Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Religion and Faith
An Introspective
By Robert the Bard

Merriam-Webster Online defines religion as follows:

“Main Entry: re·li·gion Pronunciation: ri-'li-j&nFunction: nounEtymology: Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back -- more at RELY1 a : the state of a religious b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : CONSCIENTIOUSNESS4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith - re·li·gion·less adjective”

From the same source, Faith has been defined as:

Main Entry: 1faith Pronunciation: 'fAthFunction: nounInflected Form(s): plural faiths /'fAths, sometimes 'fA[th]z/Etymology: Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust -- more at BIDE1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs synonym see BELIEF - on faith : without question (source)

I have always understood religion to be the structure in a belief system. Whether that system is Christian, Judaism, Islam, or Paganistic in nature. Religion was the rules, the rituals, and ceremonies that go with the belief system. Faith was the engine that made it go. The root belief that this path, which ever it may be, was the one the individual had chosen. In the last few days, others have brought my own personal faith to question, outside of my belief system. I have been accused of not being “worthy” of my professed beliefs, and accused of being a poser, by more than one person. Yet neither individual has a grasp on exactly what my religious beliefs are, nor how they should operate. One went so far as to imply that because this person had never seen me do anything religious, that my professed beliefs were a cop out.

This is what has me thinking about what religion really is, down at the roots of it all. Is it something that you do to make the world better? Or is there a more personal meaning that it is supposed to have? What makes one person more religious than another? Can one person be more religious? Is this possible? I intend to explore this, based on my personal studies, and from conversations that I have had over the years. If I misquote, or should paraphrase badly, I at least hope that I got the intent right. I will not be using any names, but some people may recognize things they have said over the years. I am not sure, but I intend to explore this question as best I can.

The very first thing that is obvious to me is that faith can exist without religion, but religion could not exist without faith. Faith has more than religious connotations to it, but without faith, religion would fall flat. Faith is the engine that makes religion work. People believe, and therefore the belief system is valid. It will do for them what they are looking for it to do, for the most part. While praying for someone’s health is always a good thing, it is not always going to work out the way people would want it to. Some people will die, no matter how much praying gets done, and I do not intend to go into it that far. My goal is to analyze what makes somebody religious. I am looking more into the interpersonal relationships with respective higher powers, and whether being active in world politics, for example, would be considered a more religious thing to do.

At first glance, it would seem that to be truly religious, you must be out there daily pounding the message of what ever God into people’s heads. If we were to use history as an example, that would be meant to be taken literally. For thousands of years, people have struck out on “Holy Crusades” to convert the masses to their belief system. Muslims did it, Christians did it, probably the Jewish people did too, but I cannot recall any good examples right now. However, the point is that people in power have always found it easier to rule if everybody had the same God, or the same idea of God. When this was not the case, they went to war to make it so. Right or wrong has little bearing on this article, other than being the catalyst that caused me to put fingers to the keyboard.

My question about this is: Is this what makes one religious? Is forced conversion to another’s faith required, or is forcing the conversion required, to make one religious. In everything that I have ever read, this is not the case. I have heard people describe their religion as a personal relationship with the God of their understanding. To me, this screams out faith. I have defined faith as belief in something that comes from the heart or soul. Not something, that comes from the head. To me, religion comes from the head, and was invented to control the population. Religion is the structure that faith should follow, according to religious leaders.

I do not see this as a justification to invalidate somebody else’s belief system. Personally, I hope that everybody has found something that works for them. Because I have something that does work for me, I do not become uncomfortable when somebody wants to discuss it. I do not feel the need to sit in my chair and tell them how wrong their beliefs are in order to validate my own. Yet people that are both uninformed and purportedly strong in their respective faiths have subjected me to this behavior repeatedly over the last few days. Religion as a weapon, again. Is this what it takes to be religious? Is faith in the God of your understanding not enough?

I have often pondered that very question. I have seen the ugly side of religion too many times not to have asked the question. The answer in my mind is always a resounding “Yes!” I have grown strong in my personal beliefs through trials and tribulations, and through multiple persecutions. I have run the gauntlet of “You are a fraud” to “Your religion isn’t valid because you don’t do anything to make the world better”. Is that what religion is all about? Making the world better. It was my understanding that that is why we elect governments, here in the United States. That the things religions do to help people were for just that, helping people. I had no idea that they were done just to improve one’s relationship with God. Are the things religions do to help the world simply done to validate the religion? A world wide version of the playground’s “Nya nya, I’m better than you because I did _______”. That is not what I was led to believe.

I did not grow up thinking that if I could not feed the homeless I was doomed to Hell. I have never thought that I have to give every penny I have to somebody else to get into Heaven. I do not have that particular belief system anyway, being that my particular belief system is not similarly equipped. I do believe that my Karma is better served by trying to be a good person. I believe that this is what is expected of me. I do not think I should help feed the homeless, or provide them shelter, just so I can say, “Look what I did”. I am not saying that those are bad things, but I am saying that if the only reason that they are done is to validate one’s religion, then they are meaningless, except to the one’s they help. Vanity is not part of religion.

I guess my final point is motive. Deeds are part of religion, no matter what we may like to think. However, it is important to look at why these deeds are done, and not just at the fact that they are. Any time something is done to serve one’s pride, then the rewards are the accomplishment of the deed, and nothing else. Just because you cannot look at a particular religion and see what good they are doing in the world does not mean that they are not doing any good. It may very well mean that they are not doing good for recognition, but for the sake of doing good. In the end, that is what matters.

Deeds for validation are not what faith is about. Having what one may consider strong faith in their beliefs does not give one the right to shout from the highest roof that somebody else’s faith is invalid because one cannot see what that person is doing for the world. Just because somebody’s faith does not fit into a nice little box for you does not mean that his or her faith is invalid, it simply means that you do not understand it. Use caution when judging others, lest you yourself be judged.