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Sunday, June 1, 2014

What is the Purpose of Religion?

What is the Purpose of Religion?

          I had a small experience this past week that roused some questions in my mind about, what is the purpose of religion and in essence, what is the purpose of life.  It might come as a shock that these questions were brought about in response to someone broken down on the side of the road, but that’s how it happened.

          It should come as no big surprise to anyone who has read any of my previous blogs, that I am a Christian, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).  Well, this past Tuesday evening I was driving from my home into the town of Rexburg about 14 miles away for a church training meeting, when about a mile out of town I spotted a vehicle stopped at the side of the road, with the hood up.

          With the heavy flow or traffic for that time of evening, I passed the car and pulled over to the side of the road in front of them to see if I could help.  Leaving my own vehicle I walked back to the car with Montana license plates and found an upset African American lady, in a very nice dress, behind the wheel.

          “It looks like your night isn’t going according to your plans.” I offered to lighten the mood.  “Is there anything I can do to help?”

          She expressed her relief that I had stopped and stated, “Of all the cars that have passed me by over the past 20 or so minutes, only you and one other person have stopped and offered to help.”
          I asked her what she thought was wrong and she answered that she thought she had just run out of gas before being able to make it into town. She said the other man and his wife who had stopped by earlier had gone to get some for her, but she had been waiting for 15 minutes or so since they had left her.  I was the only other person to stop in that time.

          I asked what she had come down from Montana into Idaho for.  She stated that she had come down to speak at the Jehovah Witness’ Kingdom Hall that night.

          Just then the other middle aged man and his wife returned from town and pulled up behind her.  He was a Hispanic man and by the stickers on his truck I figured he was certainly a Catholic by religion.  He had driven into town, purchased a gas can, filled it at the station and returned to help.  We put the gas into her car, all the while as the Hispanic man refused her offers for any kind of reimbursement for his cost or efforts.

          We made sure her car got started and wished her well on her talk at her church.  The Hispanic man then thanked me for stopping to help (although I really hadn’t done anything) and then smiled and went on his way.

          As I got back into my own car and finished traveling to my own church meeting (now behind schedule and late), I couldn’t help but humbled and moved by the thoughts that came over me.  In those few moments a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness and a Catholic had intermingled on the side of a road, as a host of other people passed by on their own way.   And it made me wonder, what is the purpose of Religion, specifically Christianity but it could be any religion?

          Rexburg, Idaho is a predominantly, but not exclusively, Mormon community and in a way it saddened me that with all the people traveling by in the 30 minutes or more this woman had been broken down on the side of the road, that the only man who offered any real service or assistance was a Catholic.

          Now don’t get me wrong!  I am not saying anything against Catholics, Jehovah’s Witness’ or any other religion, or touting my own by what I am talking about here.  What I am talking about is that people of so many different religions, including my own, claim to be Christian, but probably fail to understand what that really means.

          We are all members of our various religious organizations and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer… but the question is, what effect does that have on us and what is the meaning of it?

          Is our religion or church membership just a social organization to help us feel good about ourselves, or so that we can check our Sunday attendance off our “feel good” list each weekend, or does it actually affect some kind of change in us?

          One thing I know is that on that day, with everyone driving by (of what religious backgrounds I do not know) the one man who showed true Christian compassion, service and Christ-like behavior was a Catholic Hispanic man.

          Now that’s not to say that if we don’t stop to help everyone along our path that we are a bad person or not religious; in fact far from it.  Life demands us to make choices and we do have to work, provide for our own support and take care of personal needs and demands.  But what I talking about is the question of whether our religion actually changes us into something better than we are or were before?

          In my humble opinion, if a religion doesn’t inspire you to actually change your behavior on an ongoing basis into something more kind, loving, caring and willing to serve others… then either it isn’t much of a religion or you aren’t getting out of it what you should.

          The purpose of life is not to see “What’s in it for me?” or to see how many things we can acquire or how much wealth, fame or recognition we can receive.  Each and every one of us will have to leave all that behind when we die and pass on into the next realm beyond mortality.

          No, the purpose of life, which was created by God our loving Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, is to create an experience where we can learn (by our own practice and through our own agency) how to become like them.  And if our religion isn’t inspiring that kind of change and behavior in us, as individuals, then we may want to question what is the purpose of religion in our lives.

          As for me, as I thoughtfully proceeded to my church meeting that night, and over the several days since then, have been left to ponder the question and come to the realization, that everything good that has ever happened in my life and any measure of good I have achieved as a person I can directly relate to the gospel of Jesus Christ and my membership in my church.

          I am far from reaching the spiritual progress and goals for which I am striving, but thanks to Jesus Christ, there is a path before me and He has shown the way.  He is the way the truth and the life.  And I am grateful for a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic and everyone else from all walks of life who I meet each day for reminding me of it.