Let me caution you that the following entry deals with my perspective on religion. It is a deeply personal point of view I am sharing. It will likely challenge your perspective. I celebrate and respect your own right to choose what you believe. If you are easily offended by or insecure about world religions being questioned, you need not read on. In no way is my intention to offend but merely to present my beliefs with no expectation that they should be shared beliefs.
When I was in the fourth grade, the principal of my Catholic school called my mother to her office. “Your son refuses to say the rosary at night!” It was true, and not only did I refuse to say the rosary, but I refused to be dishonest about it. When Father O’Keefe would come into the classroom to check and make sure that we had done our “homework,” I would politely but honestly say that I had not said my rosary prayers. My mother asked the principal if she had thought to inquire with me as to why I wasn’t saying these prayers. I still remember the look of Sr. Kathleen Michael’s face when my mom proposed this. “Ask?! This isn’t optional” she mandated in a whisper. I still remember the stained glass in her office that made the environment sort of church-like. Saying the rosary felt like voodoo to me. I felt weird worshiping plastic beads. To this day, I feel disingenuous reciting words that I either don’t understand or haven’t authored. My mom said to the principal, “Do me a favor. Teach my son how to think…not what to think. We won’t have this conversation again. Good day.”
I was truly a good student, always respectful and studious. And I attended Catholic school because it was a tradition in my family for several generations and, quite frankly, the quality of education was superior to the majority of public schools in New York. However, in school I was always busy asking “why” and it just seemed that no one was interested in answering me. I teetered with the idea in high school that perhaps Catholicism is not a thinking man’s religion. It seems to me that “questioning” is discouraged perhaps because there are few answers.
When I got to high school, I met for the first time in my life (call me provincial) people outside of my own faith. “Wow. There are other perspectives!” I concluded. But here is what else I have concluded. From my point of view, religion can serve as the ultimate control mechanism, a sort of reciprocal trade agreement. Conduct yourself like “this” and receive “that” in the afterlife. Do “wrong” and you will recon with “Satan.” I’ve always felt that “Satan” is among the more brilliant hoaxes of mankind. It is the perfect formula! Maintain control over people through a mystical, supernatural power that can’t be seen only threatened. Come on! You mean to tell me that God is ever powerful and all omniscient except that he has an arch nemesis that he can’t defeat? Sounds like the plot of a super hero comic book, no? Either God is an accomplice of Satan or he is not all powerful or perhaps Satan is man-made? I believe the latter.
There is a big difference between morality and religion. I have found in my own personal experiences that among the most moral people I know are those without religion in their lives. The most moral people I know are those who need not a subscription to “step by step” living but instead have their own personal moral compass that guides them between right and wrong.
Let me be clear, I am not an atheist. I believe wholeheartedly that there is a power greater than we are capable of understanding. There is a power that is the explanation after you get down to the simplest scientific elucidation of perhaps what a single molecule really is. When you can “drill down” no further, when you can offer a scientific explanation no longer, that is where this great power lies. I often feel silly calling it “God.” Why should this power have an English name? There were many languages that came long before English. And in my deepest of convictions I believe that this power is greatly angry that man has created a system of marginalization in “God’s” name. We have erected man-made buildings in “God’s” name, created man-made scripture in “God’s” name, created a man made “better than thou” code designed to marginalize many and reward some in “Gods” name, we have man-made garb that people are forced to wear in “God’s” name, we have manmade rituals forced on people and created in “God’s” name and we have man-made idolatry for worship in “God’s” name.
How many religions tell us “if you don’t do this… you will not have that…?” How many religions have brought down buildings and have defended their child molesters and have broken apart families and have focused on greed and have systematically eradicated other peoples in God’s name?
And which amongst us has it right? I ask because many of the pious are quick to say they are the chosen ones. Their way is correct. If you don’t accept Jesus Christ into your life you are damned. If you don’t accept Allah into your life you are damned. If you don’t accept Jehovah into your life you are damned. Well which one is it? Is the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? Can meat be mixed with dairy or not? May I eat pig or not? May I wear mixed textiles or not? Can I lay with someone of the same gender or not? Is Mary the conduit to Jesus or not? Is it Allah or Jesus or Jehovah or whom? Is it the Bible, the Torah, the Koran or what? Hard to say.
Could this be man’s greatest hoax? This will be what man will have to recon with at judgment day. Does man attempt to control man under the guise of God via a mechanism called religion?
Here’s my religion. I strive to be a good person seven days a week. I strive to do good for people and animals. I respect the planet. I make good choices for my body. I nourish my mind. I experience gratitude when things are good. I experience sorrow or guilt or frustration or repentance when things go awry. I take responsibility for my actions. I practice gratitude not for being a chess piece on a mystical board game of life where I am controlled by some spirit in the sky but for possessing my own free will to choose.
And I may have it all wrong. Perhaps we are all worshiping the same great spirit in varied manifestations. Perhaps God will see this as an offering to his greatness. Perhaps you will be rewarded for your devout following of doctrine that actually is indeed prescribed by God and interpreted by man in many different ways. Perhaps all religions are right. Perhaps only some are right. Perhaps religion has led you to lead a better life. Perhaps it is your source of hope. Perhaps it provides you meaning in life. Perhaps it is indeed your salvation.
I follow my own moral compass, not for reward or of avoidance of punishment or for validation, but because it instinctively feels right.