Most religious people believe you must believe in an omnipotent "Principal" to get into heaven, or at the very least, it is a prerequisite to be saved from eternal suffering.
According to Online Etymology.com, principal as a noun originally meant a "ruler” or “governor." It also meant a “person in charge of a public school." On the other hand, since the 14th century, principles have been seen as a rule or basic set of truths. Said more simply, a principal is a high-level authority figure who administers laws or principles, while a principle is a basic set of fundamental truths.
You probably see where I am going with this, but it is something that I have not seen discussed much. Within religious groups there is clearly a desire to differentiate one group from another by claiming allegiance to a specific set of deities and rituals, while also showing that the other group is less than holy and even that they are evil. This is classic, “in-group, out-group” stuff, which many humans are trying to get beyond. Yet we keep bumping into it.
Regardless of the basic instinct to continue excluding others I see no spiritual reason to continue it. In my own spiritual exploration I have been trying to understand where to place my faith, or hang my hat and this line of inquiry has led to me try to lay my faith on principles thus obviating the need to “out-group” someone based solely on the name they have chosen as their ruler. I would argue what is the point of the name of the leader at all, except beyond in-group/out-group. I see no value in it at all. I know the second commandment in the Judeo-Christian bible there is a rule which states that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” While there are two others that also place great value on the name of god. However, those commandments hold little spiritual value to me.
Regardless of how much value I place on it or someone else does, why is it important to acknowledge name of the principal? If god is almighty and omnipotent, then why would they care for such trifles in a name? Wouldn't the person/god you worship love you even more if you studied the principles that he/she/it has established?
Taking this line of thinking further, there are literally hundreds of names of God, and add to that the many different cultural pronunciations, along with metaphors and such. Taking all this into account it is quite a foolish activity, trying to exclude people from heaven because they do not use the same 900 codes words that your group does.
Now if someone, does not heed a principle that you have established as important to you or your belief system, for instance, I follow many Taoist principles, and one I find particularly important is that the human body is a microcosm of the universe, the macrocosm. Thus harmonizing your body with nature is a legitimate path to harmonizing with the greater procreative life force or the creator of the universe. So it follows, if someone shows no value for their own body then they would not be abiding by the principles I believe are deeply important to being a spiritual person. Taking another angle on this line of thinking, lets us say there is a group of people who call their practice Yoga, and follow their own energetic system. Does this mean they are wrong because they use a different set of names? Since we have established that they follow the same principle, health of the body. Should I, following a Taoist approach condemn them?
I remember having a conversation about religion with a Christian fundamentalist and he said if you don’t follow Jesus, and his specific denomination you will go to hell. I questioned him further, first I asked him to listen to a story I had heard a long time ago about a Methodist preacher, who witnessed the freeing of concentration camp detainees. It goes, the preacher said that many of the ex-detainees were beating up the guards but a lone women was not participating in the melee. He went to her and asked her why she was not taking vengeance on her tormentors. She said, it would make her like them. So I asked my fundamentalist friend, is she going to hell because she is Jewish? He said without hesitation, yes. I was floored. To this day that story tears me up because I am not so sure I could be like her. I know that I might not be able to control myself if the tables were turned on my tormentors. I know if I were in her situation, I would be counting the days and looking for any possible opportunity for revenge. Hell, I do it when someone cuts me off on the road. But yet, in some perverse world, she will be in hell suffering all because she didn’t proclaim one of the correct names of god as her savior. Puzzling. I told my friend if the god in his head would think that woman was not a saint than I would have nothing to with said god. That conversation with the fundamentalist was formative in my own thinking about god, worship and religion. But honestly it has taken me a long time to reconcile these thoughts that lead to the proverbial fork in the road.
Pascal's Wager and the “Live a Good Life” Quote
Then I came upon a fork in the road with Pascal pointing in one direction and the “Live a good life” quote heading in another. Pascal’s wager asserts that the loss of not believing, eternal damnation, greatly outweighs the very limited earthly pleasure you could gain. The "Live a Good Life" path states that if you live a good moral life and if there is/are a god/gods and they abide by moral principles they will not care about your devotion to them. If they do not have principles than what kind of god are they and you shouldn’t want to believe in them, and if there is no god, you still win because you have spread that morality to your community.
At 51 years old, I have worn out many shoes walking on the “live a good life path" and I know it is good for me on every level I can imagine, and deep, deep down in me I can’t believe that the most omnipotent entity in the universe would condemn me, knowing how hard I work on principles and yet somehow mispronounced one of his/her/it’s 900 or so names.