Guiding Principle #4: Commonality
Commonsense Statement: Trust those educational principles, precepts, or truths which are transferable from one life or cultural situation to another. Distrust supposed wisdom or life views which only work in certain settings but fail in all others.
Life Illustration: When you were growing up you had some household rules passed on by your parents to help you learn to adjust to life and to keep things orderly around the house. Some of these rules were helpful and gave your home a sense of order and distinction. Some of those rules you could take out into society (be kind to others, speak the truth, wait your turn, be hard working). Some of them would not be as transferable, maybe … certain mealtime rules, word expressions which were permissible or impermissible, Saturday morning routines, or some other idiosyncrasy of your family. These family traditions or standards would have to adapt or be discarded as you interacted with others in society from other homes with different rules. They were nontransferable to life in the larger world. We instinctively know that if the wisdom we have been taught earlier in life does not stand the test of the larger society, it is not as valuable or wise as it was claimed. Much advice seems to be useful until it meets the more rigorous test of commonality.
Application to Faith: Since all humanity is basically the same and related from common ancestors, any message from God or spiritual pathway should apply to all of us and not be only for one peoples group in one part of the world. Since humanity is all part of one family, and we all descend from one common race (as even science now affirms through the analysis of human genomes) any truth must be true for all peoples or it can hardly be said to be true. Transference to many cultures, nationalities, social structures, and ages reveals a message from the same God who made everyone. Truth for humanity will stand the test of time and space. However, it is a fact that some religions flourish only in limited locales and never are adopted by other cultures and peoples. Others transcend culture and nationality and are readily received by men and women of all societies. If the majority of geographical places have been rejecting of a religion over and over again, that is an indication it lacks commonality, and is not likely to be a message from God. It does not have the ring of truth for all mankind!
Two religions which fail this test of commonality are the following.
Hinduism boasts being one of the earliest of all religions preceding Buddhism, Shintoism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. Since it is a way of life as well as a religion, and since it had no one founder, but rather is a convergence of a number of related religions in India, it is a point of controversy when Hinduism actually commenced. The best answer seems to be around 1500 B.C. when the Aryans from Persia invaded India and overcame the Dravidian civilization. At that time an amalgamation of beliefs came to dominate, and Hinduism was likely born. Others think the religion should be credited with an even earlier genesis. In either case, it has been around a very long time. This would seem to be a strong point for the religion – antiquity and durability.
The term “Hindu” derives from a Sanskrit word for “river” and refers to the famous and revered Indus River. It originally was a geographical name not a name for a religion. Sanskrit was the spoken language of the Aryans who are credited with bringing aspects of their religion to India. Hinduism is a religion which believes in reincarnation (recycling life back into this life after death – called “Samsara” in Hinduism), karma (the total of each person’s actions in this and previous lives which determine their fate), pantheism/monism (all is one), and polytheism (many gods). Apart from these beliefs, it is a religion which is very hard to define because it has no central doctrines or central places of worship. It allows any adherent to make or mold almost any mixture of worship of gods or no gods into a personalized system of faith. In other words, any Hindu is free to adapt his beliefs according to his own personal preferences. So it is a very inventive religion and very flexible.
Among many Hindus, there are some commonly worshiped deities. The big three gods in Hinduism are Brahma (ultimate reality), Vishnu (ruler of earth and champion of good causes), and Shiva (a four armed god credited with creating and destroying.) Some call Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer. These were not the original gods of Hinduism but over time came to be the dominate ones.
For all its ancestry and flexibility though, Hinduism has never made a dent on the rest of the world in conversions. Today (as was the case centuries ago) its influence is largely limited to one nation – India. About 80-85% of India is Hindu totaling a little less than one billion Hindus or 13% of the world’s population. Next door to India is Bangladesh which has about 14 million Hindus. Also bordering India to the North is Nepal which has about 24 million Hindus and is the only nation on earth where the official religion is Hindu. Regionally some 98% of all Hindus live there. Yet 0.3% of all Hindus live in the Americas and 0.3% of Hindus live in Europe and 0.2% live in Africa. In America those practicing Hinduism are predominately in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco due to immigration from one of those countries, not conversion.
