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Conclusions about religion:

Section 2:
Other Questions, Conclusions, Recommendations

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We recommend that you read the menu on this topic first.

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Where did we come from?

There are many diverse beliefs about the origin of humanity -- that we came from:

bulletBacteria: About 99% of biological and earth scientists support the theory of evolution. So do most Roman Catholics, most religious liberals, and some religious mainliners. Contrary to public opinions, they do not believe that we are descended from monkeys. They trace humanity back to a common ancestor that humans share with the higher apes. The fossil evidence goes farther back to small rodent-like mammals at the time of the dinosaurs, and eventually back to bacteria which were able to live under very hot conditions underground. The latter appear to be the source of all life on earth.
bulletMud: Conservative Christians and Jews follow the Genesis account in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It has been variously translated as having God make Adam from the "dust of the ground," "a lump of soil," "clods in the soil," or "a clod of clay." 1
bulletInsects: The Navajo Nation teaches that underground insects either became, or helped create, the First Man and First Woman.
bulletFleas: An ancient Chinese creation story describes human beings as coming from the fleas in the hair of a giant.
bulletFrom body parts: Hinduism teaches that various castes of humans came from parts of a primal man, Purusa. His body formed the entire universe. His arms became the warriors; his legs the commoners, and his feet the serfs.
bulletFrom sexual intercourse: Most traditions of Wicca, and many other Aboriginal religions, share a common belief: that the seeds of all life, including the human race, came from the sexual union of two deities -- one male and one female.

What little agreement that there is among religions indicates that humans probably came from lower, simpler forms of life. This vaguely agrees with the theory of evolution. 2

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Is there life after death?

In a word, yes. For example:

bulletAfter we die, the body rots. If the body is not cremated, it provides life to countless millions of bacteria.
bulletOur DNA, mixed with the DNA of another, lives on through any children that we have. If we are to have two children, then half of our DNA is present in each. If they each have two children, then one quarter of our DNA is present in each of our four grandchildren. And so on. The influence of our DNA continues to be diluted with each generation. But it is spread through an increasing number of our descendents. Assuming that our descendents keep on having just sufficient children to replace themselves, then the sum total of our contribution to the gene pool remains constant from generation to generation, forever.
bulletEvery action that we have taken throughout our life influences other people and the world in some way. Even after we are gone, our actions continue to change the universe. The ripples formed during our lifetime, for good or evil, continue to spread.

But when people normally think about life after death, they think of some continued form of consciousness -- one in which at least our memories and personalities remain intact. Various religions teach mutually exclusive views:

bulletThe Celts and some other aboriginal societies taught that when we die, we are born into an alternative universe that is much like the earth. When someone dies in that other universe, a baby is born on earth. There is an elegant symmetry to this concept. However, the belief does not seem to be shared by other religions.
bulletThe ancient Israelites, the Pagan cultures that surrounded them, and the ancient Greeks shared a belief in an underworld, called Sheol or Hades. This was a "post-mortem dungeon where pitiful souls, reduced to shadows, lead a sorrowful and anemic 'existence'," totally separated from God. 3
bulletUnder the influence of Zoroastrianism and the Platonic concept of the immortality of the soul, some traditions within later Judaism developed the idea of eternal life with God. Christianity picked up this concept. They developed the idea that each human would be judged by Jesus, and spend eternity either with God in indescribable bliss in Heaven, or isolated from God in terrible pain being tortured forever in Hell without any hope of mercy.
bulletSome modern-day Christians are repelled by the thought that God will send the vast majority of humans to Hell. Various concepts of a second chance have been proposed. None seem to have any basis in the scriptures.
bulletEastern and some Neopagan religions teach some form of transmigration of the soul or of reincarnation, in which humans eventually pass through a whole succession of lifetimes.
bulletMost Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists and other secularists are quite certain that nothing lies beyond death. The body's processes, both mental and physical,  gradually wind down. There is no soul. There is no consciousness after death. The person does not survive death in any form.

From the great variety of mutually exclusive ideas about life after death, one is tempted to conclude that nobody really knows what happens. It appears that most (perhaps all) religions are simply guessing. People are keen to know what happens after death; all religions are expected to supply answers.

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What is the meaning of life?

I am sorry to confess that none of us have studied this question in depth. What little thinking that I have done on the meaning of life has led me to believe that life is intrinsically meaningless. It is up to the individual to give their own life meaning. 

