Is Religion a Rorschach Test?

Religious texts can be interpreted in an almost infinite variety of ways. What do different religious beliefs tell us about the believers?

Talk to a hundred different believers about what God is like, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

Take, as the most familiar example to most Westerners, Christianity. Ask one Christian about what God is like, and she’ll tell you of a strict, punitive authority figure: a creator and enforcer of rules, with clear ideas of right and wrong, a firm expectation that everybody should follow them — and harsh, intractable punishment for those who don’t toe the line.

Ask another Christian, and you get a different picture entirely: a loving parent, occasionally firm but mostly gentle and supportive, giving you lots of latitude to find your own path, who only wants you to be happy and to be your own best self.

Other Christians — notably deists and theistic evolutionists — see God as a sort of hands-off manager: initially founding the business of the Universe, intervening now and then to make sure things run smoothly, but mostly just sitting back and letting his creation run itself. And still others see God as an impersonal abstraction, an intellectual ideal, the encapsulation in metaphysical form of ideals such as love and morality.

Why do these images of God vary so much?

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Is Religion a Rorschach Test? To find out my thoughts on what different religious beliefs tell us more about the character of the believer — and why it’s better to take responsibility for our own values, instead of fooling ourselves into thinking they come from God — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!