Unabashed faith stands as the most fascinating occurrence I have ever seen in another person. Blind belief in the greater power pulling the marionette strings of destiny in this world inspires awe and wonder in me. Religion has inspired more good deeds balanced against great bloodshed than any form of government or other human idiosyncrasy than any other character flaw in humanity. Not to say belief in a character flaw, but that all those flaws outlined by religion are not the greatest debts humanity must pay for in the next life. It is to say that belief in this way of living prescribed by a greater power through the mouths of men is as dangerous a weapon as any designed to date, and I cannot count myself among the believers; but my hands are not clean either.
Religion has existed since man looked to the sky with enough intelligence to ask “why”? We have looked for some reason, some form of explanation for our existence, then questioned how best to exist. Animals have never concerned themselves with such mind-boggling questions, and they aren’t offing each other in record numbers, so there is that.
I have always wondered why religion ever came in to existence. Religion and faith are mutually exclusive in my eyes. “Religious” and “faithful” are not to be confused as the same thing. It has also perplexed me how complicated being in a religion can be. Christianity alone has so many off-shoots and schisms through the years, yet it is all the same book, the Holy Bible, that they subscribe to. Further confusing is the fact, bald-faced fact, that all Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in the same God. There is no Jewish God, no Christian God, and no Muslim God. There is only God. Yet there is such hatred and misunderstanding between all of His followers. Where is one to turn to for guidance? Which flavor of faith can I get in the Baskin-Robbins of religion?
There are no easy answers in picking a religion. I marvel at the dedication exhibited by those that choose, though. People make a fixed, lifelong decision to stick with their maker on their chosen path. We get bogged down in how to worship, how to pay penance, what to think, what to resist, and what to say; but these are the details that define the differences in the major, monotheistic religions on Earth while we lose sight of the similarities found in the different paths to salvation.
My own struggles with belief in God comes from a general character flaw of disbelief. I am plagued by a general distrust for agendas, and religions have them in spades. Christianity and Catholicism have their hands in too many pies for me to feel that at the center of it all is the teachings of Christ. I think Jesus would balk at Washington lobbyists and the agenda of His people today. I like to think that Jesus would be appalled at how his message has been contorted over the last 2,000 years.
Jesus would be horrified to see how His message has created a polarized, world-changing role in our history. Forget the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, just look at the business His word has inspired, and I think you can see where my disconnect comes from.
There are approx. 2 billion Christians of one stripe or another in the world. Using the Church of England as a loose model, it costs an estimated $1 billion pounds to fund the church. Extrapolating this number out for all Christians, there is an operating cost of about $1.9 trillion dollar annually for Christianity. This is big business. Everything from maintaining churches and cathedrals, to salaries, humanitarian efforts, and yes, even lobbyists and PR campaign costs are rolled in to this. That is my opinion, though. Oddly enough, it is pretty hard to find any kind of disclosure on the overall income of a religion through any internet search. Imagine that? A religion hiding the books. This causes me alarm regarding the selfless, humility of service to God in a large religion.
I also back pedal from the idea that any one religion got it right. To think that any one deviation leading to an organized portion of a church is the right one is not just wrong, I think that it is prideful. If God’s plan is beyond comprehension by man, then who are we to think we cracked the code defining how to live within the construct of that plan? I’m not saying Christians, Muslims, or Jews are wrong, but I will readily admit that I have no clue what an omniscient creator has in store, or that I understand the magnitude of the grand plan.
I am also weary of the actual text any religion uses as its guiding light. The Bible? Flawed as all get out. In the court of law in this land, empirical evidence such as DNA weighs greater than an eye-witness account; yet we believe so strongly, and without question, in a book canonized some 1,500 years ago making for the ultimate chain letter passed down through the longest standing game of “telephone” ever played. It has been translated, reprinted, and handled by the corruptible hands of men who bore the curse of free will. These were men in great positions, some swayed by the romantic desire to control a kingdom, indoctrinate a population, and legitimize their claim to a throne or station. I can’t believe for a moment that not one man in 2,000 years lost some pages, chose one text over another, or took some poetic license with something as powerful as the word of God. Man has never shown itself to be so altruistic as to pass up a chance to advance their cause.
