“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another” – Jonathan Swift
Attending a Jesuit mass funeral for my professor, I remember the presiding priest asking God to “be gentle on judging” my professor because he “tried to be a good servant”. I could not help but wonder what his wife and three young children sitting in the front were thinking about, because the imagery brought to my mind was my weak and cancer-stricken teacher shrinking at the hands of an emotionally unpredictable God. Which further led me to think about thousands of years of similar images: people begging for their lives from the high priests in the Inquisition, Native Americans and Africans screaming for their families as they were stripped of all dignity in the name of God, countless years of bombing missions between Muslims and Jews, the current subjugation of those in Iraq. It is no wonder that so many have rejected organized religion, when it is so easy to point out the innumerable examples of hypocrisy that has led to mass devastation and death throughout history. So who is this God that has led to so much hate?
It seems to be more the people than God himself who missed the mark. First of all, many people have the inherent desire to feel “right”. In fact, much of the aforementioned examples were founded on the ethnocentric belief system that religion x is right and those who follow it are the chosen people, and therefore anyone who does not follow religion x should be converted/punished accordingly. This centers on the salvation system, where each respective Western religion believes there exists only one true way to eternal heaven, therefore it is incredibly important that this religion is the correct one.
This quest for validity has brought forth historical scholars seeking proof of God’s existence, arguments over various landmarks, and a personal desire to ensure that an individual’s respective religion can be supported through these components.
It is here where I feel many people turn to the wayside. At the core of any religion is meant to be a deep-seeded faith. Faith, like God, is intangible and not meant to be proven. No matter how much the experts try to use certain artifacts, scientific data, etc to prove one religion more correct than another, it is without question that people will always follow different religious beliefs. Thus, to truly follow one more devoutly than another requires an inner belief that that one way is the right one regardless of what anyone says. Without this foundational faith, following a certain religion becomes a matter of upbringing, tradition, or culture more than anything else.
Along with this faith should be the understanding that not all may share in it. As previously mentioned, a lot of people’s religious beliefs are a product of where they were born and what their family passed onto them. Therefore to criticize someone based on a difference in birthright is both selfish and ignorant.
Which brings me to my last point: above all else, God commanded his people to love. That was the ultimate commandment, the one nugget out of every respective Western religious book that should be retrieved if nothing else. Yet so many seem to focus on other things like gay marriage, abortion, dietary restrictions, fornication, etc. Every Western religion describes a God that understands that people are fallible…no one is perfect and God does not expect them to be. But the root tenet of all of these should be to truly love everyone else, whether they are the outcasts of society, your worst enemy, or even someone of another religion.
As a member of Al-Anon, the group uses the “attraction, not promotion” method. It should be in our actions that people are drawn to the group, not from preaching it. This is the same conclusion I have drawn from religion. If you ever look at the life of Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha, you will see that they attracted followers through their loving actions, not from forcing people to convert or by hurting them. Jesus touched and talked to those in society that no one else would, showing a true example of what it means to truly love everyone.
Thus with my set of beliefs I have a more complex answer when people ask me whether I am “religious”. No, in the sense that I do not identify with one particular religion and believe that everyone who does not follow it is wrong. I identify mostly with Christianity because I was raised in a predominantly Christian household, but this is more cultural than anything else. I instead identify most with being “spiritual”, having true faith that there is a love and an existence that is greater than me that can change the world. I see this being all the time through the miracles in nature, and the small daily interactions between people who display love and acceptance for humanity. I would never look someone in the eye and tell them that my beliefs are better than theirs, because I understand that these beliefs are largely passed on. Instead I hope to live a life where I can learn to love and forgive freely, understanding that I am fallible and will mess up at times.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these”. Mark 12:28-31.
“Do you love your Creator? Then love your fellow beings first.” – The Koran
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” -Buddha