Do you want to believe in God but can’t?
Do you believe in God, but wonder if you’re just fooling yourself?
You are not alone. Yet, you may still have a religious mind.
Religion began long ago, in distant memory. We find ritual objects in burial grounds and altars in prehistoric ruins. The ancients, without TV, a smart phone or Facebook, looked up at the stars every night, and saw meaning in the way the stars and planets moved. They felt their insignificance every day.
Death was easy…and yet life was a great blessing.
How Faith Began:
Fertility gods permeated the Fertile Crescent, from Babylon to Egypt, and beyond. People prayed for a good harvest. It was a matter of life and death. Rain meant the gods came through. Drought meant that they did not. Man, in turn, believed that if he pleased the gods, his belly would be full.
Since ancient times our Western kind of religion has evolved. The Monotheistic faiths started by Abraham (whether mythic or real, he serves as the beginning of a new era), meant that there was one unifying God in the universe, not simply competing deities. Prior to Monotheism, gods where more like supernatural kings, with sovereignty based on location or tribe.
Now, with Monotheism there came a Unified Field Theory of faith - One God for the whole world.
The Church, Synagogue & Mosque:
Institutions rose to represent God and His word. The notion that God gives and God takes remained central, and as shamans evolved to clergy, the fact remains that the Church, Synagogue or Mosque saw its function as helping their flock entice the good from God, and avoid punishment.
These institutions have earned the right to be taken seriously, even in the modern world.
At their best, organized religion encourages love and community; at their worst, they revert back to tribal animosities, leaning toward my God is better than your God. There is a dark side to organized religion; a very dark side.
Faith Gone Bad:
When children are sexually abused by priests and the Church hides it in order to protect its own self interest, something has gone very wrong. The urge for self preservation comes before justice. This is the cancer of religious institutions. Survival trumps truth.
When a child molester is protected by the leadership of an Hassidic community (or a Jewish University) because of the wish to control what the outside world gets to know, self-preservation, once again trumps justice. This is more common than we would like to think; and it is dark.
And worst of all: When 62 people are killed by gunmen invading a shopping mall in Kenya, claiming God is Great, we are witnessing tribal conflict and a tribal god. No wonder modern people are turned off by religion when they hear about such atrocities in the name of God. Who needs it?
Getting Back to God:
Modern people are often turned off by what they hear about faith. So, let’s take a look at the facts.
Finding Your God:
Religion has a special purpose for human beings; always had and always will. It’s truly meaningful when you own your participation in it, rather than doing it compulsively. The latter is about submitting to power, the former is about joining a great project out of love or respect.
Whatever your background may be, think about individuating from your faith, like a teenager distances from his or her parents. It's a natural part of development to question your upbringing in order to re-embrace it down the line, but this time from a position of maturation.
Or, walk away if it makes no sense. The key is to be active with one’s faith, not passive.
The Religious Mind:
Faith is a dance between the mind, spirit, and experience. As a child psychiatrist, I am intimately aware of the power of the mind and the value of our imagination. Most people think of the imagination as a passive trait, kind of sitting in a person’s skull as they think about painting or art. But, really, it is our interface with the best and the worst of the world.
Imagination opens the door to love. How could we love if we don’t imagine that he or she is special? Or career: our imagination gives us insight into what it might be like to be a teacher or doctor. How can you enjoy a movie if not for imagining that it is somehow real, if only for two hours? What invention—the plane, the car, or the computer—didn’t start with a spark of imagination?
Religion at its worst oppresses the mind towards institutions that need followers. It banks on coercion, guilt and the human need for comfort. Religion at its best understands and elevates the human project, by encouraging healthy values, productive guilt, meaningful solace, and a way to express gratitude for the blessings of this life.
You want faith and a religious community? There are four essential admission tickets.
Wonder if God exists?
It’s your unique journey. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
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