If They Believe That—Religion
The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. —H. L. Mencken
No one has asked me to evaluate modern education, but, in case someone does, I thought I ought to be prepared. It seems to me, the best way to evaluate education is to pick something we know education ought to do, and see how well it does it.

I may be wrong about this, everything has changed so much, but it used to be an objective of education to teach children how to think. This, it was believed, would prevent them from being deceived by politicians and the press. Now, if the ability to think is still something education is supposed to provide, there is an easy enough way to test how well that skill is being imparted. All we have to do is look at the things people believe. If they have been taught to think, what they believe will be sensible and reasonable. If they have not been taught how to think, what they believe will be nonsense and superstition.

We cannot examine everything people believe so we'll pick something people seem to think is important: religion.1


Adherents.com lists over "4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, etc." on their site. They list the 22 major religions with the number of adherents, and give the percentages for the eight largest groups as follows: Christianity, 33%; Islam, 22%; Hinduism, 15%; nonreligious, 14%; Buddhism, 6%; Chinese traditional, 4%; Primal indigenous, 3%, other, 3%.

The category of Christianity is further subdivided as follows: Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-day Saints, Orthodox, and Pentecostal, which means no group probably has more than 10% of religious adherents. Islam, the second largest religion, is also divided into several sects, which further dilutes their percentages as well.

It is assumed the category of nonreligious would include agnostics and atheists, but includes one other generally unrecognized category, individuals who think. The Theist says he knows there is a God. An agnostic says he does not know whether or not there is a God. The Atheist says, he knows there is no God. The thinking individual asks the question, "what do you mean by God?" If you describe any of the gods believed by any of the religions, the individual who thinks will say, "well I cannot believe that."

"Well, then, the one who thinks is an atheist, right?" No. The indivual who thinks does not believe in a Slizk, either. "What is a Slizk?" you ask. I don't know, but you cannot prove there is not one, but you don't call everyone who does not believe in a Slizk an aslizkiest, do you? And not just because you can't say it either.

If any religion happens to be right, all of the other religions which contradict it, must be wrong. That means what the majority of mankind believes, with regard to religion, is untrue. It is possible to believe what is untrue and still be able to think correctly. Even the best thinking can be misled by mistakes or a lack of information. It is probably not possible to believe what any of the religions teach, however, if one thinks correctly them.

About All Religion

If most religions are wrong, and most people believe in religion, it can only be because most people do not think correctly. Thinking correctly is really not that difficult. Of course, the more difficult the subject and the less raw mental ability an individual has, the more difficult it is to think correctly. Most of the things the religious believe, however, requires an extraordinary effort of contorted reason to swallow. How does this happen?

Most children are able to think quite well, and continue to think well until the public educators have finished their work on them. It is only after being educated that the adult is able to embrace with complete sincerity what any child can see is nonsense. This is why most children do not believe anything their parent's religion teaches. Although most children will say they believe whatever their parents have told them to say, they otherwise never even think about those things and really have no idea what those religious formulas and teachings they recite mean. If you could actually make them understand what the word "trinity" means, for example, or "transubstantiation," or "transmigration," or "eschatology," they would believe their parents had gone mad. Children do have great insight.

As we examine some religious beliefs, you will either resent what is said, if you think we are talking about your religion, or agree completely with it, if you think we are talking about anyone else's religion. So, if you begin to find yourself being upset by anything here, just remember, we're not talking about your religion, or, if the religion does happen to be yours, we are not talking about how you believe in it.

Two Kinds of Religion

Generally we can divide religions into two categories, one class we will call easy-going, the other we will call strict.

The easy-going religions generally are less demanding about what is believed. While they usually have a general formula, or at least some written texts, the meaning of the formulas and the interpretation of texts are very loose and undemanding. The easy-going religions are more interested in attaining a degree of moral or religious purity, and the more pure one is, the more their religions reward them. Since the interpretation of what constitutes moral and religious purity is quite flexible, the actual "practice" of these religions varies widely. These religions are obviously very popular.

The strict religions are quite demanding with regard to what is believed. In most cases, in fact, it is getting the formula exactly right that is the whole show. In these religions, it is believing every detail of the teaching, called dogma, completely and exactly that distinguishes between those who are and those who are not rewarded. While the strict religions also make much of religious and moral purity, it is kind of tacked on at the end, so to speak. One ought to live a holy life, but, so long as you get the formula right and believe it, almost any behavior is acceptable, or at least, forgivable.

An example of an easy-going religion would be Hinduism. Islam, on the other hand, is a very strict religion, although not as strict as most flavors of Christianity.


One generally expects knowledge in any field to increase over time. Older understandings based on the best observations at the time (the world is flat) are replaced with better understanding based on better information (the world is a sphere) as more is learned and discovered. In religion, this is seldom true. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and today there are over 700 million Hindus, and it is one of the fastest growing religions.

One of the arguments for Hinduism is its very antiquity. It is so old, no one really knows who wrote the sacred Scriptures, called Vedas, upon which it is based. This is a great advantage to Hinduism. Other religions either know who wrote their Scriptures, as in Islam, or think they do, as in Christianity. Actually, it is only non-Hindus who are uncertain about who actually wrote the Hindu Scriptures, but, the Hindus know it was the team of writers, Manu, Maya, Twastha, Shilpi, and Vishwajna.

You may not have heard of these writers if you are not a Hindu, or know where they came from. They came from VishwaKarma, who had five faces. Each face bore a Brahma, which is what babies born of faces are called, and these were the five writers, which each wrote one of the five Vedas, which are: Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva, and Pranava.4

It may also interest you to know there were female versions of the four bramas, which are called Shaktis. They were Adi Shakti, Para Shakti, Ichcha Shakti, Jnana Shakti, and Buddhi Shakti.

