By Jason Menard
In a world increasingly divided by religion, perhaps we should be focusing on the spirit behind religion that has the power to unite us all.
We’ve seen our current global landscape rife with turmoil that’s, in large part, founded on religious differences. And we can’t even make the claim that this is an unprecedented event, because our world has been shaped over thousands of years by religious conflict.
At the same time as many of today’s North American youth have turned away from organized religion, religious fervour exists as a driving force in our world. Whether it’s recent reports of a Jewish soldier killing Arabs due to his opposition to the Gaza Strip pullout, or Al Qaeda leadership brandishing Islam as a weapon, or fears of the religious right dominating U.S. policy, our secular world is impacted greatly by the intervention of religious influence.
On a macroscopic scale, we find ourselves wondering if religions can truly co-exist on this planet. The challenges and the history seem so daunting that there often doesn’t seem to be a way to find a peaceful, harmonious co-existence. But hope for a better future is there when you look on a microscopic level. Despite our difference, we’re able to peacefully and happily co-exist amongst our friends of different faiths, so why does that grass-roots tolerance not trickle up?
I can’t ascribe to any more religion any more than I can sign up for a political party – I just don’t believe strongly in any one perspective that I would be willing to drink the Kool-Aid. However, while I can’t hold hard and fast to one God and one religion, the basic undertones and themes present in a majority of these religions speak to me not only on a spiritual level, but on an intellectual level.
Raised in a relatively Christian family, I turned my back on organized religion during high school and never looked back. While I respected others’ need to find solace in a God, I was unable to believe – or feel – that sort of presence in my life. But far from reject religion outright and entering into a hedonistic lifestyle without remorse, I chose to appreciate the underlying themes and messages that the Bible was trying to teach.
And, as I’ve aged, I’ve had the pleasure to learn more about other religions. I can proudly boast friends from across the religious spectrum: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu – and I’ve tried to learn more about their lifestyle and appreciate their devotion. What I’ve learned is that while many of the religions of the world differ in their icons and dogma, they hold a basic common set of principles dear.
Essentially, what most of our world’s religions preach is the idea of being good people. Whether it’s doing good deeds to promote the glory of God or engaging in Shabbat or Ramadan observances to cleanse our souls, these actions are, at their very base, designed to improve us all as people. The Ten Commandments aren’t a revelation, they’re simply common sense.
As I age, I appreciate the words that the noted religious prophet, George Michael, once sang: “You’ve Got to Have Faith.” I find myself embracing the spiritual nature of humanity – one that is often defined by religion, but is not exclusive to religion. There is a spirit that moves us, and whether you believe it’s the Tao, Karma, or the will of a Creator, we’ve all been given this gift of life and we should be celebrating it, not squandering it.
Unfortunately, religious understanding seems to be a limited proposition. There are reasons that politics and religion are topics to be avoided in casual conversation. I have been told I’m going to Hell because of my lack of belief in a higher power, but – to be honest – if God’s going to punish me for not believing in him (or her) then that’s not a God I want to party with in the afterlife.
If I’m wrong, then I hope that whichever god greets me once I shuffle off this mortal coil will look at the life I’ve led. By no means have I been perfect, but I’ve tried – and continue to try – to be a good person, do right by my family, and appreciate others for who they are and what they bring to this global potluck.
On the other side, some of the so-called saved or chosen ones are the same that are killing in the name of their god, or discriminate against other members of the human race based on colour, race, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. Essentially it comes down to the company you want to keep when (or if) we reach the afterlife. If I’ve got to spend the ever after with the same type of people I try to avoid on Earth, then I’ll choose to hang out in purgatory, thank you very much.
Yet, for the majority of us, we’re able to appreciate each other’s differences in beliefs. Other people’s beliefs are not something to fear, but rather something to learn from and appreciate.
Although I can be accused of over-simplifying deep-rooted issues, the fact of the matter is that we need to rebuild our relationships from the ground up. And there’s no better way of doing so than building upon the essential foundations that religion, spirituality, and belief offer – that of tolerance, compassion, and respect for humanity.
We have to start somewhere. And instead of destroying the world in the name of religion, we can choose to honour whatever god you believe in by making the world a better place to live through love, understanding, and appreciation for one another.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved