#paganvalues: the place of religion

His Religion and Hers
His Religion and Hers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was that survey years ago that had some religious leaders freaked out because Americans began describing themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” There was a lot of “what does that mean?” and arguments that unless you took part in religion, you couldn’t possibly be spiritual. The meaning is pretty clear: these people believed in a higher or other power, but did not need a church, nor did they need a list presented of “this is right, this is wrong, and this is what to be selective or conveniently amnesiac about.”  The churches also knew exactly what it meant – you can’t keep doors to a church open without butts in the pews.

I am religious AND spiritual. I actually need rituals and prayer as part of my daily life. I feel this as a physical thing, not as a “should” theoretical thing. I have warmed to the theory that religious belief is a neurological condition. Note I do not say “illness.” If it doesn’t interfere with your health, it is not an illness. However, having a mix of humans biologically inclined towards religion and those inclined towards the here and now makes sense to me in the “let’s look into every genetic permutation possible to see what makes the Best Human!” My interpretation is, of course, intuitive and thus likely invalid in the harder discussions of the science. But when it comes to religious faith as we’ve socialized it, you either feel it, or you don’t. It just isn’t reasonable or fair to demand another person believe as you do; it’s like forcing someone else to eat when you’re hungry or go to the bathroom when you need to relieve yourself.

Religion is supposed to be a foundation that helps you get through life, not one that orders you who to be right down to what you think and who you love.  While most people don’t think of it that way, it’s not necessarily something you choose. Sometimes more than one religion might choose you at the same time – yes, that happens. People CAN be bi-religious. It’s religious slipped out of its proper place in life that makes it a problem.

Religion does NOT

  • Solve your problems
  • Guarantee an afterlife
  • Guarantee an afterlife you will like
  • Make you a better person just by espousing a belief
  • Define absolutely right and wrong
  • Guarantee an outcome you’ll like
  • Save you

Any religion that claims final authority on absolutely everything is lying to you. Religion ain’t God.

Religion Does

  • Give you one (or more than one, if you practice simultaneous religions, as some in the East do) or more than one possible ethical approach to a situation
  • Offer counsel, in scripture if you use scripture, or divination if you use divination, when the shit hits the fan
  • Organized religion often uses illustrative story to help people find their own ways in daily relationship; disorganized religionists often draw from mythological stories and even from the monotheist books for those same stories and reasons for them
  • Offers certain prescribed actions that, while not necessarily “reaching God,” can help build a daily sense of calm when dealing with life’s challenges

Religion will never have an objective, practical reason to it in and of itself. It can help organize communities, and in its proper place it offers counsel and guidance. In its improper place, its leaders demand control over your behaviors not just in a ritual/worship context, but when you are in private – even in your bedroom. A controlling religion is not a good one, but it is mighty common. There are versions of this among Christians, Pagans, Muslims, Hindus – and it’s often due to that slipper slope where religious leaders believe they should be taken as the authority of God/ess Him/herself all the time, absolutely, and not just in a ritual context.

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