, and (4) they must celebrate and have a festival that honors the spirits.
A belief in a single God who has many names but no form and who can be reached through meditation. Founded by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Pakistan around 1500 A.D. After his death he was systematically reincarnated in a series of nine Gurus that led the religion until 1708. When he was reincarnated as the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, he compiled all the writings of the first Guru and his nine reincarnations into a holy text called the Shri Guru Granth Sahib. This holy text also contains writings from a variety of different Muslim and Hindu saints. The holy text is considered to be the eleventh and final reincarnation of the first Guru. Sikhs pray several times every day and they are forbidden from worshiping any type of idol or religious icon. Sikhs believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. They believe in reincarnation. In 1931 Sikh theologians wrote the Reht Maryada and it contains the 27 articles of their faith that define their religious and social practices.
Founded in China by Lao-Tse. His writings are called the Tao-te-Ching and they describe the basic nature of life and the path to peace, and how a ruler should live his life. Taoism was adopted as the state religion of China in 440 B.C. Tao is the force that flows through all living things and it was the first cause, or creation, of everything. The goal of Taoism is to balance the flow of energy (chi) within the body, and to become virtuous, compassionate, moderate in all things, and humble. The two primary forces are the Yin (the dark side) and the Yang (the light side) which represents opposites. Examples are good and evil, light and darkness, male and female. Normal human behavior can upset the balance of Yin and Yang. Taoists believe that all people are basically good and that all people should be kind to one another because that will usually produce a similar response in other people.
A belief in one supreme God. Founded about 1,000 B.C. by Zarathushtra (or Zoroaster) in Persia. Zoroastrians believe in two primary forces called good and evil. There are two different perspectives about good and evil as follows: (1) good and evil may reside inside each one of us, or (2) good may reside in a spirit called Mazda, and evil may reside in a spirit of violence and death called Angra Mainyu. The sacred book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta and it consists of: (1) the teachings of Zarathushtra that are written in five hymns called the Gathas, and (2) additional writings about how to worship and how to practice the faith. Their four major religious precepts are: (1) worship the one God, (2) understand the concept of righteousness and the meaning of cosmic order, (3) practice social justice, and (4) understand the impact of your actions as they relate to good and evil. Zoroastrians worship before a sacred fire that symbolizes their God and they dedicate their life to following their motto, "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds."
A Brief Summary of the Beliefs of the Above Religions
Reincarnation: Religions that believe in reincarnation are very popular. The reason it because reincarnation implies that death is not the end of life and each person will be reborn an infinite number of times and each person will be able to live an infinite number of different lives here on this earth. Therefore a person can behave almost any way he or she wants to in this life, as long as they are careful to do some good things to help balance out the bad things they do, and this balance will help to prevent them from being reborn as an animal or insect. It also allows a person to intellectually justify killing another person because they are simply assisting that other person begin their next life.
Peaceful? The above summary table includes a column that asks the question of whether or not the religion is basically a peaceful religion. In my opinion, the concept of a peaceful religion could be defined as follows:
Since the mid-1900s most peaceful religions worldwide have experienced a significant decline in their membership. This has resulted in a spiritual vacuum in many nations of the world. This vacuum has gradually been filled by non-peaceful religions. Therefore the social stability that was once provided by peaceful religions has gradually been eroded by the instability that accompanies non-peaceful religions. More and more countries all over the world are now experiencing social turmoil and religious terrorism that is draining their resources and destabilizing their governments.
- If a religion clearly advocates non-violence and living in peace with everyone, including non-believers. then that religion is probably a peaceful religion.
- If a religion advocates that its members should respond hatefully to, or aggressively against, anyone who criticizes their religion then that religion is not a peaceful religion.
- Occasionally an evil person will say that he or she is a member of "xyz" religion and then do some very evil things in order to destroy the reputation of that religion. However, isolated acts of evil that are done by specific individuals in direct violation of the religion's non-violent beliefs do not make the religion a violent religion.
- If a religion has a long history of its members being divinely motivated to kill members of their own family, such as their spouse or children, or to kill other members of their religion who do not share their specific beliefs, or to kill non-believers, or to encourage acts of terrorism, then that religion is not a peaceful religion regardless of how many of their members refrain from committing acts of violence.
