The Ego of Man

P religion world

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With all the Rapture-mania yesterday, it really made me think about the role of religion in the world and I had a sort of epiphany:

Religion is created by Man.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “yea” or “nay” to the existence of God or Goddess or even multiple celestial beings. But the rules and regulations governing any religion are all created by Man.

Please note that I am intentionally using masculine pronouns here. I believe that women have played a role in the maintenance of religious belief over the years. I am also aware of the more feminine face of past religions. But I think that the origins of modern religious behavior come from man because women’s voices simply were not allowed or heard. Most women could not read. Most women could not write.  So, when the guides for any of the current major religions were “set in stone” the most likely people to do it were male.

Even if we accept that the guiding books were dictated to us through God, ultimately man wrote the so-called “rules” down. And man is not infallible, he can make mistakes and adjustments to anything based on his own understanding and interpretations.

In current society, people choose to interpret those teachings in different ways–in ways that support or explain their own individual belief systems as well as make them feel superior to anyone who believes differently. Thus leading to the idea that only “Good Christians” would achieve Rapture. But what, I ask, is a Good Christian? Peas and Cougars posted a comic  Flowchart yesterday that went viral. If you browse through the comments you will find some hilarious reflections, as well as some angered ones that reveal the hypocrisy of it all. The chart mostly referred to the restrictions from the Old Testament, which led to several people reaming P&C for not understanding or misinterpreting or whatever. That in itself supports my theory of religion being created by man. Think about it (but please correct me if I am misrepresenting something):

  • Jesus was a Jew. So, unless he set out to rebel against his own religion (which I don’t think he did) he would have been following the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.
  • Christianity still has, as some of its basic tenets, the Ten Commandments.
  • So, when the New Testament was created, the creators picked and chose which elements of the Old Testament to embrace and which to discard. And I believe that was written down well after Jesus’ lifetime.
  • In many interpretations of the Bible, it includes the possibility that we have “Free Will” which suggests that God would expect people to make choices, and perhaps make mistakes.  And, as I’ve written about here, I refuse to believe that a true all-powerful being would sweat the small stuff.

Now, that’s only reflecting on the Judeo/Christian aspect of religion. But, you can go further back (or perhaps simultaneous to) and look at the Pantheistic religions. Those gods created their own rules for mankind to live by, and the rules changed at the whims of the gods. Many of those rules, whether from many gods or just one, are simply ways to function and control how we interact with one another. In other words, they make sense if we want to live in some sort of peace. But, obviously, they don’t work.

Also, if we accept that these words were handed down by a creator of some sort, than we must also accept that that being has the final say in everything. In other words he/she has the power to change his/her mind. So, we, as humans have no power to dictate when or if anything is going to happen. We cannot predict the end of the world, because God can make it happen when he/she feels like it. It is mere ego for anyone to assume that he/she can predict the decisions made by a more powerful being.

Of course, given our free will, we can probably speed the end of the world by simply making poor decisions ourselves. God may look on and say “Well, you have to make your own mistakes” just as any good parent would do.

In addition, the Bible was compiled at a time when the calendar was different. It was not the same calendar we use today, so how can we predict anything accurately?

So, ultimately, the rules and regulations of religion have been created by man. All we can do is live our lives to the best of our ability, embracing the fact that we are all connected, whether through spirit, energy or simply by the fact that we share this earth. The rest is silliness and ego.

See you in 2012!

An All Powerful Being Wouldn’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Tibetan endless knot

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For some reason religion has become the topic of discussion around me lately. Maybe it is because of my post Hell is Living in the Bible Belt (which seemed to push buttons for several people) or because I am living in the Bible Belt. Maybe it is because I have been doing a lot of thinking about the meaning and purpose of life. Whatever the reason, discussions about religion seem to sprout out around me, leaving much food for thought.

At our ladies’ night the other night, the topic came up again. You would think a bunch of women getting together with wine and food would not be quite so serious. But no, we spent hours contemplating the complexities of religion. Each of us reflected on our own discontent with many aspects of religious belief, as well as the overburdening guilt that comes from breaking away from the traditions we were raised in. Several of us have adopted belief systems from many religions. Some have recently recognized that the religion they held dear no longer feels right.

We all seemed to be searching for something, but that something does not fit comfortably in the mold of organized religion.

