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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Several days ago I received an e-Mail from a friend containing a story about a college student’s essay written for a chemistry exam. The question asked “Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?” Unlike the others who wrote their answers using Boyle’s Law concerning the expansion and contraction of gases, much too technical for me to understand or bother to explain here, this one student began his thesis based on the premise that since most religions state that if you are not a member of their religion you will go to Hell, and since there are many of these religions, we can project that all souls go to Hell.
Of course the paper was written tongue in cheek, but the fact that most faiths think that only they have the one “truth” raises the question of who is right and how do they know that only they have the “answer.” Not only does each religion, including the atheists, consider themselves to be the enlightened ones, but within each faith there are many sects who disagree amongst themselves, sometimes violently, over the seemingly most trivial of things such as the interpretation of a single word or which leader, hundreds of years ago, was the true prophet or messiah.
Looking at just the three major God-centric Western religions, Muslims are split mainly between Sunni, Shia, Sufism, Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, and Quranism, Jews are divided into Orthodox, Conservatives, Reformed, Hasids, and Karaites, while Christians are separated into Catholics and Protestants. Not only that, but within Catholicism itself there are Roman Catholics (Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, Carmelites, Carthusians, Trappists, Cistercians), Anglican, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Coptics, while Protestantism’s umbrella covers Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, Seven Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals. And not to be forgotten, for the doubters there are Agnostics and Humanists. Yeeow!
If you’re confused now then consider all the Eastern religions that proliferate such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Sikhism, Jainism, Hare Krishna, and God knows how many others spread across the globe, including all the messianic cults that spring up from time to time. Can they all be right? Can they all be wrong?
Even amongst the God-fearing they can’t make up their minds as to what God is really like other than that He’s omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. In the Old and New Testaments, God is referred to as vengeful, merciful, jealous, and compassionate while being called Jehovah, El, Yahweh, Elohim, Shaddai, Immanuel, and Adonai. In Islam, Allah, yet another of God’s sobriquets, is said to have 99 divine attributes, being called names such as the most holy, the creator, the utterly just, the infinite, the avenger, the first, the last, the timeless, the bringer of life, the giver of death, and the raiser of the dead. Can’t anyone come to some sort of agreement?
Since so much war and prejudice from the beginning of time can be traced directly to religious differences, has it all been worth it for the few fragments and moments of solace that religion has provided during times of crisis? Each person must answer that for his or her own self.