The practical consequences of religious belief

Religion is about belief and behavior.  How we behave depends on what we believe.  The “what” and “why” of life feed into each other.  By doing a certain thing we understand why we are doing it.  We start to do it by first believing it worthwhile.  Behavior is determined by belief, but belief is also determined by behavior.  Praxis is acting and doing.  Theory is thinking and understanding.  We live according to what we believe.  We believe according to the way we live.  There is a circular interplay.  True religion is an integrating force in our lives, so that the whole person is really an integrated personality.  Religion is not a view of life, but a way of living.  A person’s view of the world reflects a way of living.  We express our ethical beliefs in both a concrete and symbolic way.  We have to understand what is being done, in order to understand what is said.  Religion is a life style, not an idea.  Are you challenged to be yourself?  Do these religious practices increase your identity?  Do they challenge you to be freer?  Do they open new horizons?  Do they have value?  Is your human existence better off?  These are the questions you must ask about your religious practice.

Atheism

Atheism proclaims that there is nothing out there, no transcendence, no God.  Therefore, there is no theism or belief in God.  There is nothing but us mere humans, so that we have to do the best that we can do.  There is nothing but individual concerns that sometimes merge into some common causes.  This world is full of nothingness or just plain old materialism.  Get as much as you can now.  There is nothing more.  Quite often, this is a reasoned position, in that atheism is a minority opinion, since the natural tendency of most people is to believe in something other than yourself.

The dead shall rise (Isa 26:19-26:19)

“Your dead shall live!

Your corpses shall rise!

O dwellers in the dust!

Awake!

Sing for joy!

Your dew is radiant dew!

The earth will give birth

To those long dead.”

However, Isaiah has new hope. The dead will rise. This was a general theme after the Exile, not prior to it. Clearly this text of Isaiah is talking about a general resurrection. The dead would live. The corpses would rise. In fact, there is a call to dust dwellers to wake up and sing for joy. This new birth is from the dead, even those long dead, not from pregnant women. Is this just a call for the Israelites to rise up or is this a general belief in the last day resurrection?

The reluctant response of Isaiah (Isa 6:5-6:5)

“I said.

‘Woe is me!

I am lost!

I am a man of unclean lips.

I live among a people of unclean lips.

Yet my eyes have seen

The King,

Yahweh of hosts!’”

Isaiah assumes the first personal singular with his response to this situation. He felt that he was lost, since he was a man of unclean lips, living with other unclean people. However, his eyes had seen Yahweh, the king and lord of all. There was a belief that if you saw God, Yahweh, you would die.

Adultery (Prov 30:20-30:20)

“This is the way of an adulterous woman.

She eats.

She wipes her mouth.

She says.

‘I have done no wrong.’”

This female adulterer eats and wipes her face, saying that she has not done anything wrong. This is the ancient belief that the female was somehow more responsible for adultery than the male. The old moral saying is that once you get accustomed to doing something, you no longer think that it is wrong. The first few times you might be worried, but then it becomes a habit with no sense of sin or evil involved.

Sheol for all (Ps 49:14-49:15)

“Like sheep

They are appointed for Sheol.

Death shall be their shepherd.

Straight to the grave they descend.

Their form shall waste away.

Sheol shall be their home.

But God will ransom my soul

From the power of Sheol,

He will receive me.”

Selah

Once again we have the theme of the shepherd. This time death, not Yahweh, is the shepherd. Death leads all of us sheep directly to the grave, where we waste away. Our homes will be Sheol, the ill-defined underground afterlife. However, we do have an exception. The psalmist believes that God will rescue him from the eternal power of Sheol. God will ransom his soul with his belief in an eternal afterlife with God. With that, it is time for another musical interlude pause of Selah.

Eliphaz has confidence in an almighty God (Job 5:8-5:16)

“As for me,

I would seek God.

I would commit my cause to God.

He does great things.

He does unsearchable marvelous things without number.

He gives rain upon the earth.

He sends waters upon the fields.

He sets on high those who are lowly.

Those who mourn are lifted to safety.

He frustrates the devices of the crafty.

Thus their hands achieve no success.

He takes the wise in their own craftiness.

The schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

They meet with darkness in the daytime.

They grope at noonday as in the night.

He saves the needy from the sword of their mouth.

He saves the needy from the hand of the mighty.

Thus the poor have hope.

Injustice shuts its mouth.”

Eliphaz explained his belief about God. This is a universalistic God, not the God of Israel, Yahweh. This indicates the time of the captivity when the God of the universe became prominent among the Israelites in the 6th century BCE. This is a God who does great marvelous innumerable deeds. The classic concept of God had him bring rain to the fields. He also helped those who were lowly and mourning. However, he also frustrated the crafty, the wise, and the wily. They meet with darkness during the day. He also saved the needy, gave hope to the poor, and did away with injustice. Thus this is a powerful God who controls the life of men here on earth. This God gives hope to the poor and those who are suffering injustice.

Judas Maccabeus prepares to attack (2 Macc 15:6-15:11)

“Thus Nicanor in his utter boastfulness and arrogance had determined to erect a public monument of victory over Judas and his forces. But Judas Maccabeus did not cease to trust with all confidence that he would get help from the Lord. He exhorted his troops not to fear the attack of the gentiles. Rather, they should keep in mind the former times when help had come to them from heaven. They were now to look for the victory which the All powerful would give them. Encouraging them from the law and the prophets, he reminded them also of the struggles they had won. He made them the more eager. When he had aroused their courage, he issued his orders. At the same time he pointed out the perfidy of the gentiles and their violation of oaths. He armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words. He cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief.”

Nicanor was so confident that he wanted to create a public monument of his victory over Judas Maccabeus that not yet happened. On the other hand, Judas Maccabeus was confident that his help would come from the Lord. He told his troops not to feat the attack of the gentiles. They should remember the former times when help came from heaven. Victory would come from the all powerful God. He encouraged them by reading from the Law and the prophets and all their struggles. The troops became more eager to fight as their courage was aroused. Judas also pointed out the lying and the violations of the gentiles. They had confidence in their shields and spears, but his troops would have confidence in the inspired words of God. He cheered them all by talking about a visionary dream.