The Original Question
Is religion necessary in the 21st century? If we use all the above information then perhaps we can now begin to answer that question.
There are many rich and important people who believe that modern man is capable of shaping his own destiny without being held back by any type of religious rules. In other words, modern man is now so smart that he can decide the course of action he wants to pursue without the restrictions of religion. If this is true then our world in the 21st century should be better than the world of the mid-1900s when religious principles were used to help guide the decision making process. In the mid-1900s a person could walk in most public parks without being molested. A person could get on an airplane without being searched and without worrying if the plane was going to be hijacked or blown up before it reached its destination. Our children could go to school without worrying if they were going to be killed by someone with a gun before the day was over. People could gather in crowds for holidays and at sporting events without worrying if they were going to be killed by someone intentionally driving a huge truck through the middle of the crowd. In your opinion does it appear that the quality of life is better in the 21st century than it was in the mid-1900s when religious concepts were believed and respected?
Some religions are thousands of years old and therefore religion is not a new concept or idea.
However, some religions are less that 200 years old. Some of the newer religions are totally unique and they make no effort to link themselves to any older pre-existing religion. However, in order to gain immediate widespread acceptance, many newer religions make the claim that they are simply a modern version of a very old religion and that they received their religious inspiration in some type of divine revelation directly from God or from an angel. They usually claim that the religious texts of the old religion contain lots of errors and that God has finally decided to intervene and correct all the mistakes that people have been believing for hundreds or thousands of years. However, instead of correcting everything all at once, God has decided to correct the mistakes slowly and to gradually reveal His new rules to selected people whenever He believes mankind is ready to receive them. And we should be prepared that some of His more recent corrections may need to be corrected again for some reason that is known only to God, and that some of His new corrections may totally disagree with some of His previous corrections.
Since the Jewish texts and the Christian texts are frequently used as the parent texts for many of the newer religions it might be useful if we take a moment to examine the credibility of those religious texts.
An Objective Analysis of the Ancient Jewish and Christian Texts:
Scholarly Criticisms of the Jewish and Christian Texts:
- In the year 2018 there now exist over 12,500 copies of ancient Hebrew manuscripts that contain the various books of the Old Testament. Some of these manuscripts can be dated back to approximately 300 B.C. These manuscripts were handwritten in several different languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Because they were written in different languages, and because today we lack the precise knowledge of what a few of the words may have meant when they were originally written, there are some minor differences among the many different manuscripts when they are translated into a single language and then carefully compared. However, the differences account for only about 2 percent of all the words, and those minor differences do not impact any major religious concept or doctrine.
- In the year 2018 there now exist over 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and they range in date from the early 100s A.D. to the 1700s A.D. Of these 5,700 manuscripts, 99 of them were written before the year 400 A.D. Over the years the Greek New Testament has been translated into a variety of other languages and there now exist over 20,000 handwritten copies of the New Testament in those other languages. When all of these different manuscripts and translations are objectively compared to each other, no significant doctrine or essential truth is impacted by the minor differences among these manuscripts.
- Concerning the ancient Jewish texts, Jesus accepted the authenticity of the Hebrew canon and He frequently quoted scriptures from it. Jesus never condemned any part of the original Hebrew Bible as being in error.
- Therefore the accusation that Jews or Christians have significantly altered the Old Testament or the New Testament to support their beliefs cannot be supported. In fact, just the opposite is true. The evidence is overwhelming that the current Jewish and Christian translations of their Holy Books actually conform to the ancient manuscripts with remarkable accuracy.
- For more than 3,000 years Jews have been satisfied that their Holy Books were genuine, and that they were inspired by God, and that they were written by the people that they ascribed them to, and that they were substantially without error, with the possible exception of an occasional copying error that had no relevant impact on their religious doctrine or beliefs.
- New Testament Christians, from approximately 30 A.D. until the 1800s A.D., believed that the Hebrew Bible that they had adopted as their Old Testament, and that the books of the New Testament, were all inspired by God and they were written by the people ascribed to them, and that they were substantially without error, with the possible exception of an occasional minor copying error that had no relevant impact on their religious doctrine or beliefs. In support of these beliefs, Jesus frequently mentioned the human author of the scriptures He quoted and those authors were the same people that the Jews had traditionally ascribed those books to.
