My Humble Thoughts on Religion

14 Sep

I have a friend who spends the better part of her days thinking critically about space; its role in the world and how to maximize its ability to serve the human race (try doing that right now). Another is a tireless record-keeper; the filing-cabinet of details turned management extraordinaire. There are self-less ones, hilarious others, and occasionally wretched some. Each is unique, as all humans are, but in my circle, what all have in common is a notable detachment from religion. Perhaps because it isn’t a part of our immediate worlds we discuss it so often and at length. One of these friends’ recent trip to the Middle East left her with a strong impression of the power of collective prayer. At a public, ordinary setting, and carried in unison by hundreds of people, my spiritually jaded friend was moved by the combined sound, sight, and energy of humility and servitude to something higher than the self. This spiritual connection is experienced through generations and is never superseded. It moves mountains, reshapes history, and dictates daily life for millions of lives. Not mine.

I thought about what my friend shared, when she recounted her being present at Salat in Jordan. It must’ve been a beautiful sight; a setting sun in a troubled horizon, undoubtedly magnified in beauty by the mystic quality the place bears. I understand the physical manifestation to a stimulus that reaches you through a medium transcending and defying reasoning; I see how this moment could inexplicably bring someone to tears. We are both of Catholic backgrounds – she more so than I. Having grown up with a Catholic immediate family that is practicing still, “breaking away” was the result of self-education and a choice different from the status quo for my friend. In my case, the religion was prevalent in my social circles, rather than at home. Any semblance of religious belief I had was passing at best, and a direct result of a desire to fit in with my friends. I tried on the shoes, but they felt stifling, quickly. I loved my catholic nun teachers, I felt comfort in the quiet luxury of our church, but I questioned the teachings and was dissatisfied with the answers. I grew bored and they were irritated. We agreed to disagree.

My reluctance in practicing Faith is strengthened daily as I learn the ways of life on my own. I’ve been well prepared, cared for, and supported by living beings; my lessons are not other wordly and need not interpretation from third parties. Life can be scary, it can be hard, and it can wear you down. But simply put; people raise people. We raise one another’s spirit. When a woman goes to church, it’s with other people she spends her time – in a state of joy, of praise, of gratitude, and openness. This energy is solicited, shared, recycled, and it revitalizes from person to person. This to me personifies the goodness of Faith; positivity, encouragement, mutual lifting of souls; forgiving, accepting, learning, sharing – and these can only materialize intra and interpersonnally. If it isn’t a physical person, it is the creation by one; a musical concert is capable of breeding as much human energy as a particularly lifting sermon. I attend concerts because music speaks directly to my heart and evokes laughter, contentment, sadness, pain, clarity, and a stillness that is maximized when all of these feelings are shared with other people, side by side. This is what makes me feel alive. I seek the experience and I revel in it, I share it with others, and I leave rejuvenated. Something quite similar happens in religious practice; the common elements of togetherness and aliveness are what inspire people to live by their scriptures and what give them a spiritual push to move forward and to overcome.

The difference, for me, lies in your freedom of choice. On a daily basis I choose how to behave, with whom I associate, how I bring positivity into my life, how I do it for others, and where I turn in times of hardship. Aside from the rules by which we abide to maintain harmony in society (rabbis and atheists alike will go to jail for shoplifting – God can’t get you out of that), I make my own rules. I seek my truth, my context and my resources and I decide as I will. I attend concerts, I connect with nature, I read books, I am touched by art, I seek comfort with the presence of others… I carve out my encouragements, I appreciate the little things that make me alive, healthy, content, what helps me, what teaches me, what stills my heart. And the more in tune I am with myself, the more often I step back and realize how lucky I am to have my freedom to choose. I bring into my life what I wish, and I push what I do not want. These decisions are made by me and for me, and I strive for balance and reasoning as often as I can. Faith, adversely, confines me. It dictates and resolves, on my behalf, my worthiness. It creates boundaries, and these inherently discourage and/or limit exploring, learning, and living. I am bound already by my physicality and my government; I do not wish to add another perimeter in exchange for masticated Truth and a promise to deliver what I can search on my own.

As my friend and I discussed her experience and how it affects our respective feelings toward religion, given our personal histories, we agreed that a. what she experienced was undoubtedly powerful, and b. that religion as a package does not appeal to either of us. Still, she felt I was perhaps dismissive of the power of prayer and its significance. I don’t think of it that way; I think of it as a singular moment where human energy is harnessed and overflows. I see its beauty and yet I am content with exactly what it is; coming together of people. That is inspiring to me on its own, and the need to add a layer of mysticism, of a being greater and better that coordinates it all only undermines the power of our actions and makes us spectators rather than creators in our own right.

I want to feel ecstasy and hope from a day spent in nature, from bonding with my dog, from sharing laughter with my friends, from the physical rewards of exercising my body and mind, from making choices that benefit others as much as, if not more than myself. I want to be connected with what I have now and exercise gratitude with my actions. And if we live this way, is there a need for praising a “creator?” Is there a need for striking fear with the thought of his wrath, is there a need to worry about life after death? Is there a need to thank a God for turning my life around, when I have living heroes who veered me every inch along the way? If I can pass this on to my child, is there a need to baptize him, to teach him stories that he can’t question, but is supposed to believe… just because?

I don’t see the reason for the middle man. I see instead the importance of seeking and learning, of accepting what we don’t know, improving upon what we do, and never forgetting that time after time, my prosperity is heightened with the prosperity of others. I know this because I feel it and I see it all around, not because it is preached to me. I see importance in holding ourselves accountable as opposed to leaving it in someone else’s hand. On this planet, as far as we can tell, we are the manipulators over all other living organisms. This immense power of thinking and analyzing, coupled with our physical dexterity is all we could ever need to create the best for ourselves, to care for our environment and to cope with tragedy we can’t control. We don’t need a middle man. We don’t need a third party to blame or to thank; because we have ourselves. It’s daunting, I know, but if life is not in your hands, then what is the point of living?

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