Reflections on Religion

August 27, 2010 at 3:33 am | Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment
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As I was ironing tonight, I thought about the stories I have written for a history website. Three of them were about religion. One of them was about my praying the rosary for my brother and my father when they were struck down by polio in 1961 – I was thirteen. That led me to think about what my beliefs were at various times and how religion has affected me throughout my life.

As I was growing up and as a young adult, Catholicism taught me about an ever-present God and my guardian angel and about black and white; good and evil. How could I do anything bad when you were constantly watched from above? Besides, I wanted to be holy and pure like the saints – in spite of my rather rebellious nature. Some of this influence may have been good, but there were definite negative effects. The most insidious was that I developed an acute sense of guilt that was almost completely undeserved. I have had to work hard for the last twenty-five years to eradicate this unrealistic guilt, not always with success.

Religion joins us to others of the same beliefs, providing support when doubts worm their way into the dogma and rituals. But the religion that unites also divides. In my younger days, it was most obvious in dividing me from anyone who did not belong to the Catholic church, including those ‘proddies’ who attended the state school down the road. It also separated me from anyone who the church regarded as damned, and that must have been most of the world!

For almost forty years, religion made me fearful – of the devil; of committing sin; of failing to measure up to an impossible standard. That fear made me unable to appreciate the real value and beauty in people, the kindness that is everywhere if you can see it, as well as the beauty of the natural world and our responsibility to it. I saw things superficially, because that is how religion makes you see. It closes you off from anything that is different, that does not conform to the sectarian or ideological beliefs that have become entrenched over centuries and imbued in you since birth. Religion was almost always the reference point for goodness or evil, purity or impurity, the saved and the damned. All these values were judged according to tenets that precluded difference.

Once my eyes were opened to the rigidity, enslavement and intolerance of religious belief, I began to see the world and its people in a different light. I could see that we were not masters of this planet but simply an organic part of it. I found that the concepts of right and wrong are not constant. They change, both within different cultures and over time. What is good in one age is bad in another; what is bad in one culture is accepted elsewhere. I began to see that it is in this one life that we can prove ourselves to be, or not to be, decent people; it is in how we treat others and behave towards them that we reveal our true selves.

It is not important whether we believe in one god or many; whether we worship in a church or mosque, a temple or synagogue, or out in the fields and mountains. What matters is what is within us. Which religion you follow, which set of fairy tales or fantasies you believe does not matter. These beliefs do not necessarily make you a good or worthwhile person. Indeed, following a creed can, and often does, lead away from real humanity, and towards bigotry, sectarianism, intolerance and war instead, dividing families, communities, nations.

Many peoples have a common determinant of moral standards, exemplified in the dictum, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That, I believe, is the creed we should all live by. If every religion truly took that as their basic reference point, many of their dogmas, laws and rites would be redundant. If we followed it, we would see people as other selves and the world as a wonderful place. We would see are other perspectives and treat everyone with respect – unless they show themselves unworthy of it. Only when we walk in their shoes, or at least beside them, can we treat people as we would like to be treated, and thus create a better world for all. Religion can, and often should be, totally irrelevant to a person’s quality. 

Now, back to the ironing.

© Linda Visman

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