Voces 2, What is the Promise of a Good or Religious Life
This episode looks into the question of if life really goes better for good or religious people.
Read podcast transcript here
Good morning. Yesterday I did a piece called, Is God All Powerful. I believe it may have been a bit difficult. I offered my view that regardless of one’s commitment to good, or the extent to which one commits oneself to the classical traditions or even a spiritual life, that none of these guarantee that things will go well for us. None of them guarantee that the community will have a higher percent of realized and reliable people. I believe this is true, interesting and provocative. And perhaps it is difficult content.
It questions even the omnipotence of God, if God is all good, why does committing oneself to Jesus or to a path of Hinduism or any tradition, or any sacrificial path of goodness offer no seeming benefit to that decision in those ways of life? At the end of that podcast I promised to come back and offer some thoughts. Religion suffers because it tends to represent itself inaccurately, it often leads to disappointment, and it leads to derision by people who dislike religion or who are hostile to religion and who want to see it decline and do away with it and actively work against it. I pointed out that the promise of a better life, that does not necessarily materialize, and the promise that the living God will be with us when we see misfortune or difficulty or poverty befall people committed in sacrificial ways and in sincere ways to spiritual ways of life are brought into question. This is called theodicy; the simple question, why doesn’t God have the ability to bring benefit to those who are living in good and sacrificial ways, why do people who are living in harmful and anti human ways, why do so many of them benefit so immensely. Even if they start good and turn bad, say any of the zillionaires you see wandering around in their elite pursuit of world domination. Take Zuckerberg or Dorsey or Bezos, maybe they all started good. I think possibly they started good. All of them invested in the invention of something that has the potential to be helpful for people that’s for sure. So even if people start good and turn bad or end up being the cause of improper realities in the world, it doesn’t necessarily seem that their lives get worse, any one of the three people I mentioned, have more wealth than most entire nations in the world.
So, I realized at the end of that, or during that podcast, introducing challenging or difficult issues, I pointed out that religion suffers as a result of offering false promises or misrepresenting itself. If you become a Christian life will go well, just give your life over to Jesus, Jesus will take care of you and the all loving God will take care of you. The reality is that this does not seem to be the case. And so, because my podcast got long, I promised to come back and do a second part, in which I’d recommend what might be a way that the call to a religious life or to moral or sacrificial life might be better represented. In other words, why on earth would anyone want to do this when there’s no evident benefit that any benefit comes from this.
Surely this is in the minds of a lot of sophisticated people who cause human suffering, like the heads of drug cartels. A lot of them are very sophisticated entrepreneurs. They have diverse investments, they know most of the powerful people in town, they have a lot of wealth and influence, they have nice homes, they try to raise children who are well educated. And yet, under their influence the degree of barbarity and the extent of human wreckage is unrecognizable; it’s massive beyond description. So I was saying that people can’t recognize why a good way of life has anything good about it. So if the religions are claiming to potential followers that if you adopt our religion if you become a Christian or if you become a Muslim things will go well. It’s an invitation for disappointment among the believers who, who grow cold, who won’t grow, and end up misrepresenting your religion. Same with the people who hate religion, have no use for it, simply because it seems to be a product that misrepresents itself claiming that if you become a Christian, the all powerful God will bless your life. And then you look and see a lot of Christian lives that aren’t blessed at all. At the end of that podcast, I promised that I would return to say what might be a better way for religion to represent itself more accurately, and in this way not make itself subject to derision or subject to disappointing its converts and its followers.
The thing that I came up with is one of the possible ways religion can be presented as an attractive thing without making false promises, is that the offer of becoming a Christian or becoming a Muslim or a Jew or the or the offer of becoming a good and sacrificial person, what should be sold as the attractive point of doing that is that one will enter onto a path in which we can develop ourselves in such a way that those things we behold, that are right and good and wholesome and uplifting and cause peace to behold, that we ourselves will come to resonate more naturally, with all that is good. We will become figures who are increasingly capable of creating realities and environments in which those types of things happen. And as we go through life, those things we see that are tragic and hurtful and harmful and painful and causes struggles, even just to know that they exist by entering onto the religious path, we ourselves will grow naturally more sensitive, more capable of feeling in recognizing the suffering, we will have a more naturally, compassionate reaction to it will be more naturally active move to driven activated to putting an end to it, that by being a Christian or a Jew or a person of conscience choosing to live sacrificially, not for the sake of amassing one’s own wealth, that as we go through life, the thing that causes hardship in our heart, we’re more sensitive to it, and we can’t help but act for its cure. These are simple, simple things. For example, if as we are going down the street we happen to pass by school, and there’s your typical semi circle of parents gawking at the door waiting to see when their little one comes out, and you happen to walk by just at the moment, a little one comes out of school and spots, their mom, out of all the moms and dads or spots their dad, out of all the moms and dads or their sister, and the joy and the light on their face and the excitement. They come running out happy and excited. Or say they did great in school that day or got a gold star, or was the star of the play and they come running out, just filled with excitement with their oversized backpack bouncing back and forth while they run, just to hug the thigh or the waist of their mom or dad or sister, who’s come to pick them up. There’s a world of goodness right in that moment, an infinite goodness right in that moment.
The promise of religion, living a religious or spiritual life or a good life, is that you are sensitive to that. It overwhelms you. It overtakes you. You live in this reality. You don’t miss it. You don’t just walk by on the way to your drug deal or your stock trade or your distraction over some fight you just got into at a red light. The world around you starts to speak to you. Starts to fill you with that which is good. Say you walk up a flight of stairs, and it’s built right. It is a delight as a functional thing that’s built right. Somebody knew what they were doing, and did it right. It just is a just a fine piece of work, and it gets to you. Just climbing up the stairs is part of the goodness that fills your days constantly.
Conversely, the same is the case with those things that are hard or difficult, things that are characterized by suffering. It could be something very simple. You could be just checking out of a grocery store with a piece of cheese and a quart of milk, and the person behind the counter is checking you out, it’s hard for them. Their kids are home, they wish they were home with their kids, they’re working a second job, they’re trying to be cheerful, they’re trying to keep their job, and their situation gets to you. A bit of sacrifice going on with that person, and even more naturally feel it, you say a good word or a nice word or even if it’s somebody you know maybe even figure out how to chip into a scholarship for their kid because you know that the checkout job that’s never going to be enough for that kid. Or you get help get him off to camp or something like that. Religious life is not a promise that things will go good for you. It could be pitched as a promise that you more naturally resonate with good. You can be on the team. You decided to join God’s team or Christ’s team, or the tradition of the Rishis in Hinduism or the prophet. They all lived just to help us become people who cause good in the world, people who do good in the world. They’re help is not to make you rich and poor, it is to help you be good and be sensitive to good and be sensitive to evil and help correct problems. Help you help other on the path. It puts you on the right team, and gives you the right coach
It is not that life gets easier, or that you get richer. God is able to help people who are doing good in the world. Thanks a lot for listening. We’ll talk again soon.