I tend to get a fairly large number of solicitations in the mail. They are not quite as voluminous as the ones received over email, but it still takes time to go through them and decide to which, if any, of them I am willing and able to respond. Some end up filed in the wastebasket, some are saved for further consideration, and some make it through to a response.
Recently, I received a communication from a fairly well-known religious organization (exactly which one is not relevant here) asking for money to finance efforts to convert people of other faiths or not faith to the “one true religion” (theirs). I do not argue with faith. However, it seems a dauntingly difficult task to figure out from the outside which of the many “one true” religions is the real thing. Adherents of each religion understandably believe that theirs is the best. Otherwise, why would he or she participate?
Although not always apparent, there is a great depth to religious faith, a liberating depth that enriches those who encounter and remain in it. Religion has been with us from the beginning, and in its presence, the deeper concepts of humanity have developed and grown. Yet, there are also negatives, often glaring ones. People have been oppressed and murdered in the name of religion, and cultures destroyed. Some, seeing only the negatives, wish to marginalize or destroy all religion. Others continue to doggedly battle from their perspective for the “one true” religion (or the “one true” non-religion). Perhaps none of those is correct.
With the possible exception of religions with which I am not familiar, such as Satanism, I know of no religion which does not have at its core such values as acknowledging the presence of a higher power called God, the One, the Divine, the Force, or by many other names, respect for life, love as a way of being, some form of prayer, discipline in one’s practice, charitable actions, non-violence as a preference, and stewardship.
It is the forms of our religions which differ. By forms, I mean not only rituals, but also the ways we perceive, express, and understand God. The forms are decidedly different, enough to create friction between practitioners of each when it is primarily the form that is focused upon. We live in a physical universe. It is easy to comprehend the physicality of bodies, nature, even the cosmos. Less obvious is that thoughts take form as well. However timeless and formless their origin, the energy of thought passes through the human mind as it enters the physical world, and becomes thought. (I am not speaking here of any possible thought processes of plants or animals.) In that process of entering physicality, the singular energy of thought origin is formatted by our mind into what humans can perceive and understand. That varies by culture, situations, and experienced history.
For example, the Native American who perceives God in every atom of nature is not (mistakenly, as some would judge) polytheistic. His religion certainly understands the One Great Spirit. However, he perceives and honors that Spirit through Its creations. What is the conflict with those whose strongest perception is One, only, but that creation also needs to be cared for?
It seems to me that where we stumble, fail to live up to the core values of respect, loving kindness, non-violence, connection with the Divine, is our insistence that everything be “same”, that if it is not “same” that it is ipso facto “more” or “less”. We are obsessed with sameness, as if sameness were defined as as oneness or equality. It is as if we are telling the Divine that only one of its expressions is valid. No wonder we get out of balance!
Does that mean that the forms of religions are wrong? Far from it. To be in physicality means to have form. The core values, the spiritual messaging we get from the formless and timeless realm of the Divine must be perceived in form by us who are physical. It is not the form that is wrong. It is the construct of the form without the content of the central message, the core values. That kind of form is in actuality not religion It is empty form, and it does not act in accord with Divine values.
Which form is the true one, then? It is the one which best allows the practitioner to apprehend the Divine, and to understand the direction in which humanity is meant to progress. Religions exhort their adherents to be faithful in their discipline and exercise their virtues, and even to witness how those have helped them. True religion, however, forbids us to judge each other, to make any “better” or “worse”, except in the context of the personal choice which suits us best and for which we are each responsible.
Let us then, refrain from rending religion from the fabric of our existence, leaving behind a gaping hole of emptiness. Let us also use language responsibly, naming religion for what it is, form filled with living values from the timeless and formless realm of the Divine.