Tuesday, July 26, 2005

religious calculator

My friend Allison recently sent a link to a 'religious selector' to a group of our friends. It's proved rather interesting to see how we rank. After answering 20 questions, the selector tells you which religion your beliefs most accurately fall into. The quiz tabulates how accurately your views match-up with the beliefs of more than two dozen religions*. The questions, for me, were thought provoking. While it's not an in depth psycho-analysis or religious IQ, there's some food for thought in there.

In case anyone is interested, here are my results:
1. Mahayana Buddhism (100%)
2. Neo-Pagan (98%)
3. New Age (97%)
4. Unitarian Universalism (90%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (89%)
6. Hinduism (85%)
7. Liberal Quakers (83%)
8. New Thought (81%)
9. Taoism (78%)
10. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (67%)
11. Jainism (65%)
12. Scientology (63%)
13. Mainline - Liberal Christian Protestants (62%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (58%)
15. Secular Humanism (55%)
16. Sikhism (52%)
17. Reform Judaism (51%)
18. Bahá'í Faith (43%)
19. Seventh Day Adventist (31%)
20. Orthodox Judaism (29%)
21. Non-theist (27%)
22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (24%)
23. Mainline - Conservative Christian Protestant (18%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (16%)
25. Islam (16%)
26. Roman Catholic (16%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (12%)

I was really surprised to find that Christian Scientist and Scientology ranked so high on my list. The thing that struck me as kind of neat with this little quiz is that it takes spiritual beliefs out of the context of their religions. Obviously, some belief answers do give way to their fundamentals (ie. God is creator, Heaven is a place, the Devil contributes to evil). But, as a one who tends to lean away from Christian doctrines, I found the multiple choice answers outside of those obviously Christian very interesting to think about.

One question that really stuck in my mind was "Why is there so much suffering in the world?". I don't believe that we're still repenting for Adam and Eve's sin and I'm pretty sure that 'God' doesn't have suffering in his 'plan' for me, so I am left with the following choices:

--Suffering is a state of mind, (or illusion); only our spiritual nature is real.
--Spiritual or cosmic imbalance and disharmony may result in suffering.
--Unwholesome thoughts and/or deeds (greed, hatred, and violence) in this or prior lives return as suffering (karma).
--None of the above; human suffering has nothing to do with the supernatural or karma.

I can pretty easily cross off the idea that unwholesome thoughts in this life or those of the past return to a person as suffering. Sometimes I like to think that karma is real, that my good deeds will come back my way and that those who are dishonest and cruel will pay for it down the road. It just doesn't hold up universally though. How then would you explain all the bad things that happen to really good people? The same can be said for the spiritual balance and harmony option. When one is in harmony with his spirit, should he be 'protected' from suffering? It's nice to think that God would look out for those who are connected spiritually and protect them for harm, hurt, and pain. But, again, how do you explain all the bad things that happen to those who are 'in harmony'? Is it that they are not really in harmony, that their degree of harmonious spirituality is just a little shy of 100% and so they are left to suffer? That kind of thinking doesn't make sense in my world. In my world God doesn't determine arbitrarily how a person feels or doesn't feel. However, it may be possible for a person to transcend suffering through spirituality, which brings us to another option.

I've often wondered if suffering is a state of mind. For me, suffering seems to be more satient, more connected to the body. When I am suffering it can consume me. Mourning the loss of a loved one, experiencing prolonged physical pain, or being stuck in an oppressive situation all fit under my definition of suffering. Suffering, just like love or hate or joy is a state of mind, but it's a state that is rooted in the body. If a person is starving alone in the middle of the desert surrounded by vultures, I (and probably he) would say he is suffering. Perhaps some men or women can transcend suffering and so transcend many human emotions and sensations. But, how does one get there? Is it a matter of accepting your 'fate'? Is it a state of mind and mental will-power? Does one reach a state of being, like nirvana, where he is finally freed of the bonds that less evolved minds are subject to on this earth? This seems to be a possibility. As evolutionary spiritual creatures, I would hasten to guess that it's possible to transcend suffering.

Or, is it none of the above? Is suffering as we know it just a biological function that has no connection to the spiritual?

Take the Test for yourself. Let me know how you score.

*Curiously enough, I don't see agnostics or atheism on the list.

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