Too much of what can be a good thing.
It's sort of like clams. Good clams are very good. Bad clams are very very bad. But we can't pursue our spiritual goals only in the months with "R" in them. (That would be like the people who go to church only on EasteR and ChRistmas.) How, then, is one to tell that they might be following the wrong path?
Our religious urges have many good goals. There's leading a moral life, finding spiritual satisfaction, and coming closer to whatever our conception of Godhood is. That's a place to start.
It is entirely possible to lead a moral life outside of the boundaries of organized religion. Due to the institutional nature of many organized religions, it is sometimes easier. There's the Inquisition, Puritan intolerance leading to the founding of several states, and jihad, for instance. There isn't any doubt that people who oppose these practices are more moral than those who practiced them.
It seems counter-rational to argue this when religions are supposed to be about leading moral lives. But it's an unfortunate side effect of organization that it tends to cement all decisions; even bad ones. This is difficult enough when it's a relatively small group with a clearly defined goal. The March of Dimes started as a charitable drive to eradicate polio. In 1958, with two successful vaccines against polio virtually wiping out the disease as a public health problem, the March of Dimes recreated itself by using its existing infrastructure to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality. The discovery that folate supplementation can prevent spina bifida is a more recent expression of the organization reaching a new goal.
It's a different matter when an organized religion feels the pressure to adapt to change. Admitting they were wrong about something is much more difficult when God was supposed to be in on the process. While the March of Dimes had a problem with success, it's hard for a church to rest on its laurels when sin is always with us.
It's actually an easier determination to figure out if a path is providing spiritual satisfaction. One is either satisfied, or one is not. What is the really sticky part is recognizing that one is spiritually lacking, and doing something about it. If at one time a person truly believed they were on the path to salvation, recognizing that they might not be is a perilous decision that is often suppressed with ruthless will.
This is when people redouble their efforts, and develop religious intolerance. It's one thing to admit one's religious authorities may have made mistakes in the past, which one feels confident are now rectified. It's entirely another thing to admit one's own self may have made mistakes in following this path. Especially if the penalty for doubt is spiritual death. We have a strong urge to avoid death in all its forms.
Religious intolerance comes from doubt. And if doubters aren't around, suppressing doubt is so much easier!
A Mr. Pearson wrote a book about his own spritual journey. After I started identifying that my problems were not based on the fact that I wasn't good enough, that certain things weren't happening not because God wasn't rewarding me, but just because we all have certain limitations as people, I began to outgrow many of my hyperreligious traits. Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction: R. S. Pearson
An honest man with honest concerns. And rightly so. He recognized that he didn't feel close to his conception of Godhood, even when he applied his utmost efforts. And he was right. Like true love, true spirituality comes without effort.
How can one tell is their religion might be leading them astray? Another deep thinker has come up with several "Ways to Tell":
Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. When Religion Becomes Evil: Charles Kimball
Oxymorons are a good way to tell if one's thoughts are tangled. "Holy war" is one.
Another is "Doubting God." God IS.
And our doubts are trying to tell us something.