Other religions attribute the authority of their Scriptures to God in some way. Either God wrote them, or dictated them, or had an angel deliver them, or some such thing. The writers of the Vedas, that is, the five Brahmas were not Gods, neither was their "mother" face, VishwaKarma, or even what preceded VishwaKarma, Brahman. In fact, the Hindu religion has no prescribed belief in God.

God, in the Hindu religion, is thought of by some as an ephemeral absolute, maybe the Brahman, maybe not, but God may also be thought of as one's Lord, in a personal sense, and the Creator of all things. While the belief in one god is paramount, the existence and belief in other gods is accepted. While specifically denying pantheism, they believe God is in every natural thing. Hindus believe God gives existence and life to everything, yet is separate from them. One can see the Hindu God is easy to believe in, because you can believe almost whatever you like.

Three important Hindu beliefs are reinCarnation, Karma, and Cows. (The alliteration will help you remember these important concepts.)

The soul is a very important concept in most religions, except Buddhism, which doesn't exactly believe in the soul, at least the way other religions do. What the soul is, in most religions, is you without a body. What you are without a body is difficult to say, so most religions do not say. Sometimes they say the soul is the spirit, which clears it up right away. Whatever is meant by the soul, most people think of it as an invisible version of one's self, that, while there is a body, lives in the body, but when the body dies, the invisible version becomes free to do things it could not do while in the body.

Hindus believe one's soul is immortal, and when the body dies, the soul enters a different kind of body called an astral body. Astral bodies live someplace else, which is nowhere in this universe, or anyplace else. While there, souls try to learn from their experiences in their most recent natural body, and when they have learned all they can from that experience, they are ready for another go.

The first thing they have to do is find a nice family they would like to be born into. Evidently Astral embodied souls are not able to learn as much as they ought to from their previous experiences, because most souls pick lousy families to be born into. They never actually explain whether, once they have picked a family, they have to wait for the woman to become pregnant, or whether their decision to enter a family somehow causes the pregnancy to occur. They also never explain what happens when more than one Astral soul opts for the same family, although this could explain twins and other multiple births.

There must also be a short period of time when the astral soul has an opportunity to change its mind. This would explain abortions, still-births, and early childhood deaths.

(There are more questions about reincarnation that we cannot ask here in order to avoid offending Hindus. We will ask those questions when we get to Buddhism. It's alright to offend them.)

Karma, is like fate, except that each person is the cause of their own karma. Karma is a kind of supernatural law that says, if you do something bad, especially to a Hindu, something bad is going to happen to you, sometime, somewhere, when you least expect it. When bad things happen to you, it's your own fault, even though there is very little hope you will remember what you did, because it may have been in a previous incarnation, and no one remembers what they did in previous incarnations.

To question how anyone learns anything from experiences they remember nothing of is a sin in Hinduism. It is also a sin to harm cows.

It is a mistake to think Hindus worship cows, however. Hindus do not worship cows, they revere them. (In other religions, except Catholicism, to revere something is to worship it.) Hindus revere all life, but the cow is the symbol of all life, because it is entirely giving, supplying every human need, without which human life would not be possible. It provides milk, cream, meat, leather, and gelatin, and many more things, while being very gentle, and requiring nothing but grass to sustain it. No doubt, those to whom the true wisdom has been revealed know the goal of reincarnation is to become a cow, and not just any cow, but a cow in a Hindu land, like India. I know, in spite of their generosity, most cows would give half their udders to live in India.


Unlike Hinduism, Buddhists know exactly who the founder of their religion is, at least they think they do. It may have been Gautama Buddha (Buddha means enlightened one), but at least he was Buddha (the enlightened one). They even know how he became enlightened. He suffered, like everyone else. He was rich, unlike everyone else, but, because he was rich, he apparently suffered his suffering more than those not rich suffer theirs.

He suffered so much, he went on a hunger strike against suffering. In fact, he went on a total self-deprivation strike, but soon learned, far from alleviating suffering, he suffered more than ever.

So here is the great enlightenment. The rich, full of food and pleasures suffer, the poor, empty of food and pleasures suffer. Eureka, enlightenment is, the "middle way," which, possibly was discovered originally by Goldilocks: not too much, not too little, not to big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, or as another has put it, "moderation in all things." This is simple, this is wonderful, this is earth-shaking, but, unfortunately, not true. Who wants a moderately honest banker, a moderately faithful wife, moderate health, or even moderate wealth, even with all of wealth's suffering.

The Buddha was not God. Buddha was merely a teacher (which should make you skeptical right away) and his teaching is called Dhamma. The core teaching of Dhamma is that human suffering can be completely overcome, because all suffering is caused by self-centered desires. One immediately sees this is the truth. All suffering is the result of getting what we don't want (like bad colds) and not getting what we do want (like the girl we love.) Now, one way to get rid of suffering, it seems, would be to get all the things you want. Is this the Buddhist way? Definitely not!

The other way, and essentially the Buddhist way, though it is never stated explicitly, is to get rid of the desires. If you don't want anything, you'll never be disappointed and always have everything you want, that is, nothing. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to die, but this short-cut is not acceptable to Buddhism.