Then there is the terrifying prospect put forward by those that think we are living in the end times. Whether it be the Book of Revelations, the end of the Mayan calendar, or the predictions of Nostradamus, there are so many people who think we are nearing the end of days…and they seem happy about it. The idea that there are those in faith that almost pray for the end to come, so that they may ascend to heaven, is terrifying. That kind of radical thinking has proven dangerous in the wrong hands in the past and today. Not all end of days preppers wear sandwich signs and tin foil hats; some are registered voters.
This also speaks to a part of religion that bothers me: Shame. The idea that we should live in fear of retribution in the next life for the transgressions in this life. The idea that the smallest sin can be our undoing and that forgiveness is the only way to cleansing our souls. I don’t like the idea that God is as petty as to punish us for impure thoughts or something as menial as tithing. I don’t think God gives a crap about my thoughts or His pocketbook. I think my actions would speak louder than my wandering mind.
Despite what I see as healthy distrust in humanity and the simple statistically long odds of being right in following any prescribed path to the promised land, people by the billions still believe down to the fiber of their being that they are doing the right thing, in the right church, or are on the true path in their struggle to live a just and principled life. Where myself and millions of others see a fool’s endeavor of ego, billions of people on this planet see in their path the only way to prosper in this life and the next. Whether it’s reincarnation, Heaven in any form they interpret, or those just hedging their bets against the Reckoning, people live their life by very specific tenants handed down from generations that only archaeologists have put their hands on.
I believe in Jesus’ philosophy. By any other measure, if He did not profess himself the Son of God, He would have stood as one of the great philosophers and life coaches in history (eat your heart out Tony Robbins). “Love thy neighbor,” “Do unto to others,” “Forgive,” “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and so many other compassionate teachings would have stood the test of time as not a religious tenant, but just good manners. What started as one man professing a better way to live in a time of great injustice under a crushing, totalitarian government of the Roman empire, became a worldwide marching anthem. He was a rebel then. A man who spoke out, and with those words professed a better way to live. He was a Jew in a time where Jews were barely tolerated, and seeing this, He would not be silent. These weren’t radical ideas, but once He said, “I am the Son of God,” that’s when things got hairy for Him, and for us as time has proven out.
If the idea that we all have a direct connection to God holds true, then why must I believe in and live in any one path to God? Why is there a single man who is interpreting the vague parables of Jesus for me? Shouldn’t I be the one deciding what it means to me? Why is this guy qualified to interpret God’s relationship with me on my behalf? Why does my church need to have more audio equipment than a Motley Crue concert? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on humanitarian endeavors, or simply in the pockets of the congregation in these tough times to better provide for the children of God’s children? Why must my religion have its way, and only its way? Is that not hypocrisy to preach tolerance, but not to follow it? There should not be pots and kettles in the world, only men. Love all God’s children, but pray for those that are all going to hell because they believe differently than I. This is where the bile begins to rise in my throat.
Despite all of this, and myriad other reasons I can cite for my distrust of God’s children, I still believe that there is a God. I trust, apprehensively so, that there is something out there in the ethos of suspended disbelief that has its eyes peeled on my behalf. I don’t think God is my co-pilot, my pilot, or carrying me in the tough times. He’s a friend, if only in our minds. God is Harvey the Rabbit to humanity’s Elwood P. Dowd. Our Harvey comes in many forms. Not everyone can see him, but much like we humor a child who pulls up a chair for their imaginary friend, or wants a place set at the table for this formless pal, we have to deal with the fact that someone thinks he’s real. As long as they’re not hurting anyone (easier said than done), what’s the harm in letting the fantasy go on? I for one may not set a place at the table, pull up his chair, or make people talk to my version of Harvey, but I’ll humor the children who do, because ‘love thy neighbor’ is just good advice, no matter where it came from.