Christianity has always seemed to me to offer religion as an alternative to damnation. Follow Christ, because through Him your sins will be forgiven. This is a very welcome message to anyone who feels inherently guilty. The doctrine of original sin then seems to make complete sense. And so we are carried into the organization, to be baptized, and to breathe a great sigh of relief for now we are saved.
But please read this for what it is: the initial perceptions of a child of fourteen, who could not understand the whole concept of latent sin, and therefore gave up the entire prospect of religion. This is the time when I became an atheist.
The doctrines of honesty and kindness were easy enough, because as long as one follows them (and they are quite simple in their rules), one is justifiably beyond reproach. Violating them means that the scales of justice must be rebalanced, but once that is done, again one is OK.
Against such a model, religion seems to set up an incredibly complicated system, where honesty, kindness and the other virtues are merely part of some larger game, whose rules we were never meant to understand. Somehow we accept the fact that we are by default “in the wrong,” that the scales can never be rebalanced by our own efforts, and that we therefore stand in need of an All-Powerful, external Being Who will allow us to escape the punishment we were otherwise destined for.
Yet even this is not guaranteed – at least in the brands of Christianity I was familiar with growing up. Consorting with the wrong kind of people could just as easily send you to hell as giving up the church. Faced with this impermanent salvation, I again discovered that the scales were forever off-balance, and that the omnipotent deity who was to secure my rescue demanded constant propitiation in order to keep up his end of the bargain. In this respect modern “ecclesiastical” religion is no different from the ancient cultures who make sacrifices to the gods each year in order to ensure a steady crop. If we let down our guard, the deities are immediately going to return to the realms whence they came, and then we are left on our own. Completely on our own. And needless to say, because of our imperfection, and the fact that the scales of Justice forever demand rebalancing, it’s no longer possible to continue living without that deity’s protection.
This is such a simple, “pray for the rains” theology that it is surprising how inveterate it has become, even in the belief systems of modern day. With the advent of Christ, it became more glorified, and more intricate, but at heart the formula is identical. Man is bad, and does not deserve. God covers for man, and now man can live acceptably. But man must continue to implore God, or God will leave man, and man will perish.
Isn’t this the idea of those street-corner preachers who say, “Repent, for the end is near!”? The idea of expiating guilt is so attractive for anyone who feels guilty (and I am certain that many of us feel guilty about something, for life is a thing of mistakes), that it becomes a very strong selling point. And perhaps this is why the current generation has become so heedless: because they are aware of this “moral economics” and are disgusted by the fact that the only real result is that the church gets fatter every year. Now that their sins are forgiven, so what? They have to live in constant apprehension of drawing all those sins back again with the least transgression. It’s like a judge who suspends one’s sentence at court. The individual feels somehow lucky, but now he is afraid that on the next occasion he will have to pay for both the old sin and the new one. This is not a very complete salvation. At least not given the time and money that it costs.
Some sects offer permanent salvation. Once you have accepted Christ as Lord, this is both the beginning and the end. Do what you like, for your faith has saved you. Of course, you should still try to be good, but it doesn’t really matter all that much. The only catch here is that you have at accept Him through a particular church, and remain a member of that church. I’m not very experienced with these kinds of churches, but it surprises me that they aren’t more popular.
The thing to notice here is that all of the focus is on the suppliant. Where is God mentioned, except as the Saviour of the otherwise hell-bound soul? Isn’t He, after all, the Creator, the Source of all Good, the Knower and the Seer? It would seem that if religion were anything, it would be a source of knowledge about Him, since no other science or art can tell us anything about Him directly.
This is the special purview of religion, this authoritative knowledge of God. Church is where one goes to discover the mysterious fact that there is another world beyond this world, one based on love and fellow feeling, rather than brute force and power. All these things were created by God, Who has placed more capacities within us than we are yet aware of, and Who has much more in store for us then we have witnessed so far. The key is to make ready our perception so that we might be capable of comprehending the deeper mysteries of life. This requires a purifying our mind, turning our sight away from baser things, directing our inquiry to the soul and its needs, and providing it with the nourishment it requires to develop the capabilities it has been endowed with.
Nothing but religion can educate us about the needs of the soul, for only God understands these needs, and so only God can tell us about them. This He does through the mechanism of His Messengers, or Prophets, sent is just such a fashion that only those who are truly interested will listen long enough to find out what they have to offer. This is done because Beauty is only for the eyes of those who will appreciate it. Think of something astonishingly beautiful, and special, in your own life. Maybe this would be a sunset viewed from a particular spot, or the enveloping silence of a certain grove at a nearby beach. Now consider who you would bring there, to share your special place. Would it be just any one, no matter how crass or insensitive? Or would you reserve those places for only those people who possess the sensibilities necessary to apprehend what was being offered?
God, too, has something wonderful to share with us something that is open to all. But only those whole hearts are ready can enter, because otherwise it would be waste, like a painting created for a blind man. This He achieves by tailoring His message with exactly the right amount of craft, such that it be ignored, or cherished, based on the predilection of the hearer.
But my point is that religion is about God, and not about the question of our salvation. This plays a part, but not as expiation of our sins; rather it is about removing those obstacles which would prevent from perceiving His beauty. This is what is meant by salvation; to be awaken from a slumber which would have caused you to miss all the wonderful glory of life.