The next best thing to dying, as the means of getting rid of all desires, and therefore, all suffering, is to get as near death as possible without actually dying. The method of doing this is called the Eightfold Path.6

The Eightfold Path is described as follows:

     1. Right Understanding
     2. Right Thoughts
     3. Right Speech
     4. Right Action
     5. Right Livelihood
     6. Right Effort
     7. Right Mindfulness
     8. Right Meditation

There is no heaven in Buddhism, instead, there is Nirvana, and the Eightfold Path is the only path to Nirvana. Nirvana is not a place, but a state, the state of no-suffering. If we did not know better, we might say it was death, but we do know better because the Buddha Dhamma says so.

Since, at this time, we are only interested in how this works, and not actually experiencing Nirvana, we only need to examine two of the eight elements of the Eight-Fold Path, the first (Right Understanding) and the last (Right Meditation).

Right Understanding consists of the Four Noble Truths, which are:

     1. Life is suffering. Birth, aging and dying are suffering. Everyone suffers.
     2. Our desire to fulfill what cannot be fulfilled causes our suffering.
     3. Our desires are illusions we must destroy to end our suffering.
     4. The Eight-Fold Path cures our habits of suffering.

This is obviously going to take a lot of work for some people. Some people just don't know they are suffering. They are mistakenly convinced that life is meant to be enjoyed and that they are enjoying it. But of course, that is not right thinking. They probably think their desires are worth pursuing, so they pursue them, gaining and achieving the things they desire. Furthermore, they mistakenly think the resulting enjoyment of those things is happiness, when they are suffering all the time. But it is all an illusion caused by their desires, and as soon as they can get rid of their desires they will see how really miserable they are. The Eight-Fold Path will help them to achieve that miserableness so they can end their cycle of suffering, even though they are not aware they are suffering. That's what Right Understanding is all about.

The next six elements of the Eightfold Path are variations on a theme, but the last is the key, the secret to unlocking the door to that death which is not death, that is, Nirvana.

Right Meditation. Just the sound of it is uplifting. Quiet peaceful serenity, like a stagnate pond, not a ripple of thought, or life, or interest to disturb the placid pliability of a consciousness gone defunct. This is the transcendant state that smashes the illusion of desire and happiness, to learn to make the mind blank, zero, nothing—to become, for a while, a zombie by choice.

Do not suppose that you will be successful in reaching Nirvana just because your life has traveled the Eight-fold Path. When you finally break the cycle of suffering which is life, (die), you will probably have to start the cycle all over again. Unlike the Hindu, you have no say about how you will come back. It is all determined, according to Dhamma, to Kamma.

Kamma is not the same as Hindu Karma, although there are similarities. Both are the result of choices we make and things we do while incarnated, the consequences of which have their effect on future incarnations. For the Buddhist, it even determines how one is reincarnated. In Buddhism, individuals do not really have souls, and what is reincarnated is not the actual individual, but their "influence" or "essence."

Now in your ignorance, not having mastered "Right Understanding," you might think, "well who cares if they are reincarnated if they can't remember anything in their past life? What difference would there be if I had never lived before?" But, if you had "Right Understanding," you would know all those bad things in your life, like believing you ought to enjoy it, and hitting your thumb with a hammer, which you have attributed to Murphy all this time, were really because you were bad last time.

At this point you may have a question. If everyone has a former life, and everyone is reincarnated, where did everyone come from in the first place? This is the kind of question that also shows you have not yet mastered "Right Understanding."

If, on the other hand you have mastered, "Right Understanding," you may be ready to learn that in Buddhism, though no specific deity is worshipped, almost everything is a kind of demi-deity, and not only everything there is, but many things which are not, are demi-deities as well. Some Buddhists, of course, do not believe in any deities, but some Buddhists believe even the trees and insects are spirits which can influence their lives. So long as you have, "Right Understanding," it does not matter much what you believe.

You may also have noticed that belly buttons are a very important feature in Buddhism. At another time, this aspect will be addressed in detail. One thing is certain, however, Buddhism has never been plagued by the kind of theological problem that has been the bane of Christianity. While Christian theologians have wrestled with the yet unanswered question, "did Adam have a belly button?" Buddhism has no such question. In Buddhism, everyone has a belly button.


The earthly founder of the Muslim religion was Mohammed, or Mahomet, or Muhammad. Muhammad was not God, not a God, not even a son of God, but a man and a prophet, which they believe he was but one of a whole string, beginning with Adam, then Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, and finally Muhammad who is the last of the prophets and the one to whom God entrusted His last revelation to man, the Koran, or Qur'an. There is some confusion about how Muhammad came into possession of the Qur'an, but it was one of the following: he was inspired by God and wrote it himself, the message was brought to him by an Angel and he wrote it, or it was written by Allah and an Angel delivered the finished product to him, as each chapter was completed.

Also, the Qur'an is not quite the last revelation, because there is also the Sunnah of the Prophet, which is God's revelation through the Prophet's life.

Allah is the name of the Muslim God, which, unlike the Hindus, they believe is the only God. They also believe Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus worshipped Allah, even though Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, all Jews, and all Christians believe they worship Jehovah; but what would they know?

Islam is a strict religion.8 Unlike Buddhism with its Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths, which are more like aphorisms and general hints and instructions for how to believe and act, the Muslims have the Five Pillars, which tell you exactly what you must believe and exactly what you must do.

The Five Pillars of Islam are the following:

     1. The Testimony of Faith
     2. Prayer
     3. Giving Zakat
     4. Fasting during the month of ramadan
     5. A Pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) (if able)

The Testimony of Faith is saying these words: "“La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah."” The words mean: There is no true god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Messenger (Prophet).

If you cannot say these words, you can forget the other four pillars. You cannot be a Muslim.

