Does It Matter Which Religion You Choose?
MOST of us like to have a good selection to choose from when we go shopping. When a market offers a variety of fruits and vegetables, we can select the ones that we most enjoy and that are good for our family. If a clothing store offers many affordable styles and colors, we can choose what best suits us. Some of the choices we make in life are merely expressions of individual taste. Others, though, affect our well-being, for example, our choice of healthful food or wise friends. So, what about our choice of religion? Should our way of worship be merely an expression of personal taste? Or is it a matter that seriously affects our well-being?
There is a great variety of religions from which to choose. Many countries now guarantee freedom of religion, and people feel increasingly free to leave the religion of their parents. A poll in the United States found that 80 percent of Americans “believe that more than one faith can be a path to salvation.” According to that same poll, “one out of five respondents said he had switched religions as an adult.” A survey in Brazil revealed that nearly a quarter of all Brazilians have changed their religion.
In the past, people would furiously debate the doctrines that distinguish one religion from another. Now the popular view is, ‘It does not matter which religion you choose.’ But does it? Can your choice of religion affect you?
Just as prudent shoppers ask questions about the origin of the products offered, so you are wise to ask, ‘How did all these different religions get started, and why?’ The Bible provides the answers.
How Do Religions Get Started?
In ancient Israel, King Jeroboam started a new religion almost a thousand years before Jesus came to earth. Jeroboam was the first king of the independent northern kingdom of Israel. He faced the challenge of rallying people to his cause. “The king took counsel and made two golden calves and said to the people: ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here is your God, O Israel.’” (1 Kings 12:28) Clearly, the king wanted to use religion to direct the people’s loyalty away from Jerusalem, where they used to worship. The religion Jeroboam started lasted for centuries and resulted in ruin for millions when God eventually called that apostate nation of Israel to account. Jeroboam’s religion was a political expedient. Some State religions that continue to this day began similarly as efforts to strengthen political power.
The apostle Paul revealed another motive that people have for starting a new religion when he said: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) Proud leaders often start religious movements to draw attention to themselves. Churches that falsely claim to be Christian have been fragmented by numerous schisms.
Whom Do Religions Want to Please?
Response to popular demand may move some to start a new religion. For instance, the Economist magazine reported on so-called megachurches in the United States. The article notes that these churches are growing because they are “based on the same principle as all successful businesses: putting the customer first.” Some feature “jazzed up services with videos, drama and contemporary music.” Certain religious leaders in these churches claim to teach their members to be “rich, healthy and trouble free.” Although such churches are criticized for being in the entertainment industry or in “the self-help trade,” notes the same source, “they are simply responding to demand.” The report concludes: “The merger between business and religion has been fabulously successful.”
Even though other religions may be less overtly businesslike, churches that are “responding to demand” remind us of a warning given by Paul. He wrote: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories.”—2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
Since many religions arose from a desire for political power, prestige, and popular acceptance rather than a desire to please God, it is no surprise that religion is involved in such badness as child abuse, fraud, war, or terrorism. All too often, religion is a sham. How can you avoid being deceived?
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Many religions arose from a desire for political power, prestige, and popular acceptance rather than a desire to please God