Thoughts on Religion

18 January 2011

Well, I was going through blogs today over lunch and I read Megan's post about her views on religion (she's doing the Thirty Days of Truth).  I found myself agreeing with many of her opinions and I wanted to share some things with you all too.

I will say this as a disclaimer: I think all religions are beautiful, and anything I say is not meant to be a knock at any religion, only the story of my journey thus far. This is a long one so if you're in a rush I highly recommend you skip down to the last three paragraphs. I won't bring religion up often, so bear with me, I just wanted to write out my thoughts. 

To begin, I was raised as a Christian and we went to church (non-denominational) every Sunday, went to every youth group, and I read my bible. That last there, reading the Bible, is something I greatly thank my church for to this day. I know far too many people that haven't read or tried to really understand their religion and my church always pushed for us to read on our own and come in with questions so that everyone could grow together.  In fact, I would probably say my church's motto is "We agree to disagree". The only common factor for everyone there is that they believe Jesus is the savior. 

I by no means no everything about Christianity, in fact, since I have gained knowledge I only recognize how truly little I do know.  One day I'd like to continue courses on Christianity (particularly the New Testament) so that I can better understand the intricacies of the faith. Although, I'll say I've read at least a chapter or two in every book of the Bible and several books I've read more than once. I took a course on world religions, the old testament, the new testament, and a course on morality and God. Basically, I know enough to be confident when I talk about Christianity in general terms and with the average person. 

When I got to college, I was already struggling a little bit with my faith. See, in early high school I was zealous. I was by no means fundamentalist, I was just in awe of the inspiring pieces of the Christian faith.  Then.... as I read more, I found myself disagreeing with bits. Nothing too big but there with things I didn't like. See, that's a key word. Like. That one word caused me lots of questioning about beliefs and why we have them. Do we believe something because we feel it's true? Because we agree with it? Because we like to think the world (or God, or time, etc.) is a certain way? Because we hope it is?

To this day I'm not sure exactly why we believe what we believe. I sort of think now that it's a mixture of all those reasons.  That's actually why I had to stop "being" Christian. It wasn't anything that the church did and I don't really call it my choice. Once you stop believing something you can't really force yourself back into it again. I'm not sure I've ever tried to even explain this to anyone.  Once I started piecing together things that I just couldn't let go of and couldn't agree with I had to start asking myself what I would do about it. It was so HARD for me to question this in my mind. For a Christian, it is as if you're giving up salvation. 

For now I'll just stick to one the thing that first caught me up. This was that the essence of being a Christian means that you believe Jesus Christ is the savior and that he died on the cross for your sins.  That means the only way into heaven is to believe that Jesus died for you (aka to be a Christian). For me, it was just too heartbreaking to see a God who would turn people away simply because they found it difficult to believe in this concept.  Nearly all the Christians I know were brought up that way (I do know a few converts) and it's easy to believe when you are taught the faith. However, I started meeting friends who believed in other faiths and some who had no faith at all and I began questioning if God would damn them to hell simply because they weren't taught that Jesus (a guy from 2,000 years ago) died on a cross as God's son (how in the world can God have a son?) to save us from our sins (how does a man dying save me from my sins?). Just because they had doubts didn't make them less worthy of heaven to me. We were made to question and think! Why else would God give us brains?

Today people are very scientific in nature and we want evidence before we commit to changing our belief systems. To me, this is understandable. Would a God who sacrificed so much to save people really turn people away because it was hard to trust a book?  Again, these were just questions in my faith journey and are not meant to hurt any Christian readers.  We all have struggles. To me, God is love and that love will shine forth for all people. I do not know if there is a God or if there's not, but I know that while there is destruction on this earth there is also great beauty and love. For me, it is undeniable and maybe love in it's own way is a piece of God, the soul, the atman.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I needed to learn more. That's how I ended up with a religion minor actually. My freshman year of college I took World Religions and I must give my professor oodles and oodles of credit here because he really opened my eyes. 

Every religion was presented in it's absolute best light. He had us read Huston Smith's The World Religions and it was lovely. We started with Hinduism and worked our way through Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. All of the religions focused around what the Jews call the Shema, or Christianity's Deuteronomy 6:5 {Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your strength}.  If you boil each religion down, the heart of it is so beautiful it will make your heart sing.  

I think it's important to understand at least pieces of each religion so that miscommunications won't be as common as they are now. Just because some so-called Christians protest funerals badtalking homosexuality does not mean all Christians have such mean intents. Even though the terrorists who flew planes on 9/11 were called muslim does not mean all muslims are terrorists (nor all Arab people). Religion is supposed to be beautiful.  A person's faith inspires and affects so much of who they are! That's the problem with logic for me, it fails to take people's emotions, thoughts, and beliefs into account.   That's also why religion is so wonderful. 

I'll never be able to shed my Christian upbringing and I wouldn't if I could. Our experiences make us. I just hope that everyone of every faith can learn to show the love that religion is truly all about. We get so caught up in all of the little details that we sometimes can't see the big picture about love and kindness. 

I think religion could be a way to bring people together to make the world a better place but we just have to open ourselves up to that possibility. I think my professor nailed it freshman year (while talking about Hindu beliefs about other religions), "We are all standing on different sides at a base of a mountain. We are all climbing upwards towards the same goal, the mountain top, we are just using different paths to get there." I think it would be a beautiful world if all religions pushed such a philosophy.  Now, I don't think Coexistence is actually the best way to go about this. That almost implies we just 'put up' with one another. Instead I think we should actively pursue empathy, kindness, and a helpful nature towards one another to help make this world a happier and better place. 

I think by studying the religions of the world my mind and heart have been opened to more people. I will say that Christianity played an integral role in opening myself to beauty and love. My empathy for others and my understanding of belief stem from that upbringing. Although I cannot truly call myself a Christian currently, I can say that it's beauty allowed me to be a better person and to be a lover of faith, hope, and compassion. 

I apologize for this being quite long but I feel better writing it out. I hope it was understood to be representative of a hope for the world and a personal story. I think finding the beauty in your own religion is the best thing you can do as an individual, then pass that beauty and love around. 


bethany said...

I think your words here are so beautiful and true. I, too, was raised Christian. I, too, have left my roots. Almost my entire extended family (all 50 of them) remain in that same church, and have a tough time understanding how I could ever think any other way than the way I was raised. But, like you, I believe there is beauty to be found in every religion on the planet and I have infinite respect for a person who practices most any religion.

I still believe in God, Jesus, salvation and the Bible. But, like you, I'm much less likely to judge another's salvation because of their religion. I will let God be God. He alone can judge the heart and life of another. :)

Happy to have read your words. I have tried so many times to put onto paper (err....screen) the way I feel about world religion. It's a sticky subject, but I think your words were as stick-free as could be! :)

Erin {pughs' news} said...

Just found this post through the link on your post about Beach Camp. It's beautifully written, Alli, and reflects a lot of how I feel, too. I'm glad I read it.

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