Religion and Literature

Religion teaches us things that science can’t understand. This can include:

  • How the world was made before science can see
  • What happens after we die
  • Angels, demons, and things in the “spirit world”
  • Ethics, morality, charity, virtue, honesty, and love
  • The one-man Savior of the whole world

Scripture vs Doctrine

Every religion has its sacred writings. These are often called scripture. Christians call theirs the Bible. Muslims call theirs the Quran. These are collections of ancient literature, usually written in an old language no longer spoken. Studying that language often requires a college degree. Many people have a master’s degree or PhD in studying the writings of a religion.

Religions also have doctrine or religious teaching. These are not directly from their scriptures, but from their religious establishments and their teachers. Roman Catholics believe that church doctrine is equally true as the Bible. Other Christians believe the Bible is more authoritative than church doctrine. That teaching itself is a church doctrine of non-Catholics. Because of disagreements over doctrine, there are usually many different groups within each religion. We learn much about the followers of a religion by watching two things: how much they respect each other, how much they respect people outside of their religion.

Scripture is Literature

Studying the ancient writings of a religion is not the same as studying the actual beliefs. This involves language, grammar, literature, history, anthropology, culture, ancient science, ancient architecture, ancient agriculture, ancient technology, even ancient medicine.

When reading a writing, there is a way to know what the writing means and what it does not mean. Every writing was written by someone. It is easy to forget this when reading an old writing. But, if you can remember that a person wrote the words you read, then it is easier to ask yourself what that person was thinking and what that person wants you to know.

Understanding a writing is not only a question for religion. Experts in many different professions work hard to understand a writing: judges, actors, government leaders, English teachers, journalists, historians.

When trying to understand what a writing means, we use a process called hermeneutics. Good hermeneutics do not decide “what it means to me” nor just asks “what others think”; good hermeneutics will ask about the author’s original intent. A writing will never disagree with its own words. You cannot conclude that a writing means to go north when it specifically says, “Do not go north.” But, many people get their own wants and hopes in the way, so they can’t really understand what the author wanted to express in the writing. Sometimes the writing goes down a river: first north, then east, then south. These are not contradictions, only different parts of the same long river. Ideas in a book can also change like this, but that doesn’t mean the idea has a problem.

Good hermeneutics will look at context, dictionaries, figures of speech, and genre.

Context is the overall situation, which tells us what the author assumed and what the original audience already knew. The author will not tell us the context, so these things are true about the writing, but not in the writing.

Figures of speech are different from the meaning of one word in a dictionary. A dictionary will give the meaning of one word, maybe two words together; many times, a word will have more than one meaning. A figure of speech is a way of talking, usually about a word picture.

Genre is the type of writing or even the type of play, movie, or music. We use many types of genre today: jokes, funny stories, cartoons, action movies, romance stories, history stories, songs with words, proverbs, poems, laws, or science reports. Many people read religious scriptures and think everything in the book is a  law, which is why they think religious books have contradictions when they do not. For example, a proverb is a saying that might not always be true, but you can learn something from it. The main religions of the world do not have contradictions in their scriptures, only a genre that is artistic.


Religious teachings are debated. They begin with the idea of one teacher or student. Then, the person starts to write about the idea or teach about the idea. Usually they quote from their scriptures when they defend the idea. Then, others will discuss the idea, even debate it. Teachers and students will write papers about the idea, usually publishing them in an academic journal. This is similar to a scientist publishing a scientific discovery in a scientific journal.

Eventually, when a religious idea has been discussed enough, many leaders in the religious establishment will come together in a big meeting called a conference or a council. That meeting may last several days and may have leaders from many countries. They will discuss and debate the new teaching, make some new, simple writings, then finally vote on what they think. After they vote, their decision will become part of that religion’s doctrine.

Even then, some will disagree with it, even if they only disagree with part of it. So, doctrine is debated both before it is voted into being and after it becomes official.


Religions teach morals because they believe morals must come from God or Heaven. Religious people believe that we cannot make some brave new discovery about good morals. We just aren’t smart enough.

Morals help us to know how to live good lives, which will then give us good results that we are happy with. These results can happen in this lifetime, but surely happen much more after we die. Morals are special because they tell us how to do the right thing, even when it doesn’t seem like the most obvious thing.

For example, one moral might be to “always tell the truth”. That doesn’t mean to tell everyone everything all the time, because then no one would ever stop talking. But, it means to never lie when we talk. So, we all have times when we face a choice: tell the truth and have a punishment or tell a lie and we don’t get a punishment. This is called a moral dilemma.

Many times, if we tell the truth, even if it means we will get a punishment, other people will respect our honesty, trust us more, and it helps our lives become much happier much quicker. But, we would never know those results on our own. This is why people follow religions to teach morals. Morals tell us, “Do the right thing, even when no one sees you, even if you get a punishment, then life will be much, much better for you and others.”

Those ideas are not something we will ever invent all by ourselves. This is why morals come from a religion with a God who will teach us those morals that we will never be smart enough to invent.

Someone who invents his own morals does not have any real religion, but really he is his own god—someone with one’s own, personal, custom, self-made religion. If you create your own religion and your own morals, that’s not really a religion at all. And, when you lie and get caught, people will stop trusting you.

But, many people don’t like religion because it also teaches, “If you are not moral, maybe you will go to Hell after you die.” But, that idea does not really come from any real religion. Going to Hell after we die depends on more than just one or two lies, but whether you are an overall good or bad person in your entire life. Christians believe that Jesus is the only one who can make us truly good enough for Heaven anyway. Muslims and Jews believe that truly good or bad people will try their best to obey good morals, even if they can’t be perfect. But, both of these will teach that morals help everyone to live a better life. People who teach that morals only affect us after we die don’t really understand their religion.

The Savior

Every religion will eventually talk about the one man who saves the whole world. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the first savior was Noah; their second savior was Joseph in Egypt, then Moses who left Egypt. But, they only saved the people of their time; they did not save all people in all history around the world. Religions will always talk about the greatest savior in all human history who will save all people from all time.

Because of the savior, there are really only two types of religions: some believe the savior will eventually come, others believe that the savior already came and will eventually come back.

“Savior” can also be a word for “Christ” or “Messiah”. Religions also teach about a fake savior, an “Antichrist”. No religion believes that we have seen the final Antichrist, but some teach we have seen the real Christ. The biggest decision anyone will ever make will be about these two people, to know which one is which. That will affect many choices, including their moral choices. Whomever you choose will bring either great life or great sorrow to you and to those around you. That is why people make a very big deal about who they believe the one Savior is.

Because of religious disagreements, many people fight, which is not the final purpose of any religion. Every religion has the ultimate goal of world peace, and every religion believes there must be conflict first. The biggest question and the biggest disagreement is about which religion and its Savior can prove to actually bring life and which only brings destruction.