- However, in the 1800s and 1900s a variety of scholars began casting doubt on who wrote the books of the Bible, and when they were written, and whether or not they were substantially error free. Different scholars made up elaborate theories of how the books of the Bible were written, and who wrote them, and they offered their own opinions on what portions of those books could be trusted and which portions should be omitted from the Bible. The theories of these different men do not agree with one another. Instead the theories contradict one another. Fortunately, since the year 2000 A.D. all of these different elaborate theories have been proven to be without substance, and without proof of any kind. Today most Christian scholars agree that these theories were just the products of the imaginations of men who wanted to make a name for themselves and who wanted to destroy the confidence that Jews and Christians had in their Holy Books.
Is Christian Salvation by Faith in Jesus Alone?
- The Apocrypha contains approximately 15 books, if each book is counted separately and it is not combined with another book.
- These books were never accepted as inspired scriptures by the Jewish people. Instead, they were kept separate from the Jewish Bible along with other writings that were of questionable origin and they were not consulted when issues regarding Jewish doctrine were being decided.
- The early Christian church treated the Apocrypha in the same way as the Jews and they did not include any of these questionable books in their canon of scripture.
- However, in the mid 1500s the church of Rome decided to include these questionable books as part of their Holy Bible. This is one of the major reasons for the distinction between the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant Christian church. The Protestant Christian church has never accepted the books of the Apocrypha as being the inspired words of God.
- One of the primary reasons why Jews and Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha is because those books contain some unusual unique statements that cannot be supported by scriptures anywhere else in the entire Bible, and some of those statements actually contradict other religious doctrines that have significant support from a wide variety of different scriptures in the traditionally accepted books of the Bible.
If the above statements are true, then there is nothing wrong with the original Jewish and Christian texts and those texts do not contain any errors that impact the doctrine or essential truths of those texts.
- Some of the new religions that claim to be a modern version of Christianity clearly state that they do not believe that when Jesus died on the cross that He paid the full price for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind, and they do not believe that all a person has to do to be accepted by God is to confess Jesus as Savior. Instead they insist that a person cannot be saved unless that person does a variety of other things, and if those other things are not done, then the person will not be allowed into heaven. Some of the more popular requirements are being water baptized and participating in the Lord's Supper (eating a small piece of unleavened bread or cracker, and drinking juice or wine).
- Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that the thief would be with Him that day in paradise. Then Jesus died. Later that day the thief died. The thief did not have time to be baptized. Jesus initiated the Lord's Supper the night before He was crucified and the thief never had a chance to participate in that ordinance. This raises the question of whether or not Jesus had the divine power to completely forgive the thief even though the thief had not been baptized, or partaken of the Lord's Supper, or done anything else to earn his salvation except to trust in Jesus. You may make your own decision in this matter.
Any religion that claims that those texts are in error, and that God or an angel has divinely inspired one person to correct the mistakes in those texts, is doing the following:
I personally do not mind if people wish to believe in one of these "new religions." However, I personally could not accept any of these "new religions" when I was trying to decide if I should follow the specific beliefs of one religion out of all the religions that are currently available. The reasons I could not seriously consider any "new religion" was because:
- Creating a "new religion" and not simply correcting an old religion.
- Giving "one inspired person" the authority to establish new doctrines and new truths that totally contradict the original ancient texts of the old religion.
- Stating that their "one inspired person" is the new spokesperson for God and that any prophets that God may have used in the past should no longer be believed because God was not able to prevent people from corrupting or changing the words of those ancient prophets.
- God's words are not permanent. Instead God's words are constantly changing. God is not limited to what He revealed to their new religion's "one inspired person." Instead God will continue to give "new inspiration" to new people and that new inspiration does not have to agree with the inspiration God previously gave to any of that person's predecessors, including the founder of their "new religion."
- Some of the beliefs of their religion are only known to the highest level members of their religion and those secret core beliefs are not shared with the lower level members of their religion because those lower level members are not able to correctly understand these high level "truths." However, if a person gradually rises in status in their religion then more of these secret beliefs will be gradually revealed to those people.