Prayer does not mean praying when you feel like it, saying your prayers before you go to bed, or saying your rosary. Prayer means praying five times a day, not when you feel like it, but precisely at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night, always facing Mecca. (It may be useful to know that if you are exactly half way around the world from Mecca, you may face in any direction when praying.)

If you cannot pray five times a day, or do not know in which direction Mecca is, you can forget the other three pillars. You cannot be a Muslim.

Giving Zakat means giving support to the needy. How much do you have to give to the needy? Write it down and give it to your accountant, give 2.5% of all funds (gold, silver, or cash) if you have them for one "lunar" year. For most people, this means you do not have to give anything, because all your money is gone by the end of the week.

Oh yes, you can give more if you want, but if you cannot give Zakat you cannot be a Muslim. Obviously the needy are all non-Muslims who can't give Zakat, but if they get enough Zakat, they can become Muslims and give Zakat themselves.

If your out of Zakat, or won't give it away, you cannot be a Muslim. Forget the last two pillars.

Fasting the Month of Ramadan is probably the most useful of the five pillars, for purposes of religion, that is. It is very practical. During the Month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat, drink, or have sexual relations while it's light, that is, from dawn to sundown. Once the sun's down, anything goes. This has the advantage of making one feel very religious and holy while hungry, while offering the immediate reward of surfeit and orgy the moment the sun sets. That's religion with effect.

If you cannot fast during the day or cannot tolerate the evening crapulence you cannot be a Muslim. Call your tourist agent and cancel your bus-tour of Mecca.

A Pilgrimage to Makkah is your once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) called a Hajj. Hajjes are held the twelfth month of the year (Islamic calendar), at the Haram Mosque, where you'll find the Kaaba, a large Black Box which Abraham and Ishmael built.

The Hajj includes the pilgrims circling the Kaaba seven times and other rituals. The pilgrims all wear the same simple clothes to strip away distinctions of class and culture, so God will not be fooled in to blessing some more than others.

Unlike Hinduism and Buddhism, the present life, if you have one, is the only one you are going to have, and everything hinges on what you do with this one, because there is not going to be another. If you have strictly followed the five pillars you can look forward to heaven, but if somewhere along the way, like indigestion during Ramadan, you fail, the five pillars will fall on you and you will go to hell.

Muslim Heaven

In the strict religions there is usually a heaven and hell. Except for the fact that Heaven is supposed to be a lovely place you could not possibly be displeased with and Hell is a terrible place you could not possibly be pleased with, there is not as much information about these possible destinations available as will generally be found about destinations described by most tourist agencies. Nevertheless, most of the faithful of the strict religions are certain heaven is the desirable destination.

According to the Qur'an, heaven has gardens and rivers and is larger than the present heaven and earth combined. The inhabitants, (there are no visitors or tourists) will have 10 times whatever they want (even if one would be enough, and two would be too much. It's ten times, or nothing.)

There are things in the Muslim heaven no one has ever seen or heard or even imagined. Now, it is difficult to evaluate what you have never seen, heard of, or even imagined, but they are purported to be good things, and we, at least, will take Allah's word for it, since we have no other opinion to compare it with.

Since Muslims are not all in agreement with the specific virtues of heaven, there is some question about its appeal.

Take, for example, what a Muslim child must think when he is taught that it is better to die killing infidels than it is to live, because, if one dies as a martyr for Allah, you are immediately in paradise surrounded by bevies of beautiful women to satisfy your every whim. Besides the fact that he will certainly be unconvinced dying is better for any reason (he has seen dead people, they don't go anywhere, they don't enjoy anything, they don't do anything, they only rot and stink) why would he be interested in being surrounded by women. He doesn't even like girls. And, what if "he" is a girl, what does she get?

If you do go to the Muslim heaven, we hope you are satisfied with it. You will be there a long time; forever, in fact. At least there is no sickness, pain, sadness, or death there. As for what you can do in this paradise, there is not a lot said about that. In that light, let us consider the alternative destination.

Muslim Hell

It is not in the Middle East, as some have suggested, and it is not Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. (We had to get these myths resolved finally.)

Unlike Christianity, there is more we don't know about Muslim hell than there is we know. For one thing, there are no pictures of hell, as there are in Christianity. In fact there are not many pictures or art related to Islam at all, except for architecture and calligraphy.

This much is described, hell is painful punishment, and there is fire. Beyond that, there is not a great deal of detail, yet the authorities assure us we do not want tickets to that destination.

For a really rich and elaborate description of the exquisite torments of hell, we now turn to Christianity


Christians believe religious truth is contained in a book called the Bible. They also believe that book describes Jesus Christ. Beyond that, there is not much agreement among Christians.

Most Christians believe the Bible teaches Jesus Christ is God, but some believe He was only "a god," which is not the same thing, and others say they believe Jesus Christ is God but they also say everyone has God in them, and that someday everybody will be God. So there is some disagreement there, and discussions among various Christians about these disagreements are seldom very "Christian."

But the greatest controversies in Christianity concern their Book. Some, for example, not only believe it contains religious truth but that it contains all of it, and outside the Bible, there is no religious truth. Others believe that, in addition to the Bible itself, interpretations and pronouncements of certain religious authorities, even additional writings, are also authoritative. While some Christians believe the Bible is the only Book, and some believe it is only the main Book, none of them agree about what the Book says.

Take this passage for example, "And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him {Jesus}, they have no wine.... When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now." (John 2:3-10)

There are many Christians who believe this passage teaches that Jesus changed water into wine. After all, that's what it says. Other Christians believe Jesus did not change the water into wine, but into grape juice. When other Christians protest, "but it says "the water that was made wine," the grape-juice crowd answers, "yes, yes, that's what it says, but that's not what it means."

