November 1, 2013

12 Observations on Belief Systems. ~ Bethany Reeves

To give you some context, I am someone who was raised to personify the universe as a single conscious spirit who created everything in existence, and that I can have a personal relationship with them (a.k.a. a Protestant Christian).

As much as I adore a lot of the teachings and values of Jesus, I experienced a lot of internal conflict. Some of the beliefs tacked on to JC’s philosophies didn’t line up with who I am as a person.

I rejected all religions and Gods for about seven years while I came to terms with my gender identity and sexuality. In that time, I did a lot of research on other religions and philosophies. I think I was trying to find one that fit me better, because having an organized belief system, engaging with culture and being surrounded by community are such fundamental parts of who I am. By renouncing to religion, I felt I had lost these things for a time.

After many years of research and processing, I have come to the conclusion that whatever the dilemma-be, it had something to do with beliefs, sexual conduct, identity, what you invest your money in, and how you treat other people. Ultimately, as long as it doesn’t hurt you, other people, non-human animals, our planet and galactic surrounds, then it’s probably okay hey.

I still listen to my warning bells and I analyze everything I come in contact with; particularly when reading. But I am not pushing religious world views away or identifying myself as an atheist anymore. I am very interested in religions and philosophies and I am spending a good amount of my time learning about them all, one after the other. So far I’ve explored different forms of Christianity, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism; a few different forms of Hinduism, Taoism and Tarot. I have gone to a mosque once (and would love to go again.) I have started learning about Islam and Judaism (since the Torah is just the Old Testament, I am familiar with a lot of the stories.) And I have dabbled in participating in Ramadan; I am now a part of a few inter-religious peace groups that aim to unify people of varied belief systems.

I still have much to learn, but would like to share what I have figured out so far. Here are twelve things that I have learned from both my upbringing and from the past few years of study in philosophy, religions, psychology and mythology:

1. I think all the gods are just different versions of the same thing (be this a thing that is conscious, unconscious, singular, plural, etc.)

It’s like if we were all friends with a person called Bob. I might have really deep philosophical conversations with bob over tea every so often, where another of his friends might play basketball with him every Thursday. We are bound to have different perspectives of who Bob is, and might even call them a different name.

2. If you have been raised to believe in a God, in many gods or in spirits and you are conflicted, there is no need to give up the way you interact and think of the world consciousness.

If your system of belief promotes violence, inhumanity and hatred, or rejects you because of things you should have to change about yourself, there is no need to stop your interaction and thoughts of the world consciousness, especially if it provides you a sense of comfort.

3. Personifying the universe isn’t the issue.

It’s religious institutions who teach people to hate one another and themselves, and who justify shitty behavior by saying that what they are doing is “Gods will.”

4. Think for yourself.

Trust your gut and see the world in any way you want to as long as it doesn’t impact negatively upon the well-being of other people, non-human animals, the fate of our planet or yourself. If what you believe doesn’t cause harm to anyone or anything, I don’t see anything wrong with this.

5. Something that I have found very interesting is how the story of Brahma is so similar to The Big Bang Theory—it’s like a personified version of it.

Maybe the ancient Indians figured atomic theory out thousands of years ago and made a story surrounding it so that it was easier for the common person to understand and remember. I think that is what a lot of religious allegory is about making intense philosophies and scientific theories relatable for uneducated commoners.

6. Brahmanism is a great example of how institutionalized religions can turn something really beautiful into something corrupt and manipulative.

From what I have learned about Brahmanism, it was really lovely. Except when the system allowed a minority of people in the nation to be educated and spend their lives getting to know themselves, while the rest of the population worked to support these people and were not allowed to explore many of the philosophies and holy practices themselves. The common people were taught to feel okay about this inequality with the invention of the Karmic System (which was a new version of a much older belief which was pretty much Karma in reverse.) They were taught that if they worked hard enough they would have a better life next time around. That’s not really fair if there isn’t reincarnation is it? I don’t know if there is or not, but why not have equality in the life that we know for sure we have.

7. It makes sense to allow people who have a passion for knowledge and self-discovery to explore it and offer it as their contribution to the world, but I really disagree with making that exclusive.

How many great philosophers have we not had the pleasure of learning from because they thought their lot in life was to gather rice and were never allowed to explore their true interests?

8. People interpret things differently.

People have different views on what life is about, what constitutes a good life or what it is to be a good person. This is great, because we can learn from one another. It is important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as one truth, only many truths; just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t mean you are right. This doesn’t mean you should keep your opinions to yourself for fear that you are wrong; it just means that it’s good to be open to having your views improved upon or completely dismantled. The more we offer up our knowledge and perspectives in a reasonable way and feel okay about the possibility of being wrong, the more opportunity we have to learn.

9. Researching religions has shown me that it can be both beautiful and destructive.

When in the wrong hands, religion is a formidable weapon. When practiced in a positive manner however, religions can help people to know themselves, be connected to their family, community and culture, and have roots in their heritage. It can help people to think peacefully and with empathy, and to see that there is much more to life than their needs and desires.

10. Religious worldviews can provide great comfort for people, especially when dealing with grief and the fear of not knowing.

For example, dealing with the grief of a stillborn baby can be eased by believing that they will be reborn in the karmic cycle and will probably have a better life, or that they have gone to heaven and you will get to see them when you die.

11. I recommend talking to a trusted friend or professional.

If you have a voice in your head that is telling you that they are your God and that you should do things like sacrificing your first born son to prove your faith to them, the voice probably isn’t who they say they are.

12. There is a rich array of belief systems and cultures which are the result of thousands of years of people passing down knowledge, experience and passions.

It’s a shame to restrict yourself to one or not explore any at all because you identify with one specific religion or you are an atheist. It is totally possible to explore any religion and still be an atheist or be very certain about the version of universal personification that you identify with. You might even find you relate a lot with religions you have always seen as very alien to your way of life.

There are a lot of commonalities, as well as many differences, and that is what makes researching them all so very fascinating for anyone who is interested in the human condition and learning new ways to improve the way you live and think. Even learning why certain groups of people do things the way they do.

It’s all very interesting and the knowledge gained can be applied in many ways.

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Assistant Editor: Gabriela Magana/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Bethany Reeves