How to Choose a Religion

Guest Author - Jeff Lilly
Druid Journal

Jeff Lilly writes about what to look for when choosing a religion, offering compelling insights into the concept of Religions as Languages of Spirit.Druidjournal.net

Once I knew a gentleman and his wife who had not gone to church for a long time, had moved to a new area, and wanted to find a religion that was a good fit for them. Of course, their religion had to be Christian; otherwise they would be ostracized from the rest of the family.

But within Christianity, there were plenty of choices.

They visited a number of churches, making sure they weren't too far from their house. They finally settled on the Moravian Church, because the Moravians preserved a quaint and pleasant little ritual of serving sweet rolls to the congregation at certain holidays.

A few years later, they found they had to leave the church, because other members of the church where insufficiently grateful for all the volunteer work that they were doing.

This is NOT how you should choose your religion.

DON'T choose your religion based on details like food.

A ritual is participatory drama. If the drama speaks to you, resonates with you, it's a good ritual. If it provides yummy calories, that's completely incidental.

DON'T choose your religion based on convenience.

Life isn't supposed to be "convenient", and a convenient religion is one that doesn't challenge you enough.

DON'T choose your religion based on your community.

If you're becoming a Christian (or Satanist, or Buddhist) to make your parents happy, you're just doing it for them, not for you.

DON'T choose your religion based on spite.

If you are becoming a Satanist (or Christian, or Buddhist) to make your parents angry, you're still doing it for them, not for you.

DON'T choose your religion based on fear.

“If you don't believe in Jesus, you're going to hell!” “If you don't believe in Santa Claus, you won't get any presents!” Grow up, people.

DON'T choose your religion based on guilt.

You can't reach the kingdom of heaven if you're standing there kicking yourself.

AND FINALLY:

Don't choose your religion based on the search for "truth."

It's a noble purpose, but it's a red herring.

The first thing you have to realize is that every religion is true.

Malaclypse the Younger: Everything is true.

Interviewer: Even false things?

Malaclypse the Younger: Even false things are true.

Interviewer: How can that be?

Malaclypse the Younger: I don't know, man, I didn't do it.

--Principia Discordia

A friend of mine was once chased all night through a forest by drug smugglers with rifles (true story!). Many times, she was almost caught, or nearly wandered over cliffs, or nearly fainted from thirst. She is a devout Mormon, so she prayed to Jesus for help. Each time, the help came -- in the form of rain from clear skies, ghostly crosses appearing on mountain tops to guide her, and the like.

I have another friend -- Christian, but definitely not Mormon -- who speaks in tongues. She even did it for me once.

My mother, a practitioner of Zen, has traveled astrally many times and had dozens of precognitive dreams, but has never once met any spirit guides.

I know a man who sees fairies on a daily basis. He gives workshops on how to do it yourself.

I have participated in Druid rituals where my children reported that the trees were singing to them.

Are all these people just lying, mistaken, or crazy?

That seems unlikely.

But if they're all telling the truth, and they aren't mistaken - then their belief systems must be true.

How could all religions be true?

I suspect all religions are incomplete.
But none of them are false.

“But,” you say, “religions actually contradict each other. For example, Christianity says you have to accept Jesus as your savior to enter the kingdom of heaven, but most other religions advise against that. How do you reconcile this discrepancy?!"

The Parable of the Computer Newbie

Once there was a man who wanted to learn how computers worked. He asked his friend, who was good with computers, and his friend told him many things. One thing he said was, "Make sure that you write a semicolon after every command you give to a computer."

So the man did; and he learned to communicate with computers very well. Indeed, he could make computers do almost whatever he wanted. But then, one day, he saw another man writing a computer program. But this man never used semicolons at all. How could this be?

He asked his friend, and his friend said, "You numbskull. There is more than one computer language, you know."

Every computer language has its own set of tenets, rules, and rituals that must be followed; otherwise, the computer cannot interpret your intent and will not act the way you want to.

And computer languages are not equivalent; for while you can use most of them to achieve the same purposes, some are better for some things and some are better for others.

For example, if you want to write web pages, HTML is a lot better than C. On the other hand, if you want to write something that will be fast and will work on almost any platform, C is the best choice.

By now, you can see where this is going.

Languages of Spirit

A religion is a language of Spirit.

It is a way of communicating with the eternal.

Maybe there is a "real truth" underlying all religions, just like there are endless streams of ones and zeros underlying all computer languages. But if so, it's not something that's easy for our minds to get a grasp of.

The human mind prefers to deal with interrelated objects and concepts, and that's the way our languages and religions work; but maybe that's not the way Spirit is.

An electron is neither a particle nor a wave.

The words "particle" and "wave" are metaphors that physicists like to use, because the true nature of the electron isn't something we can get our heads around.

It doesn't mean that it's wrong to call an electron a particle; it just means that in some cases, thinking of it as a particle will get you a long way, and in other cases, it's counterproductive.

The same is probably the case with thinking of God as a man who died on a cross 2000 years ago.

The Polyglot

If you're with me so far, you probably think I'm going to say that it's best to learn as many religions as you can, and use different religions in different situations. It's where the analogy with computer languages would take you.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Computer languages were designed by human beings to communicate with computers.

If you're good with computers, you can usually learn a new computer language in less than a month of solid effort -- even the most difficult ones.

Some religions are like that. But other religions are more like human languages.

Human languages are designed by humans to communicate with other humans; they're highly complex, ambiguous, organic, beautiful.

At least a year of solid study is needed to become fluent in a human language, and even then, you're no native speaker. That can take decades, if it's even achievable.

Religions are languages designed by humans to communicate with Spirit.

