Yeah, I’m Religious. So What?

Via Chris Lemig
on Jan 12, 2013
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Source: via Stephanie on Pinterest

Yeah, I’m Religious. So What? (And a little poke at Waylon Lewis).

“The religious mind is something entirely different from the mind that believes in religion. You cannot be religious and yet be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist. A religious mind does not seek at all; it cannot experiment with truth. Truth is not something dictated by your pleasure or pain, or by your conditioning as a Hindu or whatever religion you belong to. The religious mind is a state of mind in which there is no fear and therefore no belief whatsoever but only what is—what actually is.”

~ Freedom from the Known, The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader

So, you say you’re spiritual but not religious? Or maybe you go one step further and say you’re not even that.

You’re not spiritual, you just practice being a good person (Sorry, Waylon, I had to).

Now, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but I need to tell you something and it just might just sting:

That is a big, fat cosmic wimp-out.

Look, I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to go overboard with the whole religion thing. You don’t want to loose your rationality, your individuality, or, God forbid, your sense of humor. You don’t want to let mindless dogma get in the way of what’s really important. You don’t want to go all starry-eyed and start drooling on the carpet from an overdose of dharshan.

But in our quest to avoid the messiness of religion, which is really just the messiness of life, maybe we’ve forgotten what religion really is.

You see, the wish to simply be a good person is a noble one and one that should be nurtured. But unfortunately, being a good person is not a simple thing. We may practice being good people in little ways everyday but when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, it’s “me first” almost every time.

Most of the time it’s almost impossible for us to let go of the belief that we are at the center of the universe and that everyone and everything needs to be all about us. In fact, transforming that deeply ingrained selfishness into “goodness” is one of the hardest things we can do as human beings.

But the reason we have religious systems in the first place is precisely because transforming ourselves is so difficult. We’re selfish to the bones and changing our bad habits takes time, discipline and effort.

It’s not easy. It’s not something we can do only on our yoga lunch breaks, or by lighting a stick of incense before we sit down to browse through the Netflix cue. It takes a real shift in priorities, not just half-baked promises and feel-good aspirations.

A truly religious path gives us so much more than that. It gives us guidelines, steps to follow, meditations we can use to change our minds everyday. All of these things, when practiced diligently over time, can slowly break down our self-obsession, our greed, our delusions, all the things that get in the way of us being truly “good.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t honor the little steps we take. Every step on the spiritual path, done with sincerity and a true wish to transform ourselves and others, even if it’s just aspiring to one day be able to truly commit to a spiritual path, is worthy of rejoicing.

But we have to face the music here: if we really want to walk the talk, it’s gonna be uncomfortable. We’re gonna have to, at some point, leave the life of comfort and certainty behind.

The religious life is one in which we aim ourselves in the direction of truth. And sometimes the truth is scary. We have to live with a courageous heart as we seek to transform ourselves, not turning away in fear when what we find is not pretty or easy to handle.

The truly religious path is for people with big, wide-open hearts. It’s not for closed hearts or closed minds bound by blind faith. We have words to describe those things: fundamentalist, rigid, narrow-minded, bigoted.

Those things have nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Religion is much more open and flexible than all of that.

At its best, true religion is a sturdy ship that can, if we follow the directions properly, get us to the shore of the truth. Once we’re there, we’ll see that we can leave the ship behind.

Now, religion isn’t for everyone; some people don’t need it all. I’ve known a few saints in my time and they weren’t Christian or Buddhist or Hindu. But most of us, including yours truly, need a guide, a map and a compass. I know that if I don’t have these things, it’s easy for me to wander back onto the old paths of selfishness and suffering that I’m trying, little by little, to transform.

So if you’re religious, or think you might be, don’t be ashamed of it. It doesn’t make you unintelligent. It doesn’t make you any less of a freethinker. It certainly doesn’t make you any less of a good person.

It just means that you take the spiritual life seriously, and that you hold spiritual truth to be the highest truth you can aim for in this life.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise



(Source: via KALImar on Pinterest)



About Chris Lemig

Chris Lemig isn't afraid of the dark. He dreams in full color and lives out loud. Sometimes, when he sees that your heart is broken, his heart breaks, too. But then he puts all the pieces back together and lets out a great, guffawing laugh that shakes the world to its bones. He loves you even though he's never met you and he wants you to know that you are brighter than the brightest guiding star. He is the author of The Narrow Way: A Memoir of Coming Out, Getting Clean and Finding Buddha.


25 Responses to “Yeah, I’m Religious. So What?”

  1. Kris says:

    Wonderful article! I like to challenge myself to be religious about practising, testing and evolving my belief and understanding. I have shied away from the word religious, as many people have, because of it's assumed link with organised Religion. This has been a good challenge to reclaim that word and simply ensure that what I choose to be religious about leads to growth and expansion, not dogma and rigidity.

  2. Chris Lemig says:

    Thanks for reading, Kris! I also think that "organized" religion sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap, too. There's nothing wrong with going to church, the mosque, the synagogue, a ten day Buddhist retreat, whatever. What's harmful and negative is "Religion" that's used to manipulate people for worldly aims.