One has to ask why this religion, which has been around so long and can be adapted in so many ways by individual adherents, has failed to bring its message to the rest of mankind. Why has it failed to convince other peoples that it contains a true message and its teachings correspond with reality? Why has its wisdom not prevailed in the marketplace of ideas? Younger religions have had much greater success in persuasion and transference. Hinduism has not. There must be a reason.
Some believe Hinduism’s lack of appeal in part has to do with its oppressive caste system. Through a large part of its history Hinduism advanced a very oppressive caste system relegating the bottom status of humans to a position lower than some animals in terms of rights. This lowest cast are called “untouchables.” Some of this oppressive caste system still exists in the modern world. For those who grow up in that kind of a system, one can understand why it is readily accepted. People tend to accept what they have been taught from childhood. However outside of that, who would choose as an adult to be a part of a system which relegates the multitudes to an inferior status? Only a few in their cast system (Brahmins, who are the priests, followed by the warrior cast) are at the top and considered worthy of that position.
Others believe part of the reason is that Hindus do not proselytize. Their religion is considered more a way of life than a religion. They actually have at times condemned proselytizing while other religions gain adherents. This, of course, begs the question. If they had some truth which was important for the rest of the world to know and use, wouldn’t they want to spread it as a service to mankind? Proselytizing is only a nuisance if it is unneeded. It is a blessing if it gives people the light they so desperately need to pull them out of darkness. Hindus behave as if what they know is either not for the rest of the world or not true light. They simply do not advance any urgent missionary activity. If those not accustomed to its way of life would not naturally benefit from it, doesn’t that prove it is not really truth for all? If it is not for all, in what sense then is it even true? Why is it only a way of life and not something to guide people into the truth? Either it has a message or it does not. If it has a message, and it is not transferable to other cultures and nations, it clearly is not something which should be viewed as truth for all.
So there is no commonality to Hinduism, and until there is, commonsense tells us all that it is not a message for all peoples. In fact, it is the least transferable religion of all given its number of adherents in India and its age. It fails the commonality test as a message from God or the gods to all the world.
Judaism also is a very old religion. It actually begins further back than Hinduism beginning with God’s call of Abram around 2100 B.C. For this it should be commended. However today the percentage of the world’s religion which is Jewish is 0.2%. That’s only 1/5 of 1%. That means 99.8% of the world is not Jewish. That is amazing considering its longevity. Jews have not even been able to convince one half of one percent that their religion speaks for God. For such an old religion, the world has not viewed it as a message for mankind.
Now we need to make one important clarification. This failure to convince others is not necessarily a judgment on ancient Judaism, for it had a much greater effect on the world in times past than it does today. Modern Judaism has gone through many changes from ancient Judaism. This is fairly easy to prove since ancient Judaism followed the Law of Moses rigorously and centered its worship in the land of Israel around the temple in Jerusalem.
The Judaism of today is known as Rabbinic Judaism because it is organized around the Rabbi’s teachings once they were expunged from their land by the Romans. When the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., it left the Jews without a center to their religious practice. They could not make their sacrifices as prescribed by Moses. They could not follow the law to the letter because it was a law centered on life in the land of Israel from which most of them had been expelled. So they formed the new approach to their religion after the destruction of the temple, some which added new requirements and traditions. These writings and rules are recorded in their Talmud and Midrash. Today this Rabbinic Judaism consists of different branches, some very conservative and others quite liberal.
