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13 May 2012 @ 11:38 pm
This I Believe: A Personal Essay on Religion  

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. Starting a new business while still working a full-time job has meant stepping away from writing meta essays and episode commentaries on Supernatural and indulging in other creative exercises, but it hasn’t stopped me from thinking. And recent events, combined with the habits of all the philosophical and analytical thinking that went into those Supernatural blogs, pushed me into codifying certain essential things I believe.

This essay has nothing to do with Supernatural, so if you visit this blog for fannish things, feel free to bypass this entry. But if you would like to learn something about the core of who I am, you’re welcome to read. Just be aware that what is contained here is personal to me. You may or may not agree with what I think, and that’s fine. But this is not a debate. This is my belief, born of long and careful thought. And it is my personal response to the increasing polarization of society along ideological lines largely driven by conflicting religious and cultural imperatives.



I was raised Catholic, but I’m not Catholic any more. I’m not religious in any sense. I think the best descriptive term for me these days is agnostic. I do not accept anyone’s “revealed truth,” or any claim by any religion or culture that it is right and true because it is chosen by or follows the orders of God. I started down this road when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt obliged to put my reasons into words in order to fully understand and be able to explain to others my social and political stance.

My evolution began the summer I embarked on my own comparative religion study. I read the Bible cover to cover, and did the same to the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Book of Mormon. I had grown up in a house containing a fascinating multi-volume encyclopedia of mythology, so I had long been exposed to belief systems that no longer had contemporary adherents, including the polytheism of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Norse. And then I discovered Joseph Campbell, who put all religions, mythologies, and belief systems on the same footing, looking across them all for lessons on humanity.

From what I saw, each and every religion at its core consisted of two things: the stories we humans told ourselves to explain things empirically beyond our knowing – why does life exist, how did we come to be, why do bad things happen to good people, what happens to our consciousness when our bodies die – and a system of rules defining appropriate behaviors to perpetuate the survival and growth of a particular social structure consistent with the explanations in the stories. I realized that every scripture, every single “holy book,” was written and compiled by humans, mostly men, who generally claimed divine inspiration or command, but who wrote from within the filter of their own specific cultures and the framework of the limits of their understanding of the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical world.

I concluded that none of those books comprised the word of God. Instead, they were the words of men, attempting to render in humanly understandable terms a human individual’s or group's perception of the intent and desire of the divine – a perception of necessity colored by the language, culture, assumptions, knowledge base, geographic location, and customs of the writers.

I also came to the conclusion that, to the extent there may be a God – by which I mean an organizing intelligence underlying the universe that set it in motion and defined the rules by which it exists and develops, a concept on which I remain undecided – its (pardon the pronoun) direct Word was represented only by that presumed creation. For me, God’s Word is written in the DNA of every living earthly organism; in the molecular, atomic, sub-atomic, and as-yet-unknown structures of matter; in the properties that govern the behavior of energy; in the vast emptiness (that may not be empty) between planets, stars, and galaxies; in the governing principles we’re discovering through our study of science; and even in the inventiveness of the human mind.

I'm not opposed to religion in principle. Far from it. I think religion has provided comfort and consolation to many people by giving them reassurance that things happen for a reason, even if it's a reason we humans can't immediately understand or appreciate, and by promising that the people we have loved and lost are not gone forever, but will live on with us in some form of afterlife. Religions have also been a civilizing influence by prescribing rules for co-existence.

However, religion has also been misused to divide and destroy, often by political entities. By claiming to have the unique truth and word of God, most religions have justified dehumanizing and even destroying any people not of their distinct faith, and anyone within the faith who didn't accept all of its tenets. Just within the Christian faith, witness the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms against the Jews, and the persecution of heretics. Perceive the divisions between different forms of Christianity – Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints. Islam, Judaism, and other faiths are guilty of similar abuses and schisms among sects. Even Buddhism has its divisions, although their distinctions have generally been non-violent, in keeping with Buddhist ethics.

But that, by and large, is why I will never again profess allegiance to any specific religious sect. I do not believe in the particular and necessarily limited truth contained in any human-written “holy book,”and I do not buy any faith that compels belief in a Supreme Being limited by human thoughts and behaviors. Why would an omniscient and omnipotent God who created the amazing, expansive diversity of our physical universe favor one sex or race over another, or disavow any entity in that creation that acted in accordance with its nature? Why would that Supreme Being favor any transient human political nation over another, any more than God would favor any individual human sports team over another? To my mind, all those ideas are equally ludicrous.

That is also why I felt the need to explain what I believe. Lately, the news has been full of fervent declarations by adherents of various faiths proclaiming their versions of truth and passing judgment on everyone not of their belief. Islamic zealots declare jihad on Western democracies, proclaiming our freedoms and statements of gender, race, and religious equality as heresy. Fundamentalist Christians cite the Bible as authority and justification for ostracizing anyone not Christian or living in violation of biblical laws, including homosexuals, and – in the U.S., at least – proclaiming anyone who disagrees with them as unpatriotic. Religious conservatives in the U.S. even oppose the findings of contemporary science because they don't track with the literal words of the Bible – a document written when the human understanding of science was in its infancy, limited at most to a toddler's vocabulary and comprehension.

