Monday, September 1, 2008

Religion: A Metaphor

An old thing I wrote, which I was reminded of by a conversation this morning.  There may be more like this coming.

Envision God as a mountain. There are many well-worn, wide paths up the mountain - these are the well-known religions, their paths made regular by the many feet who follow them up. They may not be the most direct routes, they may not be the fastest routes, but they're obvious and relatively easy, and if you have problems, there's somebody nearby who can help you out.

Some people just go straight along the path their parents led them toward as a child. They go along as if wearing blinders, never considering any side paths or detours. (These tend to complain the loudest that others don't follow the same path. I mean, really, it's right there plain as day, just follow the path, why don't you? What do you mean you're on the other side of the mountain? What mountain? I'm just following a path.)

You can take less-traveled paths. The way isn't always as obvious, there aren't as many people around. Some people consider this an advantage.

There are old paths, overgrown, that nobody goes on anymore. These are the old religions, once dominant but now languishing without worshippers. Some people, making their own paths, find them and use them where they're convenient, then continue on their way when the path doesn't lead where they wish to go anymore. Others try to follow the old paths all the way along.

You can make your own path. It's hard work. There's no guarantee that you won't fall off a cliff. If you fall and hurt yourself, there may not be anybody nearby who can help you. It's even harder if you're trying to cut a new path for other people to follow.

Which paths are right for you will depend on your starting point - which side of the mountain you're on, which paths are nearby. Somebody telling you that their path is absolutely the right one to take won't be of much help if you're on the other side of the mountain altogether.

You can't just mix-and-match paths. If you try to blindly follow directions from separate paths willy-nilly, you're likely to end up walking off a cliff. ("Okay, Buddhism says forward 30 paces. Now Catholicism says turn right and go forward 10 paces...")

And some people look at the mountain and can't understand why on Earth anyone would want to climb that thing in the first place. It's just a mountain, after all.

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