When I was a small child, a Christian organization came through my neighborhood and offered to transport me to church three times a week. I was eager to get out and explore the world, and I accepted.
At about five years old, I asked my Sunday school teacher, “What religion is God?” and she said, “Well, Southern Christian Baptist of course.”
I continued. “My friend Mary Catherine at school says her mom says, ‘Southern Christian Baptists are lazy Catholics,’ and my friend Gabriel says Jews are the chosen ones and my friend Masoud’s uncle says, ‘The Bible is a poor excuse for the Koran,’ and all my mom’s friends say Buddha was alive before God, and I just want to know what religion God is so I can be like God.”
She looked at me and said, “Don’t you pay them no never mind. They’s just doin’ the devil’s work.” I felt an inborn sense for equality and need for balance in my life. I didn’t know how to embrace a belief that excluded others and their beliefs. It seemed completely counterintuitive to what I inherently knew about God.
Throughout childhood, I wore a cross and carried a Bible wherever I went. I was taught that these were symbols of God, but later realized they were merely symbols of religion, particularly Christianity. I thought my embrace of these symbols kept me safe and brought me closer to God, I now see how they got in the way of the innate connection to God, which all people are born with. They were what some would deem a worship of false idols.
I liken it to going through a dating service to meet a mate or going to Dr. Phil for advice. A dating service is deciding for you who is right for you, Dr. Phil is telling you how to live your life, as is the Bible. Of course, some people follow parts of the Bible and reject others. Since the Bible has been rewritten and translated so many times, I found it was more effective to use my intuition as my moral compass than it was to use religion.
Some people do not know God except through religion. After 20 years of studying world religions and spiritual practices I came to the conclusion that I believed in God, but not religion.
I see God as a genderless, creative life force of the universe, which surpasses the limits of a single religion and encompasses all, no matter what religious or even non-religious name one might call themselves by. I pray, mostly prayers of gratitude but also requests for guidance and assistance; but I don't attend one particular church, ascribe to one religion or study one holy book.
Just as with where we are born and what language we first speak, the vast majority of religious people were either born into or married into their religion. Much of the time our religious beliefs are not a choice, rather an indoctrination. Religious children believe what they believe before they know that it's merely a belief and not a fact.
Some people reject their religions when allowed to. Often they find hypocrisy that turns them off or they never really felt connected to the belief to begin with. But I find most religious people to fall to one extreme or the other: either zealots or quiet casuals.
The quiet casuals have often told me that they go to church to feel a sense of belonging, to have a somewhat like-minded community to support and be supported by, or because they simply love to hear a pipe organ.
Zealots on the other hand feel that it is their mission to convert. I feel that these people embody an explosive combination of arrogance and ignorance, and I find it terribly toxic to be around them. In short: they scare me. I often ask God to intercede and remove them from my life. Ironic isn't it? The person they are trying to "save" is praying to God to be "saved" from them.
The reality is that all perceptions are relative only to experience. Since we all have different experiences, we all perceive things differently; so in effect, there are as many truths in the universe as there are perceptions and experiences. This means we, as collective individuals, can be right without everyone else having to be wrong! We can end intolerance this moment.
There are too many wars fought, too many lives sacrificed, and there is too much hate in the name of religion. Another word for religion is belief. Belief is only one of two things we as humans have control over. The other is choice. So let us all come together now and choose tolerance of all religious beliefs, in the name of God.
What religion is God? No religion. God is more than a religion, more than a belief. God is the spirit of love in each of us, the universe that surrounds us, and everything in between.
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