Invitation to the Study of Religion
Question: Why should you take time to study religion?
Answer: Or maybe I should say, a partial answer:
The Pew Research Center tells us that, as of 2015, there were 7.5 billion people in the world. The large majority of these people belong to a religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the religious distribution is as follows:
2.3 billion Christians
1.8 billion Muslims
1.1 billion Hindu
0.5 billion Buddhist
0.01 billion Jewish (but that’s still a lot of people)
0.5 billion other religions, mostly folk religions
1.2 unaffiliated (no religion)
In order to understand the people around us, in order to understand the world we live in, we need to have some understanding of religion.
Do you want to walk around with blinders on? No? Study religion!
Theology Lesson 1: Good and Bad Religious Leaders
Religious teachings are intended to influence, and do influence, human feelings and behavior in important ways. So, as a first step in studying religion, it is wise to ask the question: Are all religions, and all religious leaders, equal? Is there any way to tell a good religious leader from a bad religious leader?
Here’s advice from someone who knew something about religious leadership (Jesus):
Look at results.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
About thirty years after Jesus’ death, Paul, a famous Christian preacher, wrote a letter which can be used to interpret Jesus’s statement (Galatians 5:22-23):
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So Jesus said, you can tell a good religious teacher from a bad one by looking at the results of the teaching.
Taking what Jesus said together with what Paul said, the results of good teaching are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Here are a couple of questions that I sometimes wonder about:
Why doesn’t Paul list courage and honesty as fruits of the spirit?
Answer: I don’t know! You tell me!
Why doesn’t Paul list “sense of humor” as a fruit of the spirit? For that matter, as far as I know, there is not a single religion that considers “having a sense of humor” to be a virtue. Why not?
Answer: I don’t know!