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Question 74: Does God value ritual and rules?

April 23, 2013

From the sacrifice of vestal virgins to the act of kneeling for prayer, throughout history most religions have shown a tendency to create rituals perceived to honor their God(s). Similarly, based on a moral framework, many religions have taken it upon themselves to create rules for life – some of which are general (e.g. Thou shall not kill) and others of which are specific (e.g. no chocolates on the first Thursday of the second month of the first year divisible by 16 in each century)[1].

While the offing of virgins seems to have declined in popularity, many ancient rituals and rules persist. If we believe there are fundamental truths, or our God should be respected, there’s a strong argument for this happening. However, you only have to look at the Old Testament to see hundreds of rituals[2] and rules cast aside by most or all modern day Jews. A quick study of other religions is likely to find a similar turnover of ideas – some standing the test of time and others falling by the wayside (seems sort of evolutionary doesn’t it).

If you subscribe to a religion or belief system where none of the rules or rituals changed throughout its history, there’s a decent chance its history is short  or it has a very small following. Whether they like it or not, religious leaders have had to respond to changes in cultural mores and dilemmas created by new technologies and lifestyles. When these changes occur, they might be incremental (e.g. removing a ritual from the act of worship) or profound (e.g. allowing female priests)[3]. Regardless, they represent recognition by the faith’s leaders that acquisition of greater knowledge, and reflection with God on its meaning and implications, may lead us to conclude:

a)                 What we perceived to be important may not be.
b)                Our current perceptions of God’s values are wrong or incomplete.

This brings us back to God’s valuing of ritual and rules. We have already established God’s predisposition to good (Bravo, God!) and if you have a belief in God, I suspect it’s not presumptuous of me to assume you feel she deserves respect. This provides the basis for addressing the two items separately.

Rituals by their nature are designed to show respect for the God in question. Even if my God is not an egomaniac, it’s reasonable to suggest she might value me showing respect in a manner consistent with my beliefs. If I feel eating pork would be disrespectful, the act of choosing not to do so is implicitly respectful, and doesn’t hurt anyone other than the pork farmers (who have already accepted the right of consumers to choose). To this degree, I would expect God to value ritual.

As soon as a religion or believer chooses a ritual destructive in its nature (e.g. animal or human sacrifice, denigrating or belittling others) I believe God would put other values ahead of it. In the battle of values, ritual can only be regarded as brittle when compared to life, honesty, tolerance and other higher concepts.

Rules differentiate themselves from ritual by reaching outside the act of worship and into our interaction with both believers and non-believers. They create a structure for us to address problems and dilemmas as we face them, and are generally driven by the truths we, or our religion, perceive. Their importance to our God will be driven by one factor only – whether they are right.

Conclusion:

Within some religions or belief systems, rules and rituals have an important role in showing respect for God and creating a framework for believers. As with any structure, time can identify the weak points and renovations may have to be made. In some cases, the structure may be so dilapidated it needs to be replaced – the only constant is the need for continual consultation with God.

 

 

 

 


[1] I’m not privy to which religion has this rule but you get the idea

[2] A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs (2007) gives a decent overview of this

[3] The Pope’s recent comments on condom use would be another example

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