This is the heart of all Biblical interpretation. Once you have decided what a Book says and what a Book means are not the same thing, the field of possible interpretations becomes fairly wide. It can mean, well, just about anything, and a brief look at Christianity shows that it evidently does.

There are probably as many varieties of Christianity as there are all other religions combined. The most important of these, which is determined either by how many adherents they have or how much trouble they cause, are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Traditional Protestant and Evangelical Protestant.

Common Beliefs

Christians believe in one God, however their one God is three Persons. This leads many to believe their God is actually a committee or mini-pantheon, but Christians solve that problem by calling the three Persons by one name, Trinity. That does not mean each one is called Trinity, like Trinity1, Trinity2, and Trinity3, because they already have individual names, Jehovah, aka God the Father, Jesus, aka God the Son, and Holy Spirit (no known alias). Together, as one God, when in session, He/they is/are called the Trinity.

Yes, the Christian God is a "He", although there is a movement afoot to force Him to have a sex-change operation.

God created everything by Himself for Himself, and He created it out of nothing. This is called ex nihilo (out of nothing). Some of the world's problems may be attributable to the quality of the material from which it was created. Although few Christians believe this, some Hindus do.

God also created man. It was originally believed the God created man out of the same material from which He created everything else, that is, nothing. Some now believe He created the animals out of nothing and then created man out of them.

Christians believe, like the Hindus and Muslims, that human beings have an eternal soul, but unlike the Hindus and Buddhists, but like the Muslims, Christians believe that when they leave this life, that's it. Wherever they go next, that is where they will be staying, and where they go is determined by what they do in this life.

Like the Muslims, most Christians believe there are only two destinations, Heaven and Hell. Details about the Christian Hell abound, but there is less detail about the Christian Heaven than there is about Muslim Hell, which is not much.

One reason there is more detail about hell then there is about heaven is probably based on the belief that since no one intends to go to hell, all they are ever going to learn about it is from travel brochures and public broadcast travelogues. Heaven is the intended destination and knowing everything about it before arriving would spoil the surprise, as well as, the pleasure of exploring it on one's own. Nevertheless, wherever one ends up, the novelty is likely to wear a little thin after a few billion years. Heaven is as inescapable as hell.

We shall have a little more to say about the most likely destination of most people after discussing how one's final destination is determined, because, in Christianity, everything takes a back seat to that.

Where Are You Going?

Just as the Buddhists have their The Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths and the Muslims have The Five Pillars of Islam, Christians have The Ten Commandments, and Sacraments or Ordinances (about which they cannot agree what to call them or how many there are?)

Even about the Ten Commandments, there is some disagreement among Christians. For the sake of brevity we list the most inclusive version (the one that forbids the most specific things) in an abbreviated form: (In the original they all begin, "You shall," or "You shall not.")

     1. Have no other Gods.
     2. Make no graven images.
     3. Take not the Lord's name in vain.
     4. Keep the "sabbath" day holy.
     5. Honor your father and mother.
     6. Do not kill.
     7. Do not commit adultery
     8. Do not steal.
     9. Do not lie.
     10. Do not covet other's property.

There is little agreement on what the Christine Sacraments or Ordinances are, or what their efficacy is. While the Roman Catholics observe a bunch more than most, and hold them in the highest position, we will consider only two, which most Christians observe, Baptism, and the Eucharist (Catholic) or Lord's Supper (Bible and most other denominations.)

(The Catholic Sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation (confession), Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Holy Orders.)

You might think that observing the Ten Commandments and Sacraments/Ordinances (once Christians agree on what they are) would be the thing that determined one's final destination, but, if you thought that, you would be wrong.

Few Christians could tell you, off the cuff, so to speak, what all the ten commandments are, anyway. It is not surprising, therefore, that few Christians observe the ten commandments, except when applying them to other people. The interesting thing is, even though they do not actually do what the commandments require, they are not "breaking" the commandments, because, (don't be shocked), they do not really mean what they say.

Consider the following: Having a bumper sticker on your car that says, "God is my co-pilot" is not taking the Lord's name in vain. Instead of the Sabbath (Saturday), you may pick another day, like the exact opposite (first day instead of the last), and may do anything you like on that day (to keep it holy). Do not kill means do not kill unless you can supply any of a number of good reasons for killing. War is the most popular of these reasons. Stealing only means armed robbery and things like that. Any method of getting what you have not earned from those who have earned it is not stealing if the government does it for you.

Oh, yes. We almost forgot adultery, which is understandable, since everyone else has too. If you are very ugly, and no one of the opposite sex is interested in you, or, if you are very old, and are no longer interested in the opposite sex, then the commandment definitely means, do not commit adultery. For everyone else, well, we are all tempted, and we all fail sometimes, but what we really need to do is understand and forgive.

These are just some of the interesting interpretations of the ten commandments that prevail today. New ones are always being developed to make the Ten Commandments more convenient and less offensive so they can be posted in public places as guides to living in a Christian country. Ultimately then, everyone can keep the ten commandments. Just do what you like and interpret them to fit that, only be sure you couch the interpretation in theological language.

The sacraments or ordinances we are considering are Baptism and Eating Jesus (Eucharist or Lord's Supper).

