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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Religion 101

What is religion actually about?


 
Abstract

One view of religion is that it is for mamby-pamby, touchy feely type people. Actually religious people develop great strength. Another view is that religion means other people telling you what to do and criticizing. Actually most religious people are less critical, more helpful, more patient, and more tolerant than other people. Religion brings peace through developing the courage to change.



Is it so complicated only the leaders can understand?

We like to make things very complicated. It's sometimes almost as if we only want the very elite to understand, and them to have the privileged position of passing their interpretation down to us. I studied religion in church and university, have at least a 3 foot bookcase full of books on religion, and have thoroughly explored it, practiced it, and written extensively about it for years. What did I discover? It's like the Apostle John said: Love.

That makes it easy, doesn't it? Yet as I have written here before, it will take us at least all of our lives to understand the depth and breadth of love.

So what is religion about? It's simple really. Everything religion is about can be boiled down to learning how to treat each other. The more you talk about and study God and the hints He left for us, the more you realize it isn't so much about God, but about how we treat each other. We'll get back to the God thing later.

It's very easy to say "Love each other." It's very difficult to do. Our own agendas and justifications get in the way. Our own perspective places limits on how we are willing to see others.

For example, scientists typically hold the view that "carbon based" life forms are the only viable kind of life. Science fiction writers speculate that there can be life forms based on other molecules, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and even silicone. Silicon is the stuff that many popular solid state devices are made from, such as the microchip (Silicon Valley), which can "think" in a rudimentary way. Scientists are usually very quick to poo-poo any findings of any evidence of any other types of life. It's inconceivable to many.

In an excellent science fiction story, Terry Bisson has characters who are robots who are made out of silicon. They pay a visit to Earth and pick up a few samples of people. They report back their astonished findings, "They're made out of meat." They make machines to communicate. The response: "That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat." Which leads to: "You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat." The reply: "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"

If you look at the things that the major religious figures have said, we have that same sense of skepticism. Be kind to one another? Love others as ourselves? Love our neighbors? Turn the other cheek. Love our enemies? Huh? Meat can think? Doing these things is nuts! You've got to be kidding!

In fact, even many religious organizations tend to withdraw from these statements, placing limitations on them. "Oh, those people aren't our neighbors. Turning the other cheek and loving our neighbors - let the police and military and the government handle those people - anybody but us. It's someone else's problem. They will only take advantage of you if you try to help them. Well, you know, those people are our enemies - get real."

In some ways, we do have to be guarded. It takes years of growth to understand how to help others without destroying us both. Yet others, like Mother Teresa, help others all of their lives without ever worrying about being taken advantage of. Love one another? What? Meat can think? Impossible! Unheard of! Too radical!

Next: Opening our minds. Click Page 2 above.

Opening our minds

We have an interesting perspective on ourselves. If we are hungry, we naturally get something to eat. Thirsty, we drink. We get angry when someone crosses us. When one piece of desert remains in the refrigerator, we don't offer it to our mate lovingly, or even ask if she wants it, we just grab for it. We dismiss things with, "I was here first - it's just business - I didn't cause that person's problems - why should I help?" Sit-coms on TV are full of such behavior, and we laugh at it in others, thinking how shallow and ridiculous it is... except in ourselves.

There is a difference between a drive, such as hunger, that shapes our behavior, and justifying something to ourselves. We can always find an excuse and justify hurting someone else, or just dismiss their plight. We think we are thinking and controlling our behavior, but we are really just responding to what we want. As children, we lack a certain amount of freewill - we're driven. But we learn as we age, as our parents open our minds to sharing the ball, sharing food...

In the story of Joseph, in the Bible, Joseph was constantly irritating his brothers with his beautiful multi-colored coat and declaring his self-appointed bright future he dreamed of. Sheep herders, they resented this continuously abrasive prima donna. They kidnapped him and sold him to a slave caravan headed out of the country. They did what they wanted. They did what felt good. No doubt they justified their behavior to themselves a thousand ways. Joseph was useless. He needed a lesson. He made them all look bad. They were doing him a favor. Yeah, it was all about Joseph. There was no parent watching their behavior at that moment and saying, there's a better way to live with others, even if it is just learning to be tolerant.

We have to look outside of ourselves if we want to avoid becoming simply self-serving people who only do as we please. Therefore, God is. God opens our mind to all kinds of possibilities, that when implemented, helps relationship problems, whether they be between lovers, between friends, or between enemies. What God asks of us is to let Him be leader.

Leadership, to be effective, requires commitment to the leader. Otherwise, people decide that they don't want to do something, or they think the leader is going in the wrong direction when things take a while or aren't going according to "their" plan. Like "we" know everything. Blind following isn't good, but we need leaders.

When we don't follow love, our thinking gets sidetracked. Over the years even religions have been hijacked. Corruption enters and the leaders and followers start doing what makes sense to them, but in the name of religion. It has happened in Judaism and in Christianity. For example, some have forsaken love at times in favor of "purifying" the religion by killing off all who think differently. Some have used religion to justify raping a nation for riches and land. Some use religion to justify and maintain their cultural beliefs. Some used religion to justify slavery and oppression. Some use religion to form exclusive clubs that exclude people who aren't like them. Religion can be perverted just like anything else. But God is love, and we have to keep that in mind.

