Not too long ago I wrote an article about religion, the evolution of belief systems, their differences, originations and separations. I wanted it to be witty and irreverent, but in the end it merely sounded preachy. It wasn’t meant to be sermon-y, but by the time I was done what little humor there was shriveled up into something that looked like ginger root. Why do you think that was?
I was trying to write a story about one of the two taboos in conversation and correspondence: Politics and Religion. Two innocent words that can set buildings on fire, melt the polar ice caps and render intelligent species impotent. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the innuendoes and intricacies of politicians and their worlds; I listen to the basics and ignore the rest (especially TV commercials), doing my best to understand all sides of the proverbial coin.
Religion, on the other hand, hits a nerve deeper than indigestion in most people. Many find it hard to be light about spiritual possibility or probability, as its premise strikes everyone at their core. Normal human beings can sit down next to each other at a banquet or movie or conference and have a great time talking, noshing, telling secrets and planning futures without ever raising an eyebrow. But drop a stray word or two into the mix — church, witch, baptist, muslim — and suddenly the hairs that sit atop those same eyebrows are standing straight up. Why is that?
There is something very volatile about religion, especially one starting with a capital “R”. Most people seem to be able to toss off the lowercase word in with the lightest of air. We say things like “it’s a religious thing” or “he’s got religion” and no one seems to think differently. But let someone say “My Religion is Lutheran” or “the Religion of Mother Nature” and suddenly we are getting too personal. If one worships in a temple and another a cathedral, are they any different than one who worships in a mosque? Or one that celebrates under the full moon?
When we put that capital into our vocabulary we are suddenly touching that nerve that pulsates deep within each one of us. The nerve that is attached to ego: to who we are, what we can be, what we will be when it’s all over. We need to believe our suffering means something in the long run, and that by seeking penitence we can clear up past mistakes and open the way forward to happily-ever-after. When someone messes with our path to happily-ever-after, they slow us down. How dare they get in the way of our forward movement? Since ego needs to be right, those who do not believe as we do are obviously “wrong.” And we are uncomfortable with wrong.
Religion and worship has its place in the scheme of things. There are many reasons why we need something outside of ourselves to inspire us, to coach us, and to forgive us, especially when we find it hard to forgive ourselves. But if you stop and think of all the hearts that have been broken, all the lives that have been destroyed because of the same message being skewered from religion to religion, you begin to stop capitalizing the word. You start to realize that as long as one’s god or goddess, one’s savior or one’s reincarnation keeps harmony and peace and honesty and love in the world, what does it matter what he or she is called? What difference does it make whom you pray to?
The twisty thing is that, to many people, the who does matter. The afore-mentioned nerve flares up with such intensity that you can often see steam radiating from their head. Their bodies subtly tremble, their smiles get hard and thin, their eyes widen and their pupils dilate. If you are brave enough to discuss and debate the differences between spiritual preferences, you are often taken to heights and depths never dreamed by mortal man. It is this way or that way because it has always been this way or that way. Religion takes no one off the hook, assuring all that theirs is the true path to salvation.
You know what I have realized through the ups and downs of spirituality? That everyone is headed in the same direction. If one’s skin was peeled off and replaced by a clear plastic replica, all of our hearts would look the same. They would all beat in the same rhythm; they would all bleed and break and rejoice the same way. One’s salvation would look the same as the other. It wouldn’t matter if one believed in heaven or reincarnation or astral travelling to another a planet that had nothing but flowers and puppy dogs forever. For under the skin, under the indoctrinations that we all have gone through, we all want to believe in something. Something greater, cleaner, calmer, than anything we can find in this world. Religion gives the weak strength, the angry peace. It is a venting post for everything that is wrong with this world, and a cauldron for all that is right.
So I think the solution lies somewhere between lowercase “r” and uppercase “R”. A safe middle ground that encompasses both sides of the great cosmic, spiritual divide. Something with a bit of flair; an “R” yet not an “R”. Maybe a curli-q R. Maybe we should kick off one leg and…that makes it a…P….
Oh, good grief — that just leads to that other taboo…oohhh…my tippy toes hurt….