So this is my testament. This is what I believe. If there is a God – some days I believe, and some I don't – the diversity of Creation is his/her/its only Word and only Truth. The teachings of the Bible, the Qur'an, or any holy book aren't sufficient rationale for banning or discounting full participation in society by any peaceful human, whether man, woman, heterosexual, homosexual, black, white, red, yellow, or purple with yellow dots. All life deserves respect, and all the systems of nature, protection.

And all of us, as free-willed creatures, have the right to believe as we will, so long as the exercise of that belief does not impede or infringe upon the rights of others similarly to live and believe. So yes, I believe gays should be able to marry and have families. I believe women should have equal rights with men. I believe people of all races should have the same opportunities to live, advance, and thrive.

And I believe anyone who violates any of those rights should be called to justice and answer for the pain they inflict on others.

This, I believe.



 
 
Current Mood: determined
Current Music: "Presence of the Lord" by Blind Faith
 
 
 
Kerstin: greyowlgreyowl88 on May 14th, 2012 07:05 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this. :)
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
Thanks for coming by!
sidhe_womansidhe_woman on May 14th, 2012 08:38 am (UTC)
Yes! Very neatly put *g*.
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)
Glad you liked!
fannishliss: Duct-tape Cas!fannishliss on May 14th, 2012 10:42 am (UTC)
It's good to hear from you, and I hope your home studio is progressing nicely.

Your credo is clean and ethical, and that's always a good thing. :)
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by!

The home studio stuff is going well. I've finished the recording on the first audiobook, and am now in editing/mastering mode; with luck, will finish the book for submission to the publisher by the end of this coming weekend! Thirteen chapters in the can, five more to edit ... :)
orehime: spikeorehime on May 14th, 2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
As always, you are eloquent. If somebody asks me about my 'faith', I'll point them right here ♥
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm honored ...
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on May 14th, 2012 01:22 pm (UTC)
"From what I saw, each and every religion at its core consisted of two things: the stories we humans told ourselves to explain things empirically beyond our knowing...and a system of rules defining appropriate behaviors to perpetuate the survival and growth of a particular social structure consistent with the explanations in the stories...every single “holy book,” was written and compiled by humans...but who wrote from within the filter of their own specific cultures and the framework of the limits of their understanding of the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical world."

Brilliantly put! Very eloquent explanation of why there cannot be one 'true' religion.

I think that if you pare down the instructions from 'God' in all religions it comes down to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you! The golden rule may well be the only one ... although it sometimes translates as "do unto others as they would like to be done by." :)
rosefickeroseficke on October 18th, 2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
For a long while now, the Golden Rule has been the only credo I live by. I firmly believe if everyone followed it and tossed everything else out the window, the world would be a far, far better place. :)
cathy1967cathy1967 on May 14th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
You have put into words what I have not been able to. I completely agree with your point of view. I add animals to the mix, mind you, but at the same time do no try to deny my nature either. My only wish is that we treat the animals we raise for food better than we do now.

Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for being so unbiased. It's balm on an open wound and I wish more people saw the world this way.
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 15th, 2012 12:53 am (UTC)
I wish it too! Thank you for coming by. :)
rosefickeroseficke on May 15th, 2012 07:45 am (UTC)
Amen, sister!
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 16th, 2012 12:13 am (UTC)
Thanks, Rose!
seesmooshrunseesmooshrun on May 15th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
An impressively eloquent explanation, as I would expect from you :) I must say that you have put into words much of what I have been thinking for the past few years. And THIS succinctly crystalizes it and will become my new lodestone: "If there is a God..... the diversity of Creation is his/her/its only Word and only Truth."

In the words of Mark Twain, from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: "A united Church is a dangerous thing, and when by and by it falls into the wrong hands, as it is bound to do, it means death to human liberty and paralysis to human thought."
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on May 16th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad it resonated ... :)
(Anonymous) on May 19th, 2012 09:48 am (UTC)
Thanks Mary. You have put into words what we all(most of us, at least)believe. I was brought up in a religious family but there was no strict adherence to nitty-gritties of it. The most important lesson I have learnt in all my life is to have faith. This basis of this faith can be in different things or objects. Some derive solace from praying, some feel satisfied by doing selfless service, some are just happy with materialistic things. To each his own. But as long as the core of every human remains intact, things are fine. As long as we stay human, we are closer to God.

As for myself, I have always believed in a higher power. I have seen people wishes come true, if they wanted it strong enough. I have experienced it myself. It seems to be true that if you want something from the core of your heart, the whole universe conspires to give you that. It has happened to me once. Second time I decided not to tempt fate. But this is also true that no one is going to serve us everything on a silver platter if we did not do the efforts. I made efforts too, put my heart and soul into it. And I got it.

Committing heinous acts in the name of religion is not just shameful but also cowardly. People commit these acts because they feel themselves superior to the people they are oppressing but in reality they are cowards. To trample over someone weak does not make anyone strong. It just highlights their insecurities.

