I’m not a religious guy at all. Somewhat surprising though, it took me becoming a religious guy for a brief period to get to where I am now. I grew up going to church, typically falling asleep during the sermons, or daydreaming about just about anything outside of church. The highlight of every Sunday for me was the choir, and every Sunday the choir director would piss me off by turning a 3-minute song into a 10-minute song and spectacle. This was quite common in Black churches in my experience, along with the strange pseudo singing the pastor would do to lead into opening the church doors, while at least 5 grumpy looking deacons would stand by to accept new members.
Outside of the pomp and circumstance, there was nothing appealing about going to church for me. That remained true until I embarked on a spiritual journey beginning in 2001 and in a sense ending in 2005. I dove deeply into Christianity by reading the entire New Testament twice, taking extensive notes and attending church and Bible study sessions every week. I practiced abstinence for 11 of those months. I dove in and legitimately dedicated a lot of my time to learning about Christianity with an adult mind. I also began reading the Quran, Bhagavat Gita, Upanishads and I started into dissecting the early part of the Old Testament, but quickly loss interest in that. In addition to reading these religious texts, I read scholarly texts about the various religions as well. The result of all this was me officially renouncing religion.
I say all of that to say, I didn’t arrive at my current way of thinking by way of ignorance or lack of concern. I arrived at this position after a great deal of soul searching, reading, and debating various topics. Sure, I still believe in God and sincerely believe we all come from and return to God when this life ends. I believe life is about experiencing existence. Whatever life energy we are made of is animated for a relatively brief period and has an everlasting effect on the people we directly interact with and the people they interact with in perpetuity. A universal connection if you will, regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other distinction. I sincerely believe that no human is better than another. There are humans I don’t particularly care for, but that’s a subjective view. Objectively speaking, we are all just as important to someone as the next person.
I understand religion, as well as the general need for religion. However, I personally view organized religion as a means of controlling populations. In many cases I see religion used to exploit the adherents. From the constant request of money in exchange for a false sense of eternal security, to the hierarchy which puts pastors, rabbis, Imams above congregants; not officially so, but by way of position. Thus, creating a sort of pyramid scheme to salvation depending on the religion, but especially with Christianity.
I see religion as a tool, and tools can be used for their intended purpose, or they can be exploited and used for something else. Lorena Bobbitt used a kitchen knife to lop off her husband’s penis. Not sure what you use your kitchen knives for, but I can guarantee they weren’t designed for carving penises. I see many of the religious leaders misusing religion in the same way. There are more than enough documented instances of abuse and fraud when it comes to belief systems being exploited, but those are the most egregious scenarios. This isn’t to say ALL leaders do this, but enough of them do to exclude me from playing along.
When I was a kid, I said that I believed God is smarter than us. I’ve repeated this several times in adulthood to religious people and I’m met with the “thanks for the info, Captain Obvious” sort of response. What I mean by the statement is, there are countless religions/religious practices that exist or have existed over time. With no exceptions, humans, almost always men, have created the texts, practices and rules of engagement and claimed divine inspiration. The goal of the creators of these religions began and ended with money, power, or both. As a result, people ignore what can be considered divine in the observance of nature and instead seek divinity in the works of flawed, agenda driven men. Despite this, there is still a universal tone in the intent of every religion before it is corrupted by the preachers, and that is simply being good person while you’re here.
I never needed to donate to a building fund or listen to someone telling me their opinions, passing judgment week after week to be a good person. The funny thing to me is how surprised people are to learn I don’t subscribe to any religion. Often people think that I’m too kind or generous to be anti-religion. Many of the people I know that are genuinely kind, don’t follow a particular religion either. I’ll use the Bible to explain why.
Let every man give according to the purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver2nd Corinthians, Chapter 9, Verse 7
In my experience, people that do things with the thought in the back of their minds “I’ll be blessed as a result” or “this is what a good Christian, Muslim, Jew, etc. would do”, the resulting generosity lacks sincerity. Those that I have known that simply see a need and try to do their part because they feel it is the right thing to do, there’s sincerity in their actions and sincerity always feels different than forced or contrived. I am personally generous because I recognize that others have needs and or wants that I can afford to assist with. When I can’t afford to help, I don’t. It’s pretty simple, but is not at all linked to salvation or anything like that.
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as usefulSeneca
For me, spiritual journeys are personal and each journey unique to the person on it. Relying on the “teachings” of others does more to distract from that personal journey. I began mine by speaking with others, reading religious texts, and seeking explanations from people I believed to be more knowledgeable than me, just like a most people. The difference between me and most people is, I never believed my understanding of religion had any bearing on my connection with God. I look at God as the inevitable destination. That said, even within the same city, if each of us put the same destination into our GPS, we’ll all have different routes based on our starting points. However, we’ll all get to the same spot.