So modern Judaism has departed in significant ways from the ancient Scriptures. This is not an empty claim but is provable by reading the ancient Jewish Scriptures themselves and comparing them with the way Judaism is practiced today. Of course, there are some similarities, but the large departure from the Law of Moses is proof enough. Today they are forced to pick and choose which laws they obey. Therefore, critically evaluating modern Judaism is not a rejection of the ancient Jewish faith. In fact, it could be viewed as a defense of the ancient faith, for if Judaism had stayed its course, the results of their influence on the rest of mankind might have been much greater. Some believe its influence is extended by Messianic Judaism more commonly known as Christianity. If that is the case, then ancient Judaism is being vindicated today in opposition to modern Judaism which has been rejected.
Guiding Principle #5: Certified
Commonsense Statement: Trust those whose lives certify truth by demonstrating goodness. Trust those who are consistently good, generous, kind, gentle, and selfless. Distrust those who speak the right words but whose lives belie their words by greed, hate, destruction, dishonesty, and self-interest. Actions are a person’s certification of character, and, as the adage states, they speak louder than words.
Life Illustration: People and products are known by what they produce. Their works define them. When you want to know what something is or what someone’s character is like, look at what they do – their actions. When one is confused about who someone really is on the inside, be it politician, teacher, coworker, friend, businessperson, or neighbor, the sure way to tell is by watching their actions intently and listening to their unguarded words with discernment. That’s when you find out who they truly are. The same is true with products and services. There is a reason many trust the AAA brand or Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau. Watchdog groups help the rest of us know what is going on behind the scenes.
Application to Faith: Religions which have consistently turned out good people, caring citizens, generous neighbors, and fair, hardworking employees are certified by the lives of those involved in the religion. Conversely if you find them caring less about people, lying more, getting their values upside down, starting to exhibit bizarre behavior, too private and suspicious, or even outright hostile, that will reveal something about the message their religion is putting out, especially if that typically happens to people who join that religion. This is one of the scary characteristics of the cults we hopefully will get to study in a future blog. Good religion, a faith worthy of having, results in love, generosity, kindness, truth telling, justice, humility etc… Commonsense tells you to trust those attributes. It’s a built in truth detector you and I possess. Use it!
Egregious example of failing at Life Certification:
Occultism and Shamanism
Shamanism is a faith or religion which encourages the use of spirits for attaining knowledge, healing, power, or retribution. The Shaman is one who is initiated and trained in making contact with the spirits. The purposes for this contact often have to do with control over something or to inflict malevolent pain upon others. The desire to have power and protection from a higher power is common to all cultures and peoples. So the attraction to Shamanism is understandable. It is not surprising that Shamanism is found in most nations and has been a part of many cultures for thousands of years. Both Native Americans and New Agers practiced and still practice shamanism. Mind-altering drugs are often part of the practice. The Native American form also practiced rhythmic dancing, singing, and chanting as part of the attempt to attract the spirits and get them to help.
With this attempt to gain the help of the spirits comes great danger and cost. Shaman initiation can be very dangerous to the initiate. He is often asked to do some very dangerous things and practice sexual extremes.
Similarly the occult and its practices have been around a long time. They also claim to be able to get people connected with spirits and thus gain knowledge. Their religion boasts many practices from seances to card readings. The questions which need to be answered related to their religion are the following: Who are they actually contacting? What spirits are at work? What is their agenda? and What harm does that contact have on the humans?
Wiccan practices are a pursuit of knowledge and power from unknown sources. Those sources must be trusted before they are known. The potential damage is great, for many believe it to be a step across the line to the dark side. Much caution is warranted.
The most telling thing is that those who dabble in the occult tend not to be people who exhibit qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Their involvement often leads to the initiates becoming obsessed with power and egotism leading to isolation from family members and loved ones. Those who dabble in the occult begin to exhibit a coldness toward positive spiritual virtues like humility, thankfulness, and truth seeking. Some get into heavy metal rock, dark thoughts, suicide, and drugs. The effect will obviously be different for different people, yet the point is that the occult tends to move people away from good quality relationships, love, openness, and joy. Watching the lives of people involved in the occult is a sure way of seeing through its faulty message and potentially harmful associations. Spiritual seekers should steer clear!
