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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Religion - And Where My Questions Led Me

Religion 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  kept my gaze 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 8am 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 http://www.evidencetobelieve.net/Buddhism_vs_Christianity.htm)

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.”


12 comments:

Judy said...

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Anonymous said...

Thank you.

DeWayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeWayne said...

Sad to say that religion especially christian religion seems to be just another business these days. Pay your money, spend time raising money ( for good causes I suppose) but is spending Sunday morning at Starbucks any different. Pay your money to a company that promotes good causes? Mega churches with billions of dollars wrapped up in brick, mortar, paper. Seems very contradictory to the beatitudes.

Now let me say I am a follower of Jesus. Your beliefs are your own. I will tell you mine but you don't have to believe what I believe. I believe that God has woven all his creatures into a single living thing. All componets are dependent on each other: the Polar Bear, the Ugandan, the virus.

I was raised an Episcopalian, my kids were confirmed in the Catholic Church, we joined the Korean Baptist and Methododist faiths.
My mother in law died of brain cancer. During her last weeks she asked my neighbor to have her Pastor come and pray for her. My neighbor was Korean, so was the Pastor. The people from the church came and prayed 40 days and 40 nights. No a miracle didn't happen. It should have. She was a wonderful person, kind, giving, a great friend to my wife. But during that time, I felt God. We went to their church and I could feel the Holy Spirit. Can't tell you much else, just a wonderful certain feeling.

I am so disappointed with the Christian church that I don't go anymore. How can Christian men like George Bush and Barak Obama perpetuate war? How do Christians support it? I feel lost right now.
Love your blog, Peace.
Boyd

Brent H. said...

Great post! I believe your conclusion is correct, that at present humanity lives primarily out of fear. Which is what drives us to the perceived safety of communities believing in something that can assuage the fear.

In privileged places like the U.S. that fear is mostly based on finances, health and the general happiness and welfare of those we care about. We can never have complete control over these things, and so we hope for a force outside of ourselves that can impose control upon our lives. But as you so eloquently point out, it's not control that we really need.

In the distant past and in the third world the fear was and is much more immediate. Starvation, terrible disease and a daily threat of violence makes people grab desperately for any lifeline they can find. This is why it's so easy to take organized religions, coupled with charitable aid, into suffering parts of the world and convert massive amounts of people.

I like the thought that there may have been a time when humanity lived out of pure love, and maybe sometime, in some small communities that was the case. But the more common scenario is that humanity has been dragging itself inch by inch out of a history drenched in horror and intense fear. Religions come along and use a sense of universal love (that does really exist underneath it all) to set up a system by which people can better their lives and improve their communities. Yes, religion brings with it injustice, bigotry and it's own brand of violence, but it was better than the alternative in most cases, which is why it has spread so well.

I think the world you dream of, where humans live out of love and not fear, is not in the past, but (hopefully) in the future. It is a post-religious world. A world in which humanity has predominantly begun to rely on the strength of love and respect rather than fear and brutality. If the majority of people had their own personal connection with God, or whatever you wish to call the greater spirit of love, then there would no longer be a need for religion.

The problem comes when you try to pass this sense on from one generation to the next. Some parents might be excellent at it, (as I'm sure you and Pete are) but many fall short in their ability or capacity to accurately pass on a true inner connection with love. They need a mechanism, a system that can help them to do so. That's where religion currently steps in, but it isn't a perfect solution. Religion has a lot of unintended side-effects that make it the corrupt and dysfunctional thing that it has generally become.

Before we can abandon religion entirely we will need an incorruptible system for passing on our knowledge and wisdom. You spoke of our collective consciousness. I think we can develop tools that will make that consciousness more tangible. I don't know what this will be, likely some advanced technology, but I believe it will happen. We might even live to see the beginnings of it. Maybe it's already happening.

Your blog is awesome, keep up the good work!

The Balanced Republic said...

