Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
“God will punish you and send you straight to hell if you dare cheat on another exam, young lady!” She said with a harsh and stern voice that echoed in the hall of C Wing at St. Michael’s middle school.”
Sister Immaculata looked directly at me, penetrating my soul with beady eyes that hid behind black trimmed pointy glasses. Every time she spoke, the wrath of God spoke too. There was nothing warm or fuzzy about her. When she wasn’t spitting daggers of fear directly into your heart, she stood fully erect and maintained an angry expression that repelled perfect strangers. Her face was tense – sustaining a crinkled nose and pressed lips. The corners of her mouth pointed downward and exaggerated wrinkles in her forehead kept her brow furrowed. I wondered if maintaining such a constant expression could exhaust a person or perhaps cause facial cramps.
I stared at her perfectly pressed black and white uniform that draped her narrow frame. My eyes fell upon the crucifix that rested on her flat chest. Rather than look directly into her eyes I gazed upon Jesus and apologized. The cartoon bubble above my head really said: “I’d rather spend eternity in hell than one second in heaven with a judgmental prick like that.”
I questioned everything growing up, as most inquisitive kids do. The answers given about Catholicism were never satisfying. The more I questioned the more I was told not to ask. “You don’t question, you just accept,” my father always told me. Eventually the question became why I wasn’t allowed to question? The obvious answer was: Questions lead to thinking. Think enough and you’re liable to come up with different answers. Definitely different from what religion has tried to convince you to believe.
Walking the halls of those parochial schools, I wondered if my reluctance to accept the hard-pressed teachings were obvious. I felt the warmth of attention, as if a beam of light was shining down on my head labeling me as the unfaithful sinner. After all, those were my “obnoxious” questions during religion class. There came a point when I was torn between the terror of going to Hell and relief of thinking Catholicism was just ludicrous nonsense. The internal struggle lasted for years. When
my heart was allowed to lead, I found comfort in the position.
The hypocrisy was what grated my nerves. Things like: abortion is an atrocity, but yay for capitol punishment. Thou shall not kill, except for: witches, homosexuals, children who strike or curse their parents, fortunetellers, adulterers, women who fornicate, non-believers, and the list continues.
Lev. 20:13, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them”
You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)
Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)
If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)
Then, there’s this irony: “We’re all made in the loving image of God.” Well, except women, of course. Women certainly are not. Women are not allowed to serve God as men are; women should only serve men.
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (1 Tim 2:11-12)
At some point I realized there were hundreds of different beliefs that represent our planet, and not every belief centered around Jesus Christ as the Lord and savior.
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
I never dared asked Sister Immaculata what happened to those who didn’t believe Jesus is Lord. But I assumed they went straight to hell with the rest of the sinners (along with the sixth graders who cheated on math exams). The image of a Hell cramped with a gazillion anti-Christ sinners, while Heaven, in all its vastness, held the few Christian souls who followed the strict word of God – had me laughing with disbelief as I wondered why perfectly sane adults could believe such absurdity.
An all-loving God translates to – A God who loves the selected few who follow his specific rules.
Organized religion wants us to relinquish our power to those who proclaim to have the answers. We lose faith and doubt ourselves. It inhibits our ability to think straight. But any clear thinker who looks at what religion has done must begin to question the validity of any God. Ironically, the very thing religion tries to prevent can be the source of what drives people away from believing. We begin to equate God with religion’s interpretation of God. Religion creates agnostics and atheists. It fills our hearts with fears and worries of a vengeful God, teaches us that we must have an intermediary to reach God, and commands us to worship (every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and twice during the school week with class).
Many religions have not only separated man from God, but man from man and man from woman. Moving us further away from the innate instinct of universal oneness and interconnectedness by perpetuating a competitive nature amongst man and emphasizing separateness (among each other and ourselves). God has become this personified elusive man in the sky, separate from everyone and everything. What happened to being made in the image and Likeness of God? And God is within each and every one of us?
We are left searching outside of ourselves, instead of discovering what is within. Looking for God out there, gives us permission to look out there for everything else, including validation, self-worth, love, peace, tranquility, joy and truth. This disconnection leaves us lost, anxious, fearful and empty. To keep some resemblance of identity, we hold onto shared beliefs in our community; this in turn gives us a perception of acceptance and belonging. While creating communion with our shared members, we create separation amongst non-members, waging wars in proclamation of a God who is better than yours.
This sense of togetherness, community and tradition are probably the hallmarks that have sustained most religions throughout the years. We as humans, have an
innate need to connect. Our most popular religions, ironically, manage to connect as equally as they disconnect. Beyond this, they provide answers and offer security. Most of us aren’t prepared to look within for answers. As Marianne Williamson states: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
I confess I too have turned to religion for guidance, mainly Buddhism. Like most of us, I am a seeker looking for answers to the unanswerable questions. The human condition moves toward evolution wanting desperately to better understand ourselves and our universe. We are propelled by science because it provides knowledge and insight. In some sense religion picks up where science leaves off. Religion offers answers that science has yet to discover. What happens after death? What is our purpose? What created the universe? What is a soul? What is God? In other cases, religion’s doctrine prevents the progression of science – the advancement of stem cell research is one example. And when science disproves religious dogma –(creationism was discredited when evolution was discovered – the earth revolves around the sun)– religious people, bound by their faith, refuse to believe in science for fear of abandoning the church. This loss in reality limits the potential to raise human consciousness and thus stalls the advancement of humankind.
This is why I’m drawn to the uniqueness of Buddhism. It doesn’t offer absolutes, instead it provides sensible insight into the unknown (What is intuition? What propels us to feel? Where does inspiration come from? How do we gain inner peace and strength? What is human suffering and how can we lessen it in our own lives and in societies?). Rather than enabling, Buddhism invites us to be less fearful of our own brilliant power and offering a safe place to learn how to trust (through our own experience). By encouraging inner-strength we are motivated to connect within. This connection inevitably ties us to our neighbors. Our universe creates a belief system based on tolerance and inner-trust while surrendering fear. We let go of the thinking mind and its need for absolutes. Connecting instead to a deeper presence within, and trusting the inner voice that speaks clear wisdom even without the limited understanding of our thinking minds.
(I found a website that explores the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity. For further reading visit here.)
There must have been a time before organized religion, when every man lived not from fear, but from love – pure love; when we celebrated all bodily functions as great gifts of life instead of feeling shame or guilt for experiencing pleasure; when we reached God by simply living a life in goodness and truth; and when we adored God simply because it was impossible not to.
But Religion is so interwoven into the fabric our lives, politics and beliefs, I often wonder if we will ever experience liberation from its binding grasp. Will we ever outgrow our belief that we need a moral code to govern the conduct of human affairs? Hope leads me to believe that one-day our collective consciousness will be raised to a level where we embrace our inner power and let go of the insatiable need to control. And when that day comes, we will see ourselves not as Christians, Muslims, or Jews but as brothers and sisters made from the same substance and united by the same energy that formulated the entire universe.
“God is everything, and God becomes everything. There is nothing which God is not, and all that God is experiencing of Itself, God is experiencing in, as, and through us.”