Often what we do is simply find other "gods" to worship. Money. Fame. Power. Sex. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things - it's just that we have to keep our priorities straight. God says, "No other Gods before me." Jesus said (paraphrased), "No man can serve two masters - he will love the one and hate the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." So these other things have to take a secondary position. Whenever there is a conflict between one priority and the other, God's way wins.

Letting God lead goes by various names. Commitment, dedication, devotion, being set apart, loving God, total surrender, giving up your previous life. Some of them sound torturous and mean, but it really just means giving God the benefit of the doubt and following His ways, instead of following our own ways. Yes, in ancient days, and sometimes even today, that means some people are going to think you are nuts, dislike you, and leave you - even friends and family.

Next: Does it work? Click Page 3 above.

Does it work?

Millions of people over the ages swear by following God and religion, and claim they would rather live life this way than any other way. Good relationships help us get through life's difficulties, life's conflicts, life's disappointments, life's lack of opportunities - it opens up an entire new world. Religion isn't a part of life because people want to believe a lie - lies are soon disproven and forgotten, as shown throughout history. Religion is part of life because it actually improves people's lives.

When you start following God, what He does is simply redirect your attention to the people around you. "True Worship of God," if you follow that idea back from Jesus sayings, doesn't mean spending your time on your knees or in a house of Worship. It means actually doing what God asks of us. Don't do those things that create problems for yourself and others. Don't cheat people in business. Do justice for others. Do things that help others, even if it costs you something in time or money.

Following God is just the beginning. The first thing God does is offer something that sometimes can't come from any other means. He offers forgiveness for whatever you have done - even terrible things. Everyone can be forgiven by asking.

Forgiveness is a very important key to religion. Without forgiveness, the weight of guilt forces the downward spiral. God is big enough to accept us wherever we are in life, and no matter what we have done. You might also be interested in the article: Can I Be Forgiven?

Next God puts you on the path to having good relationships with others. Bad relationships are easy to create. We see everywhere in the world, between individuals and between nations of people - anywhere there are differences and conflict - someone does something that someone else doesn't like, and the other person strikes back as powerfully as possible, whether to retaliate or to send a message. It doesn't work. It escalates very quickly into back and forth strikes until everyone hates everyone and the only thing anyone can remember is the thousands of things the other side did to them. It grows hate. Hate is the opposite of God and love. It then takes a mountain of undoing, if it's even possible.

Good relationships involve tolerance, patience, kindness, forgiveness, good faith actions - all things that result from love. Love doesn't allow relationships to descend into hate and chaos. Love heals. Love doesn't mean touchy-feely stuff and everyone singing sweet songs together, and it certainly doesn't mean romantic love. Love means having a real concern for other's wellbeing - enough concern to help them.

There are two very different paths. One, you damage and destroy relationships because of your selfish or uncaring behavior and inability to fix your relationships. You manipulate people to get what you want, or avoid people. You make enemies. The world around you deteriorates and limits your possibilities. Spiritually you shrivel. Path two, you stop damaging relationships, heal them, widen your circle of friends, open your possibilities, and spiritually you grow.

Next: How do I get started? Click Page 4 above.

How do I get started?

First, say to God, simply, "I don't want to live like I have been - it's a poor and difficult way of life. I want you to forgive me for the things I've done - I don't want to carry around this load of guilt forever, and I don't want the karma of everyone I've hurt coming to hurt me. Help me heal these relationships and make it right. Help me find others who are already on your path, to help me. Guide me in love, not in hate."

Find a religious group that you can believe in. Religious groups are friendly, welcome you no matter who you are or where you are on life's path (to borrow a phrase from UCC), and try to help you with your difficulties and spiritual growth. If they are unfriendly, or care more about who you are or what you have done, or talk about hating others, run the other direction as fast as you can. Life is difficult, and keeping relationships on good terms can be very difficult. You need all the help you can get from a supportive religious community.

Different religious groups emphasize different aspects of God's love and work in this world. Some mostly focus on allegiance to God and personal conversion. Some focus on working in the community to help the poor, and doing things that don't otherwise get done in the community. Some emphasize teaching and personal growth. The benchmark is, they care about others, and they act on that.

Religion isn't always easy, but it is much better than the destructive alternative. It sometimes means taking responsibility for what you have done, and what you will do - good or bad. It sometimes means learning how to deal with people who intend to harm you, in an effective way, not just turning the other cheek so they can think you are a pushover and hit you again. It sometimes means learning how to sort out "how" to help people - you don't just hand money to an alcoholic panhandling on the street. Sometimes being tough on someone is the most loving thing you can do. Sometimes it means learning to be very patient and let life (or God) take its course for many years, without losing hope. And if you are an "ends justify the means" kind of person, religion is where the rubber really meets the road. The outcome is most often good, and if not you are more able to deal with the disappointment.

1 John 4:8 (New International Version)
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

Micah 6:8
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Matthew 22:35-39 (New International Version)
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

Buddha: “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”

Buddha: Life has a great need of the presence of love, but not the sort of love that is based on lust, passion, attachment, discrimination, and prejudice." and "If you want your loved ones to be happy, you must learn to understand their sufferings and aspirations. When you understand, you will know how to relieve their sufferings and how to help them fulfill their aspirations. That is true love. If you only want your loved ones to follow your own ideas and you remain ignorant of their needs, it is not truly love. It is only a desire to possess another and attempt to fulfill your own needs, which cannot be fulfilled in that way." - The Buddhist Blog, Buddha explains true love.

- Dorian

 

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