I love God. I always have and likely always will. I’ve always had a deep interest in spirituality…even before I understood religion. As a small child I often had vivid dreams (that I can picture to this day) of both good and bad spirits visiting me. I was always glad that in these dreams the good seemed more powerful in the end, no matter how scary the bad might seem. I rarely have those dreams anymore, but once in awhile I still do and I’m always relieved to see that the good is still strongest.
However, aside from my own personal feelings and experiences, I am finding it harder and harder to defend manmade institutions of religion. I try. I know there is good in religion. There is truth to be found in the scriptures, metaphors, stories and myths. There is goodness in many of the people and religion in its healthier forms can help provide a deeper sense of community, family and belonging. It can make you feel closer to God and help you to grow spiritually. If done the right way, it can provide a chance to reach out to others in love and make the world better.
Unfortunately, more and more, I am seeing the dark side of religion and it breaks my heart. I grew up seeing this some in my own family where people were condemned to hell for simple things like cutting their hair, wearing the wrong clothes or watching tv. Luckily, I did not grow to follow that kind of fear-based faith but found a couple spiritual mentors who showed me true love and encouraged me to think for myself and research things rather than just believing what I am told. I thought growing up that the rest of the religious world wasn’t as fearful and judgemental as some of my family members, but I am seeing more and more that fear and misplaced devotion seem to be issues across the religious spectrum.
Where is this fear you may ask? It is in families fighting and disowning one another over varying religious opinions. It is found in people who want to discriminate against another group of people simply because those people are “bad” according to their religion. It is in women who are abused and made to feel like second-class citizens because of fundamentalism. It is in the belief that God loves some more than others and that this “God” approves when we bully or mistreat other nations or groups of people. It is in the torment that comes along with the belief that our loved ones are going to hell if they think differently than we do. It is in the blindness that results from believing we have the only truth and everyone else is wrong.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I wish I had a solution. I sometimes wonder if John Lennon wasn’t right in imagining a world without religion. I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to think that this is how religion has to be. Through it all, I still hope. I hope for a time that we will all come together in love. That we will accept and celebrate differences instead of fearing them. That families will not fall apart over differences of opinion. That we will work together to solve problems, not to force our personal convictions on everyone else. That we will help to comfort those in pain, but never help to cause that pain. I still hope.