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The Need to Believe

Twenty-five years later and David Koresh is back in the news.  The story of the Branch Davidians in Waco is a sad one. We might ask ourselves, how can anyone believe such nonsense to the point of giving up their life and the lives of their children?  Sadly, it’s not all that unusual.  Childhood indoctrination, charismatic leaders and tradition are powerful influences when it comes to finding something to believe in; and it seems from the earliest times that humans have needed something to believe in, a group to belong to, a cause to fight for. Today there is a smorgasbord of offerings of things we can believe in -- some traditional, some contemporary. Most of us are a product of our environment.  That is, we tend to believe what the majority of those around us believe.  Those born in America are likely to be Christians, those in the Middle East are prone to Islam and Judaism, and those in India are inclined to be Hindu or Buddhists. Then there are the occasional cults that pop up that are the result of some charismatic personality who claims to be the new “Christ” or who has had a revelation from God.  No matter where or how an ideology appears, it seems that there are always people ready and willing to jump on board and join the group.

The reality of this mélange of religious ideas is that every member of every faction sincerely believes that what they believe offers them the truth and all of the other ideologies are deceptive. To me, this has always been an interesting conundrum. When interviewed, members of each religion will tell about having the same kind of “life-changing” experience, the same emotional transformation and the same feeling of inner peace.  Of course those of other, competing religions will deny that any other form of religion offers what theirs does and that the other ideologies are false religions.

The key ingredient in all revealed religions is an indispensible component called faith.  It is the foundational component that validates the ideology.  It supersedes knowledge, it trumps reason and it is the essential requirement for belief. It even supplants truth. Recently I was involved in discussions on a religious Facebook page where I asked the question if truth was essential in religion.  There were a lot of different responses but the overwhelming majority responded that truth was not necessarily crucial in religion.  Faith offers its own truth -- faith creates truth.  But if that’s true then anything that anyone believes or has faith in becomes truth. That means that the Islamic ideology is truth, that the Christian theology is truth and so is the Hindu and Judaistic tenets.  And yet, most of these claim that their way is the ONLY way to God. Confusing?  Can they all be true? The bottom line is that we believe that our way is the right way because it is what WE believe and we can’t possibly be wrong.  Our experience is more valid then anyone else’s because it is OUR experience. But according to the definition of truth (as defined by our dictionary, setting philosophical arguments concerning the definition of truth aside), we can’t all be right. It seems that truth is universal.  It is not relative. It is absolute. Truth is not what we want it to be, it just is what it is. So, someone is wrong.  And the amazing thing to me is that most people don’t take the time to objectively investigate this question of who is closest to the truth they simply accept without debate what they are taught or told, or “feel” and continue with the status quo.  That’s what happened with the Koresh Davidians in Waco, the People’s Temple in Jonestown, the Crusades of earlier centuries and the Terrorist movement by Muslim extremist today; people accepting an ideology without question and acting on those principles.

What difference does it make, you ask?  If it makes me happy what’s wrong with believing whatever you want to? The answer is, nothing.  There’s nothing wrong with believing whatever makes you happy unless what you believe starts to negatively affect the community or humanity as a whole.  Then it becomes everyone’s business.

Maybe there should come a time when every man and woman objectively analyzes what they believe to ensure that it provides the truth; that is, as much as the truth can be found. Is there credible evidence for what I believe? Do the teachings comply with reality as we know and understand reality here on this earth? Does what I believe advocate unity or does it result in division? Does this ideology lead to the oppression or intolerance of others?  Is there consistency in its principles or is it plagued with contradictions? We should never stop asking questions.  Why is this important?  Because these ideologies become the standard for how we live our lives, construct our relationships and strengthen our civilization. We should never stop seeking knowledge.  After all, it is knowledge that leads to understanding and understanding that reveals the truth.

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