Religion and the Search for Truth

by Stephen Lampe

In the essay “Crimes of faith”, I stated that religions are only a means to an end; they are not ends in themselves. Their value lies only in their potential to: (1) lead to the true recognition of God; (2) promote knowledge of the immutable mechanisms at work in God’s Creation; and (3) clarify the place of human beings in Creation. In elaboration of this point, I remarked that the unadulterated forms of the teachings on which the various religions and religious sects are based have the same origin – God, the Almighty Creator. Therefore, the correct versions of the foundational teachings could not have contradicted, and did not contradict, one another. The teachings were not intended to compete, nor were they meant as alternatives. Each set of teachings was prepared for a particular people in accordance with their state of spiritual maturity, their intellectual sophistication, their environment, and the needs of their time. As the people matured, they were meant to receive correspondingly higher teachings from other teachers. This is in line with the fact that revelation is progressive. These ancient teachings were not meant to be the final word of God.

The wrong assumption that some thousand-year old scriptures represent the final word of God has led to many obviously wrong dogmas and caused social and political havoc, in addition to stunting human spiritual development. The pure forms of the various teachings were meant to be like steps of a ladder atop of which the “Final Truth” stands. In this connection, one may ask: what is truth? First, it is necessary to differentiate between “the Truth” and the ordinary truths of everyday life, which are the effects of “the Truth”. Dictionary definitions of truth include: fact, actuality, a transcendent, fundamental or spiritual reality. The value of religion is its potential to lead one to this last definition of truth as “a transcendent, fundamental or spiritual reality” and thereby to a deeper and reverential recognition of God. It can be stated right away that whatever is true in this sense is unchanging and immutable. The “Final Truth” has its direct origin in God.

Today, science and the scientific method have become a highly important path in man's search for truth. Most people, particularly in Western societies, accept as truth whatever has been scientifically established, and for many people only that which has the backing of science can be considered true. But there are at least two forms of scientific truth. One form represents unchanging principles in our material universe and may be properly called scientific laws. Such laws have the potential to lead to an understanding of the eternal laws by which the Creator maintains Creation and thereby a greater appreciation of the Perfection of God. The other form includes observations that recur time and time again but to which there may be exceptions, albeit rare; this form of scientific truth is best referred to as “statistical theories”, which are obviously not immutable. Those who worship at the altar of science often ignore the distinction between these two forms of scientific truth.

The validity of the scientific approach is demonstrated by the many and brilliant achievements of technology based on the scientific conception of truth. Thus, no sane person would deny the usefulness of science in discovering the truths of material life. But there are fundamental questions which science cannot answer. Science cannot tell us whether or not God exists. Science cannot tell the purpose of human existence, although by helping to satisfy our material needs, it can probably facilitate whatever that purpose may be. Science cannot offer enlightenment about the Beyond, whether there is life after death, and what such an afterlife might be like. The limitations of science are linked with the fact that it is based on the activity of the human brain, which cannot go beyond earthly conceptions of time and space. One might justifiably assert that science deals with the means but not the ends of existence. Once we have decided on earthly goals and objectives, science can contribute to their achievement.

For millions of people, truth is that which their religious teachings, scriptures, and religious traditions affirm and whatever can be deduced from them. Such people consider knowledge outside this scope as untrue and unacceptable. This position would make sense if the following conditions were true: first, if the teachings and traditions as given through the original Truth-bringers were written down by them and preserved without change; second, if the socio-economic, cultural and political circumstances of those times were more or less the same as those of our times; and third, if the state of spiritual maturity and intellectual sophistication of the people to whom the teachings were first given were the same as for people of our times. The fact is that none of these conditions hold with respect to the major religions of the world. The teachings and traditions as well as their interpretations are no longer pure, regardless of the claims made by the adherents of the various religions. Moreover, circumstances have changed immensely as Creation has continued to advance relentlessly in its cycle, in accordance with the Law of Movement. We creatures are meant to advance similarly in spiritual maturity and also continuously to improve conditions on earth, using as an important tool our intellect, which should also be improving in refinement and capacity. We were always expected to be on the alert so that we may avail ourselves of the necessary new knowledge, which building on the unadulterated past teachings, helps us to make the right adjustments to changing times.

It should be noted that, in contrast to religion, science continues to make progress because it constantly builds upon its stock of knowledge, discarding whatever has been proved to be false or at least unhelpful, and recognizing the limits of its various theories. But most religions continue to stick to doctrines which, in the light of objective circumstances and even common sense, cannot possibly be true. This characteristic dogmatism breeds fanaticism, which has caused so much havoc in the past and continues to do so in our time. It should be said that religious teachings (but almost certainly not religious organizations) have made, and continue to make important contributions to our understanding of eternal truths and have provided codes of behaviour that have to some extent advanced the values and the moral tone of many societies. However, rigid adherence to shaky doctrines does not only undermine the usefulness of religions, it turns them into enemies of humanity.

Furthermore, the current state of the world, the chaos and confusion in the socioeconomic and political order, the intermittent incidents of mindless violence, murders and even genocide, and the widespread inhumanity of people to people indicate that neither religion nor science (despite its immense technological contributions) has succeeded in inculcating in us a strong conviction about ways to solve our problems in a civilized manner. Moreover, the majority of human beings are still as perplexed as in past centuries about all the fundamental questions, such as the nature and origin of human beings, their purpose on earth, where they go after physical death and by what mechanisms, etc. We still do not know how to build harmonious and just societies nor how to organize economies that truly serve people. There is, therefore, definitely a need for such knowledge which gives human beings “a clear and intelligible conviction of the working of God in His Justice and Love, …which leaves no gap, contains the answer to every question, and clearly shows to mankind how wonderful are the ways in Creation that are upheld by many servants of God’s Will.”

Finally, I must emphasize that whether or not we are pleasing to God or to a true Prophet does not depend on the religion or sect we profess nor on the spiritual movements (or factions thereof) to which we belong. It depends solely on our individual spiritual maturity. We are not judged on the basis of whether or not we are Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, adherents of particular spiritual teachings, etc.; we are saved or condemned according to how we stand as individuals. Our religious and related affiliations can be a help but they can also be a hindrance. Thus, at their best, religions are only a means to the goal of personal spiritual maturity; a maturity that manifests in all our actions, words, thoughts, and aspirations. A truly spiritually mature person would be an example of true humanity in all his/her social, economic, and political relationships. Sadly, all religions and sects in Nigeria are well represented in the clubs of corruption, oppression, and vanity. It is time to reflect.