The Creation of Adam, c.1510 (detail)
The Creation of Adam, c.1510 (detail)
Michelangelo

The Ultimate Questions in religion and spirituality

Religious debate about essential questions and controversies

These are the ultimate philosophy questions we all ask ourselves about religion and spirituality. For years the previous version of this page has inspired people to vote and share what they thought about questions like: is there life after death? why is there evil? do we have free will? and more.
I have selected the most thoughtful of their answers that show the variety of ways people deal with them.So, unless otherwise mentioned, the words below are by anonymous contributors to this debate.

Questions about God

Philosophical attributes of God
I'm not personally invested in believing in a personal God. For me God is something impersonal, all encompassing and in everything, not male, not female...

Is God Omniscient ? If so, do we have free will?
If God exists, He is all knowing. That means that in advance he knows what we will do. If He knew yesterday that today I will do the laundry - am I free to...

God in the Bible - quotes
People have their own image of God - yet God presents himself in the Bible in a variety of ways. I thought I'd go back to what's in that book to see ...

Believers in God vs Atheists

Yes, there is an ultimate ruler / creator in the universe

What came first the chicken or the egg?

Life wants to live! Evolution is not just a scientific theory, it is a process that allows for progression, growth and expansion.

Life did have to start somewhere. Couldn't 'God' be the creative source of all of this and the further most expanded version of all that exists?

It is irrational to believe that we exist without a reason or a purpose in our lives. If one dismisses the concept of God, then life is seemingly futile and we humans exist for no reason whatsoever. It is not at all illogical to believe that there is a Supreme Power who has caused us to exist and is ultimately behind the uniform laws and grand magnificence and design of the universe.

Definitely. His presence can be seen everywhere. He is our creator and is responsible for everything good - just as the Devil is responsible for all the evil.

The world is so perfectly designed then there must be a god.

No, there is no God

There is no god since there is no scientific evidence to justify it. In the other hand science has uncovered numerous evidence about evolution, astronomy, fossils, medicine to cure diseases that creationist believe gays created, and many others. Just open your eyes and accept the evidence and stop being controlled by religion.

I believe that all of us are creating the world we live in, it is us who decide who God is and how God acts, we are all God. We have to find 'God' in ourselves, by that I mean find ourselves, our inner, find the values of our soul.

God is a term for something unknown. It's God you turn to if you need answers and help, but by praying to God and believe in God, we believe in ourselves. Trust in God, gives confidence in yourself, it can give strength to move mountains.

I think people believe in God because they are looking for something bigger, but all in all it's the love we seek, it is the highest, that's what the emotional body craves. I think the material things have a tendency to hide the spiritual and the infinite and unique love.

Find yourself and love <3

I do not believe there is a God. I have been raised with an open mind that can adapt to any possibility of the creations of our world and the questions that arise in it. Life is such a beautiful & wonderful question, why would anybody want to settle with "God did it" ?

Define what God is? There are three basic concepts regarding the definition of God. 1) A being that sees all, knows all - even our thoughts, and requires constant acts of penance and worship. 2) A being that created everything and has left us to our own devices, for which we will be judged when we die. 3) A being that is 'everywhere'...the trees, rocks, water...and what many people call the Universe or Devine. Or, because there is no evidence to back any of that up, there is no God. And spare me the argument that there is no proof that God doesn't exist either because that would require 'faith' and faith is not proof.

Why is there evil?

Why is there evil, poverty, hunger and disease?

28% - Humans treat each other badly
19% - Some other reason (mention in the comments please)
15% - Life just isn't fair
14% - God created all that
11% - So that people can learn compassion
7% - Each person deserves what they get because of previous lifetimes (Karma)
7% - Each person is placed where they need to learn their lessons

248 people voted in this poll. 

So, what do you think the cause of evil is?

What is the cause of all Evil?
What is the root cause of Evil? I think this complicated question begs a divine answer. Evil is such an absolutist word... I prefer to ask the question as...

Is there life after death? - What happens after death?

Is there an afterlife?

Yes, there is a heaven, or reincarnation or something

Well, we might as well choose a religion because if there is no God, then it won't matter but if there is, than at least we have a chance at afterlife.