Baptism is a ritual of wetness, and the two major aspects of baptism over which Christians disagree are how much wetness is required and what baptism actually does. The wetness views are, 1. Very little, 2. Moderate, and 3. Soaking. The two views of what it does are, 1. Nothing, and 2. Necessary for Salvation. The Roman Catholic view, for example is 1,2, that is, very little water is required, but it is necessary for Salvation. The other views are generally associated with Protestant denominations, for example 3, 1, that is Soaking but not required for salvation is usually associated with Baptists, 1,1 and 2,1 Very little or Moderate wetness and not required for salvation are associated with Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, for example. It is important to note, that except for Baptists, it really doesn't matter what you believe about Baptism because they are going to do it to you before you are old enough to have any say in the matter. Baptists, however, actually have to do it by choice, and on their own. If you have hydrophobia, you cannot be a Baptist.

Some people object to the Eating Jesus ritual because they say it is tantamount to cannibalism. This, of course, is absurd, not because actually eating someone would not be cannibalism, but because this ritual is not actually eating someone, that is, unless you are Catholic. Except for Catholics, other Christians believe this ritual is commemorative, though very important and a time of great spiritual significance.

The Ritual is based on the Words of Jesus, when, "... as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, 'take, eat, this is my body.' And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it, and he said unto them, 'this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.' (Mr 14:22-24) Today, most Christians, except for Lutherans, Orthodox, and Catholics, do not use wine, but grape juice. This is based, of course on the fact that when the Bible says wine, though it says that, it means something else, as you will recall.

To their credit, the Roman Catholics interpret these passages literally. They believe the disciples were really eating Jesus body, and drinking Jesus blood, even though He was sitting right there with them without a sign of any kind of trauma. To explain this it would be necessary to explain miracles and faith, which is not possible in this report, or possibly, any report.

Catholics believe they must literally follow the teaching of Jesus words in John 6:53-56. Here is the amazing passage: "Then Jesus said unto them, 'verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.'"

Now this literalism is a wonderful thing. As amazing as it is, one has to admire the kinds of consistency that says, "if Jesus said I have to eat his flesh, and eating bread is eating His flesh, than it is eating His flesh." And one would admire it too, if it were true. Now, this is difficult to believe, but you may ask your Catholic friends, they do not eat bread and drink wine, at all. Even though they "all," drank the wine when Jesus instituted the sacrament, when Catholics observe it, only the priest (the stand-in for Jesus) drinks it, and drinks a good deal of it too. They also do not use bread, but a thin cracker (wafer), which, though not the prescribed bread, they still believe actually is Jesus body. Catholics are, nevertheless, firmly opposed to cannibalism.

Uncommon Beliefs

Salvation is very important in Christianity, in fact, it is what Christianity is all about for most Christians. To go to Christian Heaven, one must be saved. It is the one thing every Christian wants to be absolutely sure of, yet, there is almost no agreement about how one actually gets it.

Christians are not only concerned about salvation for themselves, but many Christians believe they have been personally selected to make sure everyone else, or at least as many as possible, are also saved. These Christians ask everyone, "are you saved?" The typical response to this question is, "from what?" and the Christians are ready with the answer, "HELL!"

Here is where Christianity really shines. They may not be able to tell you a great deal about heaven, but about Hell and its minions they can preach for hours, although one does not hear quite so much about it these days as they used to.

Some of the things we know about Hell are that all visits are long-term, that is, forever. The one positive thing that might be said about it, is it will always be interesting. Something is always happening. The main thing that is always happening is torment, the degree and exquisiteness of which cannot be imagined. There is torment in flames, torment of thirst, anguish, and gnashing of teeth.

Some are surprised to learn there are miracles in hell, but in fact, it is almost one continuous miracle. While everything is in constant flame, nothing is burned up, not even people. But flame is not all there is. It is also described as a dank, dark, misty place. One must assume that the moment one begins to be the least bit enured to the flames (people can get used to anything) they are suddenly yanked out of their tropic slumber and thrown into a arctic cave, without a shred of clothing, heat or light, although no one freezes to death. This constant switching no doubt continues for a few millenia, or until the citizens begin to get used to even this, by which time the management will no doubt have developed new and more imaginative programs of torment.

Once one understands that is what one needs to be saved from, you can understand why they are in a big sweat to be saved and just as quickly as they can be. So, just how does one get saved?

While there is no shortage of Christians ready to press on you their particular formula for salvation, there are almost as many different formulas as there are Christians. And, here is the most important thing, if you don't pick the right formula, or even if you pick the right one, but don't get it exactly right, you better pack light clothing for your final vacation. (If the brochures are correct it may not be necessary to pack anything, actually, since most pictures of hell, as well as heaven, look an awful lot like naturist camps and nudist colonies. This, no doubt, will have a certain appeal to some people.)

The Roman Catholic formula is the most complicated and the most demanding, but, the Roman Catholic formula does provide one advantage, an added feature, not available to any other version of Christianity. Catholics must do a lot of things to be sure they are saved. They must regularly participate in the Eating Jesus ritual at Mass, they must regularly "do" confession, say their prayers, observe all the Sacraments, avoid serious sins, and much more. But, if they do all these things faithfully, they will be saved by the grace of God and their Savior Jesus Christ.

Most other Christians do not believe Catholics really believe it is Jesus that saves them. Other Christians, more or less, all believe the reason they need to be saved at all is because everyone is born with tickets to their final destination, and those tickets are universally one way tickets to hell.9 (There is a word on the ticket and the word is sin. When one sees the ticket they've been given, they immediately start doing what it says. This action automatically validates the ticket and makes it irrevocable.)

One-way-ticket-to-hell Christians believe Jesus took the tickets people are born with and made the trip for them. This essentially cancels the irrevocability of the original "sin" tickets and allows God to replace them with one-way "righteousness" tickets to Heaven. The reason these Christians do not believe Catholics are depending on Jesus to save them is because they believe the Catholics are buying their own tickets. As we shall see, this is not quite the case.