If you are interested in studying the matter further, Nancy Martin and Joseph Runzo have edited a book that describes the meaning of life as taught by the world's main religions. 4

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Conclusions:

bulletThere are many ways to determine which is the "true" church. Unfortunately, they lead to different conclusions.
bulletReligions teach a wide diversity of rules for individual behavior. There is no way at this time to reach a consensus about which, if any, set of moral rules is true or correct.
bulletAlmost all religions teach an Ethic of Reciprocity that is similar to the Christian Golden Rule. We should probably adopt this concept in our dealings with other people. Where it is used, it seems to work. When we treat others a sub-humans, dreadful things can and do happen. However, to maximize the chances for peace in one's locality and around the world, we need to apply the Ethic to everyone, not just to followers of one's religion, or to people of the same race as we are, etc.
bulletReligions teach a wide diversity of beliefs about deity and an individual's responsibilities towards that deity. Again, there is no way at this time to reach a consensus about which faith, if any, is true.
bulletThe theory of evolution and many religions teach that humans came from lower forms of life.
bulletThere are a lot of theories about life after death, but we are a little short on hard evidence. It seems as if nobody is really certain. We have two choices:
bulletTo somehow learn to live with this uncertainty.
bulletTo follow a religious belief, even though we have no proof.

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Recommendations:

We make no specific recommendations about which religion to select for your own. We do suggest some points to consider when making this personal decision:

bulletInter-faith or intra-faith marriage: Religious differences within a committed relationship can generate a great deal of stress, and greatly increase the possibility of separation an divorce. There are various methods of minimizing conflict. Properly handled, religious differences can bring a couple closer together.
bulletGod as a safe bet: Some academics, including Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662) have suggested that "If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing -- but if you don't believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you will go to hell. Therefore it is foolish to be an atheist." This statement has become known as Pascal's Wager. It has quite a few logical errors. For example:
bulletOne cannot simply decide to believe in something or someone as an act of will. People normally have to be convinced that what they believe in has some supporting evidence. 
bulletWhat if a person decides to believe in the wrong God? There are many religions with multiple concepts of God and Hell in the world. You might decide to believe in one God only to find out that another God is the real one -- with his/her/its/their own Hell waiting for you because you chose in error. A devout Christian may well end up in Allah's Hell, and a devout Muslim may well end up in Yahweh's Hell.
bulletIf you live in North America and feel equally comfortable with all religions, you might consider choosing Christianity. About 75% of adults in the U.S. identify themselves as Christians. Going with the majority might avoid being the victim of religious prejudice. This number is dropping by almost one percentage point per year. If this trend continues, then by sometime in the 2020s, Christianity will become a minority religion in the U.S. At that point, non-Christians might be less discriminated against.
bulletIf you live in a country that has a state religion, you might simplify your life by choosing that faith. In some countries, one can be charged with a capital crime for changing your religion.
bulletIf you feel that a Neopagan religion like Wicca is best for you, then you might consider keeping a very low profile. Many, perhaps most, Wiccans do not publicly reveal their religion to others. There are a lot of people in North America who do not differentiate between Wicca, the "witchcraft" mentioned in the Bible, and fantasy "witchcraft" as mentioned in the Harry Potter and other books. Others equate Wicca with Satanism. For some of them, beliefs spread by the Inquisition in the late Middle Ages and Rennaisance are still valid.
bulletAll other factors being equal, if you choose the dominant religion of your family of origin, you might minimize conflict in your life.
bulletIt is not necessary to fully adopt a single religion. A "shopping-cart" or syncretistic approach is an option for some. For example, one might adopt the Wiccan Rede, (a rule governing behavior), and graft it onto a Christian theology about God, an Eastern Religion's concept of karma and reincarnation, while adopting a concern for the environment from various Neopagan Earth-centered religions.
bulletWith a few exceptions, we have found that most religions can inspire their members to lead better lives. Most, perhaps all, have an evil, dark side. Some are sexist, racist and/or homophobic. Many have discriminatory policies that would be illegal under civil rights legislation if a businesses, industry, government office or educational institution attempted to apply them. So, even if you adopt a specific religion, you might consider working from within to eliminate any bigoted policies that your chosen faith exhibits.

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References:

  1. Genesis 2:7, from various translations of the Bible.
  2. Paul Davies, "The fifth miracle: The search for the origin and meaning of life," Touchstone Books, (2000). Review/order this book
  3. Arvan Harvat, "Judaism and life after death," at: http://www.kheper.auz.com/topics/bardo/judaism.html 
  4. Nancy Martin and Joseph Runzo, "The meaning of life in the world religions," Oneworld Publ., (1999) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL-14
Latest update: 2008-MAR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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