Yes there is life after death, this is the reason all people should accept Christ as their personal Savior, be baptized and stay in God`s word daily, because we are close now to satans return to the earth, but when we see death the next breath is in the spiritual body, because we go to the Father, as soon a we are in spiritual body regardless of which side of the "fixed Gulf" we are on. And all of this is in the Holy Bible.

I like to think we all live on after death in the influence we've had over people when we're living. I know my grandparents' influence lives on within me, because I carry the values they instilled in me every day. (Erin Mellor)

Absolutely - I know I'm an old soul. I can feel it completely. MelanieKaren

We are eternal beings, souls, who are "god" in seed form. We evolve through many forms and lives till we reach perfection, union with God. So, yes, there is life after death. Death is merely a casting off of an old set of clothes that we wear for a time to learn our lessons of spiritual growth. Ocoy

Absolutely--Latter-day Saints (Mormon's) believe their is. Earth life is the time to prepare to meet God. Then we will be rewarded according to the degree of glory we obtain in this life. We would not be happy in a celestial realm if we cannot live a celestial law. but what so ever law we live, we shall obtain to that glory. selah74

I would never want to believe that there wasn't. God is real, and I want to see the face of GOD when I die.

No, the body dies with death. There is no soul.

Of course not. Science has proven that your body cannot be revived after death, as your consciousnesses depends on the sustainability of the brain. It's nice and all to think of people who are dead having another chance at a different life, but face the facts; when the dead are dead, they're not coming back. As birds or whatever.

The chemical reactions that produce your consciousness stop when your brain stops receiving oxygen and dies. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of "souls" or anything that supposedly "survives" physical death. neoglitch17

No. I find it hard to believe in life, nevermind that everyone's going somewhere afterwards. You live for what, if you're lucky, 80 years? And then, for etenity you're allowed to stay in either a really nice or really not nice place. Eighty years compared to eternity is not a long time. And then there's babies who are miscarried. Are they going to Hell? Or heaven? They haven't had a chance to be judged on whether they are 'good' or 'bad'... I find it hard to think that what we do in such an insignificant amount of time decides what we do for the rest of eternity. It's bonkers to me, in all honestly...

I do not believe in an afterlife, but I do think that as you are dying, you get to experience freedom for the last few seconds of your life. I've been there.

If by this question you mean to ask is there a continuation of consciousness in some form after the cessation of bodily functions, then no. At least not until we figure out how to digitize our brains in their entirety.

What's after death? Is there an afterlife? Reincarnation? Karma? Heaven? Hel?

There IS an afterlife
I think there IS an afterlife This lens records various religious beliefs - and gives you the option of really deciding which is best. From Ancient Egypt and...

Karma and Reincarnation: are we reborn?
Karma and reincarnation are linked. Karma is the idea that what we do and have done influences our circumstances, talents and options. Reincarnation means...

Best Books about karma and reincarnation
Learn about karma and reincarnation from the perspective of Buddhism, Theosophy and Hinduism. But also based on the science of past life memories of children...

Do we have a soul?

80% - Yes, of course
20% - No, I don't think so

171 people voted in this poll.

Do we have free will?

Do we have freedom of choice?

No, our freedom of choice is an illusion

We never make a choice that is truly ours. We are shaped by the 'world' we live in so even our choices never truly belong to us.

And yet we do have freedom of choice, only it is not as free as we think freedom is. We still can not choose to die at a moment we wish, without external help. We can not choose to live from just breathing air or finding love. We can not fly just by wanting to fly. For most things we think we have a free will, it turns out that we need to keep our mind in it else we run the risk of doing something completely different from what we want. How many humans thought they did not want to work for a boss that is unjust and find themselves in a situation with a boss who turns out to be unjust. How many bosses thought they wanted to be fair and honest towards their workers but had to discover they just turned into an unfair and dishonest boss. So we only have a free will if we are willing to be active at being free. Normyo Yonormyo

Not at all, there is a huge hype about freedom of speech, freedom of religion. But when you step back were all being violently piloted by our 'governments'.

Free will is an illusion of the mind. Look closely at the physical universe, and you will see that everything is just moving around randomly. You have limited options as to what to do, and your mind uses the best option possible. As Einstein said: "Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper."

Yes, we have freedom of choice

Within given parameters imposed upon us by our existing knowledge of physics, we do have a relative amount of free will. Vortrek Grafix

Yes. Our Life is the ultimate result of the choices we make!

