I’ve been thinking recently that I may have been thinking about religion in the wrong way. There’s a myriad of religions out there, and many of their leaders and followers have committed grievous harm. Many people don’t like the proselytizing, the rituals and routines, the insistence on the rightness of their particular religion or sect, the concepts of heaven and hell and a host of other issues. This can be a cause for misunderstandings, mistreatment, hate and even more heinous activities. That can, in turn, lead to one holding on to their prejudices or at the very least, intolerance. This is a consistent truth of humanity throughout the ages. I happen to think it is the wrong way to live a life, especially if one wants to live with a deeper spiritual connection.
I like to think of these varieties of religious experience in the same way I intuitively think about music. I love music. I love a great variety of music, and I like even more of it. There is still a huge swath of music that I don’t like and even a few types of music that I abhor and may even run away from in agony. The beauty of music is there is always something I can find that I love listening to, or even playing or singing myself. I would never think of letting the music I don’t like skew my opinion of the entire breadth of music.
Now let’s take religion. No doubt there are religions that I would not like to belong to. In fact at the present moment I have haven’t been an active member of any denomination for several decades. This does not mean, however, that I have a complete and utter aversion to any and all organized religion. To the contrary, there are many of the religions that I admire greatly, some for which I have an appreciation for some of their concepts and then others that I wouldn’t want to be a part of in any way.
I’m determined not to let any prejudices prevent me from utilizing whatever knowledge, insight and revelation that any of the religions may be able to provide. In the same way that music can enrich my life and bring a great deal of enjoyment, the different religious teachings throughout the centuries are filled with incredibly useful channels to a deeper connection with the unknown. Just like I would be a fool to dismiss all music because of one song, band or genre that I can’t abide, so would I be a fool to dismiss all religion due to the actions or teachings of one that I can’t agree with, or because I find the actions of some of their members indefensible.
I haven’t studied enough about all the religions to point to a great number of the texts, but growing up Roman Catholic I can find some spiritual nourishment there. The Prayer of St. Francis is still something that I use as a guide to daily living and one that I believe to be a universal axiom. There are many other texts from all the religions that I feel have the ability to transcend human religion. And there’s a great number of people, famous and unknown, that have been able to practice their religion in a way that touches the lives of people of all faiths, or not faith at all, and leave the world a better place than when they arrived.
I have had a book for ages that I still haven’t made it all the way through called The World’s Religions, so far a fabulous book that highlights the more universal themes of various religions and does not set out to glorify or degrade any any of them. The underlying premise of this book is to present religion in all it’s forms in such a way that we can see where these people have been right and not to focus on the human frailties of members of a given group.
Doubtless some will find the acts of some religious groups of people anathema to their sensibilities and value system, and in many cases understandably so. For me the question is not whether there were humans beings humans and committing evil in the name of any given religion. It is the search for universal truth where it is available to me and to make the most of it for the benefit of myself and those I affect.
There’s another point I’d like to make about how music and religion are utilized and that is that I sometimes listen to music merely to set the mood, relax, have a party or some fun, that sort of thing. There are other times when I play the music to really get absorbed in it and feel the inner workings of the song, the musicians, the harmonies, and get immersed in the whole experience.
With religion it’s very similar thing, whereas sometimes I may make only a cursory connection, other times I want to feel fully immersed in the sights, sounds and feeling of a church, temple or some other religious experience. For some it is a vocation and a calling, for others it is a means to living a more peaceful and serene life. For me it is a way of having a connection to the infinite, what was here long before I arrived, and will remain long after I’m gone. It’s wonderful to be a part of that and to practice these principles in every aspect of my life.
I truly believe there is something in the religious, spiritual and philosophical teachings that even the most ardent atheists and anti-religious would be able to utilize in their everyday life to find a deeper meaning and connect to the universe. My goal, however, is not to convert anyone, only to present my thoughts on the subject in the hope that it may inspire someone else.
In any case I can say that by taking this approach towards religion I have a lot more spiritual tools at my disposal and am much less likely to shut myself off from everything the universe has to offer.