The conversation continued today between myself and one of the women from that group. Now, we come from completely different backgrounds. She was raised Mormon. I, if you haven’t figured that out yet, was raised a conservative Jew. We both have broken away from those traditions in some ways. At the same time, we both believe there is something out there. I call it energy or spirit. She still calls it “god.” It doesn’t matter what term we use.

We recognized that one of the problems we have with religion does not lie in belief or disbelief of  this entity. No, the problem lies in how human beings interpret their belief. It lies in the way people judge others for what they deem inappropriate or “blasphemous” behavior. It lies in the fact that anyone who doubts or questions immediately takes on a sense of guilt or shame because somehow they might feel like they are failing those who claim to truly believe.

But the reality is, that some of the true believers in whatever religion are nasty people. The more fanatic they are, the nastier they sometimes seem. In religions that teach loving, forgiveness, and kindness (which I would argue is something most religions have in common) people feel free to judge, condemn, and even hate.

But really, if there is a higher being, do you think he/she/it is really going to care if you eat the right food or say the right prayer or even believe in the right god? Maybe all gods represent this entity. I think that the only thing that being or energy would really care about is that we live as kind, loving caring creatures who do as little harm as possible. What matters lies on the insides, not in the trappings of faith. He/she/it simply would not sweat the small stuff. That’s a power that I can believe in.

The conversation is going to continue as this group explores the changes we each seem to be going through at this time in our lives. I think it will be an interesting journey.

Hell is Living in the Bible Belt

Roadside Religion

Image by jcbwalsh via Flickr

Has this ever happened to you? You are driving along at a decent clip on a long distance trip, reading the occasional billboard as a distraction from the monotony of sun glinting off of cars and white lines moving into the distance. Then larger than life you see in big block letters:

AVOID HELL! REPENT TODAY!

TRUST IN JESUS!

Signs like these appear out of nowhere offering redemption for those who accept Jesus into their hearts. But it is also signs like these that make me feel like I’m already living in hell.

I don’t know what I believe happens after death. Maybe I will go to hell, burning for eternity in a torturous world of flame and agony. (I’m sure many people reading this are nodding their head envisioning me engulfed in flame). Maybe I will float around with wings listening to angelic music. Maybe, given my fascination for the paranormal, I will return as a ghost to haunt the location of my death or the memorable places of my life. Maybe I will be reincarnated into a better being, with more knowledge and understanding than I have now. Maybe I’ll come back as a slug. Or maybe I will simply crumble to dust after having an epiphany on my death-bed (as I’ve written about before).

I really don’t care what happens. I am concerned with living the best life I can while I have this life; living in joy, day by day, and doing no harm.

But then I pass signs like this dotting the highway through Indiana and Missouri. These signs and symbols announce in gigantic glory that I am going to hell. But no, I realize, I am already there.

T o me hell would not be a place of torture and heat, but rather a place where I am not free to question and think, to challenge ideas and form my own beliefs and understanding of the world. My idea of heaven would be a place where the basic tenets of belief were: “I believe what I believe. You believe what you believe. As long as our beliefs don’t hurt each other, then all is good.”

But sadly, I am now living in a place where I feel the need to censor myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are warm and wonderful people here.  Yet, I am always conscious of being different somehow. I think differently. I was raised differently. I have different beliefs. That difference is subtly glaring, like I have horns growing out of my head that true believers can see.

I admit, when surrounded by people who embrace certain beliefs as passionately as people here do, I cling even harder to my difference. I’m not really a religious Jew, but when confronted by a wall of Christianity my Judaism shines like a menorah in the window. It is a defensive act. I know I cannot win against the unspoken judgments that surround me, so I hold tighter to my own understanding of the world.

I would call myself more spiritual than religious, incorporating into my own personal religion the ideas and attitudes that are welcoming and comforting. I cannot condone any element of religion (in any religion) that says one group is better than another, or one sex is superior, or only one lifestyle is correct. That is where religion fails.

I don’t know the true answers. I do believe

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet I.5)

In many ways I envy people who are true believers; who can live life with blind faith and trust that Jesus (or whatever god) will solve their problems and bring them safely home. If heaven is home.

But I can’t.

So, while I respect the right of each individual to believe whatever he or she wants and I recognize the importance of free speech, I would really appreciate it if I didn’t have to be reminded that I am doomed as I innocently drive down the highway. That makes for an uncomfortable ride.