Yes, the principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics demonstrates that randomness exists in the universe, and thus, our decisions are not predetermined. neoglitch17

Yes. I believe that is the main reason we are on earth--to use our agency to learn truths about God, life according to his laws, and return to live with him again. Agency is a gift from God. Sin limits our agency and leads to captivity. selah74

It is always my choice. even if I let others influence me, I let them so it is still MY choice. lclchors

Nobody forced me to write this. I chose to. petermurray

Yes - even current neurology knows that the way our brain is wired is as much the result of what we DO, as it is the result of our circumstances and genes. Fatalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's called neuroplasticity. (Katinka Hesselink)

More on Free will and Predestination

What is essential for happiness?

What does it take for you to become happy?

43% None of the below - it's all up to me
14% Compassion for others
10% World peace
7% Succes
7% Happy family
6% Determination
4% Money (more of it)
4% Health
3% No more sad things happening

182 people voted in this poll. 

Do you need a spiritual teacher to make spiritual progress?

No, you can learn best on your own

No, having a teacher with whom you meet with in not a necessity nor is it for everyone. I have always been solitary, although, I like to listen to and have conversations with others regarding this topic. MelanieKaren

Your instincts is your best teacher. Believe in yourself!

I don't feel you need to seek one out, I find that they come and go as I need them... it is then my choice to welcome their wisdom and accept the lessons or cycle around until the next teacher presents an opportunity.

Spirituality is not learned from others, it is gained from experience. But who said you need to become spiritual? I feel happiest when I am myself, and I consider myself not to be spiritual at all.

Both ... a spiritual teacher can inspire, guide and direct as well as enable you to meet with others, however, without yourself none of this would matter. The Buddha went through loads of guru's and then reached enlightenment, by himself, under a tree. LittleMy 

Every human has his own spiritual path to take. A spiritual teacher is useful, but not necessary. As every path we take teaches us something. Even the path of laziness teaches us something if we are willing to learn its lessons. Normyo Yonormyo

Yes, you need a teacher

A teacher can help, but no teacher can help if you are not a worthy student, a learner. It is on the student's shoulders to excel, even if the teacher is excellent. A worthy student will ferret out the information, the knowledge, no matter how hidden or hard to find it is. But a teacher, especially a wise one, is of immense help.

If, by a "spiritual teacher" you mean a church leader, Then yes. Leaders help us to learn to independently seek God. But we need teachers. Even when we learn to seek God personally, there is still a need. God works in an orderly manner. When he speaks to the church, he speaks through his prophets. But individuals can also seek personal revelation from God, for themselves or those they have spiritual stewardship over. In this way, false revelations and visions are minimized. One person cannot simply receive a revelation for just anyone. selah74

Everyone you meet is a teacher.

Yes I think you need a teacher or at least someone with you during your progress. Having someone there with a different point of view will open your mind to other things you may not have thought of on your own. But I don't think that anyone can be a "teacher" we all have areas where we can learn, we just have friends and companions to come to consensus on different points. There is only One teacher.

The word I prefer would be a mentor, a guide. The sharing of faith is an important expect in order to grow health. Sometimes I do things for the sake of doing them. So a person walking the same path helps me improve, show me things that otherwise I wouldn't notice. God be with US.

Yes! up to a point, when both learn together and never put the teacher on a pedestal. Dinni s. Bangalore

Leaders destroy followers and followers destroy leaders. J.Krishnamurti

More on the spiritual teacher controversy

Can you feel the quality of a spiritual teacher?
I got a book for review recently that I put down within a few minutes because it made me all jittery. A few days ago we had a spiritual teacher do a lecture at our local theosophical lodge, and he turned the room quiet. We didn't even have questions...

Spiritual Teachers and Gurus
One of the most controversial and essential themes of spiritual development is the relationship between gurus and devotees, masters and chelas, teachers and students etc. Great spiritual teachers - my favorite inspirational people These are some of the teachers - past and present - who will keep reminding us that there IS more to life. There is more to US...

What is the purpose of life?

Does life have a purpose? (If so, what is it?)

No, life has no purpose

Nope. We're just random organic life forms here randomly.

Make the most of your time here.

There is no purpose for us as such but opportunity is there.

Whatever you want it to be.

Sometimes I think Life doesn't have an implicit purpose - we have to create meaning in our lives. (Katinka Hesselink)

Yes, life has a purpose and it is ...