Some of them are simple, and quickly learned; but these religions are less likely to serve you well in every situation. Others are incredibly rich, complex, built up over thousands of years; the use of them can take a lifetime to master, but could serve you well throughout your life.

A Typology of Religions

Revealed religions.

These are the most popular kind of religion in the world today, no doubt because they are so simple and easy to learn (and because many have been attached to conquering armies). They are almost always invented by one individual who has the truth "revealed" to them by the Divine.

Obvious examples are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and many of their modern offshoots, as well as more modern efforts such as Scientology. Protestant Christianity is a very good example, because most Protestants (that is, most Protestants who are serious about their religion) do not allow themselves to be guided by 2000 years of Church tradition. Instead they attempt to read the Bible and understand it for themselves, which frequently results in them creating their own idiosyncratic dialect of Christianity.

"Revealed" religions that have expanded and branched away from their original texts for thousands of years (like Catholicism and Buddhism) tend to be much richer in symbolism and thought, with many resources available for the earnest practitioner. These forms are midway between revealed and organic religions.

Organic religions.

These are religions built up over millenia of years by millions of people, much like a natural human language. The people involved are shamans, seers, poets, and ordinary folks whose religious experiences are gathered together into a single (if not coherent) body of wisdom.

Examples include Taoism, shamanism, animism, and various flavors of polytheism (including the indigenous religions of the North American Indians, tribes in Siberia, the peoples of Africa, and the painstakingly reconstructed paganism of Europe). The richness, expressiveness, depth and breadth of these religions can be daunting to the outsider. But once the necessary effort is expended, they can provide guidance in almost every area of your life -- guidance that is specific, targeted, and time-proven.

Examples of How Revealed and Organic Religions Help People

Seeker: Lo, I am afflicted with overwhelming depression.
  • Revealed religion: Read the Bible and love Jesus!
  • Organic religion: Here are some herbs that may help. Also, you may want to try this seasonal ritual.
Seeker: Lo, I am afflicted with a midlife crisis.
  • Revealed religion: Read the Bible and love Jesus!
  • Organic religion: Our shaman can read tea leaves for you. Or you may want to study our extensive library of folktales.
Seeker: Lo, I am afflicted with leprosy.
  • Revealed religion: Read the Bible and love Jesus!
  • Organic religion: You definitely want to see the shaman for that. If that doesn't work, we can help you prepare for death with dignity.
Seeker: Lo, I am afflicted with a moody teenager in my house.
  • Revealed religion: Read the Bible and love Jesus!
  • Organic religion: We have a ritual to help people reach adulthood. It's not exactly pleasant, but it's over quick.
  • :-)

There are two further subtypes of organic religion:

Young religions.

Some languages are cobbled together from pieces of others, usually in colonization situation, such as Hawaii or Louisiana, where people of different cultural backgrounds had to create a common language to get along.

Religions can arise the same way.

Voodoo is a perfect example: it is not a revealed religion, since it does not spring from the mind of one person, and it is not as old as most organic religions, but it is rich, colorful, and expressive because of its hybrid nature.

Reconstructed religions.

People today sometimes find themselves without a native organic religion, because it has been suppressed or dying for many generations. In these cases, they may try to reconstruct an old organic religion.

This is the case with modern pagans -- Wiccans, Druids, followers of the Norse religion, etc. Such a reconstruction effort can be successful on several levels; just as the ancient, suppressed, dying language Hebrew was brought back to life in modern Israel. But even if the reconstruction is unsuccessful -- even if it does not mimic the old organic religion in every respect -- it is still as true as any other religion, and frequently much more flexible and expressive than a revealed religion.

Now you've got the background.

What should you look for in a religion?

Support.

A rich religion can help you in all kinds of ways, as the examples above try to show.

Think about areas of your life where you're having trouble, especially areas that you've had trouble with repeatedly throughout your life, and consider religions that are strong in that area.

For example, if you've had trouble with your health, religions with strong traditions of faith healing could be the ticket.

Meaningful archetypes.

What gods, spirits, saints, etc. does the religion hold up as examples for living life?

Are these individuals meaningful for you - do they strike a chord?

Richness of symbolism.

An organic religion generally will have many different ways of thinking about a problem.

For example, if you're depressed, maybe it's because you've got a lost spirit roaming in your bedroom, or the qi energy in your house is wrong, or you're turning away from your life's path, etc.

In a rich religion, you're more likely to find a symbolism that helps you deal with your problem.

Mentors and teachers.

Are there people available to you to show you the way?

It's very hard to really grasp a religion from a book.

Genetic fit.

Many ancestor-based religions require you to have certain ancestors before you can join.

Check your genealogy to make sure you qualify.

Modality fit.

Some religions are extremely logical (e.g. Buddhism); others rely more on emotional rapture (e.g. some Christian sects); still others on vivid imagery or music.

These reflect different ways that people can connect with Spirit.

How do you best relate to Spirit?

If you don't know yet, you're not really ready to choose your religion - try some out first.

Moral/ethical fit.

Some people (and religions) say that morals are derived from religion, but it's really more of give-and-take.

If you have strong moral convictions (e.g. cannibalism is wrong, war is wrong, moral convictions are wrong, etc.), make sure the religion you choose matches them well. (If you don't have strong moral convictions, your religion will usually be able to supply them for you.)

So there you have it:

Religions are Languages of Spirit.

Choose one you can learn, choose one that fits you, choose one in which you can express yourself. Use it to talk to Spirit.

Then let Spirit use your religion to speak to you. That's when things really get interesting…

Words & Images by Jeffrey Paul Lilly
Druid Journal

This article is an overview of an Original Series -- continue exploring at www.druidjournal.net druidjournal.net