My views on religion. Boy this is an interesting one. Let’s start with some background. I was raised Catholic. Went to Catholic school and the whole works. I wanted more than anything to be a good little Catholic girl. I tried so hard to get involved with church in the choir, as an altar girl, and just about anything else I could get myself into. Somehow I still just never felt that connection. I was going through the motions, showing up, but it just didn’t resonate in my soul. After 6th grade my parents decided to send me to public school (which I loved by the way) and we sort of pulled away from the church. We would still go on holidays and special occasions, but it wasn’t so rigid anymore. Eventually my parents decided to branch out and visit some other churches. We tried Lutheran, Church of Christ, and finally settled on Methodist. We got baptized in the Methodist church and became pretty involved there. I liked that church a little better because the sermons made more sense and it seemed a little more down to Earth. I still didn’t feel that overwhelming connection that I felt the church should give. I knew people who lived, breathed, and died the church, and I just couldn’t see myself ever doing that. Eventually I was old enough to make my own decision and I broke away from the church completely. I really wasn’t sure what to believe as far as the traditional concept of God goes, and honestly I didn’t find it to be that important in my life. What concerned me was showing compassion to others and being a good person. I didn’t need to go to church to do that.
I was coasting through life for a while and was just missing something. I wasn’t missing a creation story or some grand philosophy about God or anything like that. I was missing the sense of community that comes from being a part of something greater than yourself. I didn’t want the “religious” side of things being shoved down my throat though. I just wanted to feel like I was doing something good and a part of something good, but I just couldn’t find that anywhere. I was doing a lot of community service, which was great, but there just wasn’t any kind of lasting connection there. I had been dabbling in philosophy and studying eastern religions for a while, and really latched onto the concept of Buddhism. There is no “God” (I mean, you’re free to believe in whatever God or gods–or even goddesses) that you want to, but the religion itself is based on spreading compassion. That seemed right up my alley. I read for years, I attempted a few kinds of meditation, but then I hit a wall. The books I read all started to sound the same and I wasn’t really sure where to go from there. Last year, around November, I found myself doing a google search for Buddhist temples. Nothing serious, just for fun, right? Turns out there is a Buddhist temple less than 5 minutes from my house. Best part about it? Unlike a lot of western Buddhist temples, it was more that just a Japanese/Chinese/Korean/Indian cultural center. As neat as those places could be, as a pasty white girl, I can’t imagine I would have felt particularly comfortable around a group of people chanting in a different language and sharing customs from their homeland. Lucky me, this place was filled with diversity. People from all walks of life, primarily English speaking (granted, some of the chants are in Pali or Japanese, or other eastern languages, but since we are primarily English speaking, we learn the translations as well). I decided to go on January 1st, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I still have a bit of a problem with organized religions. Many of them use faith to manipulate people. These mega churches that suck money out of their communities and the extremist factions that put their congregations in bad situations in the name of “God” are just terrible in my opinion. The temple I attend doesn’t have a monetary requirement, which is great. Of course they ask you pledge something to be a member, but it can be a dollar if that’s all you have. Plus, membership (regardless of the amount you choose to give) allows you to participate in temple activities for free. I don’t have to pay a dime to attend retreats, talks, or any other events. Our whole philosophy is surrounded by compassion. Never would our Abbot send us out into the streets to harm or kill anyone. There are religions that do that! And throughout history, most religions have done that at one time or another. Our group never will. It’s totally against everything we believe in.
I don’t like organized religions that try to make you feel like you are a bad person just because you don’t follow a certain teaching they put forward. Buddhism tells you that the whole thing is about intention. Sometimes we fail, and that is ok, but as long as we get back up and keep working at staying on the path, we will be ok. I like that kind of philosophy. It also doesn’t put anyone on a pedestal like other religions do. The priest isn’t any “closer to God” than anyone else. We are all equal. The same teachings have been passed down for 2600 years from ancestor to ancestor. They still apply today no matter how much the world has changed. The same can’t be said for a lot of other organized religions.
Now all of that being said, I don’t have a problem with people who belong to organized religions. If that works for you, do it. As long as you aren’t harming yourself or someone else, I say do what makes you feel right. I do worry about people sometimes, because I feel like they can be impressionable and regardless of how controversial a church teaching may be, people fall into the trap. There are people out there who will exploit a weakness and you see it happen every day. I feel like that is how this whole ISIS problem started. It’s not that Islam is a bad religion. I know a lot of Muslim folks and generally they are wonderful people. The problem is that many of them, just like people of other religions, are extremely attached to their belief system. Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown (wanting to “please god”), sometimes it’s the promise of reward (getting to heaven), or even just a general affinity with the preacher/leaders/ect. These con artists prey on people who are vulnerable. They will brainwash these folks into believing they are doing some kind of good by harming those who believe differently. This shows up in many ways. It doesn’t have to be suicide bombings, but there are also congregations that shun people for their lifestyle, the way they dress, or their financial situation. These things seem wrong to me. I also don’t like religions that pass the buck. There are a lot of religious folks who seem to think they can do whatever they want because God will still love them. Another set of people won’t take measures to do anything about a situation because its “in God’s hands”. The truth is, you can have all the faith you want, but you still have to have some kind of responsibility for your actions, you can’t just pass things off all the time. I don’t think just relying on some mystical figure is enough. Religion can be great. It can keep your life on track, and some people need that. I just hate to see people get sucked in so hard that they can’t be real and alive anymore. Religion is fine, but proceed with caution. Don’t hesitate to analyze beliefs and pick and choose what’s right for you. If it seems sketchy, don’t do it! And that can be applied to many aspects of life 🙂