The purpose of life is to strive to understand and realize the ultimate potentiality of existence.

To worship God, that is to say, to live life as He intended it to be lived and prepare for His meeting on the Day of resurrection for judgement which will be consequential for eternal life.

Definitely we all have purpose. And the purpose is to express who you really are. You are Love. So be it.

The purpose of your life is whatever YOU want it to be. Life is like an empty canvas. You get to decide what you put on it. You can take a crap on it, or fill it with your tears, or you can produce a beautiful piece of art on it.

It's YOUR life. YOU get to decide what your purpose for it will be. neoglitch17

Yes, we are children of our Heavenly Father, who loves us. He desires for us to follow his teachings, prove ourselves worthy to return to him. We must learn truth, follow Christ, receive necessary ordinances of salvation, and love our neighbor as yourself. We are to do good to others and teach them about Christ's gospel. selah74

Yes... to help others. l-may

Nutshell version: I believe life presents individualized lessons in order for each of us to perfect ourselves within. Living a life in the physical realm offers opportunities to overcome weaknesses, grow needed strengths and to conquer extremes in our personalities.

Our purpose can be as simple as a random act of kindness to a stranger.

Finding the ultimate truth is the only purpose of life. What could be more important? Truth gives life meaning, and in turn we give the meaning to ourselves.

What do you think: Why do people insist on looking outside themselves for a reason for their life?

Is it because there IS a God outside ourselves?
Is it because we really aren't self-sufficient (and who is)?
Is it because people don't depend on themselves enough?
Should we even look only inside ourselves to find meaning in our lives? How about sharing? How about people being interdependent? Is that such a bad thing?

It is human nature to ponder the wonders around us. Discovery and exploration are natural byproducts of that human nature. Some are satisfied to assign labels to an abstract and leave it at that. An example would be "god". Others have a burning desire to learn more about the unknown. There is plenty of room for both types of people, but the ones with a passion quest for acquiring new information are the ones most likley to propel humanity forward unto the next rung on the ladder of human evolution. Vortrek Grafix

Several reasons: First, God gave us our strength. We show gratitude to Him when we acknowledge him. Second, because we can deceive ourselves; but to seek God is to be reassured by Him who has all knowledge. and Third (though there are many other reasons), there are many paths, but if you want a specific destination, you must take a specific path. God and His Son Jesus Christ know that way, and Christ will lead us there. selah74

Because people seem to need reason for being here, rather than just accepting we're all pointless beings.

Humans evolved to be highly social creatures and meaningful social interaction is a requirement for humans to have proper mental health, so it isn't surprising that humans would seek social meanings for their lives.

Because they don't feel significant and powerful enough to have these answers in themselves. We all love to find bigger powers responsible for what's happening rather than accept complete responsibility.

I think people look outside themselves for a reason for their life because they want to have something to believe in so they don't feel alone. No one truly likes to feel alone no matter how much they say they do. As long as there is something higher up to believe in they aren't as alone as they thought they were. I think people look outside themselves a lot for that simple reason.

Should we even ask these questions?

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life."

Albert Camus

So - should the ultimate questions be asked?

Albert Camus insists searching for happiness doesn't bring happiness. Living and looking for the meaning of life don't combine.... Do you agree? Does asking questions about life, enrich life?

Yes, asking these questions is essential to who I am

Yes, it's about having more depth and appreciation for the little intrinsic things in life. MelanieKaren

God allowed us the ability to discover, so we could discover Him. God is looking for sons that will pick Him over themselves. That's what love is!

Yes, the questions are useless as there can never be a proper answer but deciding what my beliefs are makes my happy. They make me who I am, what I believe in, so the questions are essential.

It enriches life and enables you to seek answers to questions but this does not necessarily lead to happiness. Happiness comes from accepting who your and others are without judgement and desire - you don't need to ask questions to be happy. LittleMy LM

Ignorance may be bliss... but I'd prefer to sacrifice that and search for knowledge.

Yes, if you don't think consciously and ask questions you don't learn, grow, or experience things deeply. You also frustrate the heck out of those of us who do. RuthCoffee

Absolutely, we need to question. As Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living!"

To paraphrase Gandhi: The purpose of life is the search for Truth. Jesus said: The Truth will set you free. Pilate asked: What is Truth? That is the question. neilwjsmith

No, asking these questions is useless

In my opinion, it's best to get on with life. Asking about it will reduce the ability to be independent, and the experience of life. If you have these questions, you can try and answer them during your experience of life.