  3. Kris says:

    Agreed 100%

  4. Thaddeus1 says:

    Bravo Chris! One of the best things I've read on elephant as of late.

  5. I second Thad, Chris. This is wonderful.

    "The truly religious path is for people with big, wide-open hearts. It’s not for closed hearts or closed minds bound by blind faith. We have words to describe those things: fundamentalist, rigid, narrow-minded, bigoted."

    It's sad that spirituality and religion are often used to justify horrendous behaviors. Attitudes like yours keep me hopeful. Thanks!

  6. Chris Lemig says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Chris Lemig says:

    Thank you too, Kate!

  8. Omar says:

    Okay, I get it. You can't cope without your imaginary friend (s). He/she/they/it makes you feel all safe and warm and special and loved. Fine. But, be honest. There is nothing noble about religion or "spirituality" (whatever that means). They are how scared and /or ignorant people deal with existence.

  9. Thaddeus1 says:

    And you deal with it by being, oh so very kind and loving yourself. Hey man, sign me up for your program. We can work on making the world a better place one insult at a time.

  10. Thaddeus1 says:

    Hey Chris. I typically avoid promoting my own stuff on someone else's stream, but since you inspired me to compose this piece, I thought I might share it with you.

    Thanks again for the words.

  11. Chris Lemig says:

    And thanks for reading (and sharing)!

  12. Auki says:

    I say WHATEVER WORKS. If committing yourself deeply to a religious practice or lifestyle is empowering for you… then more power to you!

    To the folks who choose to be non-believers, agnostics or atheists: if that attitude empowers you and your community then more power to you as well… (although admittedly I personally cannot relate.)

    In my heart, the Creator of the Universe has always been vividly alive and present… a fact and perception I simply cannot ignore (without violating my integrity). However, I definitely identify more as being "spiritual" and not so much as "religious."

    Bhakti Yoga or devotional spiritual practice definitely gets me through the days and nights and keeps me joyous and enthralled with the creative processes that we call Life. If Omar wants to call that "having an imaginary friend", then God bless him… he can kiss my ass! 🙂

  13. Omar says:

    Your heart pumps blood throughout your body. It knows nothing about the "creator of the universe". (BTW, who created the creator?) or anything else. And perception is how you experience the natural world through your senses. Also don't call your superstitions fact. Gravity is a fact. Genetic variation by natural selection is a fact. Climate change is a fact.

    I disagree about whatever works. If the foundation is weak, the house will eventually fall. And no, I will not kiss your ass. Thanks for that fine example of spirituality, though.

  14. Omar says:

    I never claimed to be kinder and more loving than anyone here. When it comes to ideas: truth trumps kindness. Okay, I'm a jerk. But am I wrong? If so, tell me why. No, I don't love you, or anyone here. Why should I? I don't know you. I do, however, respect you. People deserve respect, not beliefs. To me, belief in the supernatural is nonsense. I respect Mr. Lemig enough to tell him so. I expect the same in return.

    Mr. Lemig dissed atheists (there is no such thing as a religious freethinker), but I didn't whine about being insulted. I stand by my original post.

  15. Chris Lemig says:

    I apologize if you thought I was in any way "dissing" atheists, Omar. While I do believe it's possible to be religious and a freethinker at the same time, I certainly didn't mean to insult you in any way. I fully respect your beliefs and the conclusions you've drawn from doing your own examination. Forgive me for the misunderstanding and thanks for being a part of the discussion.

  16. Chris Lemig says:

    Thanks for reading Auki.

  17. Thaddeus1 says:

    Well, let's not jump the gun Omar, regarding the whole respect thing. We've just met. But, I'm so glad you have access to the truth. I'm wondering if you would mind telling me what the truth is and, just for the sake of consistency, perhaps cite the studies and/or evidence upon which you rely to know such truth?

  18. Craig says:

    Chris, I always look forward to reading what you write. Always questioning, always looking deeper. India is serving you well.

  19. Chris Lemig says:

    Thanks so much, Craig!

  20. Gabriela says:

    This foundation has existed since the beginning of Man, in one form or another people/ groups/communities have always experienced a sense of "something else" . So this house hasn't fallen yet. It may have changed forms, but that's just how evolution works. As one of the characters in Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" puts it: "We degrade God too much, ascribing to him our ideas, in our vexation at being unable to understand Him."

  21. Gabriela says:

    Also Omar, when you call "an imaginary friend" something that people hold so dear to their heart ( regardless of whether you ink that't true for you or not), I trully don't see any sort of respect in that, as you may like to think you profess. I see arrogance and condenscendence and a man whothinks he's the holder of truth above others. You may not believe in any god, and you have all the right in the world to hold that belief, but don't call yourself respectful when you're using such an attitude. You lack that trait.

  22. Gabriela says:

    I think we needed a perspective such as the one you're presenting here, Chris as an alternative to everything else that's out there. You're refreshing to read.

  23. Chris Lemig says:

    Sorry I didn't see your comment until now. Thanks for reading, Gabriela! Stay in touch 🙂

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