Before we look at spirituality and religion, let us define the words spiritual and religious.
Spiritual – adj. 1 of or concerning the spirit as opposed to matter. 2 concerned with sacred or religious things; holy, divine; inspired 3 (of the mind etc.) refined, sensitive; not concerned with the material. 4 (of a relationship etc.) concerned with the soul or spirit etc., not with external reality (his spiritual home).
Religious – adj. & n. adj. 1 devoted to religion; pious, devout. 2 of or concerned with religion. 3 of or belonging to a monastic order. 4 scrupulous, conscientious (a religious attention to detail).
Religion – n. 1 the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship. 2 the expression of this in worship. 3 a particular system of faith and worship. 4 life under monastic vows (the way of religion). 5 a thing the one is devoted to (football is their religion).
***Definitions from The Concise Oxford Dictionary – Ninth Edition***
Looking at the above definitions – in my past, I can’t say that we were devoted to religion. I grew up Catholic but was rarely in church and never really studied ‘the bible’. The extent of our religious practice was: if you are bad or behave badly, you will be sent to Hell and if you were good, you would be accepted into Heaven. We all have images of what the differences between Hell and Heaven are – think about them for a moment………..Did you envision Hell as a fiery pit were only damned souls are forever tortured and ruled over by a ghastly beast with horns, a tail and pitchfork? Was Heaven a solace place with winged angels gently floating around and people happily walking around clouds smiling and reunited with their long deceased loved ones ? That was the extent of my religious upbringing until my parents decided to try a new faith – Jehovah’s Witness.
When our family studied to become Jehovah’s Witnesses it involved much more dedication to learning about God and all the stories of the bible. We generally attended church on Sundays for about 2-3 hours and had bible study group on Thursday nights for a few hours. We gave up birthday’s and Christmas and were told that blood transfusions were not accepted – but were not given specific reasons as to why we couldn’t do any of these things.
I didn’t necessarily see anything wrong with religion and was captivated by the stories of Adam and Eve and The Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Noah, Moses, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Goliath, Jesus and the horrors that await us as accounted in the final book of The New Testament, in Revelation. What I understood about religion (at such a young age) was that it was a method used to control those who are or would become unruly. Another thing I took away from my brief religious experience was how disconnected religion made me feel. I felt religion instilled fear, anxiety and paranoia into people to make them believe all the stories the apparently were ‘the word of God’ through the interpretations of man.
Needless-to-say, our brief stint into the world of the Jehovah’s Witness faith ended and my parents returned to their devotion to the Catholic faith. My siblings and I, on the other hand, were left in a religious abyss – how do we proceed, what do we believe, who do we follow, what is the truth? We were left to find our religious beliefs to ourselves and most of us just slipped back to what was comfortable with us – our Catholic upbringing, which was not religious in any sense except that we believed in God, the devil, heaven and hell (or at least that is what I understood).
Today – I am not very religious. That is to say, I don’t really believe the stories that captivated me as a younger individual, I see them as fantasy now. I am amazed at how many wars and conflicts rage across the world based on religious beliefs. How can you trust an institution that preaches words of acceptance, love and compassion when many of their preachers and parishioners believe homosexuality is a sin “it is right there in The Bible”. I guess God really messed up when he created women, people of colour, and homosexuals (said very sarcastically).
People – especially those who are inclined to believe The Bible and the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship – become very offended when I tell them my religious views. I am told, “I haven’t found my way” or that I am “lost” or “you are very unfortunate not to have God in your life”. First thing – I haven’t found my way because I am not lost and God is in my life everyday – but not that “superhuman controlling power” that you believe in. People are adamant that their beliefs are the right ones and those without any religious beliefs are lost and condemned but what makes their religious belief system ‘the end all and be all of religious beliefs’?
I live my life the best way I know how. I don’t maliciously hurt people and I haven’t killed anyone. I am generally a good person and try to contribute to society. I pay my fair in taxes, I choose not to have children, I advocate for animals and our planet. I do believe that there is something bigger than all of us – this doesn’t make me religious and it certainly doesn’t make me right. What I have learned is that I can be an amalgamation of spirituality and religion and be really happy with that. I believe in science and in a higher power – I don’t think one could exist without the other. Is this a conundrum? Is it contradicting? I don’t know. But what I do know is that my beliefs are not as right or as wrong as anyone else’s. I am not perfect, but who is? I try to live my life out of love, compassion and non-judgement everyday – but as I said, I am not perfect.
I do not dislike Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or any person that associates themselves with a religious denomination – what I do dislike is those who use religion to hide behind their hate and prejudices. Please do not quote your Bible references to me as I believe those words were written my men to keep society in check. If you happen to be right about your religion and its stories, then I will either be condemned to Hell for eternity or God will forgive my sins and allow me into Heaven. Until then – don’t judge me, don’t take my rights away, don’t demonize me, don’t justify violence against me and most of all don’t hate me because ultimately you are hating yourself.
Together we can make the world a more positive one.