Religious decisions, like any other important decisions, should be made after careful analysis. The purpose of this essay is to set forth one format for making that analysis. The first question that must be asked is what you think the purpose of religion is. All else will depend on this answer. The answers to this question may be placed in two categories: 1) maintaining a satisfactory relationship with God, and 2) other. The “other” category includes such diverse purposes as maintaining a credible political base, providing one with a social life (fellowship, a place to pick up chicks, etc.), keeping the population under control, providing employment, providing opportunities for public displays of your personal goodness, and as many other purposes as can be fashioned by the simple minded, the opportunistic, and/or the self righteous. While at least some of these “other” purposes have some value, this essay will concentrate on the first category, maintaining a satisfactory relationship with God. If you find yourself in the second or “other” category, you needn’t waste a lot of time on analysis. Just shop around until you find some religious, semi-religious, or political group which fits your particular criteria.

For those interested in continuing with the analysis, your first question should be: Do you believe in God? If the answer is no, your next question should be: How sure am I? Whether or not there is a God does not depend on our opinions. If there is no God, my believing in one will not make him exist, and, conversely, if He does exist, my disbelief will not make him go away. We have reached an opportunity for compromise in our analysis. People who are certain that there is no God, and people who are not sure should answer two questions: 1) If I live my life as if there is a God and I’m wrong, what will I lose? and 2) If I live my life as if there is no God and I’m wrong, what will I lose? Believers and those nonbelievers who lack the courage of their convictions should continue with this essay. All others should either join Group 2 or just enjoy life and sleep in on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or whenever day it is that their neighbors toddle off to commune with their god(s).

Our next questions are: 1) how old is God; 2) does He care what we do; and 3) how do we know what He wants us to do? You will have to answer these questions for yourself. I offer my answers here for your consideration. 1) If God were not eternal I don’t think I’d worry about him. If you accept the concept of God, you just about have to conclude that He is, by definition, eternal. 2) If God didn’t care what we do, I don’t think I’d worry about him. If you’re really certain that God does not care what we do, you should stop wasting your time with these questions and go back to the “other” group. For my part, I think He cares. 3) If He cares what we do, He has to have told us what he expects of us. That information has to be somewhere. The purpose of this essay is to find it.

In seeking out an eternal God, I suggest looking into the past. I would summarily reject any religion cut from whole cloth in the twentieth century. How far into the past do we have to look? As far back as time goes. If a religion does not trace its roots to creation, forget it. Finding the “true” religion, the way outlined by God Himself is simply a process of elimination.

I will start the search with Christianity, because the search might end there. Christianity meets the first test. It traces its roots to creation. The foundation on which Christianity is built is not the life of Christ, nor is it the death of Christ. This religion is built upon the resurrection of Christ. If you believe that Christ rose from the dead, seek no further. I think everyone could agree that rising from the dead would take more than human effort. I hope everyone could agree that God would not raise someone from the dead in a deliberate effort to mislead mankind. If Christ really rose from the dead, Christianity is the religion God has chosen to guide His people. If Christ did not rise from the dead, we need to look elsewhere. An obvious first choice would be Judaism. Islam, claiming a common root in Abraham, is another possibility. Beyond Islam, one must move into the realm of polytheism in order to find religions which pass the age test.

Having selected a religion, we must now look at the divisions plaguing all of the major religions. This is where we search for those divine instructions mentioned three paragraphs back. If we accept the notion that God cares what we do, we need to consider the likelihood that he would leave us on our own to figure out what we are supposed to do. For the world’s three main religions, the Ten Commandments state what God expects from their adherents. Most of these rules are so basic that they are universally accepted as the standard for civilized folk everywhere without regard to religious affiliation: e.g., “Thou shalt not kill.” Others are not so universal: e.g., “I am the Lord thy God, etc.” These commandments do not, however, tell us everything we need to know in order to make a definitive decision on whether a specific act is right or wrong. Some interpretation is often needed. Some of that interpretation is found in each religion’s holy scriptures, which are claimed to be the actual word of God. Even these scriptures, though, are subject to some interpretation. How do we decide what interpretation is the correct interpretation? One way to make this decision is on the basis of age.

The three main religions claim covenants with God: i.e., the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, for Christians the Covenant of the New Testament, and for Muslims the covenant with the Prophet Mohammed. With each new covenant came new requirements for living in God’s grace. The latest of these claimed covenants was made over 1300 years ago. This means that, while God may occasionally change His mind, He doesn’t do it very often. If you are a Jew, the last change was 3,000 years ago. If you are a Christian, it was 2,000 years ago, and if you are a Muslim, it has been 1300 years since the last change. Fickle, God is not; not by anyone’s standard. Therefore, God’s rules have not changed for a very, very long time. What was God’s law 1,000 years ago is still God’s law and the fact that the world changes all the time does not alter the fact that God’s law remains constant. Therefore, if an interpretation of God’s law conflicts with an older interpretation, the newer one is unlikely to be correct. If you do not agree with this statement, go directly to Group 2, and don’t look back.

When changes occur in the world, questions of first impression sometimes arise. Suddenly there are problems that previously did not exist. Who will decide what God’s law requires of us in this new situation? When two people search scripture for the answers to problems, as often as not, two different answers emerge. That is why all the world’s major religions are badly splintered. Has God left us with no way to discover what is expected of us? It doesn’t seem likely. Does it?

The way to find the religion you seek is by process of elimination. You will find what you seek by answering these questions: 1) Do you believe in God or are afraid to deny his existence? 2) Has God set down Rules that he expects us to follow? 3) Where does one find God’s Rules? 4) Did Christ rise from the dead? 5) Who will make difficult interpretations of scripture in cases of first impression?