Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My religious beliefs

I believe in science. I believe in evolution. Humans evolved to desire sex because those whose genes made them desire sex passed on their genes, while those whose genes did not cause them to desire sex did not pass on their genes. Humans evolved to have strong feelings of affection and protectiveness toward babies and small children because those who protected their children had their genes carried on. In the same way, humans evolved to have a sense of religion or spirituality because those who did were more successful at working cooperatively with others. In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich says the same thing about dance, that it evolved because it made people more successful at working with others. I see dance and spirituality as being intertwined.

I don't believe in a God who is a guy in a white robe who lives in the sky and controls our lives like we are chess pieces. But religions sometimes say, "God is love," and that much I'll believe. I don't believe in God as a separate being. But I believe humans can achieve a spiritual state of mind, and that that state of mind makes them feel connected to other people and to the earth.

I don't believe that there is only one true religion. I believe that religions are paths to achieving a spiritual state of mind. Because people have different cultures, they develop religions which are compatible with their cultures.

I live in a Christian culture, and Christianity is a better path for me than religions of other cultures. I don't conform to traditional Christianity however. The things that many Christians take literally, I take metaphorically.

I come from a long line of Quakers. Quakers are a particular version of Christianity, and it's a version that fits me well. The fundamental belief of Quakers is that there is that of God in everyone. To me, God is that sense of spirituality for which everyone has the capacity.

Some would say I'm a humanist, because I don't believe in God as a being outside ourselves. I've heard religious Christians say that humanism is bad because it's about worshiping ourselves. I don't consider myself a humanist and I don't believe in worshiping ourselves. Humanists often don't believe in God. I believe in God, I just have a different interpretation of God than some people do. A lot of religious writings make sense to me. I just understand the God they are talking about to mean love, spirituality, the way that some things in our lives can't be explained or controlled, and a sense of magic and wonder. I don't think that this God is something that I worship. It's something that I can discover if I'm open to it.

I don't really believe people should worship anything. I saw a debate on the internet between a Muslim and a Christian. Each was pointing out inaccuracies or inconsistencies in each other's holy books. The idea was that the books are supposed to be the word of God and therefore perfect, so if there is any flaw, that shows that they are not the true word of God. To me it's wrong to place so much importance on a book. That's idolatry, which the Bible says is wrong. A book is just a collection of words that people wrote down at some time in the past. We should not idolize or worship any physical objects or rituals. God is just love, not something that can be concretely captured.

If people shouldn't worship anything, what should they do? I believe people should seek to humbly walk a path of compassion, kindness, and integrity. They should always be open to broadening their understandings, and they should seek to make the world a better place. Why should they do this? Not because they will go to heaven when they die if they do it correctly. Not because some guy in the sky will punish them if they don't. But because that's the route to feeling that I belong in my own skin. Because we evolved to feel peace of mind when we live this way, and to feel that something is missing when we don't.

Another religion that is part of my culture and which partially resonates with me is paganism, particularly Celtic. You might say that it died out long ago, so how can it be part of my culture? But we still see its influences a lot in fantasy novels. There are also pagan influences in Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. And we know May Day exists even though we don't always celebrate it. To me, being connected to the earth is a significant part of spirituality. It's partly because being in nature brings out our spiritual sides, and partly because part of being spiritual is accepting the things we can't change, and the weather and the seasons are a good reminder of the way our lives go through good times and bad times. Therefore, it makes sense to me to tie religious rituals in with the solstices and equinoxes. However, I don't feel a particular connection to any of the neopagan religions that I know of.

Some people might say I'm a Buddhist, because I don't believe in a supreme being, and because I believe in things like being kind to others, and not being driven to acquire material things. But I'm not a Buddhist. One part of Buddhism is about the importance of letting go, about not being attached to the things in the world. The outlook of Buddhism does not fit me culturally. I believe in being attached to other people. I believe the messiness and pain of caring about other people is an essential part of what makes life worthwhile. I started reading a Buddhist book, Siddhartha, and it was about how he left his wife and baby to go meditate and find truth. It was so aggravated by the way it glorified leaving one's family that I didn't finish the book. I believe that it's only through our love for others that we attain the spirit of God. And I don't mean love for humankind, I mean love for the particular individuals that you are faced with every day. That's one thing that I like about Quakerism, because we find God by looking for its spark within everyone around us.

I believe that religion and rituals are paths to attaining a spiritual state of mind. Dance, music, singing, being in nature, yoga, adopting a humble posture such as kneeling, being silent, and listening to an inspirational speaker are all potential paths. It doesn't matter which religion you choose. What matters is whether that religion works to make you more compassionate toward others, or whether it turns you into a bigot.

Some people are atheists. To me it seems sad if they do not have a sense of magic and wonder (though you can be atheist and still have a sense of magic and wonder). They would probably think that it is sad that some people are so deluded as to believe in God. And more traditional Christians probably think it's sad that I don't know their God. We all believe what we believe, and it feels like people who believe otherwise must have sad lives, but the reality is, having different beliefs doesn't make a person sad. We all believe what we believe, and we all think our beliefs are right, and others are wrong, but that doesn't mean it's true, because we can't all be right. And everyone would say "We can't all be right. That's why I'm the only one that's right." But if everyone is saying it, then the logic just doesn't hold up. So we just have to let people enjoy their own beliefs, and instead of pitying them for not having the belief that we have, we can be happy for them when they find their own paths.

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