Why I Am Not a (Insert Religion Here)

Sometimes, one size doesn’t fit all

While my husband and I traveled in Japan, we had the opportunity to try on yukatas (Japanese summer traditional dress for festivals and ceremonies,etc).  It was great fun to put them on and I loved the style and feel of the garment, but ultimately I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing one on the street.  It’s beautiful, but on me it felt like a costume.  In contrast, while we toured the temples in Nara (outside of Kyoto) I saw a couple wearing traditional dress, including yukatas, and it looked so right.  The clothing was a perfect fit on them, not only bodily, but holistically.  This is how I feel about organized religion.  For some people (and, truly, I have met people like this) it works beautifully.  They find comfort in its structure and it acts as a vehicle for them to bring love, kindness, and understanding into the world. As long as a religion remains true to it’s roots (which are usually based in love, compassion, understanding) and avoids setting up false dichotomies of “us” and “them” to facilitate conflict, I think it is a wonderfully helpful institution for many people.  Often, I have lamented that my life would be so much easier if I was one of those people.  Unfortunately, on me, religion feels like a costume.

I was raised Catholic (as so many of us wanderers were), but I can remember questioning church dogma from a very early age.  As a child, I believed in reincarnation, the church didn’t.  That was the main discrepancy, I know there were countless others.  My memories of early church education are mostly of well-meaning volunteers scaring the living daylights out of me with dire warnings about evil lurking around every corner. (One particular instance that comes to mind was of a youth educator who told us we needed to be careful about hand position while praying, because if we held our hands the wrong way, regardless of our intentions, we were actually praying to Satan and not God.  Can you imagine?)  We shouldn’t have to be scared into believing something, the positive aspects of the religion should be strong enough to stand on their own; to make us want to believe.  As soon as I was old enough to control my own destiny, I distanced myself from the church. My parents were never really critical about it and managed to convey a type of support by not being outwardly against the idea.  I think they, too, we’re struggling with their faith.

The Hindus have a concept of the “seven layers of reality.”  It is important to note that these layers are all reality – one is not more real than the others. As humans, we are singular and unified beings, yet we are also simultaneously a collection of cells and even further a collection of atoms.  All of these layers of us are “real”.  I have come to a place where I think of religion along similar lines.  Truth is at the heart of all religions and they have developed a symbology to represent this truth.  That doesn’t mean the imagery is false or wrong; like any visual aide it can be tremendously useful for providing an understanding of the divine.  What I struggle with most about the imagery of any religion is that it often becomes, at heart, a projection of aspects of the self.  Again, this does not mean it’s wrong, in fact, I think it has quite intentionally evolved this way.  However, projection is an outward form of expression and can sometimes distract us from looking inward.  Also, religious imagery is often “pure” or relatively one dimensional, representing supreme good – like Jesus, or supreme compassion and peace – like Buddha, or supreme evil – like Satan. But, in reality, we are incredibly nuanced individuals – we risk losing something of ourselves in the projection.  Over time we may come to see those aspects of ourselves that don’t neatly fit into the imagery we want to emulate as “bad” or “wrong” and therefore to be “oppressed” or “eliminated” rather than explored with openness and understanding.

In January of this year (2014), I had a whirlwind experience with a Christian Mystical church in the area.  It was a small group, only five, including me, at the service I attended. On the altar, a pair of pictures rested; one of Jesus with hands in the teacher position and one of Mary looking both serene and seductive.[1]  The pictures were of equal size and it was clear they were meant to represent the divine masculine and feminine energies.  When we had brunch and discussion together after the service, the reverend inquired on my feelings about the images. I noted that I was still chewing them over to see how they fit with my personal beliefs.  He then said, “Well, it’s not really about the imagery, you know, it’s about the energy behind the imagery”. See, and that right there is what I struggle with.  At heart, I believe that energy is the root of everything. If you believe it’s about the energy behind the imagery, why not go straight to that? It seems limiting and unnecessary to have to go “through” graphical representations to get there. According to Daoism – In the beginning there was the Dao which separated into the yin and the yang[2] and from that came forth the myriad of things.  Why not start with Source and back into differentiation?

If you don’t go to church or aren’t part of an organized religion, people tend to think that you don’t believe in God.  This is true for some of us, but not all. One holiday seven or eight years ago, my family was playing the game “Loaded Questions”.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, basically all players confidentially answer a personal question and the ’reader’, which rotates, has to read the answers and guess which answer belongs to which player.  The question came up, “How many times were you in a place of worship last year?” The answer bubbled up from deep in my soul, “I am always in a place of worship”.  It sounds like a clever answer, but is a true expression of how I feel.  Just because I don’t go to a particular building to worship God doesn’t mean I’m an atheist.  As is true for so many of us, my beliefs in God are personal and complicated.  Actually, to clarify, my beliefs are incredibly simple in my heart, but difficult to explain. But my beliefs inform and direct so much of my life that it’s heartbreakingly laughable when I get criticism from a relative for my ‘non-religious’ behavior.

I don’t have a lot of interest in getting into a theological debate with anyone.  I’m happy with what I believe.  If you’re happy with what you believe – great! Let’s just both be happy instead of trying to convince each other why one view is better than the other. :). And if you’re confused, lost, or unhappy in your relationship with the divine – relax, you’re not alone – we’ve all been there at some point. Keep walking with an open mind and heart and you’ll find your path.


[1] I won’t lie – seeing Mary looking about the same age as Jesus and looking somewhat seductive (she had her fingers clutched to her shawl as if about to take it off) was very disconcerting.  I mean, I get it – Mary represents mother, maiden, wife, and all the feminine roles (at least I believe that is what they were trying to suggest), but perhaps some Catholic concepts are too firmly embedded in my psyche for me to feel comfortable seeing “Mary” cast in such a way.

[2] yin representing the divine feminine (among many other things) and yang representing the divine masculine (among other things)

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