Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What Do I Believe?

Alex and I recently engaged in a dialogue with a couple of Mormon missionaries.  During our first visit, I felt uncomfortable that I was putting forth a Catholic front, thinking that if I were to tell them I was Catholic, I had to go with the official version and not my understanding of it.  After the girls left, I felt badly about misrepresenting Catholicism and being disingenuous to myself. This motivated me to put on (virtual) paper what I really do believe, so that I can be confident in letting them know, if need be, that/why I am not interested in converting, but I welcome continued religious dialogue.  Below is what I came up with.

I believe that God is not bound by the dogmas or precepts of any organized religion.  All religions attempt to define and describe God within their own cultural and linguistic environment, and due to such human limitations, all fall short.

I believe that God can only be experienced and understood on a personal, individual level.  Truly knowing the real “I AM” transcends all religious rituals and beliefs.  It is not something that can be taught.

I believe that for someone who believes in a transcendental experience of God, converting from one religion to another would be like changing brands of shampoo; it’s beside the point.

I believe that the reason Christians claim the truth is the same reason Muslims claim the truth is the same reason Jews, or Buddhists, or Hindus claim the truth.  Their prophets or gurus have indeed experienced God as they say, and they did indeed grasp some aspect of the truth through the lens of their experience.  But to say that no one else knows what they’re talking about is arrogant at best, and downright intolerant at its worst, resulting in religion-motivated wars.

All religions worth any salt have ethics at their core. These ethics may be motivated by different theological mythologies*, but taken as a whole, the point is to give humans what we all seek deep down – happiness and peace.  For some, that comes with the promise of an eternal earth-like heaven; for others, a cessation to reincarnation.  Some see God as an authoritarian figure from whom all the world’s matter and goodness comes.  Others see God as containing all matter and goodness within Godself.  God is personified by some religions, while others see God in the abstract. None of these details matter when it comes to getting their faithful to live by basic ethics, ethics that even non-religious people are able to abide by.

And yet, throughout history, people and nations have waged war against each other in the name of their mythologies, forsaking their ethics in the process.  If every religion switched their focus, putting ethics in the foreground and mythology/theology in the background, everyone would see how similar we all are to each other in our belief systems, and there would be no excusable reason to go to war. 

But of course, it’s not to appease God that any religion wages war, but rather to maintain or coerce power, control.  The fact that such egotistical motivations are done in the name of God is downright blasphemous. And I don’t just mean war at large.  I mean also bigotry, the kind that causes people to judge others based on religious affiliation.

If everyone actually lived their lives according to the core ethics taught by their very own religions, we would bring about the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of in no time.  But alas, we are too busy getting hung up on interpretations and legalities and technicalities. 

There are several websites (see below) that I have read through that have been instrumental in forming my current views, and most recently, I finally felt a breakthrough when I realized that I was no longer bound by my self-imposed label of “Catholic”; I feel free.  Yes, I am still Catholic as far as the style in which I choose to worship God, but I no longer need to have that identity confirmed by other Catholics, nor do I need to be a slave to the label in order to have a fulfilling spiritual life.  I am at a cross-roads, and I’m excited about how my spiritual life will develop from here on out.

Sources of inspiration:

* By "mythology", I am referring to a collection of  "traditional stories, especially concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events."  I am not using it in the sense of a "false belief or idea". (Definitions taken from googling "myth definition".)