This recent post by John Blake on Belief.net caught my eye. It identifies four elements that, especially when combined, should provide a warning to anyone who thinks about their religious experience. I have listed the four elements below, along with a few comments of my own. To read the complete article,which is quite good, click the link above.
1. I know the truth, and you don’t …
We all want to be in possession of the truth of a thing. This is a very human desire and forms the basis of the learning function. Human beings will always seek knowledge and many devote their lives to discerning the truth of a thing, especially in the area of religion.
It’s that phrase at the end that causes the problem …
Most people I know are knowledge-seekers, but are also willing to admit that they do not have the complete truth of a thing. Being open to and accepting of other interpretations is a mark of mature thinking.
Needing the certainty of absolute truth is folly. Any leader, religious, political, or social, who claims to have the only truth is lying to you, and probably to himself.
2. Beware the charismatic leader …
The picture accompanying this post is of David Koresh, who led a small sect of religious folks to a fiery end in a standoff with state and federal authorities in Waco, Texas in 1993.
Charisma is usually thought of a good thing, because we tend to assume that we find someone charismatic because they engage in good or positive behavior … and this is often the case.
However, charisma can exist for other reasons, not always positive ones.
We sometimes find those charismatic who:
1) Are so downright approachable that we do not always hear what they are saying.
2) Have such strong beliefs about a thing that we are attracted to that strength, rather than the substance.
3) Are master manipulators of human emotion and behavior.
A good way to determine the quality of a leader is to observe who follows him or her.
3. The end is near …
Well, the end is always near … for someone. Life is finite for each of us on a personal level.
People die every day. Disasters of epic proportions occur with regularity. Things change from what they were to something that may not be recognizable to us.
Does this mean that the end is near … maybe. The point can be made that our spiritual lives might better be focused on the here and now, than the possible sometime else.
It’s easy to think that the end of things might be nearing when so much change is happening, especially when much of it is not positive change or even when we just do not know how “things will work out”.
The proliferation of zombie, vampire, and other biological apocalypses merchandising is not helping here …
4. The end justifies the means.
More evil has been done in the name of this position than can be recounted …
Do we have to sometimes do things which are difficult or hurtful … yes.
Should we build a lifestyle around the idea that whatever gets us what we think we want is okay, simply by virtual of doing so? I think not …
The strongest and most enduring religious beliefs are based on not doing this, but on doing things that benefit others, sometimes at your own expense.
The twisted leader will take what I just said and turn it into a plea for me to turn over my life savings.
Read the entire post for a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion of what to look for in your religious leaders. Add to the discussion with your own thoughts on how we should judge religion so it is a positive force in our lives. Our leaders should lead, but as followers, we are responsible for doing so intelligently.
Getting ready for church in the Heartland ….