- New prospective members are rarely told that they will be persecuted, harassed, and maybe even killed by other members of their religion if they change their minds after accepting the religion and after they have had the time to learn more about what their religion actually teaches. In other words, the religion is able to keep most of their converts because those converts fear what other members of their religion will do to them more than they fear what God will do to them if they publicly renounce the false religion in which they no longer believe. This is in contradiction to what Jesus taught because Jesus said that men could only kill our bodies but God could kill us and cast our immortal souls into hell (Matthew 10:28).
- Finally, each "new religion" says that if any other religion claims to have a different "inspired person" who has corrected all the mistakes in the ancient religious texts. then that other religion's person was never really "divinely inspired" and he is nothing more than an unethical liar, and all of his corrections and his "new inspired truths" are nothing more than the fabrications of his own imagination and therefore everyone should completely ignore everything that he has said and written.
- The religious manuscripts of the ancient religions were not corrupted or intentionally changed by the people who followed that religion.
- Many of the "new religions" claimed that they had a "divinely inspired person" who had corrected the errors in the ancient religious manuscripts and they had revised them so those writings now conformed to what God really intended from antiquity. But they have no proof such as at least one ancient manuscript that had not been corrupted. The problem with this approach is that these "inspired people" were suggesting that I should believe in a God who was not able to keep people from changing His Holy Words. As an engineer I saw this as a self-defeating argument. If God could not keep people from corrupting His words in the past, then how could anyone place any confidence in what a "newly inspired person" said because the God they were suggesting that I believe in was too weak to control the people He created and this implies that God would therefore not be able to control the "newly inspired person's" future followers from changing His words again and again and again whenever they wanted to without God's permission.
- Since there are so many "new religions" to pick from, and each one has its own "inspired person" to lead it, how could an honest person correctly select the "one true religion" from all the "false religions?"
At this time I think the following statements can be made about whether or not religion is necessary in the 21st century:
Therefore society in the 21st century could benefit from allowing people to practice any non-violent religion they wish. A non-violent religion is one that encourages its members to practice good behavior, to live in peace with everyone, and to obey the laws of whatever country they live in.
- Without any religious morals to guide us, people can behave in any manner they wish, and many people will behave in a selfish manner that takes advantage of other people and they will hurt other people and this will create social instability, and it will reduce the incentive to be individually productive, and therefore it will reduce the average standard of living for the people in that society.
- If people follow a religion that encourages them to be hateful to non-believers, or to execute non-believers, of to execute anyone who renounces their religion, or to engage in acts of terrorism, then society will suffer as these people seek to kill other people. There are several major religions that fall into this category.
- If people follow any truly non-violent religion that encourages its members to be considerate of all people, and to be good to all people, including people who do not share their specific religious beliefs, then society will benefit. There are several major religions that fall into this category.
If any government allows historically hostile religions (ones that have no tolerance for other religions) to flourish within their country without insisting that its members obey all the laws of that society (including any anti-discrimination laws they may have), then that nation is sowing the seeds for its own demise.
If a government forbids its citizens from practicing a specific religion, or all religions, then that nation may experience social turmoil that will gradually destabilize that government.
A significant side benefit of peaceful religions is that they can have a subtle impact on non-believers who claim they do not believe in God or in heaven or hell. Just because a person says that he or she does not believe in God does not exclude that person from having secret doubts in his or her heart about whether or not there might really be a God and a place called heaven and a place called hell. Some criminals, but not all, have these secret unspoken doubts and these doubts help to subconsciously restrain some criminals from doing some crimes and from doing significant acts of violence while committing a crime. Therefore a peaceful religion can have an indirect impact on reducing the crime rate in a society and reducing the number of violent crimes within that society. On the other hand, a non-peaceful religion does not help to reduce the crime rate in a society -- instead it adds to the crime rate because it encourages acts of violence against some members of that society, and some of these religions even encourage horrendous acts of religious terrorism.
It was not the purpose of this article to recommend any one religion, or to recommend that any religion be outlawed.
Instead the purpose of this article was to encourage people to seriously consider the beliefs of all religions, and to either voluntarily reject all religions, or to select a religion that they can have confidence in, even if that means changing their current religious beliefs.
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