People don't realize religion is never a search for truth. Religion is a search for security. Now, we have theological enterprises that try to shape truth. But the bedrock of our religion is a search for security. And that comes out of the very dawning of self-consciousness. --Bishop John Shelby Spong
Religion, being primarily theoretical rather than empirical, generally raises more questions than answers. This in itself is perfectly okay -- questions can be valuable tools to understanding. The problem is twofold: (1) there is no sure-fire method for testing candidate answers, and (2) people aren't satisfied with questions; they want answers.
It's interesting to see the various ways different religions (and other non-empirical thought systems like many branches of philosophy) go about satisfying the thirst for answers.
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned. --Unknown.First, you have the Biblical literalists who, uncomfortable with the fact that no text can be completely unambiguous, pretend that the Bible always says exactly what it means and no more. The problem they face is that the Bible is at times ambiguous, self-contradictory, or in defiance of the facts. Literalists generally either ignore such problems or develop convoluted apologetics to explain them away.
[Many of my students] act like children and experience religion like children. This is why they accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. --Rabbi Joseph B. SoloveitchikOthers try to resolve the problem by finding a person and treating every word he utters as "the gospel truth." The biggest such group are Catholics who have made their Pope infallible. Also included in this category are various Hasidic groups as well as most cults.
Traditionalists are pessimists about the future and optimists about the past. --Lewis MumfordMany people believe that weight should be given to authority figures of the past. As a bonus, there are always many authority figures to choose from, so this neatly overcomes the problem of self-contradiction. If Rabbi Hillel's students disagreed with Rabbi Shamai's students, they can accept both traditions as valid and just pick one to run with. Obviously a great many Orthodox Jews take this path, leading to a great diversity of opinions and practices. As they say, "Two Jews, three opinions." However, even the richest of traditions can't contain answers for all questions (particularly new ones) so people in this camp must be in other ones as well.
Personal Truth FollowersWith the rise of the self in the West, combined with the advent of widespread literacy and the move away from the Catholic Church, many people have turned inward for answers. Some believe that they can speak directly with God via intuition (and sometimes voices in their heads, presumably) and others are comfortable with interpreting the various holy texts for themselves. Many of these people take another practical approach, picking and choosing cafeteria-style aspects of various religions and philosophies which resonate with them.
And Jesus said unto them, "And whom do you say that I am?"Theologians are much like the literalists in that they engage in tortured apologetics. However, being better educated, they can usually arrive at religious philosophies which are unfalsifiable. They will generally redefine terms so that they are completely at odds with the common understanding of them. This last group is perhaps the least objectionable of contemporary religious thinkers since they keep working until their beliefs are at least internally consistent and usually consistent with the world as well. However, their explanations are unsatisfying to the (fictional, of course) objective observer since they violate Occam's razor. Moreover, considering themselves members of their religion rather than members of a distinct one provides cover for all the believers in the other groups. Many a lay-person will take pride in the fact that a religious theologian is nominally of the same religion, but more often than not, the only similarity is in the label. In fact, if some of these theologians spoke their true views to the people, they would likely be kicked out of their communities.
They replied, "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed."
And Jesus replied, "What?" --Unknown
SkepticsSkeptics exist within religious traditions as well as with atheism and agnosticism. Religious skeptics are content to live without some answers, but either believe that the answers they do have are sufficient to act upon or simply choose to be religious in the absence of evidence.
ConclusionIn a recent thread, Orthoprax told me, "If Judaism were the ideological 'search for God' rather than a dogmatic assertion of the same, it could much more easily retain people like you, I think." I think that this is correct and, moreover, that such a Judaism would be a much more meaningful and thoughtful religion. However, it would also be much smaller and would run the risk of dying out within a few generations.
I believe that we must always choose to accept uncertainty over false truths and that we should encourage others to do the same. We must teach people that it's okay not to know the answer to every question and that saying "I don't know" is preferable to saying "I know" when they don't.