Just asking the questions doesn't have much sense... giving some answers would probably be better:)

My grandmother always had a saying that not all questions can be answered because of our intellectual limitations. Whilst we all know questions is a great way of finding answers, in relation to questions concerning life tends to complicate and thereby create doubts in our minds because there is no one answer,everybody might have their theories and their beliefs but still does not give you the comfort you are looking for.

"He shall fall down into the pit called because, and there perish with the dogs of reason" - Aleister Crowley

Can science and religion be combined?

No, my religious tradition has more authority than the scientific community OR Science is the only source of truth

Without scientific evidence, the claims of religion and of spirituality are just make-believe, and shouldn't be taken seriously. neoglitch17

They both cannot be proved most definitely so I don't care either way... although they both have conflicts, so probably not...

I think science is limited to explain the how infinitely spirituality actually is.

Religion is man-made, to explain phenomena that they couldn't explain with science...

A lot of stuff that used to be explained by religion is now explained by science, more proof that it is useless.

How could it possibly ever be combined without religious texts that praise the researcher?

Science is the search for one universal truth. Religion is the search for an individual truth. Religion is sometimes shared by many but in some way remains unique to the person being touched by that religious thought or belief. For this reason religion and science can not be combined. Science should be true for all while there will never be one religion that everyone will share.

Yes, truth doesn't fight truth

One can hardly regard oneself as an open minded academic liberal if one does not allow for common ground on multiple disciplines. It does however take a willingness from both camps to accept that accepted norms in their preferred disciplines could well be arbitrary value judgements which have gained momentum from nothing other than common adaptation over time. Such value judgements should always be open to the possibility of refinement when faced with plausible re-interpretations. Unfortunately, people able to be that ideologically flexible are in the minority, but I still say "yes" common ground can always be established. Vortrek Grafix

Absolutely, and I'm so happy you asked this question! My goodness, I think you are the only one who has brought it up without me explaining it first. You're awesome! ehehe :) I'm living proof. My background in in biology, and I LOVE Science. I'm also very spiritual and LOVE our metaphysical world. MelanieKaren

Perfectly, as long as a person can understand that science is nothing but the attempt to understand creation, and religion is a vehicle for greater understanding of the source and purpose of creation. Different steps on the same ladder.

Yes, of course that Darwin was a full on christian and he came up with evolution! so if you support Darwins theory, stop saying ITS ONLY EVOLUTION because Darwin was a christian too.

Science and spirituality can be combined, science and religion can not. As spirituality is that which we need to develop. You could say that science is the religious way of spirituality, because sciences gives us rules on how to research our world. But religion is just rules about how you can proof that you believe in a certain description of a higher being ans show that you belong to the group that follows a religion. Normyo Yonormyo

Science and spirituality needn't compete with each other nor should they be combined. They are akin to oil and water, two distinct and entirely separate issues and when one encroaches on the other (historically this meant spirituality encroaching into science) we should do our best to separate them again.

Religion and science are combined because they have many in common they are (1) always searching to find out why things existed (2) they believe in putting the pieces together in areas that might be of difficulty to understand (3) they are man-made. Historically, scientists have disproved many of religious theories like the world being flat when it really round and the earth being the center of the universe.

Science is the how. Religion is the why. Peter Murray

I think science and spirituality are interrelated. I think Quantum Physics will be the bridge that legitimizes the relationship in the future. Steve Dizmon

Combining science and spirituality

Creative Evolution by Amit Goswami PhD
Inspiring integration of the latest in physics with a spiritual perspective. Convincing in the point that since consciousness is part of the universe now...

Rupert Sheldrake
Biologist known for his theory of 'morpho-genetic fields'. These fields make learning something easier once it's been learned before by someone else....

David Bohm: science and spirituality
Famous for his 'Implicate and Explicite Order', quantum physicist David Bohm combines a knowledge of current day physics with a spiritual vision of the...

Religious pluralism...

So - how do you feel about the presence of so many religions and world views in the world?

68% They all contain sparks of truth and wisdom.
16% They are all nonsense
11% My religion is better, but the others have insight too
6% My religion is better

114 people voted in this poll. 

John Hick has written a lot about this topic.

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