Kindling the Lights of Hanukkah

A Brooklyn resident lighting candles on Hannuk...

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My daughter quivers with excitement, unable to sit still or concentrate on homework. It is the first night of Hanukkah, and she cannot wait. I wonder though if to her this night is only about opening one of the presents that are piled on the table. She counts the number daily to see if there are more. Eight presents, eight nights, but she hopes for an extra one.

She watches the sun waiting for the minute she can light the candles. My orders are clear, “Mommy, you light the helper candle (the shammas) and I get to light the other one.”

“Of course,” I say, thinking back to my own childhood memories of Hanukkah.  I remember wondering if it was my turn to light the candles that night (since we alternated between the three of us). I loved the sound of the match striking, the smell of the sulfur sparking, the sizzle of the candles lighting. I loved deciding how to put the candles in, alternating colors some nights or using all one color the next.

I also remember debating the present issue. Should I open one present or all of them? Should I open the big one or the littlest one? (Often the best things came in the small packages as I soon learned). I know that presents became the focus often, but I don’t think it was just that for me.

To me the holiday was about light in darkness. It was my little bit of color in cold winters.  I had this tiny little ceremony that warmed up cold winter nights. The colors of the menorah were as bright to me as Christmas lights. It was what made being different, being Jewish, worth it.

I think that is why I still light them with my family. They represent something joyous to me. I’m not super religious. I’m not even sure what I believe. But I cannot let go of the tradition. I want so much to leave Sarah with fond memories of candles lighting the house on a cold winter’s night.

I worry that all she sees is the presents.

As I type this, Sarah runs into the room, a smile on her face. She doesn’t say anything, just glints at me with a twinkle in her eye. She runs into the other room and says “The sun is down!” as if I am not sitting in front of a window watching the colors of day fade.

I ask Sarah, “Why are you so excited to light the candles?

“Because it’s fun.”

“Do you know why we light the candles?”

She answers, “I know part of the story. The oil lasted eight nights. I think we have a book.”

“Would you like to read the book?”

“Yes, after I finish my homework.”

Maybe I am creating a tradition that goes beyond the presents.  It’s time to light the candles.

In Search of Faith

 

Observing the shabbath closing havdalah ritual...

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Questions without answers

burn in the flame

of the Havdalah candles.

Twisted wax of blue and white

drip to the end of the Sabbath

sung out with the strum of a guitar

but my questions remain.

What does it mean to be a Jew?

Racial history of a tribal people

etched into stone

and into the flesh of an arm.

Pain of rejection

and loneliness

as you fast,

light candles,

eat special food off of pink glass plates

learn a language nobody speaks

celebrate holidays nobody knows.

Christmas carols come from other homes

but our menorah plays

Ma ozur Y’shu a ti

eight candles flickering flames

of pride

announce to all

“Jews live here.”

Always a symbol of difference

the yellow star

the pointed hat

the tallis.

But that was years ago.

My search continues.

A search that started on a cool spring night

running with friends to find

Elijah.

He never came.

We never found him.

I chanted to the memory of grandparents lost

on the bima of adulthood.

I became a woman

through the words of my haftorah

but they took on more meaning the following year

asked to repeat my performance

with no ceremony attached.

I sang with pride.

Where did my pride go?

Rejected by my community when we could not pay;

rejected by a Rabbi who could not see the value

of a star and a cross printed on the same t-shirt,

not on top of each other

but reflecting the value of

differing beliefs.

The circle of equality in difference.

Was I still a Jew?

Judaism rediscovered in the middle of Japan

a Passover celebration with Israelis

bonded by a ceremony

a language

a song.

Rejoicing over non-kosher food

and a smoke that brought us closer to heaven

floating from spirituality

and community.

Am I still part of that community?

Being a Jew is

contradiction

confliction

reality

confusion.

It is kinship and isolation.

It is daunting and authentic

It is who I am.

I am a Jew

but I am also a Buddhist.

I am a Hindu.

I am a Wicca.

I am all religions and I am no religion.

I am belief and disbelief.

I search for answers

in a world of prayer and ceremony

in spirituality that feels

beyond my grasp.

I want to dance in glory

a circle of holiness and faith,

celebrate love and essence,

rejoice in community.

I want to honor both earth and spirit.

I am Apache

I am rebel.

I am black.

I am white.

I am outsider.

I am Jew

I am lost.

I am found.

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