How to Self-Evaluate Your Own Religious Integrity, in Eleven Premises

Premise 1: My religion represents the exclusive truth.

By way of an answer, consider this: which of the following scriptures have you devoted to rigorous and charitable study: The Koran, The Bible, The Torah, The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Gnostic Gospels?

Consider approximately in hours, days, months, weeks or years your devoted study to each, and then review your assertion of Premise 1 from a space of honesty and integrity. You will review this yourself with no higher authority than your own to judge.

Premise 2: My religion is unique.

Every religion is unique in its own way. This by itself does not lend a measure of truthfulness. For example, only Buddhism holds that if a statement should not accord with your own sense of reason, then you need not accept it, even if is spoken by Buddha. This may make Buddhism unique, but it does not immediately qualify it as true.

Islam holds that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse. Again, this qualifies Islam as unique, but it does not immediately qualify it as true. Even the belief that Jesus was the son of a virgin and died upon the cross for our sins is not unique to Christianity, as this mythology was already present in a much earlier religion called Mithraism.

Premise 3:

I feel very strongly about my religion/
I have perfect faith in my religion/
I know in my heart that my religion is true/
I have special access to the truth/
I have had special spiritual experiences with this religion that confirm my belief

So does everyone else who adheres to a religion, even to the extent that they would sacrifice their own lives for their faith, Sikh, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Mayan. They each have heaven, miracles, saints and holy days. If their faith is as strong as your own, can it be possible that you are both correct? Are you both wrong? Is there another possibility? What are to be your standards for judging, given that you are the advocate of only your own religion?

Premise 4: When I am uncomfortable, something is wrong and I should therefore avoid it.

False. Something is not wrong when a dancing bear has the ring removed from its nose, and something is not wrong when a woman is in childbirth. When you question your convictions, you are stepping into your own authority and demanding that your assumptions meet the appropriate conditions – namely, that they reflect truth. The most wonderful and transformative change is often initially uncomfortable, this does not mean it is not worthwhile.

Premise 5: Those who encourage me to question my faith are agents of of evil or are otherwise trying to lead me astray.

To the extent that you believe this, you will remain in a spiritual cell. The only thing you have to lose by questioning your beliefs and convictions is illusion – you get to keep anything that is true. No one imprisons you but you, and by your own free choice. Are you worried about losing the illusory? Are you worried about losing what is false?

Recognise this responsibility to yourself and to those who depend upon you. There is no one to reply to, object to, or argue with in this situation, because the only person you need to answer to here is you.

Premise 6: The truth of my religion is established to the extent that we have faced persecution.

This is assumed by every religion. Every religion faces persecution from every other religion, and yet each religion assumes the role of passive victimhood. This is simply not true. All religions both persecute and are persecuted, and all have a history of violence.

Premise 7: My religious community shares love with each other and that is real.

It may very well be true, but so does every other community, religious or not. How do you treat those who choose to leave your community? Do you judge them? Often the love shared between members of a church or a religion is actually conditional. We are happy to give love, care and attention to others within our group just so long as they live up to our expectations by believing what we believe and behaving in ways acceptable to us.

If they leave, then what happens? If their religious commitments change, then what happens? If your religion teaches that they should be treated any different, does that resonate with you on the deepest level?

Premise 8: The holy scriptures that my religious beliefs are based on are very old, and can be proven authentic because within those scriptures is the promise that it is true.

Again, this is ‘true’ for every single scripture-based religious tradition. Each relies upon a circular argument. “God has divinely authored a book in which he promises he was the author, and God would not lie”. This is self-contradictory, and the absurdity of it is clearly seen when the same assumptions are championed by other religions with entirely different assumptions.

Premise 9: If I did not maintain the beliefs, traditions and practices set out by my religion, then the world would collapse into moral anarchy.

The sad irony is that the world is already in a continually worsening state of moral collapse, largely due to interfaith conflict. Please read this last sentence more than once, because it is imperative that you understand. If multiple groups are being guided by inflexible moral rules that are in fact mutually exclusive, then conflict is the inevitable result. Period.

Premise 10: I would rather be wrong with my own religious group than right by supporting beliefs that I experience as heretical, distasteful or challenging.

This is very important to review for yourself, because herein lies the crux of the issue of personal moral and epistemic integrity. That which is true will not always conform to your expectations, preconceptions, and certainly not your comfort zone. Read this last sentence twice, please. It is imperative to understand. If you choose to be wrong with your own group, you are not in your integrity, because what you are in fact choosing is to be in your comfort zone rather than in respect to Truth.

Premise 11: Other religions and belief systems are immoral and misguided.

Now, if you are fundamentalist of any kind this has to appear to be true for you, because you have concluded that the rules set out by your own tradition are exclusively correct. You may be surprised to find with a little honest research that some traditions are very much aligned to your own. They may have an attitude of high respect and tolerance for their ingroup and an attitude of disapproval and even violence of their outgroup. They may even walk the talk better than your own tradition.

For example, the Islamic practice of stoning adulterers and homosexuals is frowned upon by moderate Christians, even though the moral law is expressly the same in the Koran as it is in the Old Testament. Fundamentalist Christians may not necessarily be so far off in disagreement with Radical Muslims.

There are also very loving and moderate religious traditions that may agree with your own teachings about expressing love to outsiders, forgiving wrongdoing and respectfully allowing others of different creeds to live in peace without imposing one’s own views and constraints upon them. Does that really sound so bad? If your teachings inspire you to anger and malign against others, can you honestly say that those beliefs are in the better interest of mankind?

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Simon P. Murphy is a Nelson-based writer. He is the author of the short story collection His Master’s Wretched Organ and the forthcoming Lexicanum Luciferium (both by VJM Publishing). His fiction is heavily influenced by Gnosticism and Alchemy, placing a central focus upon the theme of our navigation of an occulted reality through the use of archetypal symbolism.

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