Generally, the differences in salvation formulas have to do with how one gets rid of the one-way-sin-ticket-to-hell they were born with in exchange for a one-way-righteousness-ticket-to-heaven Jesus has made available. Among the different views are: Universalist - everyone gets a new ticket, no matter what; Evangelical - you must repent (be sorry for and turn from following the instructions on the original ticket, that is, sin) and accept Jesus as your Savior (take the new ticket He has made available), an option open to everyone; and Reformed or Calvinistic - Jesus actually only took the trip for some people, and has already given them their new ticket, so if you are still looking to get a new ticket, guess what?

Calvinists emphasize something called predestination. For the calvinist, the ticket you are born with is permanent. A few are born with a one-way-righteousness-ticket-to-heaven but most are born with a one-way-sin-ticket-to-hell. The selection of who will get what ticket is decided by God and the process is called predestination, and those who get a one-way-righteousness-ticket-to-heaven are called elect and those who get the other tickets are called SOL. A discussion of this interesting doctrine would require a discussion of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism and other obscenities, which would not be appropriate in a report that might be read by children or mature adults.

We may sum up the Calvinist view with these two observations: They believe God predestines everyone either to eternal torment or eternal boredom (since there will only be Calvinists there). No one believes in predestination who does not also believe they are one of the elect.

Of course Universalists have it best. They can't miss, that is, unless they are wrong, in which case they need to pack light. Except for Universalists, who think everyone makes it to heaven, all the others think very few do. The Evangelical formula, and the Reformed formula are both pretty much cut-and-dry. In both cases, it is a simple matter of choosing right or having been chosen right, and once you set out on your final journey your destination is fixed. Here is where the Catholics have the advantage. Its that additional feature of their formula.

The Catholic formula is the most difficult, because unlike most other formulas, there is not something you can do once and be done with it, because there are so many things you have to keep doing right up to the day of departure. But even if you have not kept up with all the requirements, in the Catholic religion only, there is still hope. You will not have any additional opportunities here in this world, the way Hindus and Buddhists do, but, unless you have refused the new ticket altogether (that is, you are not Catholic) you do not go to eternal Hell when you die, but a kind of temporary Hell, a layover, so to speak, in Purgatory.

Here is how it works. The new one-way-righteousness-ticket-to-heaven that Catholics get is unique. On one edge are little blocks marked sins. On the other edge are little blocks marked payments. Now every time a Catholic commits a sin, forgets to go to confession, misses Mass, and so on, one of the little sin blocks is punched. Whenever a Catholic goes to confession, says some prayers, kisses St Christopher and so on, one of the little payment blocks is punched. Now, the ticket is not valid until the number of payment blocks punched is equal to or greater than the number of sin blocks that are punched. When a Catholic dies and their ticket has more sin blocks than payment blocks punched, they do not go to heaven, but to Purgatory.

The wonderful thing about purgatory is, even though your ticket is not valid when you arrive, it can still be made valid. Purgatory is the place you pay off all those sin blocks for which corresponding payments have not yet been made. Purgatory is like permanent penance, painful and persistent. Now here is the best part. In addition to the payments your personal suffering in purgatory is purchasing, those you left behind who are still getting ready for their final vacation, if they wish to, can make additional payments for you, with prayers, burning of candles, and making novenas, for example, and those payments can be applied to your account, accelerating the validation of your ticket and shortening your stay in purgatory.

It seems, therefore, from our short overview of the world's religions, that there is something for everyone, whatever their temperment, tatstes, or ambitions. Some religion somewhere certainly offers just the right balance or demand and promise to reassure anyone they really are a good person, and everything will ultimately work out alright. Still, some will be disatisfied, preferring their doubts to the reassurances of superstition.

Final Note About Religion

People take their religions very seriously, which is understandable when one considers what is at stake. But, while all religions have something to say about how people should live in this world, for the most part, the important part of religion is the next world. Yet, throughout history, and continuing today, wars have been fought and murders comitted for the sake of religion. This is very strange. In the total scheme of things, Human beings do not live very long. Whatever one does not like about someone else's religion, how can it be worth killing for or fighting a war over. In a few years everyone will be in heaven or Nirvana, getting ready for their next life, or wishing they had done some things differently, why not cool it a few years. What's a few years out of eternity. If one didn't know better, one might think religious zealots don't really believe what they claim to believe.

Religion is very important. There are some who would like to stamp religion out altogether, but the problems they think they would solve by doing this would only wear a different face and be a lot less easy to identify. Human beings have an essential need, a requirement imposed on us by our nature. It is a need as fundamental as food, it is the need for knowledge.

It is not enough to have knowledge of everyday practical things if we are ever going to be more than children. We must have knowledge about the essential nature of things, from the nature of rocks to the nature of world societies. Science and philosophy provide us with knowledge of those essential principles by which we understand and deal with the world. But there is one thing neither science or philosophy can help us understand, and that is our consciousness.

No one seems to have noticed this, but consciousness is not a necessity of life. The school of Behaviorism denies consciousness, because it cannot be demonstrated. All you really know, all you can know, about consciousness is your own. Everyone else's and everything else's (we believe all creatures are conscious at some level) consciousness must be inferred.

Some imagine a robot, or computer system, or worldwide network of computers can be made so complex and powerful that consciousness will, "emerge." This is not possible, but if it were, one could never tell if such a system were really conscious or just acting as if it were.

