(This article is the first part of an indefinitely long series I’m starting that I’ll call Seeking the Spiritual. These articles will be placed in their own category on the site, and each will be tagged with that same title, for easy finding. These articles will be different from the rest of the site, in that they’ll be a more personal exploration of spiritual ideas, with a focus on informality and honest opinion. I’m particularly interested in getting more people writing for this series/section, so please let me know if you’re interested. Contact info is on the “About the Author” page. Enjoy!)
RELIGION. It’s a big word, with a huge meaning (magnified by its typing in CAPS LOCK). It’s undeniable that religion plays a huge role in the lives of millions, if not billions of people across the world. It takes all kinds of different forms, and is expressed in almost every way imaginable. To many, religious faith or tradition is the single most important and valuable thing in life, and governs most, if not all actions.
But what is it about religion that makes it so damn controversial? Why is it that people have been killing each other for millennia over these things? The answer, at least the way I see it, is pretty simple: Most people are sure that their religion is the right one, and everyone else’s is wrong.
This is hardly something new or original, I know. People love being right about everything, from sports to politics to philosophy to God. Humans have an inherent need to know what they can cling to, what they can know is right and good, and what can give them meaning in this life and right thinking about the next one. So they look for these things. Some find them in the words and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the Apostle Paul. Some find them in the prayers and pillars of Islam. Some find them in the Eightfold Path and meditation of Buddhism. And there are countless other ways in which people experience the spiritual and the divine.
The problem and conflict between different religions and religious groups comes when they can’t agree on where and how people should find this meaning. More importantly though, it comes when people insist that only their view, only their way could possibly be right. This is an exclusivist tree that inevitably sprouts branches of intolerance, bigotry, and sometimes even hatred. So many religious people (though, to be fair, the greatest perpetrators tend to be associated with Christianity or Islam) are so concerned about making other people believe the same thing as they do that they forget that the world is populated by human beings, not numbers.
While I’m still unsure of my own personal beliefs on many things, the last thing the world needs (unstable as it is) are people who are too busy shouting about the virtues of their faith and the shortcomings of others to listen to anyone else.. The only way our world can truly move forward, or could possibly become a place of freedom and peace, is if people of all faiths are willing to lay aside their differences and recognize that all people have a freedom to believe what they choose. As soon as religion becomes harmful, manipulative, or conquesting, it truly becomes poisonous.