Guiding Principle #6: Challenging
Commonsense Statement: Those who make life & faith sound too easy without having to invest any serious commitment to it but still promise lots of worldly benefits stretch believability too far. Those who tell it like it is – including passing on the hard things of life – should be considered straight shooters and our true friends. Trust those who speak tough love to help you through life.
Illustration from Life: We can trust those who tell us things we do not like to hear but speak to help us. Skilled salespeople are taught to find out what you want to hear and present that flattering message as a lure to hook you. Beware of this! There is always something they are not telling you which should impact your decision. If you give into flattery you can be more easily manipulated. Trustworthy salesmen and friends will tell you the truth, and if the product is good for you, it will sell itself. Maybe your insurance is not adequate for your future. Maybe you can’t afford a house that big in that neighborhood. Those you can trust will keep you out of debt and trouble. The same is true with friends. A true friend will tell you your eating habits are poor and will hurt your health or that you should quit smoking. As another saying goes, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
Connection to Faith: This principle is also true in the place of worship. True religion will tell you the hard things about yourself you probably don’t want to hear. If one faith tells you that you are fine the way you are, isn’t that flattery? It may be what we want to hear, but is it true? Isn’t that dangerous if there is something we need to learn to change in life and they don’t tell us? If they don’t require any change or any self self-inspection, that may be easy and fun, but is it going to result in your longterm benefit? People flock to places where their messages tickle your ears. Beware! Also beware of superficial changes a religion wants to add to your life but not affect how you are on the inside. If religion is made simple and external, can’t anyone do that? And then, what does that prove? There is a lot of show in religion which does not amount to much. Once the show is over, there is no lasting impact on the inner person.
Egregious Example of Not Challenging you with Truth:
Health & Wealth Preachers
TV Bible preachers have had their share of criticism over the past several decades, and in many cases those criticisms were warranted. When preachers claim you can get rich quickly by faith or when they claim you can selfishly pursing all your monetary desires, but still be spiritual, this message, though popular, should regard as suspect. The health and wealth (some call them Blab & Grab) preachers tell you faith is your power to control your life and make it turn out the way you want. Faith will eliminate illness and bring you that sportswear and mansion you so crave. Faith like this becomes your personal Genie in a bottle to conjure up what life has not delivered you so far. It’s a shortcut for lazy people pursuing an opulent lifestyle who do a lot of dreaming and feel life owes them more than they got. That is a deceptive message. What is true is they are getting rich on your donations in the name of Christ and religion. When promises of healings are made without the actual symptoms being eliminated, you are dealing with a false teacher not a man of God. Don’t listen to his lofty prayers or tearful pleadings. Look at his rich and lavish lifestyle at your expense. It results in “healings” which are not healings. What kind of a healing is that? “More faith is needed,” they say. Not so! The four gospel accounts record that Jesus’ healings came to people with little or no faith and who donated no money. No stage show was needed to heal them either. He just spoke and God’s power was unleashed.
So these preachers are not explaining faith properly to you. They are not the proper kinds of challenges to learn self-control, kindness, forgiveness, hard work etc… You were not born yesterday! Regard them as too easy a fix.
Made Up Religions
One other example here will be helpful. This is a religion a lot of people don’t think about. Some give the senseless advice that the only religion you should follow is the one you make up for yourself. I say that this is senseless because anyone who would do this knows he does not know what is true. If she knows she is making it up, then she knows it is not true. To follow a false religion of one’s own making is to admit you are a phony!
It is also very easy to follow a religion you craft to your own desires, preferences, and aspirations. You merely pick and choose what you think is true and call it your own religion. Religion becomes like constructing your own omelet. Anyone who would do this is essentially an egotistical and blind fool. There are no standards of truth, no standards of right and wrong, and no standards for determining those things. Rather than God making man in his own image, these people think they can make God in their own image. If someone could do this than a serial killer could make a religion out his serial killing or a snorkeler could make a religion out of snorkeling or a gaming enthusiast could call his TV and console his shrine. Obviously there is not much to say in defense of this approach.