Copyright © 2012-2015 J R Lankford
All rights reserved
RELIGION’S KEY INGREDIENT
(A novelist’s faith)
According to Wikipedia there are about 4,200 religions. How could this be if there’s only one God? One day the answer struck me like sight after long blindness.
Everyone’s familiar with the phenomenon of brand name and generic drugs. A company discovers or creates a combination of ingredients and markets it under a brand name. Only when the patent expires are competitors allowed to make generics.
Less obvious are the effects of the reverse practice: branding the already generic. Here’s an example. There is a product aggressively advertised on TV that claims fantastic results. I won’t say what results or you’ll know which product I mean. Well-known celebrities are employed to promote it. The claims are absolutely true. Hand over your credit card, place an initial order, let them refill it periodically and you will achieve the advertised result at an annual cost of about $120 a year.
Go to your corner drugstore and buy any of a number of products that have the same key ingredients and get the identical result for about seven dollars. Annual cost? Hugely less.
I discovered this when my granddaughter begged me for the advertised product. She’d tried it and it worked. She wasn’t wrong. It did work. The trick was convincing her that ANYthing with the key ingredients did.
What does this have to do with religion? Possibly a lot. Religious belief, and what it makes people do, has been an interest of mine since I was a seven-year-old Catholic girl, making my first confession. Knowing it was coming, and earnestly wanting God’s approval since my dad was up in heaven, I’d been scrupulously good for weeks. I learned all the prayers by heart, not realizing they had anything to do with me… “Bless me, father for I have sinned.” I hadn’t, not even once.
When I reported this to the priest, he questioned me closely. Finding my behavior blameless, he delved into my mind. Before sweeping the floor when my parents asked me to, had I ever thought I’d rather not? I replied honestly. Of course. He declared me sinful and made me cry, all hope lost that God would let me see my dad again.
That’s how I began to learn the importance of belief. A person with a firm belief will make a little girl cry.
Later I learned firm belief of a hateful kind will make a person firebomb little girls in church, make young girls strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up, make a grown man with a machine gun mow down little girls at the movies, make our country bomb whole cities of little girls to end a war, make a man destroy a building with a nursery school inside.
Why are people so convinced of the rightness of their beliefs? Why are religions? Are Catholics wrong when they say that going to confession and taking communion blesses their lives? Are Muslims wrong when they insist performing Salat facing Mecca five times a day does the same? Are Jews wrong when they find blessings in lighting the candles of Shabbat? Are Buddhists wrong when they chant the Metta Prayer?
Are they right? Every one of them? Do all (non-violent) religious practices work? Are all blessed? Are miracles delivered via all? Not because of the aggressive claims each religion makes, branding itself the only true one, but because of the key ingredient they share? Call it what you will: god or spirit or nature. The name doesn’t matter because, logically, all the names are wrong. The force we call God predates language! It must have existed before the Big Bang or no bang could have occurred. In religious terms, it had to predate the creation.
Will the day ever come when we accept the obvious truth: Protestantism works, Buddhism works, Scientology works, Islam works, Judaism works, Shaminism works — if practiced earnestly and with belief — not because of their special doctrines, but because of the key ingredient they share — a divine force that responds to us, however we call its name.
How do I know? Seeking, I’ve found it. In my abandoned Catholic faith, in a Jewish service in Turin, Italy, in a Buddhist retreat in France, on a street corner as I hailed a cab after my SATs when I was 16, on a plane next to a stranger who revealed my destiny, on the dance floor, in my living room over coffee with a friend.
What we call God exists everywhere. Without this omnipresent, loving force our hearts could not beat. Jesus pointed us to it when he said, “the kingdom of god is within you.” Taoism pointed us to it when Lao Tzu said, “You cannot know the Tao, but you can be it.” Islam pointed us to it when it said, “O Allah, create light in my heart.’ Judaism pointed us to it when it said, “Just as the soul fills the body, so God fills the world.” The Buddha pointed us to it when he said, “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.”
When will we listen to our prophets — stop hurting each other, killing each other, be silent and hear the voice of our in-dwelling God? When will we realize all 4,200 of our religions are, in their essence, completely right—-a basis for unity, not strife?
To this end, I write my novels. Unlike this article, they don’t preach. They are thrillers about people encountering the miraculous in ordinary life, in much the same way we all actually do … almost unnoticably, by sheer coincidence, as we are born, as we die, in our laughter, on our knees in desperation, softly on a moonlit night.
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