When I walk down the aisle to get toothpaste at either the grocery store or pharmacy, I am rather overwhelmed these days by the sheer volume. I remember when we had three or four choices: Crest, AIM, Colgate, and I actually remember when Aquafresh came along. That is all that I remember. Each brand had one toothpaste. Each was in the same size squeeze tube. Today, nearly half of an aisle is nothing but toothpastes – it seems like thousands to me as I stare at the wall of them like a deer caught in headlights. There are different flavors, different sizes, they specilize in different things like “sensative gums”, or “whitening”, or “tartar control”, or “prevention of cavities”, or “protection of gingivitus”, and then a mere 30 or 40 of them claim to do it all.
As I stand there staring, my heart begins to beat faster and faster as I feel flooded with too many choices – a wave of angst comes over me, followed by anger, followed by dispondence and a general disdain as to which darn paste I will choose.
I really doubt that there is only one toothpaste that is the absolute best. Many of them seem to have similar ingredients albeit in different amounts and arranged differently. Some of them have a flavor that frankly reminds me of childhood “throw-up” (I tend to stay clear of those now). Other flavors are not that bad, but I prefer simple mint – not orange mint or raspberry mint, but mint mint. I think it is spearmint (or perhaps peppermint would do). I do generally only buy one if it is approved by the ADA because I assume that dentists know more about toothpaste than I do …. although admittingly the whole thing could just be a way of companies selling more toothpaste. I “test” different brands on occasion, but I seem to always come back to the one I grew up with. Perhaps I am brain-washed or perhaps it is somewhat more comfortable, even though it has changed drastically from one tube to a bagazillion kinds in tubes and other contraptions that “make no mess” or are “easier than tubes” or “new and improved.”
Right about now, if not ten times previously, you are probably wondering why I am talking about toothpaste. Toothpaste is a lot like religion these days. Today there are about 9,900 religions in the world with 2 or 3 new ones beginning each day according to David Barett (a former Anglican missionary who has tracked world religions since the 1970’s). That is a big wall to stare at …. especially if one is not too familiar with any of them except for what you see on TV (I do believe that the American general knowledge of religion is lacking…. to put it nicely).
Now let me be honest – many of the 9,900 religions of the world are just silly flavors (in my opinion) that probably tastes like child-hood “throw-up” or reeks of coercion. No one should be force-fed a tube of toothpaste! Yuck! Others do not take converts, and still others add hallucinogens to the tube and frankly, I would personally recommend staying away from those. Still yet, that leaves a number of viable options. Just a generation ago, the choices were not as great it seems, and most folks would simply buy the tube they have always bought – the one their mom and dad bought and the one that their mom and dad bought, etc. Today, brand loyalty is harder to find. The world has grown smaller. Nearly one in three Americans will change their religious affiliation over the course of their lifetime. Gone are the days of “just give me that old-time religion.”
Some say that all toothpaste is really just baking soda and peroxide so all brands are essentially true and good as long as those essential elements are met. While this may be somewhat true, it looks over the uniqueness and specialty of each brand. We certainly do not say this about anything else do we? Are all governments the same? Are all countries the same? Are all corporations equally true and good? No, of course not. That is not to say that many of them have very good qualities, and some of them are similar in ways, but to say that all are the same is equal to saying none are any good. It is simply not the truth.
Some others claim that their toothpaste is really the ONLY toothpaste that is valid, true, and good …. even though Crest may have one hundred different kinds just within Crest. And is Colgate really that much different? Or what about other Proctor and Gamble brands?
So today we find ourselves in a religiously confused world. We stare like deer caught in headlights. No longer is the option simply to take the one off the shelf that your folks bought because it has changed ingredients anyway, or has been repackaged at the least. That is the way it goes. So we as Americans stare, sometimes hopelessly, at that wall and we walk away because we can’t decide which one will be best or even with the bagazillion choices, none of them seem to be an exact fit. After a while, our teeth begin to rot because we forgot the whole purpose of toothpaste in the first place. It is to clean our teeth and prevent holes from forming – to provide a healthier and happier mouth here and now – to give hope that in the future we will continue to taste life’s goodness.
The seventeenth-century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, coined the term “God-shaped hole”. It was a term used to describe the gapping cavity or hole within humankind. We will always attempt to fill the hole with something. The suggestion might be “why not try filling the hole with God?”
Let us not forget the purpose of religion while we stand staring from a distance. The purpose of religion is to “fill the hole” – to answer the mythical questions that reason and science cannot, nor attempt to answer – Why are we here? What are our purposes in life? What happens after death? What should we do with our lives? How are we to live? The purpose of religion is to cultivate compassion and love in our lives and to make life better in the here and now. The purpose of religion is to give hope in spite of suffering, to give hope in new births and new possibilities, to give hope in the future.
I cannot say that only one religion can do that anymore than I could say only one toothpaste will prevent cavities. I can say that one religion has done that for me. But I certainly would imagine that different brands or flavors can still work to “fill the holes” but for goodness sakes, don’t just stare from a distance or walk away because you are confused by the sheer volume and kinds of brands. Talk to friends and family, explore, and choose one that comes recommended …. and remember….. attempting to fill a “God-shaped hole” with anything but God simply will not work in the long run.
One more thing….don’t buy into it and leave it sitting in the medicine cabinet. Take it out….use it…..live it….until it is a part of what you do each and every day.