Valerie’s story points some great questions to explore:
Fear - What is Fear and how does it affect our relationship with religion, God, and other people? How do I free myself from Fear so it does not distort my relationships with these things?
"Outside" and "Inside" - many people have not caught on that they have an "Inside". Where is the Inside and what is in there?
And Freedom - what does it mean to be Free? Can my body be 'free'? Can my mind and heart be free? What binds me to things? What is Free?
My indulgent opining:
A great symbol of Freedom is a child's helium balloon. When the child has it controlled [holding the string], it is predictable and it goes whereever the child takes it. She can predict it, control it, and there is a comfort in that control.
But there is also a smallness in the control. The child owns it. She fears what would happen if the string came untied. The balloon rises on the string but cannot go far. There is a tension in the balloon, the string, and the child. The balloon is bound and has not reached its potential.
What will happen when the balloon is released? We do not know. Whether it will go straight up or meander, sail North or South, that is up to nature and the eddies and flows of the physical world. You cannot predict or dictate to something that is free. You can't point to Freedom. You cannot predict Freedom. You cannot say what will happen when something is free, you don't have control like that. You only know Freedom means there is nothing binding it and the world will take its own course.
Your insides are like the balloon. Inside of you are tensions. Inner strings that are pulled tight or knotted. They wiggle and change but there is always this tension. You don’t often notice them. We only say they are problems when they flare up and take center stage. You are pulling these inner strings due to fear, past (childhood?) issues, control, smallness, habits, etc. Most of the time, you do not know you are doing this.
But you want to be happy and full and free. You want to rise. Your insides want to be free. You can hold them and try to control them or you can set them free. And when you set them free, you do not know what will happen to you next or what you might say or feel or … anything. You only know that you have released the inner-tense-strings-of-smallness-and-fear and it is up to Nature and God and whatever else to take over from there.
This is a great website for being exposed to each other's stories and perspectives. We sometimes resist or disagree, due to our own issues. But as we require less and less control of life we naturally become more and more open to others. We are not as afraid of what is happening with them. Their stories or beliefs cannot threaten us. We already gave away anything that could be threatened. We even can come to respect those who cannot (yet!) respect us. And then we are really at a great place in life.

Anonymous said...

Religion is like a pair of shoes....Find one that fits for you, but don't make me wear your shoes.~George Carlin

Anonymous said...

Sophomoric and limited. Some people who believe they sound open-minded and intelligent really sound ignorant. Everyone with an IQ over 80 has thought the same thoughts you spent so much time typing.

You seem quite pleased with yourself as the spunky and precocious child, only we all recognize the same contradictions. Dad said don't question because if one chooses a religion one decides not to question as a matter of faith.

Some of us conclude we cannot know and religious people are no less intelligent or fearful than anyone else. Others cling to their conceits that they are a little more insightful than most.

But you're not.

Momshieb said...

I clearly remember, at the tender age of 9, asking my Roman Catholic mom what would happen to my very best friend in the world when she died (she was, alas, a Protestant). My Mom told me that my friend would get to Purgatory, but never to Heaven. I was inconsolable, trying to figure out how God could be so mean, when it wasn't my friend's fault that she wasn't born a Catholic.
This was my first real revelation that there was something SERIOUSLY wrong with what I was being taught.
Two years later I made friends with a Jewish girl; then the questions really began!
Good for you for always asking questions!

Rev Kate said...

Religion...God...these words and their definitions were created by us...and can be re-created by us. I often wonder what words/definitions I would create if I truly believed (not from the limited perspective of my ego, but from the unlimited perspective of my soul)...that I was not separate from God...not separate from "all that is"... that I ...and all of us... are God. What would this mean...how would it change my life...my perspective...my definitions? How would I live my life if I believed that everything I did, said and felt was connected to everything else. I don't have any answers...but i find that I am falling in love with the questions. Maybe it's the desire to question that fuels our evolution?

Anonymous said...

Valerie, I found your post to be what I would consider a typical result of a Catholic upbringing.

Not to single out the Catholic Church as I believe there to be many "man made religions" that are equally as guilty of poisioning God's intent for "the church".

I also unfortunatly have to agree with the person that posted about many of the churches today having become nothing more than a business/money making what have you.

I would imagine that the current state of mankind in general is very heartbreaking to the Father and to that I would say heaven help us all.

I feel however what is important to take into consideration is that ultimately we are each responsible for ourselves. We will all one day be ultimately accountable for the way we have lived our lives, for what we have or have not believed in, and or whom we have chosen to either believe in or not believe in. We have all been given a concious, intelligence and emotions in order to make those decisions.

We have also been given God's Holy word (The Bible)(Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), which I believe to be the truth in order to read and to use to come to our own conclusions.

Jesus came to this world not to condem it, but rather to be, yes The Savior of it. The message of God is that of love, a type of love that is often mis represented by men.

I would encourage you to continue in your search for the truth and to not look for your path to God by way of ANY man.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this, Valerie. This nun sounds a lot like my mother. Who was "educated" by nuns, by the way. And I do use that term loosely.