I have been asked by many people if I have a religion. I usually told them that I do not have any. This is a lie that I used to believe. While I do not follow a formal religion (including New Age), I recognize that I have my own personal spiritual beliefs. If religion is defined as “a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny”, then I do have a personal religion.
Unlike atheists who believe only in the material world, I know better. My spiritual experiences have shown me that the physical world is not all there is to existence. For instance, I have experienced the Holy Spirit in church congregations, the Buddha-nature during meditation and the truth of the world during Anthroposophical exercises. From my point of view, officially subscribing to a formal religion is redundant at best, and interferes with the true spiritual experiences at worst.
Intellectually, I believe that Jesus Christ has performed miracles or that the historical Buddha attained enlightenment. These are great teachers who have used their spiritual achievements to guide Humanity.
I just do not accept that the doctrine that Humanity is sinful, Jesus Christ has died for our sins, and that we can only find our salvation through Him. Wouldn’t it be unfair to mark Humanity down for the choices made by their original ancestors? Would it not made more sense if admission to Heaven is open to all individuals who have chosen to do good, regardless of their religious beliefs?
I also do not accept the doctrine that chanting sutras or making offerings to certain statues can provide one with a better rebirth in the future. According to the doctrine of karma, one’s future life is based on one’s past actions. In other words, if you want to have a better life, simply do good! Why would one wish to rely on divine intercession when one can take more effective personal action?
Yet I recognize the conflict of interest between the religious institutions and clergy verses their followers.
If God and His angels already know everything about you and are watching your every action, then they will know what to do come Judgment Day. They should also be perfectly capable of presenting signs and dreams to those in need of guidance. Intercession by clergy would not be required, as these will not have any influence on God’s perfect decision-making and execution anyway. There will be no need for clergy as representatives of God, and with this goes much of the authority and power held by the Church.
If karma is something that does not rely on divine intervention, who would donate money to support puja sessions, chant for the deceased and maintain temples?
This reminds me of stockbrokers preaching the benefits of regular investing and the dangers of trying to time the market – they will earn far more in commissions from you through multiple transactions than if you simply bought all the shares you could afford in one shot. They may not be lying and their suggestion does have merit, but they are not telling you the entire truth.
Complicating matters, scandals rock many religions due to the moral corruption and the abuse of trust of their leaders becoming public. It seems that there are many who wish to enjoy the benefits of religious authority while indulging in behaviors that they have vowed to abstain from. This makes it hard for modern followers to pursue their beliefs, and discourages many of the once-faithful followers.
Yet Humanity developed religion for a purpose. Humans have an unquenchable thirst for answers to the questions of life, and religion supplies these. The holy texts provide general answers such as how the world began, while local religious representatives will help explain specific details like why are born with a disability or experiencing trouble with your love life.
Must everything happen for a reason? Must we try to explain everything? What if there are no reasons, like why a certain raindrop fell on my eye instead of my nose? Or what if the reasons are beyond any form of human understanding? I mean, how would a being confined to a frail physical body, limited to unreliable physical senses and confined to experiencing time in a linear manner, be able to fathom the secrets of the universe?
Even if one is able to perceive the supernatural realms, how can one be sure that they are seeing the “truth” verses their limited interpretation of the truth? What if there is no such thing as objective truth in the supernatural realms?
I also find it troubling that religious beliefs tend to encourage followers to accept matters or try to change matters in ineffective ways. If told that a massive hurricane is on the way to their town, priests may recommend intensive prayers. A witchdoctor may recommend performing rituals to appease the gods. A scientist may recommend that we prepare for the disaster using our past experiences dealing with hurricanes. He or she may also recommend researching hurricanes and use the new knowledge to find a way to stop or deflect these threats in the future.
On a personal level, some people believe that prayers and spells can influence their personal life. I do not wish to dispute this. The main issue for me is the mentality of fixing syndromes rather than fundamental issues – instead of relying on spells for success at work, why not learn useful skills and improve one’s work attitudes? Instead of relying on prayers to pass exams, why not improve one’s study skills and take extra remedial courses?
As the adage goes, “God helps those who help themselves“. When we help ourselves, we sometimes find that supernatural intervention is not really necessary.
It is because of all these issues that I have decided to rely on science. Science does not claim to give any answers to the questions of life, but compiles the truth about our material world through a rigorous process of experimentation and observation. Interestingly, the more we learn about the material world, the more we find that we are also material beings who are subjected to the laws that affect other objects and animals.
Every new generation of scientists build on and improves on their predecessors’ beliefs, whereas every new generation of clergy tries to forcefully fit new social developments with their aging beliefs. Scientists learn from each other (including using ideas from professional rivals), but clergy tends to reject all ideas incompatible with their theology. Scientists deliver useful improved predictions and inventions, while clergy deliver the same old prescriptions to solve our problems. Their religious innovations are usually on the topic of how to convert more people to their theology.
The best challenge to religion that I currently know of is evolutionary psychology, which can explain why humans develop religion and predict the characteristics of their beliefs. The best challenge to science that I currently know of is creation science, which has been discredited.
As a result of the progressive attitudes of scientists, science grows and conquers many areas that used to be explained by religion. While there is no doubt in my mind which side I believe will prevail, but mainstream religion will always hold a special place in my heart.
Religion is best seen as masterpieces made by renowned spiritual artists – as an expression of human culture and as a set of teachings that inspire us in our daily life. Our schools should teach the ancient stories of the great men and women who have shaped human history as role models for our youth. Our youth also deserve the opportunities to participate in the rituals and ceremonies that have shaped the lives of our ancestors.