While I agree with you that all of the 'holy books' are written by men himself and not the word of God, it is also true that almost all religions have the same basic tenets. I believe that originally they were written to propagate humanity, above everything. Those books were written according to the beliefs, culture, and education of that periods. Like we cannot expect them to write scientifically because there was no such intelligence then. Almost every religion preaches humanity, love of humankind and no to evil. But as usual, fundamentalists put their spin on the works.

It is us who have tried to subvert the message to suit our own personal agendas. Agreed the message is from men, not God. And it consists too many falsehoods too. I am not defending the books per se. I am just saying that it is up to us to imbibe the spirit from them and discard the rest. Free will, as you say.

As Neale Donald Walsch said, "A life lived of choice is a life of conscious action. A life lived of chance is a life of unconscious creation".

P.S - I agree with you wholeheartedly except that I am not an Agnostic. I do not pray either or go to religious places but I do have faith. If I were to write my POV on religion, I would write just the same.(Except nobody will read or comment on it :-) )
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 8th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)
Thank you, my friend!

And this: "While I agree with you that all of the 'holy books' are written by men himself and not the word of God, it is also true that almost all religions have the same basic tenets. I believe that originally they were written to propagate humanity, above everything. Those books were written according to the beliefs, culture, and education of that periods. Like we cannot expect them to write scientifically because there was no such intelligence then. Almost every religion preaches humanity, love of humankind and no to evil."

If you read the works of Joseph Campbell, you will find this is his thesis as well. And I agree with him and with you!
labseraphlabseraph on August 7th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
Interesting perspective and thank you for sharing your spiritual journey. It was never easy when one decides to move beyond the boundaries circumscribed by others, isn't it? Reconciling what our hearts feel and what we were told to believe is never easy.

I hope you don't mind if I share my journey as well here. If it is offensive, please delete this comment and don't respond to it.

I was born in a Muslim family, had the usual Islamic education that was big on the practices but little on the spirituality. In short, I was a parrot who repeats what I was told, no real understanding or appreciation.

My religious instruction was extremely rigid; especially when it comes to the practices of prayers, fasting etc. All the do's and don'ts made me so anxious that I applaud the study that said most OCD people had stringent religious instruction that exacerbates their condition. I have a few OCD habits that I am trying to wean that I am sure could be attributed to the anxiety I experienced as a child.

It got to a point where I decided to not bother anymore and accept that I was going to Hell.

However, I went through a tough period in my life where the only solace I got was from God. It was during hardship that I appreciate the grace of prayer and the peace I get when I prostrate myself before Him (God has no gender; He was not birth, nor does He give birth. I use He/Him because it is easier).

I am not saying I am a pious Muslim. I try to adhere to the obligatory prayers and practices circumscribed in the Qur'an. I don't cover my hair because I believe in the interpretation of the Qur'an that says a woman has to veil her breast, nothing was said about hair.

I begun exploring my faith in earnest after reading Women in Islam: An Historical and Theological Inquiry by Fatima Mernissi. It was only when I abandon the chains dictated by "holy men" that I get a better appreciation of my faith.

The Qur'an indicates that women are regarded no different than men, they will be rewarded/punished for their actions, they are not lesser creatures, nor are they indecent tempters. My reading of the Qur'an strengthened my belief that God is Infinite in His Mercy and Love, but we must not prescribe human motivations and feelings to Him because, well, He is not human.

Because the way the Qur'an is presented in a way that is fluid in its arrangement, I think that God allows us to make our own decisions, our own perspective on His Instruction. I do what I think and feel is right and try to have ehsan (the closest description of its meaning is grace, justice, kindness, love, forbearance) for others.

So now I practice as I see fit and adheres to Amina Wadud's philosophy of radical pluralism: embrace everyone and let God sort it out. *grin* I leave judgment to Him and do what I can for myself and enjoin others in love for one another.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that we as the human race, learn to treat one another with kindness, respect and love, regardless of gender, colour and sexual orientation. There is a passage in the Qur'an where Allah reminds us that He has created us in various tribes (which could include sexual orientation) so that we can learn from one another. So we must embrace our commonality and accept our differences. After all, who are we to judge? No one has the right to throw the first stone.

Again, thank you for sharing your experience. It helps me to understand the journey of others whose world view and experience are diametrically different from mine in a wonderful way.

*hugs*
bardicvoice: bardicvoice by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 8th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)
Thank you for coming and commenting, my dear, and rest assured: nothing about sharing your beliefs could in any way be offensive!

Your comment - "My reading of the Qur'an strengthened my belief that God is Infinite in His Mercy and Love, but we must not prescribe human motivations and feelings to Him because, well, He is not human." - tracks very much with my personal refusal to limit God to human perception. While I can't say definitively that I believe in the existence of God, I do believe that, if s/he/it exists, s/he/it would be beyond my merely human ability to fully understand or comprehend. In some small way, I think my human creativity shares a spark of the Divine, but only a spark: it's not in me to grasp the totality of the universe or the precision with which infinitesimal details interconnect.

Thank you again for sharing! And may Allah accept your Ramadan fast. :)