Except for someone's testimony, there is no way to discover consciousness. Consciousness cannot be discovered or studied by any science. Philosophy can inquire into consciousness, at the human level, that is, how conceptual consciousness has knowledge (epistemology) and how it discovers values (ethics) for example, but all that can be known about it, as consciousness, can only be known by introspection. Psychology, at best, can deal with testimony of those who describe their consciousness, but, what psychology supposedly studies it cannot demonstrate. Unlike the physician, who can actually show you a liver, and point to the lesions that are cirrhosis, the psychologist cannot lay fresh consciousness wrapped in a damp cloth on the dissecting table to study. It cannot even show you an xray of one.

We know that consciousness is associated with the brain, and the psychiatrist, at least, can show you a brain, but not even a psychiatrist can show you the smell of a rose or the taste of a chocolate. Even when they are able to show exactly what part of the brain is involved, and can exactly describe the electrochemical reactions that occur there when we smell the rose or taste the chocolate, it will not be that smell or that taste the scientist describes.

But consciousness is the whole point of life. If all pain were nothing more than our reactions to things that harm or damage our, "organism," who would care how much pain they had. The behaviorist is wrong. The reason we don't like pain is because it hurts and we feel it. Who would care about eating if they didn't actually taste the steak, potato, and sour cream, who would ever hold their wife, if they didn't actually feel her weight and warmth and softness.

But, the behaviorists are also right. From the outside, all we know about the behavior of living organisms is their behavior. We infer the behavior is conscious, but the behavior could be identical if there was no consciousness at all. It is only the behavior that is required, not the consciousness. Why should there be consciousness. All of the behavior we attribute to pain and pleasure could certainly be nothing more than an elaborate program that behaves as if there were pain and pleasure, and since, ultimately, for the organism to succeed, it is only the behavior that matters, why does it need to consciously experience pain and pleasure?

The purpose of consciousness cannot be survival, it is not necessary to life, but to life that has it, it is the conscious experience that matters, not the mere perpetuation of protoplasm. But if consciousness is not necessary to life, and consciousness is what we live for, consciousness must be the end, not the means. But nothing in unconscious nature can possibly be the reason there is consciousness. While most men would never put it in these terms, this is the question, the mystery which every man longs to know the solution to that neither science or philosophy can answer.

Is religion the answer? Certainly most religions cannot be, but religion is the expression of mankind's search for the answer, and particular religions are the answers and solutions that, for those who embrace them, are the best answers they can find. The problem with religion is, it is superstition. It is the same kind of answer alchemy and astrology were before chemistry and astronomy. Much of philosophy, at least that embraced by most philosophers, is still dominated by superstition as well, but where it has become rational and objective, it gives true answers.

The answers religion seeks are more important than those sought by either science or philosophy. If science and philosophy had all the answers they seek, and we all understood those answers, the ultimate question would still be, so what? If science has enabled us to cure every disease, to feed the world, to supply everything we need and want, if philosophy has answered all the questions of morality (ethics) and the problems of men living with each other (politics) and of the nature of knowledge (epistemology) and material existence, (metaphysics), and what the good and beautiful really are (aesthetics), and no one cares...? But we do care. We cared before we knew any of these things, and even before we knew very much, it mattered how we used whatever knowledge we had, and it mattered in a way that no scientific or philosophical knowledge could explain, because it was to us as conscious beings that things mattered, and the only reason they mattered.

But if not science and not philosophy, what's left, if not religion?

It is not the pursuit of the kind of answers religion seeks that is the problem with religion, it is the method of religion. Faith, as defined by religionists, is, by their definition, superstition. No doubt, we need the answers, but this way lies only folly and foolishness and can only be taken seriously because everyone believes that religion of the superstious kind is all there is. But it is not true.

The original meaning of faith was not to believe what there was no evidence for, or even what flew in the face of evidence and reason. Faith, which always includes the idea of faithfulness, meant believing what one understands to be true as a result of the best reasoning they were capable of, and being faithful to those rationally derived beliefs, no matter what irrational influence tempted them to deny or act contrary to them.

This is what faith originally meant and what it should mean now. Truth and reason can never be antagonists. Reason is the only means we have for discovering and understanding the truth. Reason is the path that has led to the truth in every other field (none other could have) and this is the only path that will lead to those answers religion seeks. "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord...."10

---Reginald Firehammer


1. This was originally part of a series of five articles, of which three parts remain. The first is this one on Religion. The two others are: Science, and Medicine.

2. Some comments on Hinduism are based on the exposition of Hinduism provided by Nine Questions About Hinduism. [Site no longer in operation.]

4. Details on the origin of the Vedas provided by Spiritual Origin Of Vedas. [Site apparently closed.]

5. Comments on Buddhism are based partly on information about Buddhism at the site Beyond The Net.

6. For more details on the Eight-Fold Path see NOBLE EIGHT FOLD PATH and The Eight Fold Path. [Sites no longer in operation.]

7. Comments on Islam are, in part, based in information from Islam-Guide

8. Islam is strict religion, but that does not mean all Muslims believe exactly the same thing. In fact there are several different factions in Islam, and each is the only true one, of course.

9. The "ticket" metaphor is used for brevity and covers all those doctrines that are variously known as the fall, original sin, universal sinfulness, total depravity, or spiritual death. All of these ultimately blame everything bad on Adam, and call what He did, the original sin. It is interesting they call what he did "original" when it was actually Eve that did it first. Some think this is sexist, and believe Eve, and women generally, ought to be given credit for everything bad. In this modern age, most men would be willing to go along with this.

10. Isaiah 1:18.