One Possible Strange Benefit of Religion

I think it’s pretty apparent that some sort of religious impulse exists in many human beings. I don’t think there is any single definitive cause for this (though there may be). It seems to come from either a desire for outside authority, or a lack of self-confidence, or an intuition of a higher power, etc. Whatever the reason for the person in question, many of our fellow human beings seem to have the drive towards religion. I have been thinking about that lately, and wondering what benefits religions might provide for their followers aside from the fulfillment of this drive.

We all carry notions and ideas that are contradictory. These are the source of cognitive dissonance that’s a common occurrence in life. Examine what you hold to be true long enough and you will encounter these sources of contention. I know of no place in life where this is more apparent than in the scriptures of most organized religion. This is especially true when viewed by someone who is not a member of the religion in question. Those inside the religion tend to have some emotional armoring against such contradictions. However, any rational and objective examination of a religion’s scripture will call these contrary notions out.

That leads me to what I think might be one of the strange benefits of following a religion. Due to the contradictions inherent in most scriptures, the followers of the religion are compelled to pick and choose which directives to follow. Some leave this to others, and the priest cast tends to be the ones given the authority to make these calls. Different religions encourage a differing level of self-study. Whoever is compelled to pick and choose from the scriptures must face these contradictions head on. That type of decision making calls for critical thinking, and the development of critical thinking has many benefits.

Critical thinking skills appear increasingly rare in our world. Could it be that religions are a place where critical thinking is encouraged?

There are famous examples from most religions of people dealing with the paradoxes the scriptures extol. Zen is replete with students coming to the point of burning all of their books in order to free themselves from the tyranny of doctrine. In Judaism, there is a famous story of a renowned Rabbinical scholar who, in the middle of study, suddenly threw up his arms and declared, “There is no truth!” He then retreated to his chambers and did not emerge for some years. When he did, he picked up studying and teaching from right where he left off. Most people seem to think that facing the contradictions of the scriptures will always cause followers to abandon their beliefs. However, that Rabbi came face to face with the contradictions in the holy texts, and when he resolved those in his own mind his faith was strengthened rather than abandoned. Perhaps we could all learn a little something from his example.

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On Being Inspired

I just got to watch an unreleased video by a guy who I might get to work with in the near future. Excitement about the new gig aside, I found myself very inspired by the guy’s story, and sharing. I got pumped. He has something of a Gary Vaynerchuk vibe (in a very different industry) and as I happen to be a big GaryVee fan, it really hit my chords.

I noticed something interesting in the process of being inspired, beyond the content. I think it’s a good idea when being inspired to not be inspired by what someone is doing. I don’t feel a particular pull towards the industry this guy is in (though he nearly got me there) as a career. It’s not something I can be passionate about. Excited yes, but passionate, not so much. If I tried to follow that excitement all in, I would burn out, and I’d be back to looking for the thing I really want to do.

I also don’t think it’s wise to be inspired by how someone is doing something, when being inspired. I loved the style in the video, and the energy, but they are not me. Again, if I tried to go with copying his style as a way to put my passion out there, it would fall flat sooner or later.

What sticks for me, and what I think is good to emulate when being inspired by something is the simple fact that they are doing. Period. The inspiration that can last, and serve, is the oomph to get up and move forward with my passion. Not how they do, or what they do, but that they do.

In other words; when inspired, try to remember, “You do you.

It’s All Made Up


I love me some infographics!

I think the whole idea of an infographic is really keen, and I enjoy learning in a visual way. I makes it quite easy for me to draw relations for the information and fit the data into context.

I came across one the other day that is right up my alley.

This infographic shows (to the best accuracy of available information) the distribution of religions in the world population. I found several things in it that ran contrary to my assumptions. Some religions I thought were smaller. Some were larger. For one, I thought Buddhism was a much bigger fraction of the world’s religions.

As I studied the graphic I realized something was missing.

Where was my own personal (most of the time) religion, Discordia? (Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!)

Where are the Pastafarians, the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (Bless his noodly appendage!)

Where were the Jedi? In 2001, in the England and Wales census, 390,127 respondents declared their faith as Jediism. That’s over three times the number of Zoroastrians in the world, according to the chart. And, 523 times more than the listed number of Samaritans!

Where was the Church of the SubGenuis!!!

I scanned back & forth across the information searching for some mention. I realized that they were not including “made up religions.” I could not figure out why they would do that. Then it hit me. Square in the pineal gland. (Sorry. Inside joke. Very, very inside…) They weren’t including the so-called “made up” religions because that would give up the game too easily.

What’s the game, you say? Well, here it is: They are all made up. Some more obviously than others, and some with tons of poetry wrapped up around their inspiration, but when you come down to it they are all made up. In all cases, women and men sat down and created these things. Even if you buy the idea of divine inspiration (which I sometimes do) it still comes down to humans taking the notes & practices and then propagating them.

However, with the march of years and the persistence of generations, these particular religions became engraved in our contextual and cultural souls. We have come to accept them as given parts of life, if not facts. We have taken them as “real.”

To a degree they are real. They are as much of a part of our world as taxes and cleaning. What is making them real though, in this case, is our acceptance.

So, what makes the “made up” religions not real is just a lack of acceptance. If we took that on board then we would have to face that all the religions of the world, big & small, venerated & ridiculed, are viewed the way they are only on our say so.

We would have to face up to them all being made up.

Personally I find such a notion liberating.