People are too quick to reject religion.
We have seen too much horror and violence that religion caused throughout history, the rigid structures it has set in place, and all the binding traditions it perpetuated. Because of this, we feel justified in writing off religion altogether as being an inherently oppressive force.
I don’t think it’s a misplaced assumption to think that all religion is bad, because clearly there are some good reasons for believing that. I have no interest in attempting to rationalize the atrocities religion has brought about in the past. Instead, I would like to inquire into the possibility of creating a new relationship with religion that could help us navigate through the world and live more meaningful lives.
I have been close to a self-identified atheist for most of my life, with bits and pieces of pseudo-spirituality scattered here and there. I used to even find joy in pointing out the obvious blunders and inconsistencies of religious doctrine. In the past few years, though, my attitude has shifted. Rather than putting down religion, I have come to see all religious institutions as beautiful human attempts to better understand how we should live.
All forms of religion are grounded in certain ethics and principles. There are underlying truths embedded in religious scripture that speak to our nature as human beings. Take, for example, the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where he speaks to God the night before the crucifixion, knowing his fate had been all but sealed. He asked God whether he had to go through with it, to which God answers “no,” for every human being has the right to their own free will. But, in order to save humanity, Jesus had to face his end.
This is a choice we all face, where speaking the truth comes at the cost of suffering. Of course, we don’t have to go through with it, we don’t have to face the truth of ourselves, but we certainly need to if we are to save our own souls and live out our greatest potential. When we do this, we shine a light on the whole world. We make the world a better place by living in accordance with our true nature.
We need a new kind of religion, one that is not driven by dogma or ideology, not fueled by fallacy or illusion. I believe this is entirely possible.
I consider myself a deeply religious person, despite not believing the Bible or the Koran to be factually accurate in any way. Religion, to me, is ultimately the realization of transcendent human knowledge and having an active relationship with this sublime force.
It is the simple recognition that life is much bigger than us, that we are a part of something that extends beyond the confines of our own ego, and forming a devoted practice to maintaining this recognition.
A religious life is one where we attempt to forgo our limitations in order to be aligned with some deeper truth. We do this all the time in our day-to-day lives, whether we are correcting a personal error to be more efficient in our work, or adjusting some aspect of our character to make a romantic relationship work. The only difference is that we are applying this principle to our lives as a whole, rather than merely one part of our lives. Leading a truly religious life implies aspiring for truth, each and every day, no matter the cost.
This is the essence of sacrifice, another concept that has religious roots. We are sacrificing our own comfort and security so we might participate in a higher good, one of benefit to all. We are sacrificing our ego, our thought-identified sense of self, so that we can help create a better world.
These ideas can be construed a number of different ways—many of them profoundly dangerous. Think about how long it took before we realized that sacrifice was a metaphysical notion, not a state-sanctioned form of mass murder used to please the gods. These ideas have been misinterpreted, misused, and totally botched, but that doesn’t mean we should get rid of them altogether.
To live a religious life, we must engage in a spiritual practice. I don’t think there is any way around this. To remain in contact with that what is beyond ourselves, beyond the domain of our individual thoughts, we must find some way of continually remembering that this connection exists and is always possible to attain.
This can be achieved in many different ways, from charity, to meditation, to some form of deep contemplation, and so on. What is necessary is engaging in whatever practice we choose on a daily basis or something close to it—otherwise we are susceptible to falling astray and moving away from this essential connection.
Try to remember that life is infinitely wondrous and beautiful, and do everything in our power to live in a way that serves this remembrance. This is the foundation of a holy life.
We don’t need to buy into religious lunacy to be close to God. We simply must allow ourselves to be active participants in the grace and artistry of the universe, rather than merely being passive observers in a purely material world.
In reminding ourselves that there is more to life than what we think, we become present to the immediacy of life itself, and in my experience, this expands our capacity for love.
Love is at the core of a truly religious life.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Chinh Le Duc/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
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Social Editor: Travis May