Would We Be Better Off Without Religions?
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…”
~ John Lennon
I grew up Catholic. I started questioning my religion at a young age—in my mind and, when I got the chance, to a priest. Why did I have to dress up for church if God loved me as I am? If God was everywhere, why not inside me? Why did he love everyone except for gay people?
Of course this reflected my limited understanding of what I was being taught, but also my natural desire for acceptance and for connection to others and to a God.
I left it when I wasn’t made to go anymore. I read about other religions. I found yoga and meditation and the 12 Steps. They helped me to open my heart and let go of resentment, and buoyed me during marriage to an active alcoholic.
Then, I started to question yoga too, and the way it is linked to veganism and abstinence from alcohol and even sex in some traditions, because of adherence to a translation of an ancient text. I am vegetarian, and yet I thought, “I just can’t buy that you can’t become enlightened if you eat meatballs.”
The word “purifying” bothered me. It started to remind me of Catholic confession, like I was impure or bad until I did something about it. I couldn’t buy that either. (Again, my understanding of a teaching at a particular time.)
So, I took a break from yoga.
About that time, I was attending One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, and Lama Surya Das was teaching us about Buddhism. One of the things he said was that it is helpful to have a raft to take you across the river, but that it’s not necessary to drag the raft along once you have crossed it.
I felt like I was in the river without a raft. No rules, guidelines, no religion. I floated a while. So I understand feeling the need for the container, the path, the pointers. And I believe in the power of community.
But I think that there are potential hazards in religion and spiritual traditions. In the extreme, there are radical sects recruiting assassins. There are those espousing judgment and prejudice in the name of their religion.
More subtly though, there are many quietly keeping us from directly experiencing Divine Energy and Wisdom, which is so needed right now in the world. We need inspired solutions and ways of seeing one another with love. Instead, we can end up experiencing the need to defend, making more real our conflicts, problems and negativity toward ourselves and others.
We create “us” and “them.” Your “ism” against my “ism,” or your belief which counters my belief or your terminology that is not my terminology, gets us further away from the heart and lost in thought.
I’m suggesting that we may be better off without a religion, or particular sect, especially…
If it tells us that we are better than anyone else
Or that we are less than anyone who has ever lived.
If it tells us that someone else is the enemy
Or that one religion is the only one that is right or true or will lead to grace
Or that we have a claim or entitlement because of the religion.
If it asks us to denounce anyone else
Or condemn their way of being, living or loving.
If it closes us in or makes our world smaller.
If it does not accept us as we are.
If it asks us to fight or defend.
If it takes literally and without question words written a very long time ago, without considering context and allowing for evolution and enlightenment.
If it gives one human authority over another.
Because these things are of the ego and will keep us, at best, trapped, angry and separated from one another and, at worst, will be our demise as a species. They keep us stuck in the mind and block our opening to the ever-present force of Love that is trying to reach us and show us that we are interconnected—all beings and the planet, and all in this together.
Use your tradition’s tools, if they’re effective, to cross the river, but don’t drag the raft along once you get to the other side.
Keep going for more freedom, more wisdom. Listen to silence and stillness. Feel. Get sensitive. It’s a soft feeling at first. It’s sort of funny, like a tickle. It vibrates inside you. Then eventually the Spirit, the Love, takes over and all you can see is the Light.
You will laugh. Laugh at the idea that you wanted to be right. And the thought that anyone else was wrong. We are all just confused or not. Asleep or awake.
Has your religion, practice or tradition awakened you? Or have you on your own found freedom, peace and joy in this human life? If so please help us all. Teach. Preach. Share. So that one day we will all drop our need for thoughts and things that cause harm and live life in peace.
Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Author: Reverend Lisa Sarick
Editor: Toby Israel