It's not often that I speak of matters of faith, but this time there's a philosophical element to it: Why do people convert? I'm ignoring the cases of conversion for a spouse and social status as those are not true conversions. The conversion I'm referring to is the total conversion where one's life changes because he or she truly believes the faith. For this letter, I'll reference Christianity because that's what we have the most experience with, but also it's the crux of my theory.
The first part of my theory is that people convert to a religion they see as more Christian. Consider what Jesus said to be the two greatest commandments. The first is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second was "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:28-31). These practices are what people are looking for when searching for faith. You must have both.
The interesting thing is that some faiths try to make themselves "open" by relaxing some of their practices. The result is that doing this does not attract people for the long run. In fact, it only causes more people to leave as it goes against that first commandment, which is what people are searching for when examining religions. After all, what's the point of a faith if there is none? The purpose of religion is to "give to God what belongs to God." If people see that this is not being carried out, then they see there is no real faith. At this point, these religions care more about money or influence than about a God they heard about. When groups of Christians find things they don't consider Christian, they will split and create their own denomination. To be honest, I consider each denomination to be a different religion, just as Judaism and Islam are different but believe in the same God and some of the same scriptures.
Let me give you an analogy. Imagine there's a bird club. The participation is high and members are very active and excited. However, at some point the management decides it needs to attract new members so it decides to open up the club to dogs as well. After the initial jump in membership ends, management decides to open it up to mice. Next are fish, and eventually cats. Eventually the club is so open that birds are very rarely talked about. The bird club only exists in name. When people come to the bird club, they are seeking to share their love of birds and learn more about them, but these people see mostly cat lovers and dog lovers. "This isn't a real bird club. If I want to talk to dog lovers, I can go anywhere in the world to find them. There's no need for a club," the onlookers observe and leave.
This is what happens to religions that relax their practices for the sake of attracting people. It doesn't work. It may attract attention of the world, but at that point, it's just a hollow institution with nothing to offer, but it will still ask for money. People should be nice to each other all the time, but people also want a place to actually praise and learn about God. That's what Religion is for.
Consider this famous verse from Revelation 3:16. Here, God says, "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth." To remove the practices of a faith in order to attract people is to become lukewarm. The idea is that if the people of the world are to be considered lukewarm, we need to be lukewarm as well in order to attract them. However, the people who are lukewarm want to feel cold or hot and so are looking for religions that are so. I'm not sure what the proper interpretation of this should be, but here's an idea I have. To be hot means to be energetic, singing, dancing, and praising God. To be cold means to be quiet, listening, and meditating on God. If you are lukewarm, then you are doing neither of them.
I've observed how the youth appear apathetic in daily life but become very passionate at conferences. Why is this? The word lukewarm means to be apathetic, unenthusiastic, indifferent, etc. However, these conferences tend to be "hot" with passion and excitement. These same youths say that they "felt God's presence." However, once they return to the lukewarm society, they no longer care. If church is lukewarm as well, that explains why they leave. They want that "heat" from their church, because Heat causes the lukewarm to become hot. Likewise, a place that can encourage contemplation and prayer, such as a quiet church building, can make the lukewarm cool.
This is how people know there is no faith in a particular church. The church is supposed to change people for the better apart from the world's evils, but instead they become part of the world's evils. Religion is supposed to counter the evils of the world. This is why "Christians" may convert to religions like Islam. They see a counter-cultural movement that condemns the evils they see. They see people willingly perform sacrifices. Many Catholics in first-world countries these days say it's so difficult to not eat meat on a Friday while Muslims go a month without food and water during the day. I found this out because I went to a theme park with a Muslim and he wouldn't even drink water during the hot day, but he did not complain one bit.
When people say why they converted to a religion, they tend to say things like: I saw their faith; they really love God; they are so passionate. These things fall under the first commandment. Other things you may hear from converts are the following: They accepted me; I belong here; I'm welcomed. These things follow the second commandment. People are searching for these things. In fact, my boss one day told me his praise for the Roman Catholic faith despite not being one. He told me that he admired that they had not changed their core beliefs despite all of the pressure of the world. That's amazing because so many other Christian denominations alter their core beliefs so much throughout history. I would add that the constant service to society (everything that we take for granted now such as hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, orphanages, and advocating justice) is also something to be admired and why we can condemn those who murder "in God's name." Perhaps this is the key to finding a real religion. A real religion serves God and Man, but the service of Man is to convert him to Goodness and Love of God, not convert God to the evils of Man.
N. D. Moharo