I have somewhat mixed feelings on the idea what might be considered salad bar religions, where adherents take a bit of this and that and mix them to taste. Neo-pagan religions are probably the best example, but they’re certainly not the only culprits. When you get right down to it, all religions are more or less like that. People make judgments about whether someone else is a real Christian or Muslim, as if there’s only one way to do that. Most holy books that I know of contradict each other so much that you pretty much have to pick and choose. There remains the issue of whether you’re going to decide which parts to follow yourself, or trust someone else to tell you. People will say the most authentic version of a religion is the one that its founder intended, but not only are records incomplete and inconsistent, but even they were often combining earlier traditions. As much as people want to say religions are unchanging, they actually develop with the times. Even though Jesus said he didn’t intend to alter the scriptures, other stuff in the New Testament indicates that he did. For instance, he says Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts, but that his own followers should never divorce. Who knows whether that’s subject to change again? If there’s one true faith, as believers are fond of saying, why would prophets disagree with each other? Wouldn’t God have just told the right thing to the first guy, and not needed all the rest? I have to suspect that, if there is a God, he’s not a particularly effective communicator. Not with humans, anyway. We apparently misinterpret everything and have to be told again.
One issue I find with just picking the parts of religion you like and disregarding the rest is how sincere you can really be when you do that. While all religion is personal, I have to wonder if some people actually believe what they claim to, or they just think it would be nice. Along with that comes the question of whether you’re just dismissing the inconvenient parts. As unnecessary as some religious sacrifice appears, you can tell the people who go through with it are pretty serious about it. When you just want the good stuff without the rules, how deeply can you really say you believe it? To my non-religious mind, the most important thing isn’t how authentic your religion is, but whether it’s good. I think everyone who isn’t purposely wearing blinders on the subject realizes that religion doesn’t really work as the ultimate source of morality, and that it’s totally possible to be good without believing in God.
That said, “good” isn’t always that simple, and there are some moral aspects to many religions that are worth examining in this respect. Certainly, the teaching of turning the other cheek goes beyond merely being nice to other people, and a person doing this isn’t causing anyone harm. That said, there might be times when selfishness and standing up for yourself aren’t bad. The same goes for the Buddhist concept of freedom from desire. I don’t necessarily see desire as a negative thing, at least not all the time. The people who really stick to this precept, however, aren’t likely to blow up Planned Parenthood clinics or campaign against gay marriage, so I can’t say they’re not good. I do think that, while it’s possible the material world isn’t real, it’s all we know, so world-denying philosophies seem rather short-sighted. People who hold to them might turn out to be right after all, but if they’re wrong they would have missed out on the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. I don’t think it’s advisable to ignore what you have now in favor of what you MIGHT have in the future. Anyway, ideas like these are worth questioning, but they have a certain amount of merit and a morality that goes beyond just “behave yourself.” I guess my main thing is that it doesn’t matter which religion you follow so much as it does that you actually think about your beliefs and have a little more support for them than “God said so.”