Monday, April 27, 2009

How to Choose a Religion - A Prudent Shopper's Guide

What are the most important choices you will ever make in your life? You may first think of the big-ticket purchases you make. A house is probably the the most expensive purchase. Replacing your car every few years is another major choice. But several other decisions have a far greater impact on the quality of your life. Your choice of spouse, or your decision not to marry. Your choice of career.

Other crucial choices may not even appear to be choices at all. Your choice of which community to call home is a choice that has great impact on the quality of your life, yet many people never approach that decision in a conscious fashion. Many people simply remain in the community of their youth without making a conscious choice among all the towns, cities, states, and countries in which they could live. Perhaps the town in which they were born is the optimum location in which to spend their entire lives, but should that choice just be abdicated to habit?

As with the choice of a home town, the choice of a religious home is often left to habit. There are people who choose communities far from their place of birth to call home, and there are others who carefully consider such a move before consciously choosing their birth town as their lifetime residence, but such people are in the minority. Likewise with religion. While a few choose a new religion, or carefully compare religions and consciously choose their birth religion, most remain with the religion of their childhood out of habit.

If you were to move past habit and decide to consciously choose a religion, what would your criteria be? Let me suggest several questions you might want to ask.

1. What is the single most important function you want your religious organization to serve? To have a statement of belief that agrees with your vision of the nature of God? To provide ceremonies in which you feel comfortable participating. To offer inspiring weekly sermons? To provide fellowship with like-minded people? To provide a structure for civic action and community welfare? Or to answer some other primary need?

2. Are you looking for an organization that supports your personal relationship with God, or a church that offers a single level or hierarchic structure of clergy to act as intermediaries?

3. Are you looking for an organization that aligns with your beliefs about the nature of God, reward and Heaven, damnation and Hell, sin, forgiveness or not, vengeance and compassion, civic responsibility, and a myriad of other questions? Or do you want a church that is acceptive of varying beliefs among its members? Or are you unsure of your beliefs and values and are looking for a church that will tell you what you should believe?

Have you ever attended a service of a different denomination? If so, were you able to identify what you liked and didn't like, or were you caught up by how "different" the experience felt?

This week, consider attending a religious gathering of another faith. If nothing else, you may gain a greater appreciation of others in your community.

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